Archive for July, 2022

Thor: Love and Thunder

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Superhero with tags on July 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Comic book movies shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. That’s the spirit behind Thor: Love and Thunder. Director Taika Waititi returns five years after Thor: Ragnarok to helm this sequel, the 4th entry in the Thor series. Though it might not reach the heights of his previous effort, it’s still a smashing good time.

It takes an absolute eternity to get to the principal story. It felt like an hour in, but I could be wrong. The proper narrative begins when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is reunited with his brainy ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). This duo forms the emotional core of their ongoing romance. She has taken on super powers aided by Mjölnir, the hammer Thor once owned that she now commands. Meanwhile, Thor now wields an enchanted axe called Stormbreaker. An ongoing joke is that his — apparently cognizant — weapon is comically jealous that Thor continues to pine for his hammer. The duo takes on Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) who is wreaking havoc across the multiverse and killing every deity he can while capturing the Asgardian children and imprisoning them.

Their adventures take them to Omnipotence City, where they appeal to Zeus for help. Russell Crowe is affecting a Greek accent while advancing the cause of body positivity. Zeus proves you don’t have to lift weights 24/7 to play a significant character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Truth be told, it looks as if he’s never even seen a gym. He’s a role model to Thor, but Zeus turns out to be a real jerk and exposes the muscular hero (quite literally, in fact) to the entire assemblage.

Thor is a meandering tale. Like everything in this blessedly interconnected universe, the latest Marvel chapter pays homage to earlier incarnations. Voiceover narration from the rock-like creature Korg (Taika Waititi) recounts the legend of the god of thunder. A screenplay co-written by the director and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson fills in the extensive background minutiae, dramatizing his experiences with the Guardians of the Galaxy. We are treated to an extended sequence in the first 20 minutes, highlighting a planet overrun by bird-like invaders. After Thor and his team defeat the attackers, the king of the land gifts Thor and the Guardians with two giant screaming goats. Their human shrieks are a running joke for the duration of the picture.

Oh, but there are many more trivialities to learn. Thor has appointed Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) the leader of New Asgard. The place has become a tourist attraction, with plays featuring actors in amusing cameos that re-enact Thor’s exploits. The lengthy introduction is fitfully diverting, but you could eliminate the whole shebang. This critic favors clarity. A simple, straightforward narrative is preferred, but whatever. I realize some people demand this stuff, so it’s here for those who feast on the details.

Thor: Love and Thunder is a lighthearted account that promotes slapstick and humorous banter. A series of seemingly random developments and numerous characters wear on the viewer. Despite being a mere two hours, it feels longer because of the convoluted events and distended cast list. The sloppy chronicle fumbles in the 2nd half with several generic action setpieces that fail to deliver. And yet the atmosphere is so jovial it entertains. The production relies on a soundtrack that presents four — yes, count ’em four — songs by Guns N Roses: “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and “November Rain.” The account is a hodgepodge of lively ideas that ultimately fuse into something resembling a cohesive whole. Thor Love and Thunder doesn’t stay with you long after seeing it, but it manages to captivate in the moment. That’s something, I guess.


Cha Cha Real Smooth

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on July 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Cha Cha Real Smooth caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival in January when it won the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Months later, it quietly appeared on Apple TV+ June 17 to little attention. In this age of streaming, it’s often hard to tell exactly how many people are watching a particular movie. However, social media can be a gauge, and the buzz after its public debut has been virtually nonexistent. It’s easy to see why.

Writer, director, and star Cooper Raiff has fashioned an entire film around himself. Andrew is a directionless college graduate currently working a dead-end job at Meat Sticks. The fast-food joint is a thinly veiled homage to Hot Dog on a Stick. That contrivance reeks of a hipster’s idea of a funny career. He accompanies his younger brother David (Evan Assante) to a bat mitzvah. There Andrew encounters a crowd of wallflowers. The party is dying. Though he lacks the initiative to secure a job that utilizes his college education, he takes a leadership position here. While mingling throughout the soiree, he encourages kids to leave their seats and go dance. One of these children is an autistic young girl named Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew bets her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) that he can get Lola to join the others on the dance floor. His clever ruse succeeds and that impresses her mom. The other mothers at the shindig all find him charming too. A burgeoning career as a DJ/emcee/standup at future celebrations is born.

The title references the “Cha Cha Slide,” a 2000 song that remains a ubiquitous staple at birthdays, quinceañeras, and weddings. Yet the story’s focus is not on his fledging business as a “party starter.” The promising setup hints at a romance between a 22-year-old infatuated with an older woman. Their flirtatious chemistry is mutual but it turns confusing. Their connection is complicated by unnecessary additions. She has a fiancee (Raúl Castillo) away on business and he has a girlfriend (Amara Pedroso Saquel) studying in Barcelona. Dakota Johnson is a capable actress, but her vague character is a baffling enigma. She confesses to Andrew she just had a miscarriage like it was a mild inconvenience, then attempts to seduce the fellow — all in the same night! She’s undeniably longing for something more in life. Maybe the spark of a loving relationship. Although, she simultaneously entices Andrew while pushing him away. Domino doesn’t seem to know what she wants, nor do we. Depression is not a crime. At the very least, Domino should seek the help of a therapist. Meanwhile, Andrew lives at home, so the cast is further stacked with Andrew’s genial mother (Leslie Mann) and a cranky step-dad (Brad Garrett).

Cha Cha Real Smooth rests entirely on the charisma of its lead. That’s a problem because Andrew’s preening demeanor and puppy-dog expressions are not endearing. Oh the screenplay is strident in its presentation that he is such a lovely, sweet human being. He’s a good guy darn it! Every character exists to reflect how wonderful Andrew is, but the act rings hollow. His cloying behavior feels like a facade he wields to serve his own demands. Since the saga doesn’t inspire any desire in the viewer to see him triumph — in life or in love — the narrative fails. There is some promise to be found in the sincerity of the rest of the production. Engaging actors sustain the chronicle with authentic performances. All of whom are more interesting than the central lead. Cooper Raiff is a talented writer and director. He shows the vestiges of a Woody Allen or a John Cassavetes, but he’s not likable as the hero. He’s the same dreary self-interested schmuck he is at the end of the picture as he was at the beginning.


Minions: The Rise of Gru

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on July 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Let’s be honest. It was never about the human characters in the Despicable Me films series. It’s the little yellow twinkie-shaped creatures that are the real stars.

The Minions movies take place before the proper franchise. The second prequel is subtitled The Rise of Gru and is set in 1976. Criminal mastermind Gru is an 11-year-old who desperately wants to join the Vicious 6, a criminal organization of six supervillains. They recently expelled one of their members, and now they’re auditioning for a new replacement. Gru applies, but when the group sees he’s just a kid, they reject him. To prove himself, he successfully steals a powerful amulet called the Zodiac Stone that the crew has newly acquired. He intends to give it back in hopes he will earn their respect. However, one of the Minions — I believe his name is Otto — trades the precious talisman for a pet rock. Now everyone is on the chase to reacquire the charm. Helping the Minions on their quest is Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh), an acupuncturist and Kung Fu fighter. There’s also a biker (RZA) that Otto befriends on his way to San Francisco.

Of course, the story is beside the point. The whole purpose of these movies is to highlight the silly, crazy antics of those lovable rapscallions. There is something so quixotically engaging about their behavior. At one point, three of them — Kevin, Stuart, and Bob — pose as two pilots and a flight attendant to sneak on board a plane so they can fly to San Francisco. It’s a hilarious display. The Minions have this certain indefinable “je ne sais quoi.” The Minions are the humor found in slipping on the peel of a banana — an English word often heard in their cryptic polyglot language. This is comedy at its most elemental. It is impossible to explain the joy of slapstick to the unconverted. Like trying to analyze why the goofy hijinks of The Three Stooges or Benny Hill are funny. You either get it, or you don’t. However, if you have young kids, they will definitely want to see this.

Quite honestly, there are enough gags for both children and adults to appreciate. Check out the starry ensemble that’s doing the voices of the Vicious 6. Taraji P. Henson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, and Alan Arkin all do an amusing riff on their personas for knowledgeable viewers that are in on the joke. Another gag highlights the time it takes to dial a number on a rotary phone. A child won’t even recognize what that object is. The soundtrack includes a hip cadre of indie stars doing covers of popular songs of the era. Delight to new versions of “Funkytown,” “Dance to the Music,” and “Fly Like an Eagle” that pop up at perfectly timed moments. At a funeral, the Minions sing the choir opening from “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. Oh, I laughed…a lot. An affirmation of fun is precisely why Minions: The Rise of Gru entertains and ultimately satisfies as a piece of entertainment. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot famously mused, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” In the Minions case, it’s a banana, and the answer is most assuredly YES.