Archive for the Drama Category

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

Misbehaviour

Posted in Drama, History with tags on September 22, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

These days, you know a controversial radical has been been awarded the mainstream stamp of approval if Keira Knightly is cast as that person in a handsomely mounted biopic. In November 1970, a group of feminist activists flour-bombed the stage at the Royal Albert Hall to proclaim their dissatisfaction with the Miss World Beauty contest. That’s the inspiration for this well-meaning but passive drama highlighting a host of various women ….oh and uh…Bob Hope……..associated with the event. The comedic icon hosted the highly watched event. Its viewership comprised of over 100 million people across the globe. Filmmaker Philippa Lowthorpe (BBC TV’s Call the Midwife, UK miniseries Three Girls) is the first [and only] woman to win a BAFTA for directing. It’s rather fitting that someone with that distinction should helm a production such as this. The largely female creative team behind the camera includes producers Suzanne Mackie & Sarah Jane Wheale along with a screenplay by Rebecca Flynn & Gaby Chiappe.

Misbehaviour is an account featuring an ensemble that attempts to detail several stories. The chronicle wants to be both a takedown of pageants that demean women while also uplifting those very same institutions as an establishment that elevates underrepresented individuals. The confusing point of view inexplicably changes over the course of this saga. However, if I had to cite a driving focus I’d say it was Sally Alexander. She’s portrayed by the aforementioned Keira Knightley who is making a habit of playing crusaders for the cultural good as of late. Sally is a history major at Ruskin College, Oxford and a feminist activist within the women’s liberation movement (WLM). She’s supported by fellow activist Jo Robinson, a rougher around the edges personality performed by Jessie Buckley. Jo is the punk antagonist to Sally’s more sophisticated intellectual. They share a common goal though — to “overthrow the patriarchy.” Beauty titles objectify women, they claim. Neither are happy with the Miss World pageant.

The entrants in the competition have less of a voice as that’s not really the main thrust of the tale. They are less featured but we are introduced to a handful of the contestants, There’s heavy favorite Miss Sweden (Clara Rosager) and Miss United States (Suki Waterhouse). There are also two South African candidates — a white “Miss South Africa” (Emma Corrin) and then a last minute addition, the black “Miss Africa South” (Loreece Harrison). Her under the wire addition due to pressure applied from a journalist on organizer Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans). His steely wife Julia, a Miss World executive, embodied by Keeley Hawes. Also, connected with the tournament is Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear sporting a ridiculous prosthetic nose). Justified or not, I have always held a positive view of Bob Hope for his tireless dedication to charitable causes. Be that as it may, the estate of the beloved icon and philanthropist will not be pleased with the smarmy, leering imitation he is afforded here. Conversely, his wife Dolores Hope is presented in a favorable light by a knowing Lesley Manville. Dolores is unfailingly devoted and supportive. However we are encouraged to pity the long-suffering wife who is apparently cognizant of her husband’s womanizing ways.

Feminism is in fact a social campaign with a range of ideals and goals that vary depending on an individual’s background. The best part of Misbehaviour is the scant morsel of even-handedness that arrives in the form of the supremely talented actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She plays Jennifer Hosten, the fiercely independent representative from Grenada who also happens to be one of the few women of color allowed to participate. The narrative shouldn’t want to detail more crusades but the anti-apartheid movement becomes a focus as well. Jennifer’s presence is a breath of fresh air because her journey is the one plot development in this script that I did not predict. This individual appears to subvert the intended message that pageants degrade women. A conversation Jennifer has with Sally Alexander is a critical dialogue within the film. Given the power of Jennifer’s declaration at the end, I sorely wish Jennifer had secured a central role and not what she is relegated to here – a periphery character.

09-15-20

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

The Social Dilemma

Posted in Documentary, Drama with tags on September 15, 2020 by Mark Hobin

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Any relevant documentary that sounds the alarm on a societal ill should satisfy at least two prerequisites: (1) Does the negative conduct actually exist? And (2) if it does, is that behavior shocking? I’d say The Social Dilemma supports a clear YES to the first question and a hard NO to the second.

This chronicle is presented as an expose as well as a cautionary tale. The creators of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other interactive media have purposefully designed their products to be “addictive” so that you keep using them. Successful social media platforms are essentially “guilty” of creating a product people crave. No surprise there. The supposed insight is that they do this by getting to know the things you like and then promoting those things so you keep using their service. Of course, these channels are free so perhaps an even bigger epiphany is that we, the “users”, are the products being sold. Advertisers are the consumer buying the information we provide. The more we interact with social networks the more advertisers can sell us products. Are you surprised? Then I have another revelation: the more TV you watch, the more likely you will be exposed to commercials.

The Social Dilemma did its research. Many of the bigwigs being interviewed here are former high ranking leaders at technology companies and picking their brains about these subjects is indeed fascinating. Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist (!), makes a memorable appearance. His and others’ disapproval at the persuasive techniques employed may sway you. However, I don’t think it’s outrageous that content on these services is manipulated toward the user. I expect to see different ads and information than others. This happens everywhere. The commercials during cartoons advertise toys and those during sports programming promote beer. If that concept is unfamiliar, then this docudrama might be alarming, but I keep coming back to TV because the comparison is so apt. Intellectuals regarded television as the Big Bad for years until the internet came along.

This account discusses a lot of topics over the course of 89 minutes. I reacted to most of it with a shrug and a lot of “I already knew that.” However, it briefly touches on the effect of social networks on teens. If this document should scare anyone, it’s parents whose impressionable children might be more deeply affected by these tactics. Mental health is the most interesting aspect and a worthy subject of a separate study. Dramatic reenactments sprinkled throughout are supposed to show in a concrete way how agents behind the scenes target us. Actor Vincent Kartheiser portrays the human embodiment of the artificial intelligence inside your phone. Skyler Gisondo and Sophia Hammons play teen victims. Most of these conspiracy theory dramatizations are unintentionally funny but they do sort of undercut the solemnity of the atmosphere so I kind of appreciated them. Conspiracy theories are powerful stuff and this movie has supposedly caused a large number to delete their Facebook. I have no proof as to whether that is in fact true. If it is, then perhaps this documentary is contributing more to the common good than I realize.

09-11-20

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Posted in Drama with tags on September 10, 2020 by Mark Hobin

“I’m thinking of ending things,” the female narrator (Jessie Buckley) tells the audience. At first I thought the young woman was contemplating suicide. She is instead referring to her relationship with boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). The couple has been dating for six weeks. The two of them are now on a drive to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) on their remote farm. A blizzard is brewing. It is a prolonged ride. Once they arrive, the foursome chat over the course of the evening. Then there’s the long trip home. That’s the story in a nutshell.

The production is adapted from the 2016 debut novel of author Iain Reid. The book has a pedigree. NPR selected it as one of the best of 2016 and it was a finalist in the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award. Charlie Kaufman obviously adored it because he adapted the tome and then directed the production. Ah, Charlie Kaufman! That inimitable talent is responsible for penning universally exalted works Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He also directed Synecdoche, New York, and Anomalisa. Those two have their high points also but I’m less a fan. Upon realizing he was directing, I had my guard up. I was open though because he was the screenwriter as well. I had reason to be cautious. The production is difficult to enjoy. The narrative is punctuated by protracted stretches of static dialogue. Unless you revel in a rambling, stream-of-consciousness. If that’s the case, then the film is a masterpiece. (Some critics have called it that)

Kaufman is an intellectual and he likes to show off his knowledge. The couple engages in a lengthy philosophical discussion during the car ride over. Pauline Kael’s negative 1974 review of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence is incorporated into the conversation. Not skillfully like humans talk, but lifted verbatim. She quotes Oscar Wilde to herself. Jake recites William Wordsworth. Then she delivers a poem she’s been composing. Later the woman discovers a book of poems at the parent’s home. Surprise! She didn’t write the verse. It’s taken from Rotten Perfect Mouth by Eva H.D. Before the movie is over, Jake will perform the climactic speech from A Beautiful Mind and sing “Lonely Room”— a tune from the musical Oklahoma!

There’s an undeniable sophistication to the atmosphere that some will champion as art. It’s the mildest of spoilers to suggest that things are not always what they seem. Throughout the chronicle, there are moments where Jake can hear —and respond to—her thoughts. Jessie Buckley’s character is referred to as Lucy, Louisa, Lucia, and Ames throughout the picture. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice her profession varies. Then her interests change too. Let’s not forget the surreal evening with Jake’s mom and dad. Confusion with the Genus edition of Trivial Pursuit and the word “genius” is a discussion. His parents undergo several transformations. What exactly is happening here?

For the record, I generally “got it.” I’ve seen enough movies to spot stylistic devices that have now become cliches. I confirmed my suspicions afterward by consulting the internet. My dislike of the film isn’t bourne out of frustration. It’s simply a chore to watch — a simple concept that is unnecessarily rendered obtuse. This is not an enjoyable experience . The closing arc is particularly off-putting. We’ve already endured two long conversations in a car and a head-scratching parental visit. Then we encounter an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd) working at Jake’s high school. Why not throw in a ballet? Now how about an animated pig? You should be confused until the credits roll. Even after it’s over you still might be perplexed…and you’d have every right to be.

09-06-20

Mulan

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

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

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

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

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

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

09-04-20

Babyteeth

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on September 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin
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STARS3.5Australian coming of age saga concerns a teen dealing with painful issues. Ok well, that pretty much describes all of them right?! Yet this one is not your run of the mill standard young adult drama. Where a tale about illness could have been maudlin, this is pragmatic. Its unvarnished account is so rare for this genre and I appreciated its unromantic portrait. Milla Finlay (Eliza Scanlen) is a terminally ill girl attracted to a small-time drug dealer named Moses (Toby Wallace). Their unexpected relationship is the focus. They couldn’t be more different but hey….the heart wants what it wants. Naturally, mother Anna (Essie Davis) and father Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) are not happy. Still, they indulge their daughter’s whims. Their overwhelming desire to make Milla happy outweighs their moral misgivings. The more reckless Milla behaves, the more they are compelled to step in. This honest presentation of humanity details some complicated ethical dilemmas.

What is notable is how much the narrative doesn’t explain. It’s clear that Milla is ill and in time we come to realize she has some form of cancer, but it’s never explicitly stated for the viewer. The observation is voyeuristic in that it is as if we’re eavesdropping on these people’s lives and we have to kind fo fill in the blanks with what we’re seeing. I was frequently perplexed by the actions of these people. For example it’s unclear whether Moses sticks around because he loves Milla or because her family provides the access he needs to drugs. Dad is a psychiatrist and can prescribe medication. These individuals are flawed and the chronicle is knowingly aware of this. However, as things develop we’re able to sort of piece together what makes these various people tick. Even when their judgment is perplexing, it never seems unconvincing. The characters are unique. They challenge our principles but we slowly understand their choices as a result of circumstance.

Director Shannon Murphy has an obvious rapport with this ensemble of actors. Here she makes her feature debut with a script by Rita Kalnejais. Remarkable talents Davis and Mendelsohn make an unconventional mom and dad. We question their child-rearing decisions. The ambivalence of the screenplay does not. It merely presents them as frayed human beings in a problematic situation. Eliza Scanlen plays Milla, the 16-year-old at the center. She is the key. This is a girl whose very existence is limited and that sad fact underscores her behavior. She has nothing to lose. No parent would ever approve of Milla’s choice of a boyfriend in Moses. Nevertheless, we are sensitive to her plight. Scanlen is known for the HBO series Sharp Objects. She also played Beth, the youngest sister in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women in 2019. That was a supporting part. Here she is the star and she rises to the occasion beautifully.

08-14-20

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 28, 2020 by Mark Hobin

personal_history_of_david_copperfield_ver9STARS3.5Frenzied, stylized version of David Copperfield is such a hyperactive exercise that you’d swear it was based on a comic book and not the Charles Dickens’ book published in 1850.  The production is nothing if not creative — a vibrant display of manic drama fashioned around a memorable performance by Dev Patel at the center of the narrative.

Dev Patel is a charismatic choice to play the naive and trusting protagonist.  The British-Indian actor is perhaps not the first actor one would select to play this historical character.  Yet he personifies Copperfield’s spirit with singular joyous energy.  His gawky frame and wide-eyed expressions engage the viewer.  We are captivated by this man as we enthusiastically follow him on his journey.  The ensemble is — in fact– populated by a few notable actors in roles that favor colorblind casting choices.  Where this felt like a stunt in 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots, here the actors mostly relish their parts with a comedic zeal that invigorates the proceedings.

Charles Dickens’ autobiographical tale of the titular character’s maturation to adulthood was supposedly his personal favorite.  The chronicle details Victorian England and the effects that wealth and class have on various individuals.  Director Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin) and co-screenwriter Simon Blackwell present a rather unconventional reworking.  The mood is frenetic and fast-paced.  That’s particularly good news for moviegoers with short attention spans.  However, it’s less encouraging for those period piece fans who prefer tradition and nuance.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is not your father’s stuffy adaptation.  The saga has a loose, disjointed feel.  The hardships and good fortunes jammed together like a herky-jerky roller coaster of ups and downs throughout.  The sprawling novel has been serialized for TV many times over the years.  There’s also George Cukor’s highly respected 1935 version for MGM. The episodic nature of the numerous events could easily be seen as chaotic and random.  Nevertheless it alls serves in the detail of the gradual ascent of a young man in society.  It’s fitfully charming as a whole.  Take my positive appraisal with a  grain of salt.  I confess I have never read the book, nor seen any production of the work.  I do not worship the source.  However, I know what’s entertaining and this breezy movie certainly is that.

08-26-20

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

Unhinged

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

UnhingedSTARS3It’s too early to say, but this might be the turning point where critics determine Russell Crowe’s career changed.  I must say, it’s rather interesting to see an Oscar winner (Gladiator) doing such an unabashedly B-movie.  Crowe was clearly doing prestige pictures in 2012 when he starred as Javert in Les Misérables.  I also consider recent roles in Boy Erased and True History of the Kelly Gang as reputable productions.  However, this is a step in a decidedly different direction.  It happens to the best of them. Bette Davis — one of the greatest actresses who ever lived — succumbed to playing exaggerated personalities too.  To be fair her impressive career spanned six decades.  She accomplished the feat by taking such parts beginning in the 1960s.  Now hold up.  I’m not saying this is anywhere even close to the high camp art of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or even The NannyUnhinged is absolutely ridiculous, but wickedly unwarranted acts pervade the film and if if you have the right mindset, it can be entertaining.

Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius) is a divorced, single mother living in New Orleans.  One day while driving her 15-year-old son (Gabriel Bateman) to school she finds herself stuck behind a pickup truck.  It fails to move after the light has turned green.  She waits then honks the horn.  Not a “courtesy tap” mind you, but a full-on loud and steady beep.  Uh-oh.  Big mistake.  Soon after, the driver of the truck, Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe) pulls up alongside her and demands an apology.  She refuses and a road rage influenced game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Revenge of the angry-white-male is a role perfectly tailored to Russell Crowe.  He relishes the deranged misanthrope with unbridled gusto.  Each cell conversation he places to Rachel leads to more misery.  This occurs over and over again.  These calls are a development that knowingly winks at the audience.  Director Derrick Borte (American Dreamer) exploits the genuine temperament of the star.  The notoriously short-tempered actor was famously charged with assault for throwing a phone at a hotel employee back in 2005.  Here he figuratively wields a mobile device as if it were a weapon.  Sometimes, art imitates life.

Unhinged isn’t an intelligent movie.  Tom is most certainly the villain and Rachel is the innocent victim.  However, she makes a lot of bad decisions.  Many times throughout I asked myself, why doesn’t Rachel just___________? (Fill in the blank with something a sensible person would do).  There are so many things that could’ve put an end to the unbelievable sequence of events.  Simply not answering one of Tom’s sadistic phone calls would have been a good start.  Her initial choice to press that button on the steering wheel is key.  Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth seems to warn viewers about the dangers of angering another driver.  Whenever this veered toward a cautionary tale, the more absurd the chronicle seemed.  There’s a pivotal moment where the narrative is no longer framed as a saga about a psycho on the loose, but as a plea to limit the use of your car horn.  Those are the kinds of preposterous asides that had me amused.  You can’t take this story seriously.  Nevertheless, it’s very intense and compelling.  As a vehicle (get it?) to set your heart rate racing, it’s pretty effective.

08-18-20