Archive for the Action Category

DC League of Super-Pets

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Superhero with tags on July 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You’ve enjoyed actors Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence and been enchanted by their chemistry in not one but two Jumanji movies. Yet you’re aching for more. Perhaps you’d like to experience their personalities in an animated saga about furry superheroes? Today I bring you good news.

DC League of Super-Pets is little more than an animated yarn seemingly inspired by The Secret Life of Pets, but it’s a lively reinterpretation. The tale concerns beloved critters that obtain superhero powers after being exposed to orange kryptonite. So for the uninformed, green kryptonite is bad, but orange is good. The story stars Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) — Superman’s (John Krasinski) Labrador Retriever — who possesses the same special skills as his master. The villain is a guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon ), who belongs to Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). She’s patterned her entire life on the Brain, that megalomaniac mouse of the Animaniacs. Well no, not technically, but that’s the level of characterization going on here.

Lulu is currently confined to an animal shelter but is able to acquire a shard of orange kryptonite. The element gives her super abilities. The other creatures at the pound inadvertently get powers too. The coterie of individuals includes a boxer dog (Kevin Hart), a pig (Vanessa Bayer), a turtle (Natasha Lyonne), and a squirrel (Diego Luna). However, unlike Lulu, they embody a good-hearted temperament. Conversely, there is also a kitty named Whiskers (Winona Bradshaw) that is not so well-meaning. After the humans in the Justice League are defeated and imprisoned by Lulu, it’s up to this superpowered team of strays to save the day. The adventure may sound rather incomprehensible, but it makes sense while you’re watching.

The most poignant moment in the DC League of Super-Pets unexpectedly occurs in the middle of the chronicle. Ace (Kevin Hart), a stray Boxer, recounts his backstory. He once had an ideal life in the home of a loving family. Then one day, Ace witnessed their toddler teetering on the edge of a flight of stairs. To rescue her from falling, he grabs the baby with his mouth. The parents hear their infant crying and only observe the little teeth marks on their toddler’s arm. They mistakenly think their dog has bitten her. Ace is removed from the household and taken away. The moment arouses genuine pathos. That random aside holds the seed of a narrative more compelling than the one the writers decided to pursue. The rest of this chronicle is rather frivolous and forgettable. That’s ok. I still enjoyed this lighthearted diversion.

07-28-22

The Gray Man

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

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Action + adventure = a thriller, right? The Gray Man gives us a movie, but the formula is lacking.

Ryan Gosling is a CIA operative with the code name “Sierra Six.” He is a decent fellow with a moral compass that is forced to go on the run after discovering incriminating secrets about his agency. Unhinged bad guy Lloyd Hansen played by Chris Evans, is hired to pursue him. The chase is on in a game of cat and mouse for the entire duration. The story doesn’t seem particularly literary, but the production is based on a 2009 bestseller by Mark Greaney.

Netflix has high hopes for this installment to become a series. They astonishingly paid a whopping $200 million for this episode. I get it. This spy thriller presents a hero in the style of James Bond or Jason Bourne. Those guys are captivating individuals with stories that have emotionally compelling stakes. In this production, we’ve got a great cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas. Regé-Jean Page from Bridgerton emerges as another antagonist. That’s not a spoiler. He’s in an irritable mood right from the beginning. These are charismatic stars, but you’ve got to give them something interesting to do other than shoot at each other.

The Gray Man truly tests the idea of how essential a famous star is to the enjoyment of a picture. This screenplay reduces everyone to a cipher. Dull personalities populate the film. Ok fine. What usually makes these tales of espionage thrilling is the action, anyway. There is a lot of combat – some involve weapons, and other conflicts are hand-to-hand. However, it helps to have an emotional component, so you actually care what happens. The narrative is an array of various maneuvers that play out one after the other, spiced up with explosions and fights. Unfortunately, even those aren’t imaginatively staged.

I was expecting more from directors Anthony and Joe Russo. They established an impressive reputation by directing four Marvel flicks. Both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are in the Top 5 highest grossing movies ever made…(coughing) unadjusted for inflation. However, their output is far less enjoyable when not being handed a lucky assignment. This rote production — like Cherry and Extraction (which they wrote and produced only) is yet another unremarkable, colorless offering. Points for truth in advertising, though. The Gray Man has been aptly named.

07-19-22

Thor: Love and Thunder

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

07-07-22

Lightyear

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Three sentences flash across the screen to set the stage. “In 1995 Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.” After it was over, I didn’t buy that assertion. Yeah, I know. It’s probably best not to question such things. This feature doesn’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny, but given that the most captivating character didn’t become a toy back then is a huge leap of faith. Sox the cat (Peter Sohn) is the breakout star and it’s not even close. Buzz Lightyear’s robotic feline companion is an absolute delight. Buzz Lightyear himself? Oh sure, he’s in the film too. Just not a particularly interesting personality. He’s kind of an oaf, a bit of a dullard too.

Lightyear concerns a human astronaut (Chris Evans) — er uh space ranger — who is responsible for marooning his crew of travelers on a hostile alien planet. You see he’s branded a failure at the outset. He even tries to quit the mission but his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) refuses to accept his resignation. So Buzz attempts to devise the perfect formula for a working hyperspeed crystal to get his crew off this foreign planet, thereby fixing his mistake and fulfilling his duty. Buzz undergoes a series of test flights to reach hyperspeed to bring everyone back home. Whenever Buzz zips away in his spacecraft for a few minutes, four years elapse for everyone else. He doesn’t age but everyone else does — rather quickly. Unfortunately, he isn’t successful for a very long time. Decades pass and the progression of time suggest the first 10 minutes of Up. Guess who finally comes up with the correct formula? Psst…See the first paragraph.

My encapsulation above may read like the complete saga, but it’s just a prelude. The setup seeks to establish the emotional basis for the formulaic drama that comprises the bulk of the picture. Lightyear and Sox have their moments interacting as a duo. That computerized feline saves his owner’s neck on more than one occasion. There is a refreshing simplicity to their relationship. Yet this chronicle doesn’t allow them to shine alone. The plot introduces a goofy collection of additional helpers. Three space-colony outcasts show up to assist Lightyear in his objective. Chief among this ragtag trio is Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), Alisha’s granddaughter. She’s flanked by Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) a naive and inexperienced recruit, and Darby Steel (Dale Soules) an elderly convict on parole.

This is where the moral comes through: “Collaborate as a team. Be less of a maverick.” The idea that cooperation is glorified as the ultimate goal is so ubiquitous in children’s entertainment these days that you accept it as standard-issue. I’d suggest that a great many intellectuals or innovators in the adult world are free-thinking radicals, and far from conformists, but perhaps that concept is a bit too revolutionary for Pixar. Anyway, the woebegone characters are uninteresting and detract from the narrative rather than add to it. The sad-sack troupe faces off against an invading force of robots led by the mysterious Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) — another callback to the original Toy Story.

Lightyear isn’t terrible. It’s nicely animated and features an adventure with some lively sequences. But bestowing your creation with that title incites the exalted history of the Toy Story franchise. The first two are widely considered Pixar’s best. This production is not even in the same cosmos. It’s a straightforward tale, painfully ordinary and utterly lacking in imagination or depth. The only remarkable individual is a mechanical cat. Meanwhile, the milieu is oppressive and dreary. The plot throws in generic developments. A time travel subplot yields a reveal that is a ho-hum of a surprise. This is not the awe-inspiring entertainment that you’d expect to become any child’s most treasured movie. Lightyear may take place on a different planet, but creatively it remains — earthbound.

06-16-22

Ambulance 

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on June 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The last song I ever expected to hear in one of Michael Bay’s adrenaline-pumping testosterone-fueled odes to machismo was “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. The 1980 yacht rock classic incongruously pops up when adoptive brothers Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) decide to sing it (badly) in a calming moment while driving an ambulance. But these guys aren’t paramedics. No, they’re bank robbers. They’ve hijacked the eponymous vehicle after a heist where they stole $32 million dollars. Oh, and they’ve taken two hostages. They’re transporting a comatose police officer (Jackson White) that Will shot twice. His slowly bleeding state promotes a Blue Lives Matter subplot. There’s also a gorgeous EMT named Cam Thompson (Eiza González). She is the best at what she does in the city of LA. Cam flaunts the beauty of Megan Fox and exudes confidence like Michelle Rodriguez.

Ambulance is essentially one overlong chaotic, cacophonous car chase through the streets of Los Angeles. It’s also the latest blast-a-thon from a director who built his reputation on the genre. When individuals aren’t screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, there’s a car collision with a corresponding explosion to drown out the din of their inane conversation. It’s hilariously overwrought. However, there’s a little room for some characterization in Chris Fedak’s script. Gyllenhaal is a crazy, wide-eyed gun-toting career criminal that behaves as if he solely subsists on a diet of Red Bull and speed. Conversely, Abdul-Mateen’s Will is the level-headed one who foolishly turns to his unhinged brother Danny when his cancer-stricken wife Amy (Moses Ingram) needs money for surgery. Their father was an infamous bank robber too, so apparently, it runs in the family.

Ambulance is yet another indulgent American remake based on a foreign film. Jake Gyllenhaal is fond of starring in English-language reproductions of Danish hits. He was also in The Guilty (2021) and Brothers (2009). Ambulance was an efficient 80-minute picture from Denmark in 2005. In the hands of Michael Bay, it’s a loud distended 136-minute headache. Given the comparatively low $40-million-budget, this production is practically an indie for the director of the Transformers pictures. For example, The Last Knight cost $239 million. Nevertheless, Bay applies that same noisy aesthetic to this character-driven drama. It can be exciting. The chronicle features a breakneck pace and such sheer volume that you might be inclined to forgive the absurdity. However, at over two hours, the dissonance wears out its welcome. There were enough shaky-cam and dizzying drone shots in Roberto De Angelis’ cinematography that had me wanting to call an ambulance about halfway through.

Ambulance is currently streaming on Peacock and available to rent on DVD and Blu-ray.

06-14-22

Jurassic World: Dominion

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on June 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

After the tumultuous tedium of Fallen Kingdom, I don’t think I could stand another return to the remote enclave of Isla Nublar. Fortunately, the 2nd installment in the Jurassic World trilogy ended with the destruction of the theme park. The island is now a barren wasteland, but dinosaurs still exist and have been set loose on the mainland. They live and hunt alongside humans all over the world. The question is, will human beings remain at the top of the food chain? I’m happy to report that Jurassic World: Dominion gives plenty of examples where people and dinosaurs face off to test that theory.

The production succeeds as simply one breathtaking action sequence after another loosely strung together by inconsequential drama. If you want details, a screenplay by Emily Carmichael & director Colin Trevorrow provides them, but if you don’t grasp (or care about) everything they’re putting down, it won’t matter. So get this, a giant hybrid of locusts spliced with the DNA of their prehistoric ancestors is rampaging the earth. They are attacking all crops EXCEPT those grown from the seeds of a biotech company called Biosyn. Owen and Claire have an adopted daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who is a genetic clone of her mother, Charlotte (Elva Trill). Her DNA could hold the secret to eradicating the pests.

The story handily juggles a sprawling cast of actors. Akin to those disaster flicks of the 1970s like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, no one actor is the sole focus. I suppose the closest thing to a starring duo is romantic couple Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). We also are reunited with the scientific minds of Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and Henry Wu (BD Wong) of the original trilogy. That’s a big deal. It’s nice seeing everyone reunite on screen. That wide shot of the entire cast looking up with mouths agape during the climax is an emotionally compelling sight.

The chronicle throws in a bunch of new key cast members. Surprise! They don’t stick out like a sore thumb. They’re welcome additions. Actors DeWanda Wise (TV series She’s Gotta Have It) and Mamoudou Athie (Patti Cake$, Uncorked) notably hold their own in the company of their more famous and experienced co-stars. Meanwhile, Campbell Scott (Dying Young, Singles) — another new addition — is a seasoned veteran who has been acting for nearly four decades. He channels his inner Steve Jobs in demeanor and wardrobe as the CEO of Biosyn Genetics.

But hey, let’s be honest. Who cares about the people?! These pictures have always been about the dinosaurs and Dominion offers several doozies. A red feathery Pyroraptor torments Owen and Kayla above a frozen lake and then dives through a hole in the ice to chase them underwater. With long extended claws, Therizinosaurus is like Freddy Krueger or the Wolverine crossed with a prehistoric bird. He swats a deer as if it were a fly with sharp talons after stalking Claire through the woods. Claire is forced to hide in a pond in a memorable encounter. And who could forget the pack of Atrociraptors that pursue Owen in a spectacular motorcycle race through the streets of Malta? That last setpiece is worth the price of admission alone. Oh and I haven’t even mentioned Giganotosaurus and his climactic showdown with a Tyrannosaurus rex, but I’ve said enough. Go watch the movie.

Jurassic World Dominion flips the script. The adventure introduces something new and wholly unexpected. Instead of being set on that same island yet again, we get globe-hopping exploits in jungles and distant countries filled with dinosaurs that involve shootouts, plane crashes, and undercover missions. The account has an “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality. The audience is constantly inundated with stuff. “More is more” is the mantra and it works. These stories have never been about sense. As long as we’re having fun, I’m OK with it. The film strays when it feels the need to provide convoluted details about things that don’t need explaining. Also at 2.5 hours, it’s painfully long. Thankfully there’s lots of exciting dino action. I reveled in the effects and so I enjoyed the movie.

06-09-22

RRR

Posted in Action, Drama with tags on June 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The official story is that RRR stands for Rise Roar Revolt, a promise the letters deliver. Yet the repetition was originally a working title that stood for the initials of stars Ram Charan, Rama Rao (a.k.a. Jr NTR), and director Rajamouli. The trio of talent has captivated audiences across the world. RRR debuted in theaters back on March 25 and became a massive success in India. It also saw box office in other countries, particularly in the U.S., where it earned a tidy sum of $13.6 million making it the 2nd highest-grossing Indian film in the U.S. 2017’s Baahubali 2: The Conclusion — also helmed by S. S. Rajamouliis — is still #1. RRR started streaming on Netflix on May 20 and briefly entered the Top 10.

RRR is a fictional tale set in 1920s colonial India based on a pair of real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.). There’s no evidence that these guys ever met, but the account imagines what if they did. The two became pals and join forces against the rule of the British Crown. Now I have to emphasize — this is a dazzling fabrication. As such, the central duo is granted the powers of superhero human beings. Meanwhile, the villains are simply pure evil. Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) and his wife Catherine (Alison Doody) are completely irredeemable scoundrels. The screenplay isn’t going to win any awards for subtlety, but I did come to accept this exaggeration as part of its charm. It did make me chuckle quite a bit, although I’m not sure it was intentional.

Where the movie asserts itself is in setpieces that are pure extravaganza. The action scenes are gobsmackingly good. The fights highlight hyper-stylized choreography that elevate fantasy and eschew reality. Just try and catch your breath. One action sequence follows another. The demonstrations of physical strength refuse to obey the laws of physics. In one Bheem picks up a motorcycle and casually swings it around his head knocking people out. In another, Raju picks up a tiger and easily heaves it hundreds of feet toward his enemies. Even if I gave more detail, I could never do justice to these shows of overtly hyperbolic style. They must be seen to be believed.

The narrative also incorporates a rousing score from M. M. Keeravanisong. Like a Greek chorus commenting on the events, the lyrics of the background songs often foreshadow future developments. The athleticism exhibited in the musical interludes is just as acrobatic as the combat. One dance sequence in particular — “Naatu Naatu” — is a jaw-dropping production number. Here the two chums dance side by side in a complicated routine against an officer who mocks them for not knowing traditional dances like salsa and flamenco. Raju and Bheem’s close friendship is underscored in this winning display.

Given the musical numbers, some may confuse this for being a Bollywood movie. It is not. RRR comes from South India where Telugu is spoken, so it’s considered a Tollywood film. Bollywood movies are in the Hindi dialect. On Netflix, right now the only language track option is a Hindi dub (with subtitles in various languages including English). Netflix is where the vast majority of U.S. viewers have access. If you’re a purist and demand the original Telugu track, you’ll need a subscription to ZEE5 at this time — a relatively new Indian streaming service.

RRR packs a wallop. These buddies will go back and forth as enemies, then friends, and then foes before becoming comrades again. Bheem’s mission begins when tasked to rescue a kidnapped girl from the British government. Raju is a committed police officer working for the British Raj determined to catch Bheem. The title card doesn’t even appear until 40 minutes into the film. So a word of caution, it is over 3 hours long. Buckle up for an extended fable of various tributaries and particulars. However, it’s never boring. Far from it. This is the captivating chronicle of a bromance that’s easy to enjoy. The saga has ample sincerity and heart to supplement the awe-inspiring spectacle. It’s a lot of fun.

05-31-22

Top Gun: Maverick

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on May 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Top Gun: Maverick is a sequel that understands what an audience craves and then unabashedly delivers it with gusto. A return to the 1986 classic should give you nostalgia that lovingly recalls the original, provide high octane thrills, and build drama to an exciting conclusion. This is a textbook example of how to satisfy the assignment.

The plot concerns Navy pilot Peter Mitchell known as Maverick (Tom Cruise). All the aviators have catchy handles like this, so I’ll dispense with their proper names from here on out. Maverick has returned to the fighter pilot program but now he’s an instructor for a dangerous objective that involves a group of cocky but much younger recruits. Among them is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of his best friend Goose who tragically died in the 1986 film. Rooster is eerily reminiscent of his father. To emphasize the connection, the similarly mustachioed son sings “Great Balls of Fire” in a bar sporting a Hawaiian shirt exactly like his old man did. Maverick is emotionally conflicted. He wants to protect Rooster, but support the lieutenant for the skillful flyer that he is as well. The mission is to train the hotshot pilots to bomb the uranium enrichment facility of some hostile nation that is never named. The script shrewdly keeps everything non-political so as not to offend. Of course, the task is a perilous endeavor because it will require death-defying maneuvers and a low-level approach into enemy territory.

For the first 90 minutes, Top Gun: Maverick is entertaining but familiar as it draws upon the story beats of the first movie. The screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie, doesn’t hide the fact that it is deeply indebted to the past. See Tom Cruise looking cool in sunglasses and riding a motorcycle again. Hear the same musical riffs in the score and Kenny Loggins singing “Danger Zone.” Oh and remember that beach volleyball game that was totally unnecessary to the plot? Of course you do. The slow-motion demonstration of sweaty athleticism became the stuff of legend. Director Joseph Kosinski refers to it as “the Super Bowl of shirtless scenes.” Sure enough, his update contains a similar competition that is supposedly another team-building exercise. This time it’s a game of beach football, and the dudes include Hangman (Glen Powell), Payback (Jay Ellis), Fanboy (Danny Ramirez), Bob (Lewis Pullman), and one woman — Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) wearing a sensible sports bra.

Top Gun Maverick embraces its predecessor but updates in clever ways. And why shouldn’t it? It’s 36 years later and a lot has changed. But guess who hasn’t? Tom Cruise. He is a compelling mentor to a batch of young recruits. Astonishingly, he looks just as fit as his youthful co-stars. I’ll concede creative camera angles, lighting and makeup may offer an assist. Yet he continues to exude the charisma of a star in this role. We understand why an obstinate but highly decorated pilot has remained a captain after all these years. In a touching moment, Iceman (Val Kilmer) who is now an Admiral — imparts sage advice to his old rival. Tom Cruise turns 60 in July. The actor is over four decades into his career and still commands the lead in summer blockbusters. There’s something almost alien about the actor, and no that’s not a Scientology joke.

Top Gun: Maverick gently recycles the original but ultimately soars to a thrilling finale. The saga sticks the landing and ends with one of the most exhilarating sequences in a decade. The final 40 minutes are a jaw-dropping example of action entertainment as the adventure ascends breathtakingly into the sky as the plan is carried out. I sat there, eyes glued to the screen, elated by the realism. The live-action dogfight battle has immediacy and authenticity. The spectacle makes the ubiquitous CGI-heavy effects of other films look like an artificial fabrication. It goes to prove how important it is to finish a story well. Send the audience off on a high when you leave the theater. Top Gun first delighted a generation 36 years ago. Now amazingly its sequel has accomplished the same thing. This is a rip-roaring good time.

05-26-22

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