Archive for the Science Fiction Category

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

Men

Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on May 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

An impressive setup is always appreciated, but a satisfying conclusion is fundamental. Obviously, a movie should hold up from start to finish, but a great beginning is all for naught if the resolution can’t make good on the buildup. Men is the manifestation of a promise unfulfilled, an interesting idea that devolves into a disappointment.

Jessie Buckley is Harper Marlowe, a woman who retreats to the English countryside after her husband’s (Paapa Essiedu) death. They had a heated argument in James’ final moments. He became abusive and struck Harper in the face. She angrily pushed him out of the room and locked the door. He either attempted to climb back into the room from the 2nd floor and slipped or purposefully committed suicide by jumping, impaling himself on the iron fence below. His passing haunts her. A retreat to more peaceful surroundings does little to allay her anxiety.

Men is a folkloric fable that exploits the darkness of rural landscapes. The Wicker Man is perhaps the granddaddy of the genre but The Witch, Midsommar, and Lamb are all recent examples that did this skillfully. At the very least, Alex Garland vividly extracts an unsettling atmosphere from the seemingly tranquil setting of a country estate. Ah but something sinister is afoot. The first half employs the splendid cinematography of frequent collaborator Rob Hardy in an account of a woman’s unease. Harper hopes to alleviate her stress. The heart of the drama is built on the solid base of a compelling performance. Actress Jessie Buckley engenders our sympathy. That’s key. Actor Rory Kinnear is also memorable as the landlord of the manor where she’s staying. He is — as the English say — an odd duck. Also bizarre are the townsfolk of the village. These include a vicar, a policeman, and a schoolboy. Each one is an insensitive male figure with a dismissive attitude. Rory Kinnear plays them all.

I enthusiastically anticipate a new production from Alex Garland. He gained notoriety with screenplays that included 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go. Then cemented this reputation with his directorial debut Ex Machina. He followed with Annihilation. I had high expectations for his latest offering. The tale brilliantly creates the impending sense of dread for a woman. I felt that. The appearance of a stalker in the garden of the estate is a disturbing image I won’t soon forget.

Sadly, the chronicle doesn’t end well. The allegory is rife with symbolism. The cerebral exercise inserts pagan iconography like the Sheela-na-gig and the Green Man without explanation. When she first arrives, Eve — er uh I mean Harper — picks and eats forbidden fruit from a tree in the garden. But what exactly is Garland trying to say? Deciphering a story bereft of a plot but loaded with imagery can be daunting — especially when the metaphors aren’t profound. As the saga limps toward its crushing denouement, one can only luxuriate in the mood. Delve further to decipher the meaning beneath what’s presented and I uncovered a superficial objective, unsuccessfully realized.

The ickiest body horror in filmdom can repel or fascinate based on context. David Cronenberg (The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly) practically originated the genre. At the very least, he regularly exploited it. John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Rick Baker’s makeup for An American Werewolf in London are iconic examples. Those hallucinatory displays served the narrative and elevated the plot. Here the payoff rests on an over-the-top effect designed to shock, but to what end? I’ll leave a deep psychological analysis of its themes to the viewer. However, it’s hard to ignore that Alex Garland has saddled his movie with such an all-encompassing title. Men suggest the overall conflict between the sexes. Its reflection on gender is — at best — obvious and superficially explored. I didn’t glean any insight or enlightenment from the presentation. This ultimately failed in execution.

05-19-22

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

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on April 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

So if you’ve completely divested from the Wizarding World, you have my respect. Nevertheless, you’ll need a primer for this review. The Secrets of Dumbledore is part three of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which is a spin-off/prequel to the Harry Potter movies. If you’ve seen the other two, it remains a convoluted saga that requires a lot of work to keep track of what’s going on. That’s a warning if you’re not a dedicated fan of this stuff. You must see the other entries first to understand this one. Or better yet, skip all three entirely and watch a satisfying fantasy. Anyway, the positive news is that this entry improves upon the last.

We’re three episodes into this joyless series and I still have no idea what this overarching drama is even trying to say or why. It appears to be a political allegory condemning fascist ideology. Fun! If I can boil this account down to its basic essence, it’s good vs. evil in the form of an honest wizard named Dumbledore (Jude Law) against the malevolent wizard Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen). The two made an unbreakable oath never to harm each other a long time ago. The upcoming reveal of the Supreme Mugwump is approaching. A fawn called a Qilin will bow to the leader that is most pure of heart. Grindelwald is manipulating the process and he must be stopped. Dumbledore assembles a team to curtail Grindelwald’s nefarious plans.

Side note: I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge that actor Mads Mikkelsen has taken over the role originally played by Johnny Depp. It’s like when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York in TV’s Bewitched in 1969 and no one acknowledged on screen that this was a different actor. The reasons for the decision are different though. Mikkelsen’s emotionless performance may be adequate but it isn’t an improvement. Bowing to the court of public opinion is so much more important than artistic merit.

What the feature has going for it is a nice-looking fantasy adventure with great production design and visual effects. There’s a section where Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) goes to rescue his brother Theseus (Callum Turne). He has to mimic the moves of these little scorpion critters. I was mildly amused by that. There are engaging moments here and there. Yet once again there are too many characters. An aggregation of returning individuals includes actors Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, and Fiona Glascott. However, the MVP award goes to Dan Fogler as the non-magic Jacob Kowalski. It is a testament to his ability to turn a minor character into a fascinating personality. He seizes focus as the charismatic spice in a bland stew. Meanwhile the episodic nature of the plot sort of plods along without a strong story or compelling focus.

Nonetheless, The Secrets of Dumbledore is a vast upgrade over its predecessor. The Crimes of Grindelwald came out four years ago. I couldn’t even begin to recall what happened. It was such an ordeal, I probably blocked it out to be quite honest. So before I went to see this, I forced myself to do a significant amount of research on the internet to reacquaint myself with the lore. I even read the plot synopsis of the current release on Wikipedia. Going to see this felt more like a homework assignment than actual entertainment. However, doing that preparation did make my experience more enjoyable. I give this film a pass. If you have the base knowledge to enjoy this flick, then consider it worthy of your time. If you aren’t, steer clear.

04-15-22

The Adam Project

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

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

03-11-22

After Yang

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on March 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

A minimalist sci-fi flick from A24 Films about an artificially intelligent robot that coexists with people featuring an incongruous dance routine, I’d have said you described Ex Machina to a T. Not so fast. Alex Garland’s 2015 release has a spiritual cousin in After Yang. However, that is where the similarities end.

After Yang‘s boogie moment pops up early on. It happens during the credits which occur after a 4-minute opening intro. Apparently, families of the future compete in virtual competitions. This is recreation, like playing “Dance Dance Revolution” in your living room. More than 30,000 households are competing across the globe. “Level one complete. 3,000 families eliminated,” a woman’s disembodied voice flatly declares. The captivating sequence suggests a tale about a dystopian society where people are literally terminated for not performing choreography with meticulous precision. Sadly it was not meant to be. This is nothing more than a playful introduction to the cast.

The drama concerns an android purchased by parents Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith). Yang (Justin H. Min) is what is known as a “technosapien.” He has been programmed to help their adoptive Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) learn about her cultural heritage. The movie is adapted from the short story Saying Goodbye to Yang by Alexander Weinstein. Then one day, Yang stops working. The malfunction means more than just the loss of a babysitter. He’s also become something of a surrogate son. Yang is still under warranty, but Jake’s traditional attempts to have the appliance repaired are difficult. He bought a refurbished model from a shop that no longer exists. But then a rogue repairman (Ritchie Coster) steps in to help and uncovers some hidden memories of which Jake was unaware. These include a mysterious girl (Haley Lu Richardson). Is there something more sinister afoot? Was “Big Brother” Yang built to spy on the family? Alas, this fascinating idea is not explored either.

What does it mean to be human? South Korean-born writer and director Kogonada (Columbus) considers the age-old question. Then probes further to ask what it means to be “Asian.” Yang is a “cultural techno” that can offer “Chinese fun facts” as part of his educational discourse. Nevertheless, he laments that he feels disassociated from his ethnicity. This is where the movie ultimately shows its hand. After Yang aspires to be a rumination on race, culture, family, and identity. The screenplay has ambitious objectives. The problem is it does little more than suggest those ideas then does absolutely nothing with them. The mood is chilly, spartan, and sterile. Yang is a machine, so his lifeless personality makes perfect sense. Yet the humans are ciphers too, almost catatonic in their inability to express emotion. The actors often contemplate these concepts in darkened spaces and silence. Unfortunately, I do not read minds so I was at a significant disadvantage.

03-08-22

Belle

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Drama, Music, Science Fiction with tags on January 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When they call you the spiritual successor to legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, you must be doing something right. Director Mamoru Hosoda originally garnered fame at Toei Animation in the early 2000s with two films in the Digimon Adventure series. In 2011, he co-founded Studio Chizu. Wolf Children and The Boy and the Beast were their first two films. Mirai followed and was Oscar-nominated for Best Animated feature in 2019. Belle is the studio’s fourth release.

OK, let me see if I can make sense of this story. Suzu is a withdrawn freckle-faced girl living in rural Japan. Following the death of her mother, the high school student retreats into an online virtual world called “U” with 5 billion players. She creates an avatar linked to her biometric info and becomes a pink-haired pop princess named Belle (also with freckles). It is within this alternate reality that Suzu achieves her true potential. As a lithe and beautiful Barbie-like singer, she attains global superstardom. She later meets a mysterious fellow player within the fantasy world called “The Dragon.” After this beast interrupts her concert — ultimately ruining it — he is pursued by a phalanx of vigilantes led by the arrogant Jason. They have superpowers naturally. Suzu’s desire to uncover The Dragon’s true identity develops into an obsession.

Belle is nothing if not bewildering for the number of plot threads it throws into the mix. The title acknowledges a debt to Beauty and the Beast. It even has an extended sequence that “pays homage” to the iconic ballroom dance from that Disney film. That’s merely one minor component. An ordinary teen who secretly performs as a pretty singing star is reminiscent of the 1980s American cartoon TV series Jem but in a simulated existence. Think Jem visits The Matrix.

Suzu is constantly being pulled between reality and fantasy. In the real world, Suzu is trying to come to terms with her mom’s passing. A group of uniformed high school peers comprises a soap opera that could be the foundation for a completely different movie. Suzu has a crush on childhood pal Shinobu. Popular “It” girl Ruka has eyes for jock Kamishin and appeals to Suzu for help. Meanwhile, her intellectual but snarky best friend Hiro offers Suzu advice on how to navigate the internet world of U. Hiro assists in trying to unveil The Dragon. It’s here that the saga goes off on another tangent as various odd characters are introduced: a troubled baseball player, a tattooed artist, and some random woman pretending to be the ideal housewife. If all that weren’t enough, there’s also an investigation into child abuse. Why have one plotline when you can have six or more?

Belle is an ambitious tale inundated by exquisite imagery. There are undeniably dazzling moments. Mamoru Hosoda populates his virtual environment with a glittering confection of digital avatars, pixies, critters, superheroes, confetti, glowing orbs, and whales in the cosmos. When Belle sings “A Million Miles Away” at the climax, it’s an epic finish that achieves a poetic finality. Unfortunately, the chronicle continues for another 20 minutes in order to tie up some unfinished details. The bizarre unpredictability of the production may have more appeal for fans familiar with the capricious nature of anime.

It’s sci-fi! It’s a fairytale! It’s a soap opera! Belle’s demanding two hour+ runtime entertains a dizzying number of subplots. Sadly they don’t coalesce into a compelling singular narrative. The spotlight is on Suzu (and her alter ego Belle), but this poor girl is beset by a myriad of distractions. The death of her mom, the cute boy at school, acquiring confidence, a J-Pop singing career, computer technology, and helping out an abused youth, all vie for her attention. Those craving a focus will be mystified. The lack of consideration for one central objective makes an emotional connection to this material impossible.

01-07-22

Don’t Look Up

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on December 27, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

It’s never a good sign when you’re rooting for the end of humanity in a movie. Nevertheless, I did experience gleeful anticipation as an impending comet loomed ever closer to destroying all life on Earth — a planet filled with a complete bunch of dum-dums.

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) are two astronomers who discover a comet is plunging toward the planet. They soon determine that the celestial sphere is extremely dangerous. It will kill all life as we know it in 6 months. Naturally, they contact the authorities. NASA scientist Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) is totally on board, but President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) is not. Meryl Streep is doing a version of Donald Trump in a female form complete with a nitwit son Jason (Jonah Hill) who also happens to be her Chief-of-Staff. At first, President Orlean avoids doing anything about the problem. Then decides with mid-term elections approaching, a response would benefit her campaign.

This is a heavy-handed parable with a lot of stars working extra hard to portray unpleasant people to elicit laughs. The central conceit is that the scientists speak the truth, but no one listens or cares. A raft of celebrities inhabit incidental subplots. Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry play perky TV personalities on a Morning Joe-style TV show. Ariana Grande noticeably flexes her acting muscles to play a vacuous pop star that sings a soaring ballad about our imminent doom. Timothée Chalamet embodies a directionless teen who has a fling with Jennifer Lawrence’s character. Ron Perlman yells a lot as a general who will pilot the spacecraft that will divert the trajectory of the cosmic snowball in question. Mark Rylance plays Peter Isherwood, the placid CEO of a Silicon Valley tech company. His Elon Musk-ish billionaire steps in to help out when it’s discovered that the comet can be mined for valuable resources.

Subtle political satire is difficult to pull off. Why address grave concepts like climate change or the pandemic head-on when a physical object hurtling toward the world is so much easier to grasp? The filmmakers exploit that obvious metaphor by repeatedly hammering the same point using different actors in assorted situations for a mind-numbing 138-minutes. This sanctimonious sermon would have been so much more effective (and enjoyable) if presented in half that time. Honestly, there are plenty of funny jokes that land. I would have given this a recommendation if 50 minutes of the repetitive tedium were excised. Writer and Director Adam McKay is working from a story by David Sirota. McKay applies the same haphazard but smug approach he used in The Big Short and Vice. Hard to believe, but this is the same guy that once gave us the breezy comedy triumvirate of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers. Oh, how I miss that guy.

Don’t Look Up is a clashing hybrid of drama and comedy. We can cite the inspirations of the past. Dr. Strangelove or Network are the acknowledged classics. As a matter of fact, when Leonardo DiCaprio loses it on the air, he seems to be channeling Peter Finch’s famous meltdown. The screenplay is more potent as a silly comedy. There are occasional laughs. A running joke which cites Kate’s inability to get over the fact that General Themes (Paul Guilfoyle) charged her for free snacks is so random, it’s amusing. There are many hilarious lines. Indeed I chuckled throughout. However, Adam McKay’s method grows increasingly didactic over a punishingly long runtime. The tone is irritable when the narrative would have been better served by a lighter touch. Mike Judge’s brilliant Idiocracy also exploited a similar vibe in its sendup of human nature. Where that lighthearted parody had many targets, this oppressive spoof has one: America is one big country of stupid people. Thanks. I already get that perspective from the news (and it’s delivered in under 30 minutes to boot!).

12-26-21

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on November 21, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

One of the biggest highlights at the cinema during my youth was the incongruous reveal of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters (1984). I’ll never forget how shocked and amused I was in the theater by that unholy amalgamation of the Michelin Man and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Everyone was. It was a communal event. I’ll forgo further details to avoid spoiling the surprise. Although, one might argue that there’s no one’s experience still left to spoil. The movie is now nearly four decades old and the moment is iconic. However, perhaps to those young readers who haven’t seen it yet: Do yourself a favor and watch it now. This sequel does reference the goofy mascot “s’more” (that’s a pun on the marshmallow treat) as well as a plethora of other ideas from the 1984 classic. Sometimes nostalgia can be an albatross to creativity.

The story of a single mother who moves to a small town in Oklahoma with her two kids doesn’t sound like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster. The daughter’s familial connection to the supernatural events of the past is discovered when she inadvertently uncovers the legacy of her grandfather. This picture is directed by Jason Reitman and is a continuation of both Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989). Those were directed by his father Ivan who is the producer here. You may recall there was a female-led reboot in 2016. If you don’t, that’s OK because this chapter doesn’t acknowledge that the picture even exists.

The ending of Ghostbusters: Afterlife is completely indebted to the inspiration of the past. More to the point, the lack of originality in the denouement isn’t endearing. Nevertheless, for the first three quarters, the narrative presents an engaging plot about kids that veers closer in spirit to something like The Goonies. The saga focuses on the 12-year-old granddaughter of Dr. Egon Spengler who was Harold Ramis’ character. Her name is Phoebe and she is nicely realized with understated charisma by Mckenna Grace. Her mom and brother relocate to an abandoned farm that Egon left behind when he passed away. There, on his dilapidated estate, she discovers some of his ghostbusting tools. She brings a PKE Meter and an electronic trap to school — much to the delight of her classmate. The precocious boy is played by Logan Kim. “I call myself Podcast…because of my podcast.” He is undeniably funny, captivating, and also a real scene-stealer. Phoebe and Podcast form a compelling duo that I enjoyed immensely.

For the significant duration of the picture, the languid drama feels more like an indie picture. The fantasy isn’t as zany or sarcastic as its predecessor. It takes 45 minutes before we even see a ghost. However, there are laughs. The adventure adds additional members to the ghostbusting team. These include Phoebe’s brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and his girlfriend Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), along with their mom Callie (Carrie Coon) and a teacher named Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). The movie charms but with the heart and character development of a leisurely-paced production and a smaller scale. This cost a comparatively low $75 million before promotion and advertising.

Sadly the filmmakers didn’t trust in the beauty of this new innovative direction they had forged. In the final quarter, it’s as if another malevolent director grabbed the steering wheel of this amiable tale, stepped on the gas, and forced it down a path that lazily remixes the climax of the 1984 blockbuster with garish and extravagant CGI effects. Unfortunately, everything from that point on is the exploitation of nostalgia in the most heavy-handed demonstration of the concept. I wasn’t a fan of the closing act. However, the chronicle before that was good. I’ll give it a pass because I was entertained. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a pleasant time-filler. Ah, but it could’ve been so much more.

11-18-21

Finch

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction on November 9, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dramas don’t get much more intimate than Finch: a chronicle about a man, his dog, and a robot.

So the Earth has become a wasteland after a solar flare has scorched the Earth by ultraviolet radiation and increased the temperatures beyond living conditions. Certified national treasure Tom Hanks plays Finch Weinberg. The guy stays indoors most of the time, but he dons a special protective suit whenever he ventures outside for supplies. Finch is dying from cancer. So he builds a mechanical person (Caleb Landry Jones utilizing motion-capture) to be a companion for his canine Goodyear after he has passed on. When Finch hears of a major storm approaching, he decides to leave in a motor home toward San Francisco with his two companions.

There isn’t much to this story. Most of it centers on the interaction between Finch and the android who is developing a personality. We watch as the robot learns. Hanks gives yet another genuine, understated performance. Finch is cut from the same cloth as the characters Hanks played in Greyhound and News of the World. Meanwhile, the humanoid — who ultimately adopts the name Jeff — is reminiscent of other cinematic portrayals. Your references may vary. I thought of Pixar’s animated Wall-E (2008) but also “Johnny 5” in the 80s sci-fi comedy Short Circuit (1986). I never saw Chappie (2015) but I’ve heard that allusion as well. The post-apocalyptic tale is a serious account and it grows darker. However, Jeff has a cloying temperament throughout. Given the bare-bones plot, I found it hard to sit through.

The sweet, wholesome production is constantly trying to tug at your heartstrings. The nicest thing I can offer is that it’s inoffensive. When the robot isn’t acting cute, there’s also a puppy to melt your heart. This would have been more charming as an efficient 30 minute short. Stretched out to nearly two hours, it wears thin. Nevertheless, Tom Hanks is a star for a reason. He is undeniably likable, so if you are a major fan of his celebrity, then I suppose this will entertain you. The saga has its moments, but I was less enchanted by all the sentimentality.

11-05-21