Archive for December, 2022

My Top 10 Films of 2022

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I saw a lot of great movies this past year. On this last day of 2022, I reflect back on the past 365 days and pick the 10 films I loved the most. PLUS, an additional 10 that just barely missed that list.

Click the link to reveal…

** My Top 10 Films of 2022 **

It has been great seeing all of these movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have an audience with whom to share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am truly grateful, so a big THANK YOU to all of you!

Wishing you all a healthy and prosperous New Year!!
Hope 2023 is your best year ever!

Matilda the Musical

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Family, Music, Musical with tags on December 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why UK author Roald Dahl is considered a national treasure. I’m an aficionado of the legendary author’s work too. He wrote James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and The Witches. All were made into fine films. I wasn’t as familiar with Matilda, which was published in 1988. You will likely follow this meandering account better if you’re well-versed in the original text. It has a beloved following, particularly in the UK. It’s been adapted into a 1996 film directed by Danny DeVito, a two-part special on BBC Radio 4, and a 2010 West End/Broadway musical by Tim Minchin. This is the cinematic adaptation of that musical, directed by Matthew Warchus (Pride), from a screenplay by Dennis Kelly.

Matilda the Musical is an overstuffed production with a lot of characters. Matilda Wormwood is a precocious five-and-a-half-year-old girl. Yet the child isn’t appreciated by her mom and dad. “My mummy says I’m a lousy little worm,” she laments. Her father wanted a boy and continues to refer to Matilda as one. Actors Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are amusingly festooned in tacky clothes and goofy hair. I cherished their campy presence. Due to her parents’ lack of care and concern, she seeks solace at the local library. She’s a voracious reader. There she tells a parable to Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee), the librarian. Matilda’s tale is about a renowned acrobat (Lauren Alexandra) and escapologist (Carl Spencer) couple who long to have a baby. Frequent cutaways dramatize this external circus saga throughout the film.

The movie finally hints at a coherent story when Matilda is admitted as a student at Crunchem Hall. The sweet but timid teacher Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), sees her potential. It’s hard to believe this passive instructor is portrayed by the same actress who was the fierce lieutenant in The Woman King and the new 007 in No Time to Die. Talk about range. Meanwhile, Headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (Emma Thompson, unrecognizable under prosthetics) does not like kids. She considers them maggots. As a matter of fact, it’s the school’s motto. However, Matilda is a willful girl with a powerful brain that develops a knack for telekinesis. Matilda and Trunchbull are destined to face off. Any wagers on who will win?

Matilda’s personality could use tweaking. Actress Alisha Weir is indeed effective in the title role. When she sings, “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty,” an optimistic ode about her sad life, I felt her sorrow. To Matilda’s credit, she is surrounded by negative influences and still finds the strength to champion her fellow students. However, she comes across as a tad self-righteous and conceited. She solves a ridiculously complicated math problem to the bewildered shock of Miss Honey and shrugs it off like it’s no big deal. Then she puts on airs by listing all the novels she read that week (Nicholas Nickleby, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Of Mice And Men, The Lord of the Rings, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, and…The Cat in the Hat.) We get it. You’re a prodigy, but a touch of humility goes a long way. The rebel in me was silently rooting for Agatha Trunchbull.

I miss the subversiveness of Roald Dahl. The author is weird. What makes his books so interesting is the dark sensibility that saturates his irreverent tales. His chronicles often feature a child narrator against villainous adults. Matilda is no exception. Sure the adults are evil on the written page. Agatha Trunchbull competed in the hammer throw at the ’72 Olympics. When she likewise hurls a young student by her pigtails, it is an outrageously bizarre sight., However, the scene is silly, and the savagery is ephemeral.

Dahl’s aesthetic has been considerably undermined by a bright, colorful exhibition infused with spoonfuls of saccharine sentimentality. The vigorous dance numbers are fabricated and edited within an inch of their life. One group sequence highlights jittery step patterns in detailed precision. When the youngsters dance and sing to “Revolting Children,” it is a spectacle to behold. The scene is frenzied and intense but employs slow motion, too, with CGI flying paper planes and streamers. The presentation veers from excellent to exhausting in a scant 3 minutes. I longed for the comparative calm of the earlier ditty, “When I Grow Up.”

I love musicals, but Matilda wasn’t made for fans of the golden age (the 1930s through the early 1950s). It’s for young theater geeks raised on TikTok, where the triumphant, hyper-edited, special effects-enhanced displays of choreographed demonstrations can be uploaded onto social media platforms and then go viral. The picture is best enjoyed for the production numbers. They are impressive, but they overshadow a disjointed and cluttered mess of a story. Matilda the Musical is a collection of catchy songs and high-energy dancing in search of a focused narrative.

12-26-22

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on December 27, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An effective whodunnit needs a good setup, and Glass Onion — the sequel to the 2019 mystery film Knives Out — intelligently delivers. Let’s start with the title, which was inspired by the third track on the 1968 double album The Beatles (aka The White Album). The song was a self-referential composition that toyed with fans who sought to decipher hidden meanings in the Fab Four’s work. “Well, here’s another clue for you all….” John Lennon sang. It appropriately plays over the end credits.

In this account, the “Glass Onion” is the bar where five close friends hang out and meet future billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). These associates called themselves the disruptors. The inception of Miles’ successful Manhattan tech company, Alpha, had its humble origins at this dive. In the present day, Miles is hosting a murder mystery party at his estate on a private Greek island. A giant translucent sphere sits atop his compound. He invites his long-time pals for a friendly get-together. These innovators include Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), supermodel turned fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson ), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), men’s rights streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and co-founder and ousted Alpha CEO Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe). Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) also has an invitation and joins the group along with Birdie’s assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) and Duke’s girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline).

Director Rian Johnson has crafted a clever puzzle for people who love to solve mysteries. A crackerjack screenplay punctuates the chronicle. Johnson shrewdly drops critical information in seemingly casual dialogue. The main story culminates about halfway through after Benoit Blanc easily solves the challenge of the fake murder. However, it isn’t long before the game becomes deadly, and one of their own is killed for real. The chronicle then flashes back and gives us the background leading up to their little soiree. It is here that the salient particulars of the plot unfold. The interconnected details of the past of these various individuals are exposed. Their sordid histories reveal that everyone has a motive.

Glass Onion is a sparkling delight that surpasses its predecessor. Ok, so the denouement may not be a jaw-dropping shocker, and Benoit Blanc’s presence is reduced to focus more on other characters. It’s an intricately assembled ensemble piece of amusing personalities. Every actor gets to shine, albeit some more brightly than others—lots of witty gags. The funniest moment is a realization that Kate Hudson’s character makes regarding someone’s identity after that fact had been well established. However, Janelle Monáe gets the juiciest part. She suitably shines in her role. The surroundings are opulent, the cast is fun, and the jokes are funny, Glass Onion provides layers and layers of fun.

11-29-22

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on December 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

An old English proverb states: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays.” After defeating a giant monster, Puss in Boots is unexpectedly crushed by a massive falling bell. The critter has been an active feline and has now exhausted eight of his nine lives. One more crazy adventure, and he is kaput. However, if he finds the legendary wishing star, he can restore his nine lives. And so begins his mystical quest aided by returning love interest Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and a therapy dog they name Perrito (Harvey Guillén)

Puss in Boots is a feline fugitive from the law but a hero of the town of San Ricardo, Spain. The character made his first appearance in Shrek 2 and is the current ongoing legacy of that franchise. This entry is technically a follow-up to Puss in Boots which came out in 2011 — over a decade ago. Most of that movie’s young fans are now adults. That’s ok because (1) this picture is so fun, a person of any age can enjoy it, and (2) it has little narrative connection to the original. This is the best kind of sequel, a standalone narrative, AND it improves upon its predecessor.

With all due respect to the celebrated voice of Mel Blanc, I’d suggest that Antonio Banderas is one of the greatest marriages of an actor to an animated character. He’s that effective in evoking a distinct persona. When he speaks, I feel connected to this personality. That goes a long way into making this a quest in which I am invested. A gang of new characters is introduced—some with fairy tale origins but with a twist. So we get Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the three bears (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman & Samson Kayo) with cockney accents and an evil crime lord in the form of “Big” (formerly “Little”) Jack Horner (John Mulaney) as well as an elderly cat lady (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).

The Last Wish is a pleasant swashbuckling diversion. The goal is stunning visuals and amusing jokes, and the production delivers both. The computer graphics are a vibrant display that occasionally relies on painterly designs that resemble storybook illustrations. The visual aesthetic is more influenced by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Akira than the realistic style used in the Shrek series. The gags aren’t all guffaws, but they are plentiful. If there’s a complaint, it’s that this saga is such a frenetic rendition of a simple tale. Watching our champion attempt to secure his objective by using an animated map while multiple antagonists try to stop him is not unlike a video game. But that can be a compliment too. The story moves, and it’s never dull.

12-19-22

The Whale

Posted in Drama with tags on December 21, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Whale is a manipulative, exploitative piece of theatricality. The casting of Brendan Fraser in this role plays into that. The actor used to be thin, and now he is not. That should have been enough to play the part of an obese man. Yet director Darren Aronofsky stacks the deck. The account features an admittedly outstanding performance buried — quite literally under pounds of prosthetics — in a bad film.

The Whale is a fable about regret. Charlie is a reclusive English instructor who teaches remotely via Zoom. (He keeps his webcam off.) Set solely inside the confines of a modest and darkened home, he has isolated from the world. Nevertheless, he desperately wants to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). He’s having a particularly rough week. He is suicidal. This is a chronicle where we watch an individual punish his own body. When the story opens, we find him slumped in a chair watching pornography, coughing and wheezing to the point that he has ALMOST — and there’s no other way to say this — masturbated to death. That’s just the opening 5 minutes.

Darren Aronofsky makes a lot of questionable choices. The filmmaker has a fascination with grotesqueries designed to shock. Too many to list them all. We’ll see Charlie naked in the shower, struggling to simply stand up, and gorging on a meatball sub which causes him to vomit. Charlie shoves so much into his mouth without chewing that he chokes violently. His nurse and best friend, Liz (Hong Chau ), is there to save him by jumping on his back like a trampoline. It’s an embarrassingly ridiculous scene.

Brendan Fraser’s achievement as a 600-pound fellow is an act of self-loathing and shame. The display is effective because it feels genuine. Charlie sees the beauty in everyone else’s life but his own. He constantly apologizes for his existence. His sensitive portrayal is the re-emergence of an actor who left Hollywood. He received a standing ovation when the picture had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September. I’m glad Fraser has found peace and critical acclaim within the industry. If he wins the Oscar, I’ll cheer. I love that real-life narrative. However, I’m reviewing a movie, not how his comeback story makes me feel.

The Whale is stagy work that relies on frequent guests who drop by the house. The acting is (mostly) good. Ty Simpkins portrays Thomas, a Christian missionary, that is surprisingly sympathetic. Samantha Morton shows up as Charlie’s ex-wife, and she hints at the dramatic interactions that could have made this saga tolerable. Ellie — as their teenage daughter, however — is a piece of work. She’s a sociopath with all the earmarks of a future serial killer. She hates her father and verbally abuses him in a way that’s hard to stomach. It gets physical too. At one point, she drugs her father with a dose of Ambien that could have killed him. When confronted with that reality, she defensively shouts, “but it didn’t.”

The Whale is a punishing endurance test about a victim who has lost the will to live. Ultimately Samuel D. Hunter’s screenplay does offer a conclusion. The audience has been pummeled for the better part of two hours only to present an ending that isn’t earned. It’s hard for the audience to accept what’s being given after being relentlessly force-fed unpleasantries. Brendan Fraser does his best with the words on the page. It equally rests on the shoulders of actress Sadie Sink, whose shouting, one-note depiction is always operating at peak volume. There’s no room to shift gears when necessary to get the audience to embrace the ersatz emotion the director is now putting down. The Whale is a fraud — a vile movie further defeated by tacked-on sentiment.

Avatar: The Way of Water

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy with tags on December 19, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It was thirteen years ago that director James Cameron wowed audiences with Avatar. With a box office of $2.9 billion, it still ranks as the highest-grossing film worldwide. Now he has finally returned with its sequel. Avatar: The Way of Water is set on Pandora, an extrasolar moon from the Alpha Centauri System. With an unintentional nod to the Fast & Furious franchise, it’s all about family. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña are back as parents: Jake and Neytiri. They manage an extended clan that consists of two sons (James Flatters & Britain Dalton) and a daughter (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss ), as well as an adopted daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver). Her mother is Dr. Grace Augustine, who was mortally wounded and perished in the original. There’s also a human boy named Spider (Jack Champion), the son of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

Once again, evil colonizer humans invade Pandora. The “Sky People” are led by Quaritch, who technically died in the previous installment. However, he’s back in a slightly different form thanks to scientific advances. Jake and his family realize their presence has put the fellow citizens of their forest dwelling in danger. As a result, they exile themselves from that area and retreat to the sea. There they meet a new community on Pandora led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet). Despite their altruistic desire to avoid conflict, you can best believe a monumental battle is imminent.

The plot is a simple tale that preaches environmentalism over industrialism. That lesson is amusing coming from a director who reportedly spent $350 million to make this picture a high-tech stunner. The director has never been about sense or subtlety, but whatever. It’s all about the visual exhibition. The Way of Water delivers that using the most extravagant methods available. Reportedly, this is the 4th most expensive movie ever made, and it looks it. Advanced motion capture perfectly mimics the actors playing Na’vi characters. The technology not only impressively reproduces their underwater manipulations while swimming but their facial expressions as well.

It all builds to an epic showdown. The climax is a massive water-based confrontation between the invading humans vs. the native Na’vi. The latter gets a generous assist from aquatic creatures. The spectacle makes up for the deficiencies in the story. My frequent quibble: it’s far too long. The production is a patience-testing 3 hours and 12 minutes. Cameron could have easily trimmed an hour out of this bloated narrative to make it a little more efficient and enjoyable. Lengthy sequences exist to simply highlight the splendor of Pandora. The marvels of marine animals include a prolonged focus on alien whales. Part of the chronicle is akin to a nature documentary. Granted, it is gorgeous. See this in 3D on a big screen in a theater to fully appreciate its beauty and wonder. I was enthralled.

12-15-22

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on December 17, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I do reviews for UK-based talkSPORT radio. On Sunday, December 11th, I discussed a couple of potential Oscar contenders: the journalism drama SHE SAID and the dark satire TRIANGLE OF SADNESS. Both are available to rent online (iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, etc.) My segment begins 6 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 hour (24 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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

Triangle of Sadness

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on December 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Satirizing the upper class is very in right now. Parasite won Best Picture in 2020. The Menu has been entertaining moviegoers in cinemas for the past month. TV series The White Lotus just completed its second season on HBO. Glass Onion — the sequel to Knives Out — hits Netflix on December 23. Triangle of Sadness is the latest opus by Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund. It secured the Palme d’Or — the highest merit — at the Cannes Film Festival in May. His movie The Square took the award in 2017.

Östlund’s sensibilities are dark but with a humorous undercurrent. The script explains that a “triangle of sadness” is the furrowed brow of wrinkles due to tension in the face. An alternate explanation is that our sorrowful tale is conveniently divided into three parts. The through line that unites all three sections is a young dating couple, Carl (Harris Dickinson) is a male model, and his girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) is also a model. She is an influencer, and they’re invited on an ocean liner in exchange for promoting it on social media. Beauty is their ticket into this world of elites.

Through them, we get to know some of the wealthy vacationers on board the luxury yacht. There’s a lonely tech billionaire (Henrik Dorsin), a Russian fertilizer tycoon (Zlatko Burić) traveling with his wife (Sunnyi Melles) and mistress ( Carolina Gynning), a sweet elderly married pair (Amanda Walker & Oliver Ford Davies) who amassed a fortune manufacturing hand grenades, and a poor German woman who has suffered a stroke and repeatedly says “In Den Wolken” which means “in the clouds.”

In an upstairs-downstairs scenario, we also see scenes of the crew working hard to cater to the guests’ whims and desires. The head of the crew is Paula (Vicki Berlin), who believes no request is too absurd. The ship’s drunken captain (Woody Harrelson) is a self-proclaimed Marxist. But the most noteworthy individual is a “toilet manager” named Abigail, portrayed by Filipina actress Dolly de Leon. If the Academy truly exists to honor the best performances regardless of Hollywood status, they will nominate the heretofore unknown. She makes the most memorable impression in a supporting role for 2022. Her brilliant performance is the kind of depiction that often gets overlooked. Later the ship encounters rough seas, the power goes out, and pirates attack the ship. Only a select few survivors can escape. They wind up on an island.

To give more plot details would be to ruin the surprise of what occurs. Ruben Ostlund’s screenplay is a companion to Force Majeure (2014) and The Square (2017). The trilogy collectively mocks the 1%. I was riveted by the twists and turns of how the narrative in his latest develops. The story touches on class, race, and gender to comment on celebrity, wealth, and inequality. Yet it unfolds organically, which compels the viewer to keep watching. It’s a long production (147 minutes) but never dull. I will admit in one extended sequence, the people on the boat get sick, and there’s a lot of regurgitation. It goes on for far too long, but that’s the purpose. You’ll either be repulsed or amused by the exaggeration. It’s outrageous. I wasn’t a fan of that patience-testing display. However, everything else succeeds. The objective isn’t subtle, but it is intelligent and funny.

12-01-22

Triangle of Sadness is available to rent on digital retailers like Amazon Video, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube Movies, Google Play, and more.

She Said

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on December 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

She Said concerns Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times. The reporters broke the story that exposed film producer Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and sexual misconduct against women. The scandal was a watershed moment for Hollywood and ushered in the #MeToo movement. The conversation would not end with Weinstein. Their coverage was the impetus that reexamined sexual harassment and changed the fabric of the workplace forever.

The newspaper drama is part of a grand tradition. This is the latest addition to a category that includes All the President’s Men and Spotlight, but the film could learn a thing or two from those classics. Watching people hunt down the details of a story while waiting for cell phones to ring so they can interview people and subsequently type up their findings can be rather dull. Our interest in a work of cinema demands both great performances from actors and a crackerjack screenplay.

This news event could form the basis for a gripping movie. However, She Said is a matter-of-fact recap. How two women at the New York Times got victims to go on record to share what happened to them presents the basic facts. It’s a sensible by-the-numbers retelling of a newsworthy event. However, it isn’t particularly innovative or ambitious. I didn’t learn anything new. Nevertheless, Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan are compelling. I respect their craft.

However, the approach could’ve cut a lot deeper. Directed by Maria Schrader from a script by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the account is adapted from the 2019 book of the same name by Twohey and Kantor. She Said draws attention to a sobering truth. The first documented case occurred in 1984. Harvey Weinstein’s behavior would go unchecked (some might even say subsidized) within the industry for over three decades. Over 80 women eventually accused Weinstein of such acts. The screenplay has plenty of condemnation toward Weinstein, but It fails to hold Hollywood accountable. Rape charges would finally be filed in 2018. He’s now serving a 23-year prison sentence, but he’s also facing up to 135 years behind bars if convicted on other charges,

This journalism procedural is an efficiently made celebration of how the truth came to light, but it isn’t incisive or revelatory. On the plus side, the narrative dutifully applauds the brave women who stepped forward and told their stories. Jennifer Ehle as Miramax employee Laura Madden and Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins, Harvey Weinstein’s personal assistant, are the highlights. Ashley Judd even appears on screen as herself. It also celebrates Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who tirelessly worked to help make that happen. I’m encouraged that justice was served in this case and that a major Hollywood studio like Universal Pictures financed a movie about it.

She Said is currently playing in theaters, where it has earned $5.7 million since November 18. On December 6, it was made available to rent on digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Vudu.

12-08-22

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on December 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

I do reviews for UK-based talkSPORT radio. On Sunday, December 4th, I reviewed GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (Netflix) and A CHRISTMAS STORY CHRISTMAS (HBO Max), a sequel to the 1983 holiday classic. My segment begins 2 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 hour (28 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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