Archive for the Action Category

Moonfall

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on May 19, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Let’s face it, director Roland Emmerich peaked with Independence Day. He’s been chasing that achievement ever since. Oh sure, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 were huge successes as well, but they were disaster films modeled on the blueprint of that success. The simple concept here: The moon’s trajectory has mysteriously altered and is now hurtling toward our planet. The monumental catastrophe makes no sense whatsoever. That would be fine if the script simply embraced the silliness and then gave us a show. However, Emmerich has other plans.

The central figure is Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson). The disgraced astronaut has been blamed for a calamity up in space while doing maintenance on a satellite station. The mission was led by Commander Jo Fowler (Halle Berry). She was knocked unconscious and has no memory of the event. At least she survived. The other astronaut (Frank Fiola) in their trio did not. Brian’s allegation that a large black mass attacked them is written off as crazy talk. Human error is the official explanation. The event takes its toll on his daily life. Brian eventually divorces his wife Brenda (Carolina Bartczak). Their teen son Sonny (Charlie Plummer) grows emotionally distant from him. Brenda gets remarried to Tom (Michael Peña) and moves to Jersey. Commander Jo also has an ex-husband (Eme Ikwuakor) who is an Air Force chief of staff. They share custody of their annoyingly cute 10-year-old (Zayn Maloney). None of the drama down on land is compelling. Unfortunately, these soap opera shenanigans are de rigueur for an Emmerich production.

Moonfall is a greatest hits album of Roland Emmerich themes: Manhattan gets decimated, an alien threat, broken father-son relationship. The “master of disaster” understands that audiences come to see a spectacle when things go wrong. He delivers that at least. Stuff will be destroyed, but he also feels the need to ground everything in characters that endlessly clarify the science of it all. The cast includes comic relief in the form of a wacky conspiracy theorist with a podcast. KC Houseman (John Bradley) believes the moon is an artificial megastructure whose elliptical orbit has changed. His character exists to explain things. Count how many times the word “megastructure ” is uttered if you get bored. Yes the developments do get sillier by the minute and I expect that, but exposition dumps are never an interesting way to describe what’s happening. These densely written monologues somehow make the plot sound more stupid. Even Donald Sutherland pops up briefly to collect a paycheck. As the gatekeeper of NASA’s secret archives, he imparts a bevy of information.

Moonfall could have been so dumb it’s fun. The title is literally the premise: Moon falls…toward Earth. The amount of science and data forced into the account effectively drains the lighthearted spirit out of the story. Emmerich didn’t act alone. He assembled this wretched screenplay with two others: Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen. The ersatz drama of interconnected familial relationships and subplots is a real snooze too. With a $146 million budget, it’s one of the most expensive independently-funded movies ever made. When Moonfall opened in theaters back in February it flopped hard. I wasn’t surprised. It looked terrible and I ignored it. But it found a second life on VOD when it debuted in April. The rental has consistently remained in the Top 10. “Maybe it’s not so bad?” I thought. <sigh> I should trust my instincts.

05-17-22

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Superhero with tags on May 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“I’m not a monster. I’m a mother.”

Why not be both? Benedict Cumberbatch may get top billing, but the driving force of the narrative is Elizabeth Olsen. She is Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. The Scarlet Witch. The woman loves her sons Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) dearly. She simply wants them back with her safe and sound. Nothing wrong with that, right? The problem is, to accomplish this, she has to create a lot of chaos. What’s a mother to do? Enter America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the ability to travel to different worlds in the multiverse. Unfortunately, America cannot control her abilities. She is being chased by a demonic entity and requests the help of Dr. Stephen Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong). Strange realizes he needs further assistance and so he appeals to Wanda Maximoff for help.

The chronicle is surprisingly basic but made needlessly complicated. The title may be saddled with the sobriquet “In the Multiverse of Madness,” but this is a direct sequel to Doctor Strange. It’s not a movie for uninformed viewers. It demands knowledge of other Marvel properties before watching. Obviously, you must see part one. A familiarity with Spider-Man: No Way Home and the TV shows What If…? and Loki might also improve your experience. Essential viewing is the Disney+ TV show WandaVision. In that series, Wanda has two kids and the love for her sons is her motivation here in what could have been a straightforward saga. Complicating matters are cameos that distract from the drama at its heart.

This sequel is conspicuously hampered by a slavish devotion to being a piece in a much larger puzzle. Callbacks to other individuals within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) pop up to check off boxes and remind the viewer this is merely a chapter in a media franchise. The saga is burdened by the introduction of people that reference other releases and suggest potential developments in future films. A tedious detour presents Stephen Strange attending the wedding of Christine Palmer where Dr. Nic West also happens to be a guest. The extended sequence hijacks the narrative only to justify that Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg’s names be included on the movie poster. In another development, we meet Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo. He is the Sorcerer Supreme of the Illuminati, a secret society made of superheroes that Doctor Strange originally formed. This includes alternate versions of well-known characters from previous MCU features that have been recast. It feels like a distraction shoehorned into the account. They have little to do with the central tale. Even screenwriter Michael Waldron seems to secretly loathe their presence. No detailed spoilers, but I wouldn’t get attached to all of them.

It’s nice when an auteur can bring their style to the Marvel machine. Let’s face it. In this context, directors are talent for hire that must adhere to a set of rules overseen by a committee with the final say. The caliber of notables tapped to oversee something within the MCU is a most impressive list. Some are more successful than others at injecting their stamp onto the material. Taika Waititi added camp to Thor: Ragnarok. Chloé Zhao brought thoughtful introspection to Eternals. Sam Raimi brings his eccentric spirit. He’s already familiar with the superhero genre. The Spider-Man trilogy he helmed starring Tobey Maguire beginning back in 2002 is iconic. But it’s the horror aesthetic of The Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell that informs the DNA of this picture.

Doctor Strange 2 (yes I’m calling it that) is a weird and wild blockbuster. Director Sam Raimi’s signature is all over this film. When Stephen Strange and his ally America are falling through multiple universes, it is a surreal trip employing bizarre visuals and music. At one point they even briefly become cartoons. The snippet is one of the most inspired bits I’ve seen in a movie all year. Later Stephen Strange uses Dreamwalking (don’t ask) to take over the corpse of another variant of himself called Defender Strange. His walking and talking zombie is hideous. It can be entertaining — especially when Elizabeth Olsen is on screen as The Scarlet Witch doing her magic. When the story gets sidetracked by tributaries and detours it’s less captivating. It’s a mixed bag for me, although I lean toward a recommendation. It’s a fun summer flick with fantasy elements and special effects. I guess I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

05-05-22

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Posted in Action, Comedy, Crime with tags on April 28, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s the role he was literally born to play. Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage — or at least a heightened version of his frenzied persona. Sometimes a high concept is enough. When The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent fully acknowledges its meta pretense, the movie is a hoot. However, a pedestrian action-comedy ultimately emerges from that facade of creative self-awareness. It’s enjoyable too, but not as clever as the idea of the actor playing himself as a movie star.

The conceit has Nick currently mulling over his career. The performer hasn’t had a good part in a while now and he is running out of money. He has a tense relationship with both his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and their daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). Occasionally he argues with a younger even more boisterous interpretation of himself called Nicky. Sorry, but the efficacy of de-aging technology using CGI is still highly questionable. After being passed over for a coveted film role, he decides he will retire from acting. But first, he’s going to accept a mysterious offer of $1 million to attend the birthday party of a billionaire playboy named Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal). Cage would be the guest of honor. The celebration is being held on the island of Mallorca, off the coast of mainland Spain.

UWOMT is a lot of things. When the script is focused on being a Hollywood satire, it’s a sly comment on the entertainer’s own acting choices and the current state of filmmaking. That wit is peppered throughout the film and I relished those moments. Cage has made a lot of movies. I expected Leaving Las Vegas and Face/Off references. The fact that even Guarding Tess and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin get a mention too was an amusing surprise. The screenplay co-written by director Tom Gormican with Kevin Etten is that thorough.

The heart beating underneath this spoof is a pleasant but formulaic action-comedy. Actor Pedro Pascal is indeed lovable as the wealthy super-fan. His admiration for Cage has a warmth that radiates sincerity. Javi Gutierrez also happens to be an international criminal. The true nature of his character is an ongoing concern for Nick. Javi may or may not have kidnapped the daughter of a presidential candidate. At one point, there’s a memorable reveal of a secret room in Javi’s compound that could’ve gone any number of ways. No spoilers here. I’ll only offer that the buddy aspects are superior to the criminal elements. The two bond over a certain beloved family movie. The pair have ample chemistry together to make this a winner. Now I think I’ll go rewatch Paddington 2.

04-26-22

The Northman

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on April 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Princess Bride was the last film I expected to think of while watching The Northman. It occurs when Prince Amleth makes his proclamation: “I will avenge you, Father. I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” Like the declaration of Inigo Montoya in the William Goldman novel and subsequent adaptation, the vindictive pledge is like a mantra. In all fairness, the mood of this Viking adventure is closer to darker revenge movies like Conan the Barbarian, Braveheart, and Gladiator.

The ancient Norse legends are the basis for Robert Eggers’ tale. They’re part of a rich tradition that also inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet. The Northman is the director’s most commercial release. He’s working from a reported budget of somewhere between $70 and $90 million depending on whatever accounting reports you believe. Regardless, it’s easy to see where the money went. The chronicle is a beautifully photographed epic of visual grandeur. If you’re content to simply gorge on the scenery, you’ll be satiated.

The story is simplistic, but it’s accomplished by a talented ensemble. Young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) witnesses the murder of his father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke), and the capture of his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), by his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Years later, Amleth (now played by Alexander Skarsgård) vows to assassinate Fjölnir. He also promises to liberate his mother — still played by Kidman (!) The actress is now only nine years older than the actor playing her son. Ah, Hollywood! Amleth embarks on a quest to find and execute Fjölnir. During his journey, he meets Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), a sorceress/Slavic slave who becomes his ally and also love interest — not necessarily in that order.

There’s no denying that Alexander Skargaaard has the physicality of a Viking. His performance is a wild untamed muscular bundle of rage. The dude is so jacked, his workout routine suggests he’s doing a lot more than rowing a boat and occasionally wielding a sword. Intellectually he has one thing on his mind: to avenge his father’s death. So he enlists the help of a group of berserkers to help him accomplish his task. I wish I could say there was more to the plot but that’s it. The account portrays this undertaking.

The Northman is a surprisingly conventional tale from a director who heretofore has been anything but. It’s not surprising that the director is feeling a little playful. He’s working with a massive budget that now allows for a grander scale and scope. The Witch and The Lighthouse were contemplative pictures that traded action for meaning. The Northman feels like an about-face. The screenplay — co-written by Eggers and Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón — isn’t too interested in profound considerations. It’s a basic and bloody revenge scenario. Introspection be damned.

Where this visceral fable of retaliation excels is in the iconography that elevates the most historically accurate Viking movie ever made. At least that’s what the press materials brag. Maybe it is. I can’t dispute the boast because I don’t have a Ph.D. in Scandinavian Studies. The research and attention to detail must be acknowledged. The director is hell-bent on historical authenticity. The feature relies on a lot of window dressing that follows a narrative blueprint of retribution. I’m talking about spectacular production design by Craig Lathrop, beautiful cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, and meticulously created costumes by Linda Muir.

I’ll admit the spectacle is visually impressive. The landscapes are stunning. The violence is brutal. Yet I’d accept a little inaccuracy for some narrative depth. The saga is high on style but low on innovation. Nevertheless, it does manage to proffer a meditative consideration of masculinity and honor. Meanwhile, the action remains rooted in pulpy earthiness. It all culminates in a bloody skirmish between Amleth and Fjölnir who converge — naked — near an active volcano. If nothing else, it’s a moment that ensures this picture demands a mention on lists of memorable fights that include Women in Love and Eastern Promises. The Northman‘s place in cinematic history is ensured.

04-21-22

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family with tags on April 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Sonic the Hedgehog was a winning story in 2020 because it was overflowing with heart. At its core, it detailed a friendship forged between a little blue alien and a local sheriff named Tom (James Marsden). It was derivative of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and obviously nowhere near as good, but it did manage to extract some of the same warmth. The account felt sincere. I was pleasantly surprised. Add a goofily inspired performance from Jim Carey as the central villain and I was singing its praises. In contrast, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a cash grab lacking the goodwill, sincerity, and heart of its predecessor.

The chronicle begins when Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik escapes his exile from a mushroom world. This allows the actor to call the fungi planet from which he escapes a “piece of shiitake.” That mildly vulgar play on words was funnier when I heard it in Spy Kids. Regardless, Carey was enough of a villain to sustain the original story — a refreshingly simple fish out of water tale. Adding more characters rarely equals a better movie but filmmakers often rely on it when making sequels. Carey gets an evil ally in the form of a computer-generated short-beaked echidna called Knuckles. Voiced in a low register by Idris Elba, he’s looking for the all-powerful Master Emerald. This is the MacGuffin — the object that everybody wants.

Sonic has been attempting to fight crime on Earth as a superhero. He has been failing miserably. A two-tailed fox appropriately named Tails from yet another distant planet is a good guy. He is imbued with a high-pitched voice by Colleen O’Shaughnessey. Tails has been watching over Sonic and arrives on Earth to warn our hero about the malevolent foes out to get him. These fantastical beasts from outer space occupy the central focus. Why have just one fully CGI star when you can have three? The loneliness of Sonic’s unique existence was a compelling quality in the first film. Sadly that distinction is absent from this overcrowded sequel.

The chemistry between the human James Marsden and the cartoon Sonic is what made the original so delightful. That’s gone. Here the trio of animated personalities mostly interact with each other. Watching three computerized entities zip around the screen in frenetic pre-programmed action sequences in a crushing bore. Carrey attempts to give another larger-than-life performance. Unfortunately, he’s buried underneath a technology-laden tsunami of CGI characters. I’ve watched the skills of talented gamers up on a TV screen that offered more emotional context. Meanwhile the humans — Tom and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) – are relegated to the background as they head off to Hawaii for the wedding of Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) to handsome Randall (Shemar Moore). The screenplay goes off on a convoluted tangent to explain the incredulity of their relationship.

If I can say anything nice, it’s that the picture wears its mediocrity on its sleeve. I’m not saying it was intentional, but it is obvious. Some productions often lull you into a sense of ease with a promising beginning. Then do an about-face and surprise you somewhere at the midway point with ineptitude. It’s immediately apparent that Sonic 2 is a slapdash effort right from the start. The chaotic events zip back and forth on a globetrotting affair to various locales without a reason or care. The opening 30-40 minutes could be excised entirely and not have any effect on the proper plot. To be honest you could eliminate developments from almost any part of the film and it wouldn’t matter. The story exists to feature beloved characters that audiences came to see in a random series of events.

Whenever the action subsides, the soundtrack kicks in. More often than not it’s some late 80s, early 90s hip hop jam. “It’s Tricky” (Run-DMC), “Here Comes the Hotstepper” (Ini Kamoze), “This Is How We Do It” (Montell Jordan), and “You Know How We Do It” (Ice Cube) overwhelm at various points. “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars isn’t from that era, but it caps off a scene that features Sonic and Tails in a remote Russian bar. The locals challenge them to a dance-off. As a fan of musicals, my hopes were somewhat piqued, but the number is such a pedestrian display of choreography and music my enthusiasm dissipated as quickly as a lost life. Computer technology will never replace Gene Kelly.

Longer! Faster! Louder! More! Anything but better. When critics talk of sequelitis, this soulless piece of product is what they’re talking about. My theater was filled with children that were more content to run about the auditorium than watch what was up on the screen. Were they distracted because the rudimentary requirements of entertainment were not being met? I suspect the patience-testing length of over two hours was the real culprit. 90 minutes is the sweet spot for family entertainment. I was pleasantly surprised by the first film. This however is the FX-laden eyesore I feared the original would be. Nevertheless, it had a successful opening weekend debut. The mood on social media asserts that Sonic 2 delivers the requisite enjoyment to devotees of the SEGA games. I don’t play the Sonic the Hedgehog video game so that doesn’t include me. However dear readers, I will offer if you have young kids that are begging you to see this, then by all means take them. Just be prepared that they will probably enjoy the movie a lot more than you do.

04-07-22

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Martial Arts with tags on April 7, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The owner of a laundromat undergoes a fiscal audit. With Tax Day arriving on Monday, April 18, Everything Everywhere All at Once couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate time. Although my simplification of the plot doesn’t even begin to convey the ensuing mashup of science fiction, fantasy, comedy, and martial arts in this genre-defying picture. Directed by the duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) their second feature is like Alice in Wonderland on steroids.

Michelle Yeoh is Evelyn Wang, a middle-aged, Chinese American matriarch who runs the aforementioned laundromat in Simi Valley with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has been dating her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) for three years now. Her mother hasn’t accepted their relationship. Evelyn is also organizing a Chinese New Year party. Her equally critical father affectionally known as Gong Gong has just arrived from China to attend her little shindig. Meanwhile, her husband is planning to serve her with divorce papers. Needless to say, tensions are high. Evelyn has a lot on her plate. The tale is set in motion when Evelyn and Waymond meet with a tax auditor (an amusingly frumpy-looking Jaime Lee Curtis) working for the IRS.

During their chaotic meeting, Waymond starts acting weird. He privately informs Evelyn that alternate realities concurrently exist. There are many parallel worlds, each one based on whatever decision a person makes. At this point, I have to admit the prospect of yet another production that employs the concept of a multiverse did not excite me. It’s been so heavily exploited by Marvel as of late. Despite my reservations, it becomes a refreshingly goofy construct that — gosh darn it — I embraced. Evelyn is the key to ending a conflict that is raging across infinite dimensions. An evil being known as the Jobu Tupaki (also played by Stephanie Hsu) is seeking to kill and destroy everything. Evelyn is the only one who can stop her.

Everything Everywhere must be seen to be believed. Mere words cannot do it justice. Nevertheless, I will try. This jumping across from one universe to another requires that a person (first wearing a Bluetooth headset) perform some unconventional maneuvers. These actions include eating chapstick, purposefully giving yourself paper cuts, photocopying your rear end, or doing an unspeakable act with a trophy. Once one propels their consciousness into a different dimension, the individual will acquire the memories and special skills of that version of themselves. Does that make sense? It is a little confusing, but a film review shouldn’t ruin the surprises in a flick you haven’t seen. There are websites to explicate all the gobbledygook afterward. The production’s ability to creatively detail various worlds is an impressive spectacle that few movies attempt. Editor Paul Rogers manages to assemble the Daniels’ frenetic vision into a mostly coherent narrative. Everything Everywhere is a wildly inventive, uniquely intense — and at times — bewildering story.

Holding it all together is the emotional dynamic of this captivating family. Evelyn & Waymond & Joy & Gong Gong are a memorable clan portrayed by an appealing cast. Legendary action queen Michelle Yeoh is front and center as the multiverse hopping protagonist. In assorted iterations, she plays a master chef, an international movie star (not unlike herself), and a woman with hot dogs for fingers. She is a dismissive and demanding personality. Conversely, her husband Waymond is gentle and kind. I didn’t realize Short Round (Indiana Jones) / Data (The Goonies) would be playing the dad. Seeing Ke Huy Quan again was an absolute joy. James Hong (Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China) as the aging grandfather is also a delight. The 93-year-old actor hasn’t stopped working since the 1950s. Talk about prolific! Stephanie Hsu (TV’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) — a newcomer by comparison — finds the nuance in a character with contrasting personalities.

Everything Everywhere keeps the insanity dialed to 11 for the duration of the picture. The action is a pure sensory overload that is both exhilarating and exhausting. The cosmic bombast bludgeons the viewer into submission without a rest. That is, not until near the end when a quiet moment features a silent conversation between two rocks with googly eyes. But even that dialogue with subtitles is such a bizarre sight that it still feels like the zaniness hasn’t subsided. This treatise on existential despair builds to a rather nihilistic moral: Nothing matters. However, there is a caveat. If we show love and kindness to others, then perhaps anything is possible. The sentimental idea is a touching resolution that offers some hope. Is that a tear? I think maybe this family will make it together after all.

04-05-22

Morbius

Posted in Action, Adventure, Horror, Superhero with tags on April 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The idea that each new superhero release must be a crucial component of some grand interconnected universe, is a bit wearying at this point. Morbius is indeed a meager slice of a larger pie that includes the Venom flicks. So far the three pictures are the cinematic manifestation of Sony’s rights to Spider-Man. Despite Morbius’ attempt at worldbuilding, its aspirations are low. The straightforward tale is just a monster movie at heart. Its undemanding nature is ironically a strength.

The story is extremely basic. Michael Morbius is a doctor who suffers from a rare blood disease. Michael’s colleague is Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) and she predictably becomes his girlfriend. In his quest to cure his condition, he accidentally turns himself into a vampire who craves blood. Now Morbius is constantly torn between his human and monster states. He gets special powers whenever he transforms. Extra-sensory hearing is one ability. It bizarrely converts his ears into what looks like the gills of a mushroom. “Mad scientist cursed by a beastly alter ego” is a familiar trope. The same idea afflicted The Incredible Hulk and his alter ego Bruce Banner for example. There’s even a moment where Morbius utters the line “Don’t make me hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.” Sometimes a joke is so eye-rollingly bad it ends up being good. Granted the chronicle is cobbled from the details of other better films. Morbius’ deep fascination with vampire bats even recalls Batman.

Morbius has idiosyncrasies that amuse, sometimes unintentionally. Coming off of his flamboyant but enjoyable achievement as Paolo in House of Gucci, Jared Leto surprisingly underplays the role with a quiet intensity. With his neatly trimmed beard and long locks parted in the center, he suggests a Jesus-like figure in his well-groomed appearance. He is an odd personality. He arrogantly refuses the Nobel prize because his groundbreaking work may have saved millions of lives, but it didn’t improve his own. Well, that’s a stupid decision. His incongruous reference to The Notebook when a character gets sentimental is also comic. Speaking of whom, Matt Smith does the scenery-chewing as Morbius’s surrogate brother. Milo suffers from the same illness. Smith invigorates the silly drama with a goofy performance. His little dance as he’s getting dressed is an amusing interlude.

Morbius is not great for a variety of reasons. The saga frequently relies on wonky computer special effects. It culminates in the type of generic battle that blights even the best superhero installments. An end-credits sequence renders the film we just watched as a prelude to a sequel. I’m not looking forward to more chapters. However, if you can disregard that annoyance, the film is an uncomplicated piece of entertainment. It demands so little. At 104 minutes it unfolds in a blip — an antidote to bloated epics marred by their distended runtimes. Comic book obsessives usually don’t uplift a shorter account as better. Perhaps my unfamiliarity with the material helped. While the narrative is derivative, it’s pleasant as a creature feature. Morbius is not an experience that requires you dash to the nearest theater, but it is fitfully diverting.

03-31-22

The Lost City

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy with tags on March 31, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Have you ever seen an ad for a movie that makes it look utterly generic, but the reviews drop and they’re favorable? Then it opens at the box office and it’s a big hit as well. Suddenly you wonder if you incorrectly judged a book by its cover. So you go see it but it turns out to be even more bland and hackneyed than you suspected. That’s my experience with The Lost City. I need to trust my gut.

The Lost City squanders a promising beginning. Loretta Sage is an intellectual who just so happens to write successful romance novels. Her books feature a fictional star named Dash. Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum) is a model who poses as the leading man on the cover. At the behest of her publicist (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and social media manager (Patti Harrison), Loretta and Alan make an appearance before a crowd of fans. The throng is a lot more excited to see “Dash.” He appears as a Fabio-styled celebrity with long blond hair that turns out to be a wig. That scene is amusing. Unfortunately, the expo doesn’t go well and she leaves in a huff. However, she’s kidnapped in a black SUV and brought to meet an eccentric billionaire named Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe). He wants Loretta’s help in translating an artifact to acquire hidden treasure on a mysterious island. She refuses but he employs chloroform and takes her there anyways. After Loretta goes missing, Alan calls his old buddy Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt), a highly-skilled yoga instructor. The two meet on the island and attempt to rescue her.

I could continue but the elaborate setup is just an excuse for a sloppy episodic adventure that isn’t funny. The Lost City is a cheap remix of better movies. The blueprint is Romancing the Stone with a healthy dose of Indiana Jones thrown in. God forgive me for even mentioning those classics in the same breath. This mess is a poor imitation. In another case of “too many cooks,” this dud of a screenplay is credited to a whopping five individuals. The material co-written by directors and brothers Adam and Aaron Nee with Oren Uziel and Dana Fox, from a story conceived by Seth Gordon, made me chuckle maybe two or three times.

Even the most talented actor can’t breathe life into bad material. The various situations are convoluted and stupid. That’s OK. If the dialogue is well written, they don’t have to make sense. See Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar for proof. Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, and Brad Pitt mug and exaggerate their lines as best they can. A slew of assorted predicaments fail to extract laughs no matter how hard they try. The humor is broad and forced. Witnessing Sandra Bullock peel leaches off what is supposedly Channing Tatum’s naked backside is not her finest hour. Pitt’s dignity remains intact as the too-good-to-be-true action hero personality. I enjoyed the chronicle whenever he was on screen. Sadly his limited presence is reduced to a glorified cameo. The main stars do their best but watching Tatum play dumb while Bullock acts annoyed is not enough to form the basis of an entire picture. This expedition to find the Lost City turned out to be a crushing bore. They should’ve been on a quest to find a decent script.

03-29-22

The Adam Project

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Science Fiction with tags on March 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Free Guy was one of the biggest hits of 2021, so it made financial sense that star Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy would reunite. This is another high concept, sci-fi movie that’s even more wholesome. I appreciate that both Free Guy and this new release are “original” ideas not based on an established property. Nevertheless, The Adam Project still feels awfully familiar.

Adam Reed is a space pilot who time travels from the future year of 2050 back to 2022. Ryan Reynolds is playing a sarcastic type with a confident personality. Newsflash: this is the same character he has played in every single picture he has ever made. Please don’t @ me with counterexamples. Hyperbole is a part of film criticism. In this one, he meets his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) and together they unite on a mission to end time travel and SAVE THE WORLD.

If it sounds a little like I’m mocking this, it’s because I am. The production is fabricated from pre-existing parts. The narrative liberally copies elements of classics from my childhood like Back to the Future and The Last Starfighter. Indeed, those were enjoyable flicks. The difference here is a generic screenplay credited to four different writers: Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin. The story is calculated like a commodity a studio manufactured from a blueprint called a “family-friendly sci-fi action movie” with heavy inspiration from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. The production is synthesized from hyper-edited battles and digital laser blasts. The action does slow down occasionally so it can evoke some emotion when the adult man and his younger self give each other wisdom to be a better person. The best scene is a quiet one. Reynolds as the grown-up son gives his mother encouragement. She is unaware they’re related. The interaction set in a local bar uncomfortably suggests a flirtatious exchange at first, but it turns into a genuinely affecting moment.

This is high-quality entertainment for the entire family conveniently available to Netflix subscribers for free. Lately, I’m bewildered when certain releases go directly to streaming. Pixar’s Turning Red is another recent example. The Adam Project looks expensive. The amalgamation is well-produced, so I can’t say it’s bad. Young actor Walker Scobell effectively evokes Reynolds as a boy. Color me surprised that he was the standout in this star-studded ensemble. The cast also features Jennifer Garner, Catherine Keener, Zoe Saldaña, and Mark Ruffalo. Given the stars and the budget, this looks like a theatrical picture. Ryan Reynolds was just in Red Notice and that was a massive success on Netflix. This is much better, so no shock that it’s currently #1 on the streaming service as well. I have seen a version of this movie hundreds of times (more hyperbole). Meanwhile, children have not. Take my tepid reaction with a grain of salt.

03-11-22

The Batman

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Superhero, Thriller with tags on March 7, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Did we really need another Batman movie? At this point, the question is akin to asking whether we want more James Bond flicks, an additional performance of A Christmas Carol, or a new production of Hamlet. For any film lover, the answer will forever be yes. The obligation is to make it good and to bring something fresh to the table.

Every new incarnation of Batman seems to top the previous one in darkness and gloom. Tim Burton’s 1989 vision was a game-changer compared with the lighthearted TV show of the 1960s. However, by the time Joel Schumacher had directed parts 3 and 4, the 1990s series had devolved into a zany cartoon. Christopher Nolan recalibrated with The Dark Knight trilogy. It’s the definitive version as far as I’m concerned. That spirit inspired the DC Extended Universe franchise with Ben Affleck. The R-rated spin-off Joker upped the ante considerably and now we’ve got this reboot in 2022.

The title points to a back-to-basics approach. Bruce Wayne is the Batman, a vigilante uncovering corruption in Gotham City. He has a personal vendetta against the kind of criminals that took his parents when he was 10. Director Matt Reeves — who wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig — wisely spares us the umpteenth dramatization of that murder. A slow-motion shot of Martha’s pearl necklace falling apart is burned into my mind. But I digress. The caped crusader is conflicted by the ethics of vengeance. He has the uneasy support of Lieutenant “not quite Commissioner” Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). In Batman’s quest to bring criminals to justice he meets The Riddler (Paul Dano). The arch-villain has been singling out corrupt officials suggesting a connection between them and the criminal underworld. The web of corruption runs deep. It may even impugn the hallowed legacy of the Wayne family.

The Batman is yet another melancholy depiction of the superhero, but the narrative does distinguish itself from the others. The biggest difference is that this interpretation leans very heavily into the idea that Bruce Wayne is first and foremost a detective. Lest we forget, DC stands for Detective Comics after all. The story is set after he’s been fighting crime for two years. The Riddler is a sadistic serial killer in this iteration. Think of Batman as Sherlock Holmes dropped into the thriller Seven or even a Saw movie. The Riddler places his victims in these contraptions that recall the devices from that horror franchise. He taunts the Dark Knight with a string of riddles. Each one conveyed in a greeting card. Batman’s pursuit of justice will lead him to an organized crime conspiracy in Gotham city and a variety of different characters.

The saga incorporates a terrific cast. This includes a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and a mobster played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell. Oswald Cobblepot is his name but you might know him better as The Penguin. Of course, the most important person is Robert Pattison as the main character. He’s officially the 10th person to portray Batman in a live-action picture. Pattinson manages to offer a unique take on his personality. Bruce Wayne is significantly more troubled with what he is doing. The most depressed and broken interpretation of the character we’ve seen thus far. He’s also younger than the most iconic portrayals. Pattinson is physically slight, less stocky. His emo haircut says he’s sensitive and even sports eyeliner when he wears the cowl. “They think I’m hiding in the shadows, but I am the shadows,” he whispers. This Batman doesn’t growl like his predecessors.

The Batman is a lot of things. Simply consider the definite article before the name. The title is a declaration that’s a little presumptuous right off the bat, no pun intended. The film is also too long…nearly three hours. The convoluted tale features the labyrinthian twists and turns of an investigation. Although to its credit, it doesn’t drag. But most of all it’s dark. I’m talking pitch black. The atmosphere is not an innovation. We’ve seen this somber rendition before. It’s so bleak but it does affect the compelling mood of a neo-noir. Director Matt Reeves stages the action with such visual flair underscored by the stunning cinematography of Greig Fraser (Lion, Dune). One stylish scene with Selina Kyle takes place in a sordid private club amidst the flashing strobe lights. The movie feels cinematic. Although it may not top Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, there’s still much to admire. That’s enough for a recommendation.

03-03-22