Archive for the Crime Category

The Shadow of Violence

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on April 18, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Selecting the right title for a film is an artistic decision. In the UK this production was poetically released as Calm with Horses — based on the short story of the same name by Irish writer Colin Barrett. This is what the movie was called everywhere. Everywhere except in the US, where it was changed to The Shadow of Violence. So bland. That generic title always escapes me.

Thankfully the picture itself is anything but forgettable. The debut feature from director Nick Rowland is skillfully composed and self-assured. It deserves a bigger audience. Inexplicably it was dropped in U.S. theaters last year on July 31, 2020, during the economic shutdown. Given that most theaters were closed, it isn’t surprising that few Americans saw it. Then it debuted on Netflix on January 21, 2021. To be honest, this still wasn’t even on my radar until the April 11th BAFTAs where it garnered an impressive four nominations.

The chronicle concerns an ex-boxer (Cosmo Jarvis) who works as the muscle for the Devers, a drug-dealing family in rural Ireland. Despite his rough exterior Douglas — whose nickname is Arm — is a sympathetic soul. He’s trying to break away from the negative influence of his troublemaking chum (Barry Keoghan). Arm wants to concentrate on being a good father to his 5-year-old autistic son Jack. Calm with Horses refers to the peace that Jack finds when he’s engaged in equestrian pursuits. Arm’s loyalties are tested when the Devers clan asks him to kill someone.

Actor Cosmo Jarvis is impressive in the lead. His memorable performance is full of passion and nuance . Arm is a man conflicted between his son vs. his loyalty to violent mobsters. Choosing the right path is complicated. The Devers took him in at a low point in his life. He feels like he owes them. Jarvis is compelling even though he did not pick up a BAFTA nomination. Actor Barry Keoghan did. He portrays his violent buddy Dymphna. Actress Niamh Algar playing his estranged girlfriend Ursula did as well. She is also the mother to his son.

Other cast members may have reaped more accolades, but it’s Jarvis that seizes our attention. Douglas may look like a massive brute, but his appearance belies a sensitive and tender personality. The difference in size between the hulking Cosmo Jarvis and the diminutive Barry Keoghan sort of gave me a George and Lennie vibe from Of Mice and Men. This is exceptionally bleak and depressing, a somewhat atypical view of Ireland. It takes a while for the narrative to take shape. Once it does, it’s a captivating character-driven drama with several authentic performances.

04-14-21

I Care a Lot

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on February 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Holy heartlessness! This is a very mean-spirited movie. Rosamund Pike plays a woman named Marla who works as a court-appointed legal guardian for elderly patients. That sounds like she’s a do-gooder but she’s actually running a scam. She’s a grifter abusing the system by separating wealthy senior citizens from their families. Then Marla liquidates their assets after essentially imprisoning them in rest homes. She is a thoroughly repellent sociopath. That loathsome mood only grows as the story develops.

Things perk up when a wrench is flung into her evil plans. Marla makes the mistake of committing one Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) to an assisted living facility. Jennifer’s son is a Russian mob boss (Peter Dinklage). Roman Lunyov is extremely vexed by what she has done. A feeling of hope is introduced. What is there to say when a Russian mobster is the most sympathetic individual in the film? At this point, the viewer is invited to think, “He will make things right. Mom will be rescued and Marla will get her comeuppance.” Unfortunately, the script by writer-director J Blakeson fails to deliver that much-desired satisfaction. The drama is highly frustrating. There is no one to root for in the narrative.

Marla is a character that could only exist in a work of fiction — the figment of a writer’s creation. She’s totally unflappable with the overconfidence to neutralize every setback thrown her way. She has the support of a clueless judge, a crooked doctor, and a disreputable nursing home director that all obsequiously defer to her wishes. Most are in on the take. The cynicism toward the health care system is pervasive, but not particularly clever. It’s a wholly irritating experience because (1) the screenplay is asking us to accept a lot of far-fetched ideas and (2) everyone is so reprehensible that you just want to turn away in disgust.

It’s a shame because Rosamund Pike is rather effective in playing this part. The actress is operating within the same vein as her Oscar-nominated performance in Gone Girl. She’s a psycho with ice in her veins, hell-bent on destroying people’s lives so she can make more money. She’s sporting a razor-sharp bob, wears well-tailored suits and is constantly sucking on a vape pen. Her steely portrayal is good. The movie is vile. Let me clarify. I did NOT care a lot for I Care a Lot.

02-19-21

The Little Things

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on February 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The idea that actors have foolishly turned down roles in classic films is a common Hollywood anecdote. Denzel Washington revealed in a 2002 Playboy interview that he passed on the Brad Pitt role in David Fincher’s iconic Oscar-nominated Seven. He regretted it. It’s hard not to think about that while watching this dated, derivate thriller. Coincidentally it all culminates in a scene that directly recalls that film. The difference is, the ending of The Little Things doesn’t even hold a candle to the impact of the one in Seven.

The tale concerns two police officers (Denzel Washington and Rami Malek) on the trail of a serial killer in Los Angeles. John Lee Hancock reportedly wrote the script 28 years ago and ultimately decided to direct it himself. The saga is set in the 1990s and this actually feels like a production made in that era. I’m specifically talking about Silence of the Lambs and the aforementioned Seven. Obviously, if this was as compelling, it would be a glowing 5-star review. The problem is the police procedural is fairly routine for a significant part of the drama.

It’s also fitting that the narrative is set in the 1990s because it simplifies the action. The chronicle opens with a girl in a car being pursued on a deserted highway by a mysterious driver at night. I wondered “Why doesn’t she just call the police on her cell phone?” before I realized this was set in the past. The retro milieu makes this and other plot developments a lot easier to depict without having to deal with pesky details like advances in cellular communication and forensic evidence.

The Little Things is a lackluster effort. The mood kind of snaps to attention when Jared Leto shows up a bit later. He’s a suspect who enjoys toying with the police. Leto gives a supremely creepy performance. Whenever he’s on screen, I was riveted. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek are talented actors too. Denzel quietly mumbles with intensity. Rami does the same. As cops, they gamely exploit an old school vs. new school antagonism towards each other. It isn’t enough. Both fail to make their characters interesting here.

The story ultimately meanders to a payoff that is supremely unsatisfying. When a movie starts weak and finishes strong, that’s usually forgivable, but end badly and that’s the memory you take away. Jared Leto’s achievement is good enough to make this watchable. So far he’s garnered nominations at both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor’s Guild awards. If you’re dying to know why, it’s worth checking out.

02-04-21

The White Tiger

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on January 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The White Tiger is a rags to riches tale set in India about an impoverished young man. I wasn’t going to make a facile comparison to Slumdog Millionaire. The screenplay already does that for me. It occurs late in the movie in a scene where our central “hero” is commenting on the hopelessness of his situation. In the moment he opines: “Don’t think for a second there’s a million-rupee game show you can win to get out.” OK so now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, let’s evaluate this most absorbing film. It deserves to be considered on its own terms. Yes, there are some obvious similarities to that much lauded Best Picture winner of 2009, but this is a much bleaker and less optimistic account about finding success in life.

The White Tiger is a crime drama about a young man named Balram (Adarsh Gourav) who is a “self-taught entrepreneur”. As the narrator, he recounts his story. Balram was born into a poor rural village and gradually climbs India’s ostensible corporate ladder to become a chauffeur and finally a successful businessman. The highly intelligent Balram is prohibited from obtaining a higher education because of his father’s debts. Instead, he goes around to various houses and begs for a job until he just so happens to stumble upon the residence of the Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) — one of the four evil landlords that bullies his town. The Stork hires Balram to become his son’s driver. Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) has just returned from America with his wife Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra). At first, Balram is more of a drudge to the family, while another servant, Ram Persad (Ram Naresh Diwakar), has the elevated privilege of driving them. This will change in time. As we see time and again, Balram’s quest for upward mobility is not guided by a moral compass.

Sometimes good people do bad things. Balram is actually a sweet and humble guy. That likable quality endears him to Ashok and his wife so they trust him. In fact, his obsequious manner incurs the condemnation of the couple who implore him not be so deferential. Nevertheless, you will later see that Balram’s inclination for exploiting the negative beliefs and corrupt tendencies of others, will ultimately help him climb the ranks of Indian society. For example, he abuses the fact that the Stork is openly hostile to Muslims in order to further his own career at the expense of a fellow worker. The film is filled with political commentary on the caste system of India. This is a fascinating fable and I was riveted by the twists and turns. It’s an epic of sorts and a lot transpires. The overriding lesson is that the freedom to succeed isn’t free. It must be taken.

American director Ramin Bahrani is no stranger to depictions of misery. His 99 Homes was a vicious excavation of the American housing market. This likewise is a bleak adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 picaresque novel of the same name. Incidentally, the first half is rather brilliant. Regrettably it’s in the second half where this chronicle loses steam. Balram’s social-climbing saga is pretty grim. Given that, Slumdog Millionaire comparisons are somewhat misleading. I saw more parallels to a crime drama like Scarface or perhaps the protagonist of a Patricia Highsmith thriller. Let’s not forget the Best Picture winner of 2020 either. They are all in there and yet The White Tiger is compelling without ever reaching the sublime heights of any of those influences . On the whole, it’s still extremely entertaining and incidentally my #1 recommendation when considering new offerings on Netflix at this moment.

P.S. I recommended His House back in November and that’s still available on Netflix.

01-19-21

Promising Young Woman

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller on December 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Promising Young Woman is a film that seizes the zeitgeist. That means the actions of the lead have an underlying social-political subtext that transcends the genre. Its brand of female empowerment incorporates the spirit of the “Me Too” movement. It is a bold and slightly polemical statement on our current times. Now before you dismiss this film as “not for you,” let me be clear. Those ideas may bubble underneath our protagonist’s behavior, but they’re not explicitly stated. The narrative’s first focus is to simply entertain. I submit this release as the latest addition to the feminist canon. I’m talking about a wide range of cinematic classics that include His Girl Friday, Alien, 9 to 5, Thelma & Louise, and Erin Brockovich.

Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) once had a bright and hopeful future. She was attending medical school but dropped out under mysterious circumstances. She now lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) and works in a coffee shop with friend Gail (Laverne Cox). Every weekend she goes to bars and pretends to be severely intoxicated. Inevitably some man (with less than honorable intentions) will take her home and try to take advantage of her. Before things get out of hand, she becomes alert and lowers the boom. Why does she do this? That is an enigma delightfully explained by the movie.

This is in essence a revenge fable. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, she is an actress, having appeared in supporting parts in many critically acclaimed films (Albert Nobbs, Anna Karenina, The Danish Girl). She was also Camilla Parker-Bowles on the Netflix show “The Crown.” Perhaps her most impressive resume highlight is as the showrunner for the 2nd season of the BBC America TV series Killing Eve. She’s already shown her genius before. However, this is a surprisingly self-assured debut with a well-defined perspective. If you were sleeping on Emerald’s talent before, then this feature most assuredly heralds the arrival of a “promising” new director. She exploits a distressing truth that is part of the cultural conversation then articulates it as a piece of compelling entertainment. The saga is like medicine that tastes like peppermint candy. It’s delicious but it’s also good for you.

Cassie Thomas is a likable woman that has rationalized her vicious takedown of “nice guys” acting with ill intent. She may outwardly look like a cutie pie but an inferno rages beneath her pretty exterior. She embodies an assertive woman fully in charge of her capabilities. All the while she radiates a femininity that belies the humanity at the heart of her character. She is vulnerable. Deep down she would still like to meet a genuinely sweet guy. Cue Ryan Cooper portrayed by Bo Burnham at his most bumbling and genteel. Her reunion with this former med-school classmate sets the chronicle off in another direction . He also has a sense of humor that is as sarcastic as hers. It appears this tale of vengeance has suddenly shifted gears with his introduction as a redemptive character.

Carey Mulligan is excellent in every role she plays but she tops herself here. She has received a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars once before. It happened for An Education back in 2010 (Sandra Bullock won that year for The Blind Side). Mulligan has been doing consistent work ever since. Mudbound and Wildlife were recently popular with critics. If there is any justice, Carey will be nominated again. Incidentally, Emerald Fennell should be cited for her trenchant screenplay as well. A lot of things happen in this story. I haven’t even explained how a former school friend (Alison Brie), a med-school dean (Connie Britton), and a repentant lawyer (Alfred Molina) from her past all play an important part in her present plans. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Yet I’ve said enough. The dramatic twists and turns is a pleasure I will not spoil. An ideal review should never reveal too many plot details. It should merely stoke your desire to see it. Now go see it.

12-05-20

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Posted in Crime, Drama, History with tags on October 19, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the most significant film of 2020. No, not really, but that’s how this solemn melodrama is presented. Incoming attorney general John Mitchell (John Doman) and his justice department have cooked up a case against a list of Richard Nixon’s enemies. To underscore the point, Mitchell even describes the litigation to prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as “the most important trial of your lifetime.” This is a gloomy and academic courtroom drama from writer Aaron Sorkin who is a talented writer who knows a thing or two about such things. Nearly 3 decades ago he gave us A Few Good Men which is a classic I truly adore. I was primed to love this. Alas, this is my reflection on a disappointment.

Chicago 7 has value because it’s a true story. However, as the chronicle is detailed here, it wouldn’t exist solely a fictional work to be enjoyed. This is the depiction of an event from the past that seeks to instruct and enlighten. The account is based on the prosecution of a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters. They were charged with conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This timely tale “ripped from the headlines” seizes the current zeitgeist. As such, it’s been hyped as a major awards contender this year.

Aaron Sorkin is an exceptional writer. Of that, I am convinced. He won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Social Network which is brilliant. Although that picture was directed by David Fincher who imbued its aesthetic with spectacular style. This is only Sorkin’s 2nd time directing (Molly’s Game was the first) and I truly wish someone else had taken over those duties. While he has an ear for crackerjack conversation, he’s less attuned to what makes a compelling movie. He’s famous for fast-paced dialogue and extended monologues. The saga runs 130 minutes so you’re going to get a lot of those. Nevertheless, the delivery of those speeches is so traditional and dated. This feels like something you’d watch in school. There’s a frustratingly long opening montage that clumsily introduces the characters. Then there’s the actual lawsuit which is the bulk of the movie. Flashbacks are peppered into the narrative. These interstitials illustrate why these defendants are before the court. None of it is innovative or emotionally galvanizing. It simply exists to educate. This is your standard-issue Hollywood legal drama with the good guys clearly defined on one side and the bad guys on the other.

The sprawling cast is composed of unique casting choices. The “saints” include Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale. They all have vignettes that will play well in the highlight reel on Oscar night — should they get nominated, that is. That clearly is the goal. Civil rights lawyer William Kunstler who defends the Chicago Seven is the designated hero so he has several moments. Actor Mark Rylance sporting long hair, is quite affecting in the role. Now for the “sinners.” If there’s a performance that’s begging for a prize, it’s Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman. Initially, I was inclined to hate him as the villain of the piece. His grumpy old man character glaringly represents the establishment. However, I gradually regarded his over-the-top histrionics as a reactionary as a welcome comedic break from all the serious talk. I savored his cranky behavior in his verbal exchanges with William Kunstler.

It all climaxes with a conventional checklist of some of the most hackneyed elements ever put forth on film. The ending literally features a slow clap with the music swelling and a stirring speech. I mean it’s as cliched as anything I’ve ever seen and it’s the last thing you’re left to think about before the credits roll. Some will relish the theatrics. Overall Chicago 7 has some great writing about a historical milestone, but as entertainment it came up short for me. Be that as it may, it is just the type of didactic, politically left learning portrait that Hollywood adores. Its heart-tugging specifying is designed to win accolades. I suspect this will be recognized when nominations are announced on March 15th. It is a wee bit amusing when lesser-known defendant John Froines (Danny Flaherty) wonders aloud as to why he and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) have been included. “This is the Academy Awards of protests,” Lee deadpans. “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” At least the movie is self-aware.

10-16-20

American Murder: The Family Next Door

Posted in Crime, Documentary with tags on October 11, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

True crime documentaries are all the rage. Nowhere is this more evident than on Netflix. Recent titles include: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, and Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. As you can see, “killers” seem to be a focus. The list goes on and on. There are hundreds of titles available. The genre has become something of a cottage industry for the streaming service. This latest one was released on September 30 and quickly captured the public curiosity as it immediately shot to #1. This one is particularly haunting. The documentary does a great job of explaining “what” happened. It’s the “why” that left me confused.

The chronicle concerns the disappearance of Shan’ann Watts and her beautiful daughters: 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste. She was also nearly 4 months pregnant at the time with her son Nico. Shan’ann was a big user of social media. She posted photos and videos online often to document her life. Director Jenny Popplewell utilizes this archival footage to construct an intriguing story. From the outside, it appears that she had an attractive picture-perfect family with husband Chris and daughters living in Colorado, but as we delve deeper, two extremely unhappy people within a disintegrating marriage are revealed.

This is a disturbing window into the annihilation of a family. Text messages between Shan’ann and her best friend are displayed across the screen popping up like real discussions back and forth. They discuss intimate matters and we are eavesdropping. I felt a little uneasy reading these confidential particulars. It’s a tragedy that Shan’ann is no longer around to object, so I sadly acknowledge they’re more like evidence at this point than a private chat. They do shed some light. Her fabulous marriage by all outward appearances wasn’t wonderful. She too is baffled by her increasingly distant husband. The portrait also highlights the idea that reality vs. an online persona can be wildly different things. Given that this largely details a police investigation, it effectively presents the facts, emphasizing certain developments, the subsequent procedural, and how they were able to secure a confession. The underlying psychology behind the murder is less clear. It feels incomplete. Perhaps that is a question that cannot be answered. However, the eerie feeling remains long after this unsettling account is over.

Enola Holmes

Posted in Adventure, Crime, Drama on September 26, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Enola spelled backward is “alone.” Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) raised her daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) to be an independent, freethinking woman. Enola Holmes is also pretty good at defending herself in a fight. Just as the mind of every Disney heroine of the past 30 years has been implanted with a progressive identity, this 19th-century English woman likewise promotes the feminist ideology of our current era. Mother Eudoria is an activist in the women’s suffrage movement. That would explain Eudoria’s decision to raise her daughter in this manner. However why Eudoria doesn’t reveal her passion for this political cause to Enola is a mystery.

Ok so granted, Enola has a personality that seems a bit anachronistic. She may push boundaries and resist social norms but she remains witty, graceful, and even demure when called upon to be. A remarkable creature that can be all things to all people. Enola is the teen sister of the much older Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) and his stern brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin). They both left home years ago and so it is now just Enola and her mother. On her fourteenth birthday, Eudoria disappears and it’s up to Enola to figure out what happened.

This enjoyable chronicle is based on The Enola Holmes Mysteries. The series of young adult books by author Nancy Springer has been adapted by screenwriter Jack Thorne. The Case of the Missing Marquess is the first novel published in 2006 and the basis for this film. The search for Enola’s absent mother occupies her pursuit at first. Then she meets the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who is pursued by a bowler hat-wearing assassin (Burn Gorman). They eventually part ways but the fear that his life is in danger continues to vex her. She may outwardly dismiss him as a “useless boy” but her obsession with Tewkesbury betrays reality. She’s deeply smitten by the man…..and he needs her help. What is the male equivalent of a damsel in distress anyway?

The production is an amiable romp filled with various escapades. However, it’s slightly undone by excessive length. There’s a focus change halfway through this meandering story that is bizarre. Instead of continuing to search for Mom, she abruptly decides to track down Tewkesbury in order to save him first. The narrative is episodic and the ending promises more exploits in the future. It’s clear that this is positioned as the introduction to a much larger film franchise. Normally I eye-roll at such blatant commercialism but this is one of the rare times — in recent memory anyway — where I greeted the idea with enthusiasm. I was broadly entertained by what I saw.

The mystery captivated me. Enola Holmes manages to combine Victorian-era costumes and style with a very modern revisionist sensibility toward adventure. This may be the world that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about but Nancy Springer’s fan fiction interpretation is a new and entertaining creation. Enola is a detective like her brother. Actress Millie Bobby Brown adds so much to this tale. She rises above the character’s conventionally unconventional personality and becomes a charming and delightful presence.

09-23-20

The Devil All the Time

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on September 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I don’t mince words. In that spirit, I was going to head off my review with a tried and true denunciation: The Devil All the Time is “a sadistic slog.” Then I discovered a fellow critic had already used that epithet. Somehow a “vicious venture” or “fiendish fable” doesn’t sound quite as catchy. Regardless. They all fit. This is a thoroughly unpleasant movie. A southern gothic tale concerning various characters and their crimes is set in rural Ohio and West Virginia after WWII. Dark and brutal is the atmosphere at hand. Are these people depraved? Welp. Let’s just say that the individuals detailed here make the Georgia souls living in the wilderness of Deliverance seem sophisticated by comparison.

Because I am fair, I will start with the good. The production has the aura of quality. It promotes a talented all-star cast including Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke, and Sebastian Stan. Tom Holland plays Arvin, a local from the provincial town of Knockemstiff, Ohio. Arvin is a little boy (Michael Banks Repeta) at the beginning of the story and the closest thing to what might pass for a hero. He attempts to make things right although his actions are so very violent. I’m not sure if I should be applauding his behavior. Actress Riley Keough is effective too. She plays an outright criminal but there’s some shading to her role. She’s conflicted at least. There are a lot of personalities. The intricate ensemble converges in a myriad of interesting ways throughout the saga. The production features nice cinematography. Ok, that is where the compliments end.

The bad news is that this chronicle simply wallows in unpleasantness. These are wicked people doing really immoral things. The narrative frequently weaves religion into the framework in order to give cursory weight to this tale. As you probably have guessed by now, we’re not dealing with pious believers. These are the hypocrites that abuse faith in order to further their perverse agendas. The viewer is confronted with a lot of dreadful moments. An evildoer (Harry Melling) slays his poor wife (Mia Wasikowska) with a screwdriver in the name of religion. A false preacher (Robert Pattinson) preys on innocent underage girls. Another couple (Jason Clarke, Riley Keough) are serial killers who film their murders. Then there’s the father (Bill Skarsgård) of a little boy (Michael Banks Repeta) who believes sacrificing the family dog will save his wife who is dying from cancer. I won’t delve into the sordid details but a cross is involved. Ya know it’s an odd thing . I’ve noticed you can kill any number of humans and the audience won’t bat an eye. Kill a dog and you’ve committed the ultimate sin. You’ll witness that atrocity in a most heinous way. You have been warned.

May God have mercy on the makers of this production. Director Antonio Campos’ (Christine) adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s novel is — to borrow a hackneyed phrase — misery porn. I’m not the first to level that criticism upon this wretched drama and I surely won’t be the last. Screenwriters Antonio Campos and his brother Paulo subscribe to the belief that there is nothing worse on this earth than a hypocritical religious zealot. The account reminds you of this fact time and again until the immorality is drummed into your skull to the point you can’t bear the degradation any longer. The deeds portrayed echo in a hollow chamber of superficial developments. I didn’t get an overall objective to all this depravity other than to emphasize that there is evil in the world. Sometimes powerful images can underscore deep themes but here it is a cheap and easy way to merely shock. Unless you’re tempted by the visual depiction of human suffering with no redeeming social value, skip this.

09-16-20

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