Archive for August, 2022

Day Shift

Posted in Action, Comedy, Science Fiction, Thriller on August 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

In 2005 Jaime Foxx won the Oscar for Best Actor. He hasn’t been nominated since, and Day Shift certainly isn’t going to change that. However, it’s currently the #1 streaming title on Netflix, so that’s something.

Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) is a vampire hunter posing as a pool cleaner who gets an unlikely partner in union rep Seth (Dave Franco). Jaime Foxx portrays a confident, streetwise action hero, and Dave Franco is the intelligent but awkward official with whom he is saddled. We’ve seen the odd couple pairing a million times before. I love those offbeat bonds of the 1980s like 48 hours, Lethal Weapon, and Midnight Run. Despite their differences, we all know that the two will become good friends. It’s the series of comical escapades that entertains. These lay the groundwork for their ultimate meeting of the minds.

Action comedies about mismatched people united in a common cause usually rely on the camaraderie that makes the partnership fun. Apparently, screenwriters Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten skipped the days when those lessons were taught in film writing school. The slapdash script is so emotionally vacant it makes Central Intelligence look like In the Heat of the Night. Jaime Foxx and Dave Franco do their talented best, but the screenplay doesn’t allow them to have chemistry together. The interaction between these two actors is not pleasant. It doesn’t help that Dave Franco is required to vomit often and pee his pants to show his ineptitude in combat. Oh, and let’s be clear, physical confrontations — not intellectual repartee — are the raison d’être of the picture.

The chronicle relies heavily on explosions, blood, knives, machine guns, stabbings, explosions, and neck slicing decapitations featuring disembodied heads. Oops! Did I mention the explosions twice? Well, it bears repeating. Carnage is why this flick exists. Stuntman-turned-director J.J. Perry is making his directorial debut. The arbitrary developments are a disjointed mess. If you enjoy seeing an individual get their arms ripped off and then pummeled with their own limbs, you will treasure at least one scene in the chaos. The wonky special effects in the fight scenes are kind of hilarious, though. Jaime Foxx is kicked and thrown across the room like a rag doll in the climax.

The cast includes a random ensemble of other personalities that distract from the central duo. Perhaps the most engaging is the main villain Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), a pretty vampire/real estate agent who works for a high-end firm. Her flashy attitude would be right at home on the reality TV series Selling Sunset. Snoop Dogg pops up as an intimidating but supportive cowboy named Big John Elliott. His appearance is sure to be a particular delight for viewers who were teens in 1993. I must admit I was amused by his lackadaisical presence. Although Bud may have a violent job, the narrative also unconvincingly paints him as a family man. He’s got a beloved daughter (Zion Broadnax) and an estranged wife (Meagan Good). Yet the relationships don’t resonate with even a modicum of genuine emotion. These are accomplished actors instructed to pose as nonentities in a soulless product for streaming consumption. By the end, someone informs us that “vampires don’t pee or poop,” which inspires Bud’s 8-year-old daughter to crudely blurt out, “Does that mean they’re full of sh–?” That kind of language is not to be encouraged from a youngster, but I still answered politely with, “No, but your movie is.”

08-16-22

Thirteen Lives 

Posted in Action, Adventure, Biography with tags on August 13, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

On June 23, 2018, a junior association soccer team went missing after setting out to explore the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand. The twelve boys aged between 11 and 16 and their 25-year-old assistant coach were on a sightseeing trip after a practice session. Shortly after entering, heavy rains overflowed the tunnel system, blocking their way out, and trapping them deep within. The subsequent attempt to rescue them became a massive operation that garnered worldwide public interest. Simply determining whether the children were even alive took days. British divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton ultimately located the group on an elevated rock about 2.5 miles from the cavity opening. Wonderful news! Nevertheless, the ability to extract them from the flooded twisty cavern would be difficult. Even with scuba gear and guidance, the kids would likely panic during the long treacherous swim out.

There are so many perspectives from which to tell this epic tale. I was fascinated with the fortitude of the trapped victims. Somehow they survived over two weeks in a pitch-black cavern without food. Once discovered, there is mention of meditation. Their perseverance through prayer and hope is undoubtedly a fascinating saga. The details of their struggle are mentioned in passing. However, we don’t see the boys for a large portion of the picture. Theirs is not the endeavor presented here.

This is a tale about the British divers played by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell and Australian medical specialist Richard Harris portrayed by Joel Edgerton. They saved the day when everyone else — even the Navy SEALs — could not. A casual glance at the famous names in the cast does not suggest an account focused on the vulnerable victims. The fact that Ron Howard (Backdraft, Apollo 13) is directing should have clued me in that the effort to extricate them takes center stage. Ok, that’s an exciting perspective too. Those men were genuine heroes. Their commitment is an awe-inspiring consolidation of human ingenuity that saved lives.

Yet the chronicle is not produced in a way that maximizes the drama. It always felt like we were observing these events from a distance. The individuals here are two-dimensional characters that lack personality. I derive more emotion from footage on the 11’oclock news. The excitement improves in the second half when the claustrophobic, muddy-water environment conveys just how difficult it was to save these lives from the underground chamber. Yet Ron Howard and editor James D. Wilcox frequently cut to less interesting activities on land that kill the momentum. Furthermore, the developments plod for nearly 2 1/2 hours. I’m not saying it isn’t an uplifting experience. It’s currently the most watched title on Amazon Prime, after all. (Box office flop The 355 was the previous #1). Although, I enjoyed it more divided up over two nights.

This life-affirming tale is inherently captivating. It would be near impossible not to make a thrilling picture out of this piece of recent history. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things is universally compelling. These ripped from the headlines stories are even more effective because they’re true. Ron Howard and screenwriter William Nicholson (working from a story by Don MacPherson) offer a movie that inspired me to read up on the actual account and watch the award-winning (and more efficient) National Geographic documentary The Rescue (2021).

08-07-22

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on August 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio talking about animated films!  DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS was #1 at the box office for the weekend ending July 31st.  THE SEA BEAST is a popular movie on Netflix. Hear me talk about both on talkSPORT radio.  My appearance begins 6 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (about 24 minutes from the end).

Source: Live Radio, Breaking Sports News, Opinion – talkSPORT

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on August 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio! The #1 release for the weekend ending July 24th was NOPE, a fascinating mix of science fiction and horror. On Netflix, THE GRAY MAN, a spy thriller starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, was the top movie. Hear me talk about both on talkSPORT radio. My appearance begins 2 minutes into the 2:30 – 3:00 hour (about 28 minutes from the end).

Source: Live Radio, Breaking Sports News, Opinion – talkSPORT

Prey

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on August 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

In 1719 a young Comanche woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder) is underestimated as a hunter by her tribe. She tags along with the band of boys to hunt a lion. They dismiss her with a “Who invited you? We won’t be gone long enough to need a cook.” Yet she persists. They soon discover that perhaps there is an even greater threat than the lion in their midst.

“Humans hunted by an intruder” doesn’t qualify as the foundation for a masterpiece in my book, but admittedly it’s all in how you present the idea. Prey is the fifth entry (not including the two Alien vs. Predator films) of the Predator series. At first, the title and drastic change in setting suggest a complete reinvention of the franchise. The action occurs on the Great Plains within the grounds of the Stoney Nakoda Nation in Alberta, Canada, and Calgary’s Moose Mountain and Elbow River. On-location shooting makes excellent use of these stunning locales.

This prequel combines science fiction with a Native American backdrop involving touches that scream linguistic authenticity. Director Mel Gibson was lauded for having actors speak Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic for The Passion of the Christ. Likewise, this story has dialogue in the Camanche language. There’s a significant portion in contemporary English too. In addition to the alien menace, Naru and her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) must contend with hostile French fur trappers in this anti-colonialist tale. When the tribespeople are captured and tied to a tree, Naru recounts a fable where a beaver chewed off its own leg to be free. After suggesting she might do the same, she quips in a modern accent more appropriate to the San Fernando Valley, “I’m smarter than a beaver.” If this was 2022 and Naru was on Twitter. #girlboss Note: Prey is also available in an alternate all-Comanche dub on Hulu.

Gorgeous cinematography (Jeff Cutter is the director of photography) and a gender-swapped role of the lead are the unique elements in this Predator movie. When 20th Century Fox unleashed the first chapter upon the public in 1987, the film was dismissed as an Alien clone. Over the years, its reputation has grown among the cognoscenti. The latest installment is being hailed as the “best sequel since John McTiernan’s original.” That’s a pretty low bar. I’ll admit director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) shows impressive restraint. Nevertheless, the buildup to actually seeing the creature is so gradual that it’s frustrating. We don’t even witness the predator (former professional basketball player Dane DiLiegro) clearly until fully halfway into the picture. He’s portrayed as a translucent blur accompanied by chittering sounds. The beast finally becomes perceptible when covered in blood after he attacks a bear. Not many surprises in this violent game of “kill or be killed” which ultimately limps to an inevitable conclusion. Apparently, extraterrestrials underestimate women just like their human counterparts.

08-05-22

Bullet Train

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Thriller with tags on August 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Brad Pitt is a movie star. I realize this is not some groundbreaking pronouncement. We’ve known this for a long time. Perhaps as far back as 1991 when he memorably played the handsome young drifter J.D. in Thelma and Louise. He turned that bit role into a star-making performance. The rest is history. Bullet Train has a massive cast, so it would be hard to stand out. Yet every time the quinquagenarian pops up, it’s akin to the zen calm in the eye of a chaotic storm. Sporting unkempt hair, glasses, and a bucket hat compels one character from the UK to quip, “You look like every white homeless man I’ve ever seen.” Seriously? The vagabonds in Great Britain must be really good-looking then. Brad Pitt is the glue that holds this dissonant mish-mash of a film together.

A team of various assassins with incongruous codenames from around the globe are traveling on the Shinkansen. The bullet train takes about two hours and 15 minutes to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto — with frequent 1-minute stops along the way. Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is tasked to steal a briefcase. He’s getting directions from his handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock), an unseen voice on the phone. Little does he know that other cutthroats are onboard to stop him. Let’s see; there’s a pair of hitmen brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his “twin” Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), British bad boy The Son (Logan Lerman), innocent-looking schoolgirl The Prince (Joey King) who is not so virtuous, and The Father (Andrew Koji), a troubled patriarch there to seek vengeance upon the individual who pushed his son off a roof. Let’s not forget The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), whose identity is largely secret, and The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, a.k.a. rapper Bad Bunny). He’s angry at whoever poisoned the wine at his wedding. Wow. Now that’s a gross scene I didn’t need to see over and over. Other killers — not on board but part of the narrative — include The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) and White Death (Michael Shannon). Oh, and there are a couple of memorable cameos too, but I won’t spoil the surprises.

The recipe for this cocktail of a story is to simply add the ingredients of disparate characters to one location and shake vigorously. Lest you think my encapsulation is dismissive, classics like Die Hard and The Raid got by on the same formula. I haven’t even mentioned that there’s a poisonous snake on the loose and a mysterious pink mascot from a popular children’s show named Momomon. Your mileage may vary, but ultimately, I warmed up to the film’s bonkers mentality. The silly glee in this live-action cartoon is just so zealous. The saga marries lighthearted dialogue with heavy-handed violence. Granted Final Destination treated the idea of death with more compassion. It’s a cynical approach. Director David Leitch worships at the altar of patron saints Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). Leitch is working from a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, who adapts the Japanese novel Maria Beetle (published in English as Bullet Train) by Kōtarō Isaka. It’s a difficult juggling act for the filmmaker. He’s trying to keep a lot of balls in the air. Oh yeah, he drops a few. Particularly in the denouement when the action goes literally and figuratively “off the rails.” (sorry, but you knew that line in a movie about a train was going to appear somewhere). Nevertheless, the spectacle is still quite a show.

08-04-22

Vengeance

Posted in Comedy, Mystery, Thriller with tags on August 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Office is one of the great sitcoms of the 2000s. I state this as fact, not opinion, so perhaps I was more excited than most to hear that “Ryan Howard” made a film. B. J. Novak is best known for his work on the U.S. version of The Office. He also wrote, directed, and produced the sitcom, so he’s had significant experience behind the camera. Vengeance is his feature directorial debut. B. J. Novak also wrote the screenplay and stars.

Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is a struggling journalist based in New York City who casually dates many women. One night he gets a call from Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), the brother of one of these arbitrary hookups. Aspiring singer Abby (Lio Tipton) has been found dead of an apparent overdose. Believing Ben was her serious boyfriend, Ty heartbreakingly delivers the news. Ben can barely remember who she was. Yet Ty is so distraught that Ben decides to fly to Abilene, TX (where Abby got her name) and attend the funeral. Sensing an opportunity for an exciting podcast, he chooses to stay and probe further into her death. He pitches his investigation to a successful producer back in New York. Eloise (in a compelling performance by Issa Rae) is receptive to the idea.

Vengeance is blessed with a clever script that straddles the line between intelligent satire and flat-out comedy. If you sense a tale about a shallow city slicker from New York who learns that gun-toting Texas are not as backward as he initially thought, you’d be right. However, how those relationships are detailed makes all the difference. The characterizations are beautifully revealed in random asides. An ongoing joke is how Ben frequently uses the phrase “100 percent” to express his “sincere” agreement. When Ty is touched by his use of the word, it’s an affecting moment. Another occurs when Abby’s sister Paris (Isabella Amara) demonstrates that she has read Chekhov, and Ben uncomfortably admits he hasn’t. There are a lot of those revelations.

Vengeance is a movie about the preconceptions and ignorance that outsiders have about people they don’t know. This is not another let’s “laugh-at-the-yokels” affair. BJ Novak’s observations about Texans are nuanced and render them as fully rounded human beings. Abby’s family is a likable clan. The ensemble of actors includes Dove Cameron, Isabella Amara, and J. Smith-Cameron in memorable roles. Ashton Kutcher deserves a special mention as a music producer. Oh sure they value their weapons and extol a love for fast food chain Whataburger that borders on the ridiculous, but the presentation is affectionate. The screenplay upended my expectations many times over.

I can’t say I was on board with every development that happens. I didn’t embrace the biggest surprise. The final act is punctuated by a shocking act of violence that is not earned. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino sabotaged the production. Despite that brief indiscretion into another genre, the story is mostly substance over style. The chronicle ultimately coalesces into a profound comment on culture and society. There is joy in this insightful reflection on humanity. I was delighted, and I think you will be too.

08-02-22