Archive for the Action Category

Mulan

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama on September 8, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I tolerated Mulan. Disney’s latest live-action reimagining of one of their animated films is based on the 1998 release. The new version is not bad, so there’s no need to beat up a movie that has already experienced a problematic route to the public. Mulan‘s Hollywood premiere was held on March 9, 2020. The theatrical release was delayed multiple times before finally being released 6 months later on September 4. Mulan is currently available to people who subscribe to Disney+ but only if you pay an additional premium fee of $29.99. Disney is nothing if not a business.

The story of a heroine who disguises herself so she can fight alongside the men is the sort of girl-power anthem that should inspire and uplift. Yet her journey is strangely lacking in emotion here. I did not feel the empathy that her fable should have inspired. I try to judge these live-action adaptations separately from their sources but that can be difficult. That these are indeed remakes is simply a fact that cannot be ignored. I mostly enjoy them to varying degrees. Dumbo was a colossal misfire in 2019 but I was entertained by their versions of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.

Of course, the main focus is the same, but this version changes a lot from its inspiration. The narrative is missing that spark which is odd because the cartoon is overflowing in that department. There is no humor. The mood is gravely serious. The fact that this is not a musical is noticeably felt. Big mistake. The atmosphere could use some levity or uplift. The score seems to almost acknowledge this when notes from the tune “Reflection” pop up in the score. Fans of the classic will recognize the interpolation but it’s quite subtle. Characters are removed. The wisecracking dragon sidekick Mushu didn’t make the cut. That makes perfect sense given the somber spirit, but Li Shang — the stern captain of the Imperial Army and Mulan’s mentor — is excised as well. His purpose is replaced by two individuals: Commander Tung (Donnie Yen ) and Chen Honghui (Yoson An).

A star-studded cast attempts to make up for what has been erased starting with actress Liu Yifei as the star. Although lesser known in the West, she is a recognizable celebrity in China. The rest of the ensemble includes Donnie Yen (Commander Tung), Jason Scott Lee (the main Rouran warrior), Jet Li (The Emperor), Tzi Ma (Mulan’s father), Rosalind Chao (Mulan’s mother), and most notably Gong Li. Her Xian Lang is a new addition, a shape-shifting witch with a surprisingly affecting backstory. I enjoyed her charismatic portrayal a lot. This deviation from the official account caused me to rethink that I might have appreciated a fresh epic and not something trying to recreate the animated feature. These remakes are big business though. My preference might not have been as monetarily successful but it would’ve been more satisfying.

Mulan looks fantastic, but lacks emotional weight. I’ve been a fan of New Zealand director Niki Caro ever since she helmed Whale Rider in 2002. That uplifting tale of a girl succeeding where only males had before is thematically similar to this one. Whale Rider had me weeping uncontrollably. You’d think Caro would be a perfect fit for extracting the depth required to make this tale affecting, but I could barely muster up a shrug after this was over. I can’t deny this glorious spectacle won’t satisfy a cinematic need. The saga is presented with technical skill and beautiful images. The production is unquestionably a gorgeous manifestation of the original. So there’s that. If you’re looking for something that feels like an epic, this will satisfy that thirst. Yet I felt nothing. It’s requiring more personality. It dutifully recreates the basic storyline but without the heart and humor. The characters are dreary. Mulan feels more like a meticulously recreated piece of product from the Disney factory and not a stirring legend based on centuries-old folklore.

09-04-20

Project Power

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on August 23, 2020 by Mark Hobin

project_powerSTARS1.5There is a (brief) moment where Project Power isn’t a turgid mishmash of special effects and badly edited action sequences.  It occurs when actress Dominique Fishback portraying high schooler Robin Reilly drops a series of rhymes extemporaneously built around random words suggestions by Art (Jamie Foxx).  These meticulously clever raps probably weren’t dashed off as effortlessly in real life.  Yet the screenplay by Mattson Tomlin presents them that way.  The fantasy that this teen has such a facility with language that she could achieve the impressive feat is a superpower in itself.  That’s the kind of talent that should have been the focus of this film — not some stupid drug.

Most of Project Power is a slapdash mess of an idea about a pill that grants the taker a mere 5 minutes of superhero ability.  However, there are caveats.  An individual’s reaction to the drug is unknown until it is ingested.  Some people have exploded after taking which makes it an extremely risky endeavor.  The narcotic is popular in the criminal underground where it has been purposefully introduced.  Now if you’re thinking this may be some thinly disguised sociopolitical message movie about the CIA and its association with crack cocaine, then you’re far too smart for this twaddle.

The drama is populated with hackneyed personalities.  Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a police officer trying to enforce order on the streets of New Orleans.  We’re reminded that this is the “Big Easy” many times.  So often, in fact, that I started thinking that it might make a good drinking game because alcohol is the only way I could have enjoyed this numbing assemblage of cliches.  Frank is supposed to be a good guy, yet even he takes the stimulant in order to level the playing field.  He’s conflicted.  The motivations of an ex-army soldier named Art (Jaime Foxx) are even less clear or logical.  He kidnaps a small-time dealer named Robin Reilly (Dominique Fishback).  Robin is the one human being that exhibits a fresh personality.  Art demands to know her supplier.  As if we needed more plot threads, he also happens to be searching for his missing daughter.  Then there’s the clearly evil drug overlord “Biggie” portrayed by Rodrigo Santoro.

The tone is wildly inconsistent.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt often provides comic relief as Officer Frank Shaver.  Meanwhile, Jaime Foxx is as serious as a heart attack.  He scowls a lot.  You’d think the superhero narrative and presence of high school kids would’ve inspired directors Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (Nerve, Viral) to go the family-friendly route.  Instead, this is a wallow through R-rated sludge.  Events are blighted by violence and gore.  The decision to feature people who either graphically explode or are permanently disfigured is misguided to say the least.  One guy is shot in the hand and his fingers are blown off.  Luckily the CGI is so sloppy that the effects are more cartoonish than realistic.  Visually incoherent is the best way to describe the action sequences and quite frankly, the entire film.  Project Power contains a creative idea that 9 out of 10 writers could’ve easily expanded into an interesting tale.  Apparently, this is the attempt that failed.

08-22-20

Greyhound

Posted in Action, Drama, History with tags on July 21, 2020 by Mark Hobin

greyhound_ver2STARS3Are you thirsting for more World War II dramas?  Well, you’re in luck.  This is yet another — and decidedly old fashioned — saga between Axis and Allied powers.  This one happens to star America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks.  It’s clearly a passion project too because he also wrote the screenplay.

The setting is the Battle of the Atlantic which was a long ongoing military campaign that began in 1939 and lasted until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.  Hanks stars as US Navy Commander Ernest Krause in charge of the USS Keeling which had the codename: Greyhound.  That’s where the title comes from.  He’s leading a convoy of 37 ships.  Considering his career, the part is sort of a callback to the movie Captain Phillips.  There the 64-year-old actor also played a ship commander, albeit one from more recent times.

Tom Hanks is great at playing decent, honorable men.  He has cemented his status in the last decade with Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Bridge of Spies, and Sully.  Add this one to the list.  He’s definitely noble here.  He’s even shown kneeling in prayer at the end of the day.  However, the interesting thing is he’s playing a character that is a little out of his depth as an authority.  The rest of the crew have seen battle before so they’re knowledgeable.  Captain Krause has a lot of more years on these fellows but he’s less familiar with combat and his inexperience in this area plays a key factor in the story.  The production is respectable and sincere so it has good intentions.

If only the narrative were just a wee bit more compelling.  Hanks’ script isn’t about exploring the emotional core of one man.  Instead, you get an immersive feel for the day-to-day routine of the officers.  The dialogue is chock full of the jargon and minutiae of naval tactics, but it lacks humanity.  You can still enjoy the movie without understanding all the lingo but if you really want to understand every word I suggest closed captions.  Nevertheless, the military fight scenes are the best part.  They are extremely effective and well filmed so I’m giving this a pass because of the impressive spectacle.  I will only lament that it would’ve been significantly better in a theater on a big screen.

07-12-20

The Old Guard

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Thriller with tags on July 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

old_guardSTARS3The Old Guard isn’t winning any Oscars but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.  I am a movie critic, not a film “snob”.  Of course, that word means different things to different people.  For some, a snob will actually scorn blatant Oscar bait so I probably shouldn’t get too bogged down in labels.  I only contest that I have a love for many types of flicks even when I critique a release for its obvious flaws.  Critics rightfully want to champion works that promote character development but movies that simply indulge on a purely visceral level are often negated.

There was an era (the 1980s) that genre films of this type routinely succeeded and the perspective changed.  An action-packed screenplay could also support interesting characters that kept us on the edge of our seats. First Blood (1982), The Terminator (1984), Die Hard (1988) and Point Break (1991) are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.  The passage of time has only cemented these thrilling classics in the pantheon.  It’s easy to defend these endeavors as cinematic touchstones now but it wasn’t in the age they came out.  The Old Guard seeks to delight that same audience.  This production doesn’t come anywhere close to achieving the heights of those aforementioned titles but there is a glimmer here of what made them great.

The chronicle concerns an impressive team of soldiers for hire that goes on a revenge mission.  The difference is that these mercenaries are immortal.  Charlize Theron plays Andy also known as Andromache of Scythia.  She’s a centuries-old leader of a band of warriors and she’s perfectly cast.  Theron exhibited a desire for such projects when she did Æon Flux 15 years ago but it’s really only been in the last 5 years that she has presented herself as a serious action star.  Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, The Fate of the Furious, and now this.  Theron’s unflinching portrayal is one of the high points.

I crave a story.  These roles are difficult because they’re largely defined by fight choreography and not the depth of nuance in the acting department.  In fact, the ability to show little to no emotion is usually desired.  That’s exactly what Andy is — a killing machine with a consistently grave demeanor.  She barely comes across as human. Showing more character development is a woman named Nile Freeman played by KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) who was a former US Marine who discovers she is an immortal as well.  Her journey as a new addition to the team is emotionally compelling.  The appealing cast also includes actors Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Their presence, as well as others, ensures the audience is treated to a captivating ensemble of personalities.

The Old Guard is actually adapted from a graphic novel so if you suffer from what I call “comic-book movie fatigue” this may not be your cup of tea.   It can be a bit formulaic but the fight sequences are indeed dynamic.  Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has only helmed three films since her directorial debut Love & Basketball in 2000.  The Secret Life of Bees (2008), and Beyond the Lights (2014) followed.  Each work is satisfying.  The Old Guard is a big hit on Netflix so perhaps this will be the moment that finally catapults a career that spans two decades.  It has a fantastical superhero element to it.  Given the silliness of the premise, I would’ve appreciated a little more humor though.  Why so serious?  Nevertheless, if you’re looking to be entertained for 125 minutes, this should fit the bill.

07-13-20

7500

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller with tags on June 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

sevenfivezerozero_ver2STARS2.5Airborne thriller concerns the hijacking of a plane by Islamic terrorists.  Add this to the growing list in the aviation genre that includes movies like Airport, Alive, and Final Destination.  This is definitely one selection that will never become a part of your  in-flight entertainment.  Count your blessings.   That’s a good thing in this case.  The narrative is efficient in the extreme as the drama ultimately becomes a two-hander between one pilot (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and one terrorist named Vedat (Omid Memar).

Our central protagonist is Tobias, an American co-pilot on a flight traveling from Berlin to Paris.  A small group of Islamic extremists — and I’ll clarify, I counted 3 — attempt to take over the aircraft.  Their weapons of choice are shards of broken glass.  Writer-director Patrick Vollrath was previously nominated for an Oscar in 2016 for his live-action short Everything Will Be Okay.  He makes his feature directorial debut with this economical drama.  That’s a nice way of saying the entire picture is completely set in one room — the cockpit of a plane.   To say this drama is claustrophobic would be an understatement.

7500 creates a harrowing scenario so there is tension but it’s unpleasant without being engaging.  All of the exciting moments occur in the first half.  The hijackers make demands.  People are threatened.  The navigator is conflicted.  Then our attention begins to wane as Vollrath seems to repeat the cycle with more of the same.  Joseph Gordon Levitt does his best with substandard material.   However, the characters are superficially detailed.  I mean they’re people so we care because they represent human life but the screenplay is unable to afford them any depth.  They aren’t relatable or interesting.  Director Paul Greengrass tackled very similar material in an infinitely better way with United 93.  My recommendation is to watch it instead if you haven’t seen that far superior film already.   You would do best to skip this….unless you happen to be a Joseph Gordon-Levitt completist.

06-20-20

Artemis Fowl

Posted in Action, Adventure, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 17, 2020 by Mark Hobin

artemis_fowlSTARS1I couldn’t decipher it.  For the uninitiated (that would include me) Artemis Fowl is an impenetrable hodgepodge.  This is an adventure so confusing that it practically dares you to understand it.  I have a college degree mind you and I couldn’t make heads or tails of the random assemblage of stuff thrown up on the screen.  Lovers of the 8 young adult fantasy novels written by Irish author Eoin Colfer have sadly waited nearly two decades.  This adaptation has languished in development hell after the first book was published in 2001.  Artemis Fowl is a fanciful tale that aimlessly fluctuates between both human and fairy type characters.  The latter encompasses elves, dwarves, goblins, gnomes, pixies, sprites, gremlins, and demons.  I didn’t realize what I was getting into.  Unfortunately, the narrative never makes any concessions to try and draw the viewer into this complex world.  However, I will do better by trying to make sense of what I saw, dear reader.

Let me see if I can piece together some semblance of a story.  Let’s begin with the complete snooze that is the central protagonist.  Artemis is a name most famously attributed to the goddess of the hunt in Greek mythology.  Here however it refers to a highly intelligent 12-year-old boy, a child prodigy and we’re told a so-called criminal mastermind.  Criminal?!  He’s more of a dispassionate philanthropist.  As embodied by teen actor Ferdia Shaw, he is a cold, unemotional individual that elicits zero enthusiasm.  Shaw lacks the charisma to be the focus of a production.  The screenwriters seem to indirectly acknowledge this because he’s frequently relegated to the background while a couple of side characters become the center of attention.  Elf Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) — a large dwarf that resembles Hagrid from Harry Potter — are comparatively more interesting.  Probably not a good foundation to kick off a cinematic franchise.  Judi Dench also shows up as an elven military commander who at one point tells someone to “Get the four-leaf clover out of here!”   That’s an amusing line.  Unfortunately nothing else she says afterward ever is.

The Fowl clan is kind of a family along the lines of the Corleones in The Godfather.  They are a close-knit group of people.  So when Dad (Colin Farrell) goes missing, Artemis — with the help of his bodyguard Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie) — must recover an acorn-shaped artifact called the Aculos.  That’s about all I can tell you.  The narrative doesn’t offer a plot but rather a vomit of action sequences and special effects.  It haphazardly jumps from one event to another with little explanation as to why anyone is doing what they are doing.  I sat there dumbfounded for 95 minutes bewildered by the utter cacophony of noise and spectacle that unfolded before my eyes.  It’s as baffling as anything ever committed to celluloid and that includes the opening monologue to David Lynch’s Dune.

I hated this movie.  Artemis Fowl is among the worst films of 2020.  Given our current reality, that’s really saying something.  There are explicit reasons why this property was greenlighted.  It’s called “MONEY”.  The search for the next literary work that can mimic Harry Potter’s success continues.  It superficially involves fairies, dwarves, trolls, and other  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.   Oops sorry!  That was yet another unsuccessful attempt to duplicate Harry Potter’s magic.  Given the chilly response, Artemis Fowl hasn’t placated even the most devoted supporters.  This release is an insult to every human being that enjoys cinema so if you aren’t deeply familiar with the text, this will be an even more frustrating experience.  How did Disney (a studio that usually knows what people want) allow this mess to get a release?  A lot of the blame should be placed on the screenplay by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl but director Kenneth Branagh is culpable too.   His ability to helm a coherent feature is seriously in question.   The Irish director has given us many other examples over the course of three decades: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000), As You Like It (2006), Sleuth (2007), and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) weren’t good movies either but he’s surprisingly topped himself in 2020.  It pains me to say it, but this is unquestionably Branagh’s worst film.

06-12-20

The Lovebirds

Posted in Action, Comedy, Crime with tags on June 4, 2020 by Mark Hobin

lovebirdsSTARS2So I was excited about this film for a couple reasons.  (1) it was originally scheduled to be released to theaters in April by Paramount Pictures and (2) it reunites Kumail Nanjiani with director Michael Showalter who were both responsible for The Big Sick, my favorite movie of 2017.  However I’ll cut to the chase, it didn’t deliver, and the fact that this had different writers probably explains why it wasn’t on the same level.

I wasn’t alone in my disappointment.  The Lovebirds debuted to Netflix on May 22 and briefly held the #1 position.  Then it plummeted.  Not even two weeks later and the title is nowhere to be found in the Top 10.  Meanwhile, Uncut Gems and  Just Go With It have been popular mainstays. Perhaps Netflix should try acquiring Adam Sandler’s entire filmography.

But back to The Lovebirds.  Our story concerns a constantly bickering duo played by Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani that unintentionally become murder suspects in a mystery where they must clear their names.  A tale of mistaken identity can be a great basis for a plot.  Alfred Hitchcock took the idea and delivered North by Northwest, an indisputable classic.   Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall who wrote the screenplay are presenting us with a comedy.   The problem is it’s not funny.

The dialogue is mostly scenes where this annoying couple endlessly bicker.   It’s the details of those arguments that are supposed to make the audience laugh.  Comedy is the most subjective genre.  However, humor must be rooted in a kernel of truth.  The conversations don’t read as the ways humans really talk.  They’re like stand up routines.  The dialogue is completely detached from the situation happening on screen.  A few times they find themselves in dire circumstances where there appears to be no escape.  Yet each time they easily get out of it.  There are no stakes.  This is essentially a series of fabricated situations so the lovers have an excuse to simply argue.  I’ll admit there are some amusing lines but not enough to justify sitting through this 87-minute movie.  I know, that seems short….but it feels long.

05-22-20

Extraction

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller with tags on April 29, 2020 by Mark Hobin

extraction_netflixSTARS2A very wise person once said, “It’s not what you know.  It’s who you know.”  Extraction proves the adage still holds.  Director Sam Hargrave has been an enduring presence in Hollywood ever since 2005 when he did stunts for the WB TV series Supernatural.  However, I suspect it was his connections as a stunt coordinator for the 3 Marvel films (Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame ) the Russo brothers directed that ultimately led to this job.  Joe Russo even wrote the screenplay that supports Sam’s directorial debut.  Is this a story that will captivate your attention?  Let’s just say if action and stunts are more important to you than plot, then this will be an absolute treat.

Chris Hemsworth plays a black market mercenary.  It’s hard to feel too much concern for an individual that is seemingly invincible.  John J. Rambo exhibited more vulnerability.  Rest assured that this is a drama where even getting shot in the neck may not be a life-threatening injury.  The main character is a writer’s creation.  There’s an amusing bit of foreshadowing early on when Tyler unceremoniously slams someone’s head face down onto a steel rake.  The scene is brief, but halfway through the picture, we learn that this guy’s full name is Tyler RAKE.  Hats off to those who have already seen the movie and made this connection.  Anyway, he is hired to rescue Ovi Jr., (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) a teen who happens to be the kidnapped son of India’s biggest drug lord Ovi Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi).

This hazardous mission requires Tyler to transport the young boy out of Dhaka, Bangladesh which —  from the looks of this production — has got to be one of the worst places on Earth.  Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (The Usual Suspects, Drive) is a talented individual but here he chooses to film the events through a yellow filter that gives everything in this country a grimy haze.  The overall effect is off-putting.  I suppose it’s a superficial way to make the air appear unhealthy.  Extraction does for Bangladesh what The Hangover Part II did for Thailand.  I can safely bet the Bangladesh Tourism Board will not be endorsing this release.

This is an exceptionally violent production — the kind of generic shoot-em-up that dually redefines the word disposable.  First, in terms of memorability.  See this once and then forget about it immediately after, but also in the way it treats humanity.  A lot of people are murdered and every human life extinguished is treated with the same emotional weight of swatting a fly.  Nevertheless, the duplicitous script still manages to sprinkle little bits of “poignant” information throughout the movie to make sure the audience feels something (anything) for this character.  Tyler is haunted by the memory of his own young son, who died of leukemia while Tyler was away on an assignment in Afghanistan.  Normally that would be troubling, sure.  The thing is, it’s hard to sympathize with his love for one life when he’s responsible for so many deaths.

As many hunker down during shelter in place, Netflix has been the go-to source of entertainment for 60 million people in the US.  Now more than ever there are plenty of options but the streaming service has proven to be one of the most popular.  Netflix has made its Top 10 programs become a matter of public record.  I’m a pop culture fanatic which is akin to being a cultural anthropologist.  I’m fascinated by the things that end up in the #1 position.  Extraction is a big hit and so I watch what becomes part of the zeitgeist.

I wouldn’t have paid to see this in a theater.  Yet that’s exactly where a product like this would be best experienced.  That’s where connoisseurs of this stuff can appreciate all the explosions, carnage, and destruction on a widescreen in full digital sound.  Sadly fans will never get that chance.  Extraction was released to Netflix on April 24th and the title promptly shot to #1.  I’m not surprised.  It stars Chris Hemsworth.  I too think the actor exhibits charisma when he plays Thor so I figured if he’s starring in this, how bad could it be?   The answer is…extremely.

04-24-20

Sonic the Hedgehog

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family with tags on February 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

sonic_the_hedgehog_ver6STARS3.5Surprise!  Sonic the Hedgehog is a hit.  I must say it’s a happy ending for a production that was the focus of some seriously negative online buzz last year.  The trailer dropped in April 2019.  Admittedly the main character looked ugly.  Sonic appeared as a rat-like entity with human teeth.  He was more than just a bit unsettling.  The backlash was so severe it led animators to redesign his look which delayed the release until Feb 14.   In this case, the decision to heed the public outcry was — in retrospect — smart.  The $58 million debut far exceeded expectations.  At $75 million and counting it’s currently the 2nd biggest hit of 2020 (after Bad Boys for Life).  Not sure what this will mean when movie trailers undoubtedly earn unfavorable reactions in the future.  However, in this case, the filmmaker’s decision to react to feedback was handsomely rewarded.

No one could have been less interested in this feature than me.  First off, I don’t care for films based on video games.  I’d be hard-pressed to name one I genuinely loved.  Mortal Kombat (1995) has been my go-to answer when asked to name my favorite and I’ll admit there’s a little nostalgia mixed in my enjoyment of it.  Pokémon Detective Pikachu came out in May of 2019.  It starred a “pocket monster.”  I tolerated it, but I didn’t recommend it to anyone outside of die-hard fans.  Sonic is yet another creature.  This one is an anthropomorphic hedgehog that first appeared in a 1991 game for the Sega Genesis.  It wasn’t part of my childhood so I had no interest in the character which makes what I’m about to say even more astonishing.  Sonic the Hedgehog is the best video game movie ever made.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’ve read my intro.  The competition isn’t even that fierce but hear me out.  I am not damning with faint praise.  This is indeed an enjoyable movie.  The saga concerns a hedgehog from another dimension.  He’s a blue computer-animated creation voiced by Ben Schwartz (TV’s Parks and Recreation) but he interacts with human people.  While using magical rings like portals to travel to other planets, he ends up in Green Hills, Montana.  There he meets a man named Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter).  Tom is the local sheriff who wants to help Sonic find his missing rings so he can return home.  The two form a friendship, not unlike a boy named Elliott and another extra-terrestrial from a 1982 science fiction classic.

The adventure heralds the welcome return of Jim Carrey in his finest performance in a decade.  The Department of Defense suspects something dangerous is going on after a widespread power outage.  They enlist the aid of Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a scientific genius sporting a bushy handlebar-mustache that would make any member of a barbershop quartet jealous.  I cannot downplay how much I enjoyed his antics.  His presence is truly a return to form.  I’m talking zany bonkers Jim Carrey in 1994 when he made Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all in the same year.  In the hands of a lesser actor, this role might be tiresome, but in his capable hands, the wacky physical comedy is hilarious.  The high point is when Robotnik does his dance of anarchy to “Where Evil Grows” by The Poppy Family.  His facial expressions and vocal delivery are amusing whenever he’s on screen.  He’s supported by a sidekick named Agent Stone portrayed by actor Lee Majdoub and he’s a calming counterpoint to Carrey’s wild shenanigans.

Sonic the Hedgehog may ostensibly be an adaptation of a video game.  The chronicle is merely about a character that gets into lots of mischief while trying to evade his captors but there’s just enough oddity and edge to delight adults too.  Jim Carrey is indeed the MVP but a charismatic cast featuring James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Lee Majdoub, Natasha Rothwell and Adam Pally all contribute.  The entire production is blessed with memorable and likable personalities.  At its center is Sonic and Tom, a duo whose evolving dynamic develops from casual acquaintances into close friends.  Thanks to them, this ends up being a sweet, warm, clever, and funny story about the importance of friendship.  This may be a broad, accessible family-friendly film for the pre-teen set.  Yet the narrative delves deeper to extract a depth of heart and feeling.  I wasn’t expecting that in a video game movie.

02-13-20

Birds of Prey

Posted in Action, Adventure, Crime, Superhero with tags on February 13, 2020 by Mark Hobin

birds_of_prey_ver6

 

STARS1
“Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.”  That’s what Annie Oakley confidently sang to marksman Frank Butler in the musical Annie Get Your Gun.  She was boasting about her abilities as a sharpshooter and she wasn’t wrong.  Birds of Prey is about a decidedly different kind of feminist icon — Harley Quinn.  Some would even call her a villain.  There’s an ideology that subscribes to the idea that women can be just as — if not more than — coarse, vulgar and harmful as the men.  This is the approach where the very exhibition of destruction itself is an idea more cherished than drama, plot or logic.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a complete assault on the senses.  Even the unwieldy title is an irritant.  Warner Brothers also realized this later, because they have now retitled it as Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey as a course corrective.  At $33.0M, the movie had the worst opening since the DC Extended universe began in 2013.  One day the marketing campaign will be studied as a course entitled “What Not To Do”.  But let’s talk about the actual movie.  It doesn’t help that the plot is an incomprehensible headache to follow.  An animated intro — the only lucid thing in the whole production — informs us that the Joker and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) were once lovers.  He has broken up with her and now she is no longer afforded his protection.  She is now pursued by numerous enemies.  The main baddie is an evil gangster named Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) who owns a dance club.  He’s too much of a buffoon to be threatening.  Meanwhile, a teenage pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Bosco) has stolen and swallowed a precious diamond from Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) one of Roman Sionis’ henchmen.  So Harley offers to retrieve it for Roman. In exchange, he will spare her life.

Suicide Squad doesn’t have a reputation as artistic cinema but it’s Citizen Kane compared to this bewildering collection of gibberish.  At least Suicide Squad had Margot Robbie’s appearance which rose above the chaotic assemblage of actors.  As part of an ensemble, Harley Quinn was the charismatic standout, but here as the main focus of a narrative, you realize just how shallow and empty she truly is.  The once certified psychiatrist is a brightly colored confection not motivated by anything.  She merely responds to whatever is happening around her.  For most of the saga, her raison d’etre is to simply not die.  As one brutal spectacle piles on top of another, I grew numb.

Margo Robbie isn’t a character she’s an affectation.  An entity entirely composed of mannerisms and attitude.  She’s Baby-Spice blasting glitter bombs, occasionally breaking the fourth wall by winking and talking to the audience under the guidance of director Cathy Yan.  This is the filmmaker’s second feature after the indie comedy-drama Dead Pigs.  Star Robbie is a two-time Oscar nominee.  She is unquestionably a talent but here she is being instructed to behave in a way that truly tests the patience of the audience.  Harley Quinn’s cutesy chirp of a New York accent seems cobbled from Madonna’s performance as Nikki Finn in Who’s that Girl (1987).  Even their names sound similar.  Harley also narrates the film in a scattered singsongy voiceover that explains what’s happening on screen.  Obviously required because no sane person could possibly divine a point to this nonsense.

There is no story — just a series of raucous setpieces to which Harley Quinn must react.  Fight scenes are accompanied by a rock soundtrack cranked at full volume to distract from the lack of rationality.  “I Hate Myself for Loving You”, “Love Rollercoaster” and “Barracuda” all play at various points in the background.   The aural soundscape blends together.  One scene bears little relationship to the one before it.  Indeed the tale is conveniently told in a nonlinear fashion.  The decision feels more like a desperate struggle to obfuscate the lack of structure rather than a purposeful choice of style.

Birds of Prey is a violent action fantasy based on DC Comics’ infamous supervillain “girl gang”.  They’re opposed by Roman and right-hand man Victor who cut their victims’ faces off while they’re still alive.  They gun down a family with children in a gory display too.  For most of the movie’s runtime, it concerns one Harley Quinn but three other women emerge who have been mistreated by men: a vigilante called Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a singer dubbed Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and a police detective named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).  The screenplay disingenuously attempts — in the end — to reinterpret all this mindless cursing, and mayhem into a pseudo-feminist anthem of banding together against their male oppressors.  Yet the women are undeveloped and conventional as characters.  Their one-dimensional personas feel like a giant step backward for female empowerment.  Ultimately the disjointed narrative makes absolutely no sense.  Birds of Prey — utterly lacking in wit, cleverness or coherence — is a featherbrained mess.

02-06-20