Archive for the Thriller Category

Bullet Train

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Thriller with tags on August 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Brad Pitt is a movie star. I realize this is not some groundbreaking pronouncement. We’ve known this for a long time. Perhaps as far back as 1991 when he memorably played the handsome young drifter J.D. in Thelma and Louise. He turned that bit role into a star-making performance. The rest is history. Bullet Train has a massive cast, so it would be hard to stand out. Yet every time the quinquagenarian pops up, it’s akin to the zen calm in the eye of a chaotic storm. Sporting unkempt hair, glasses, and a bucket hat compels one character from the UK to quip, “You look like every white homeless man I’ve ever seen.” Seriously? The vagabonds in Great Britain must be really good-looking then. Brad Pitt is the glue that holds this dissonant mish-mash of a film together.

A team of various assassins with incongruous codenames from around the globe are traveling on the Shinkansen. The bullet train takes about two hours and 15 minutes to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto — with frequent 1-minute stops along the way. Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is tasked to steal a briefcase. He’s getting directions from his handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock), an unseen voice on the phone. Little does he know that other cutthroats are onboard to stop him. Let’s see; there’s a pair of hitmen brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his “twin” Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), British bad boy The Son (Logan Lerman), innocent-looking schoolgirl The Prince (Joey King) who is not so virtuous, and The Father (Andrew Koji), a troubled patriarch there to seek vengeance upon the individual who pushed his son off a roof. Let’s not forget The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), whose identity is largely secret, and The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, a.k.a. rapper Bad Bunny). He’s angry at whoever poisoned the wine at his wedding. Wow. Now that’s a gross scene I didn’t need to see over and over. Other killers — not on board but part of the narrative — include The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) and White Death (Michael Shannon). Oh, and there are a couple of memorable cameos too, but I won’t spoil the surprises.

The recipe for this cocktail of a story is to simply add the ingredients of disparate characters to one location and shake vigorously. Lest you think my encapsulation is dismissive, classics like Die Hard and The Raid got by on the same formula. I haven’t even mentioned that there’s a poisonous snake on the loose and a mysterious pink mascot from a popular children’s show named Momomon. Your mileage may vary, but ultimately, I warmed up to the film’s bonkers mentality. The silly glee in this live-action cartoon is just so zealous. The saga marries lighthearted dialogue with heavy-handed violence. Granted Final Destination treated the idea of death with more compassion. It’s a cynical approach. Director David Leitch worships at the altar of patron saints Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). Leitch is working from a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, who adapts the Japanese novel Maria Beetle (published in English as Bullet Train) by Kōtarō Isaka. It’s a difficult juggling act for the filmmaker. He’s trying to keep a lot of balls in the air. Oh yeah, he drops a few. Particularly in the denouement when the action goes literally and figuratively “off the rails.” (sorry, but you knew that line in a movie about a train was going to appear somewhere). Nevertheless, the spectacle is still quite a show.

08-04-22

Vengeance

Posted in Comedy, Mystery, Thriller with tags on August 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Office is one of the great sitcoms of the 2000s. I state this as fact, not opinion, so perhaps I was more excited than most to hear that “Ryan Howard” made a film. B. J. Novak is best known for his work on the U.S. version of The Office. He also wrote, directed, and produced the sitcom, so he’s had significant experience behind the camera. Vengeance is his feature directorial debut. B. J. Novak also wrote the screenplay and stars.

Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is a struggling journalist based in New York City who casually dates many women. One night he gets a call from Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), the brother of one of these arbitrary hookups. Aspiring singer Abby (Lio Tipton) has been found dead of an apparent overdose. Believing Ben was her serious boyfriend, Ty heartbreakingly delivers the news. Ben can barely remember who she was. Yet Ty is so distraught that Ben decides to fly to Abilene, TX (where Abby got her name) and attend the funeral. Sensing an opportunity for an exciting podcast, he chooses to stay and probe further into her death. He pitches his investigation to a successful producer back in New York. Eloise (in a compelling performance by Issa Rae) is receptive to the idea.

Vengeance is blessed with a clever script that straddles the line between intelligent satire and flat-out comedy. If you sense a tale about a shallow city slicker from New York who learns that gun-toting Texas are not as backward as he initially thought, you’d be right. However, how those relationships are detailed makes all the difference. The characterizations are beautifully revealed in random asides. An ongoing joke is how Ben frequently uses the phrase “100 percent” to express his “sincere” agreement. When Ty is touched by his use of the word, it’s an affecting moment. Another occurs when Abby’s sister Paris (Isabella Amara) demonstrates that she has read Chekhov, and Ben uncomfortably admits he hasn’t. There are a lot of those revelations.

Vengeance is a movie about the preconceptions and ignorance that outsiders have about people they don’t know. This is not another let’s “laugh-at-the-yokels” affair. BJ Novak’s observations about Texans are nuanced and render them as fully rounded human beings. Abby’s family is a likable clan. The ensemble of actors includes Dove Cameron, Isabella Amara, and J. Smith-Cameron in memorable roles. Ashton Kutcher deserves a special mention as a music producer. Oh sure they value their weapons and extol a love for fast food chain Whataburger that borders on the ridiculous, but the presentation is affectionate. The screenplay upended my expectations many times over.

I can’t say I was on board with every development that happens. I didn’t embrace the biggest surprise. The final act is punctuated by a shocking act of violence that is not earned. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino sabotaged the production. Despite that brief indiscretion into another genre, the story is mostly substance over style. The chronicle ultimately coalesces into a profound comment on culture and society. There is joy in this insightful reflection on humanity. I was delighted, and I think you will be too.

08-02-22

Ambulance 

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

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

06-14-22

X

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on June 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Certain productions evoke an age so perfectly that they feel as if they were made in that decade. It is most admirable that for a significant portion of its runtime, X is a well-mounted period piece. OK so the period is 1979 and the piece surrounds a small crew making an adult movie, but the aesthetic of X is artfully realized. The visual manifestation of the era is off the charts.

The traveling troupe is an eclectic mix of memorable personalities. Mia Goth is starlet Maxine Minx and Wayne is her producer boyfriend. Actor Martin Henderson is doing an amusing impression of Matthew McConaughey as the wannabe mogul. The rest of the troupe includes her fellow actors Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi). Aspirational director RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell) thinks he’s creating art, and his innocent but curious girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) does not. There’s a simmering feeling of unease that compels us to keep watching.

The group is on a road trip in rural Texas to photograph a new film. They arrive at the remote farm of cantankerous Howard (Stephen Ure) and lusty Pearl (also played by Mia Goth) — a creepy elderly couple. We’re not supposed to notice that both actors are aged with makeup, but the pair look a bit odd. Howard brandishing a shotgun is downright hostile. I would have turned around at this point. Nevertheless, he allows them to stay in the guest house anyway. The ensemble begins secretly recording The Farmer’s Daughters there without their hosts knowing. Ah but there’s a bit of humor lurking in the shadows. You see it turns out X is really a slasher film. Everyone knows that the sexual desire surrounding a porno shoot is exactly the kind of thing that’s going to incur the wrath of a killer.

X remains bloodless for so long, that I forgot it was horror. The vivid atmosphere of the 1970s is pure and the human conversation is surprisingly genuine. I was disappointed when it ultimately devolved into a mass of dead bodies. Writer-director Ti West (The House of the Devil, V/H/S) evokes the backwoods dread of pictures like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. This is a sincere homage. He also drapes hackneyed themes onto the narrative. The superficial exploration of aging, mortality, religion, and morality is as effective as a diaphanous shawl in a snowstorm. Honest scares are appreciated though. I’ll admit a hungry alligator provides a potent shock. This should satiate fans of arty slashers. (Is that a thing?) However, I was disheartened by the promise unfulfilled. An evocative setup is consummated by the predictability of the genre. I guess the destruction of human bodies never goes out of style.

X is currently available as a video rental through streaming services (Amazon, Microsoft, Apple TV, FlixFling, etc.) and on DVD, which means it’s $1.99 at a Redbox kiosk.

05-24-22

Emergency

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Thriller with tags on June 1, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

If you must classify this picture into a genre, it might be another “one crazy night” movie. Think American Graffiti, After Hours, Dazed and Confused, and Superbad. Not only did I list those in chronological order, but they’re also ranked from best to still good. I’d place Emergency after all of those — and probably behind Adventures in Babysitting and Thank God It’s Friday too. The chronicle subverts expectations. I’ll give it that. I expected a lighthearted comedy with likable protagonists that would extract wit from a well-orchestrated plight. No. Nope. Sorry.

Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) is a gifted college student majoring in biology. The strait-laced fellow has just gotten into the graduate program at Princeton and is currently working on his thesis, growing live cultures in a petri-dish or something. Meanwhile his hedonistic best friend Sean (RJ Cyler) aspires to complete the “Legendary Tour,” a circuit of seven frat parties in one night. Opposites attract I guess. Their fanny pack-wearing roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) isn’t part of their evening’s plans, but he gets sucked up into a night of chaos when an unknown woman (Maddie Nichols) is discovered passed out in their living room. Now you’re probably thinking, call 911 and report the emergency, right? And to be fair, that is what Kunle wants to do, but Sean convinces him that — because they’re black and Carlos is Latin — the police would view them as suspects. “We call the police, we die,” Sean contends. So the trio decides to drive the heavily inebriated girl to a hospital and just drop her off out front. Let the fun begin! Except it’s not fun.

Emergency is an utter mess of tonal shifts. The narrative is constructed like a comedy. The boys’ plans keep changing because nothing goes their way. Yet there aren’t laughs because every situation they find themselves in is easily avoidable. These three lads make one ridiculously stupid decision after another. You really have to suspend disbelief. At one point, Emma (the unconscious girl) becomes alert. Disoriented she screams at the top of her lungs, breaks Carlos’ nose, and punches driver Kunle in the back causing an accident. She escapes the van of her own volition. They’re off the hook, right? Wrong. The boys hunt her down and drag her back to the vehicle. This leads to more mayhem — naturally.

I think director Carey Williams and screenwriter K.D. Dávila are trying to say something about racial politics in America. What exactly that is, I’m not so sure. Kunle may be deemed “black excellence” but he submissively agrees to every one of Sean’s bad ideas. Meanwhile, Sean talks crude and is all about boozing, pot-smoking, and edible-eating. He’s constantly high. The screenplay offensively writes off his character as a lost cause. Meanwhile the police indeed turn out to be the good guys. Surprise! They serve and protect. I failed to find a satisfying purpose or grand truth after watching these superficial shenanigans. Emergency aims at all sorts of various targets during its runtime but never has the temerity to take any of them down.

05-31-22

Deep Water

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A new release starring erstwhile lovers Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and helmed by provocateur Adrian Lyne would have been a big deal in a previous era. Yet on March 18, this went straight to streaming on Hulu. There’s a reason for that. Adult movie fare isn’t doing so well in theaters at the moment. Oh and frankly, it’s not all that good. But that doesn’t mean it lacks entertainment value.

Director Adrien Lyne earned a flashy reputation in the 80s & 90s for glossy dramas that were sexy and stylish. Flashdance, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal were some of his best known. However, the last time he made a film, was way back in 2002. Unfaithful featured an Oscar-nominated performance by Diane Lane. She was outstanding to be sure, but I also credit Adrien Lyne for being the director in charge of that production. The promise of his first picture in 20 years is something to celebrate. If only it delivered the captivating heights of his previous work.

Deep Water is a limp drama about a couple living in the fictional Louisiana town of Little Wesley. It concerns a husband named Vic Van Allen, (Ben Affleck) in an unconventional marriage to his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas). She has affairs with various men. Instead of sneaking around behind his back, she flaunts them much to his discomfort. It’s the odd back and forth of the feuding twosome that compels your attention. However, the story is a head-scratcher. At first, it appears they’ve agreed to an open marriage. But when Vic threatens the guest (Brendan C. Miller) that Melinda invites to a party, it’s clear Vic isn’t happy with what his wife is doing. Although that doesn’t stop her. It’s implied that perhaps Melinda savors his jealousy. Martin McRae — the last guy that romanced his wife — goes missing and Vic claims to be responsible. Or is he kidding? Melinda is unfazed by the possibility that Vic is a murderer. “I’m the one you kill for.” she coos. It isn’t long before she’s off openly flirting with a different man (Jacob Elordi) and then another (Finn Wittrock).

Deep Water occasionally recalls what made Lyne’s earlier output so irresistible. The milieu is sleek and polished. As photographed by cinematographer Eigil Bryld, the living spaces are exquisitely opulent. They live in a palatial suburban mansion that would be right at home on the pages of Architectural Digest. The bathrooms are the size of a bedroom. A grand pool at the center of a party shimmers with an incandescent glow. The atmosphere is seductive. It hints that something sinister is always brewing. But the attempt to achieve the provocative excitement of his past work goes unfulfilled and an abrupt ending is supremely unsatisfying.

Deep Water is not good. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the mischievous tone that pervades the account. Melinda has this lusty appetite that straddles the line between insatiable and ridiculous. Conversely, Vic inexplicably vacillates between bouts of being enraged and aroused. The developments elicit laughter and campy elements inform the plot. Their precocious six-year-old daughter steals every scene she is in. The suggestion is the dissimilar pair stay together for her sake. Her bratty behavior is an annoying delight. “Alexa, play ‘Old MacDonald’ again” she chirps despite her mother’s protestations. Meanwhile, Vic keeps snails as pets and that’s a bizarre addition to the story. Ben Affleck broods with the same intensity as Nick Dunne, his role in Gone Girl. His character is a most perplexing personality. I could never quite figure out what motivates this highly confused individual. In the absence of a clear motive or credible passion, I simply reveled in the absurdity of it all.

03-25-22

Windfall

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on March 21, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Windfall has been boldly touted as a Hitchcockian thriller. If I had a $1 for every movie that failed to live up to that high bar…I’d probably have at least $50. Hey, I’m trying to be realistic, but it happens a lot. At this point, I regard the appellation as a red flag for something that aspires to Alfred’s brilliance but isn’t as thoughtful. This film reinforces those feelings.

The drama concerns a burglar (Jason Segel) who breaks into the luxurious vacation home of a wealthy CEO (Jesse Plemons) who heads a tech company. Things don’t go as planned when the CEO and his wife (Lily Collins) happen to coincidentally show up at that moment and surprise the would-be prowler. I didn’t know it at the time, but the parts are listed as CEO, wife, and Nobody (for the robber) in the credits. That perfunctory attitude pervades the account. There are so many directions the writers could have taken. They chose the most mundane.

The narrative is constructed around a boring discussion set within a scenic but fixed locale. We discover the husband and wife are quite blasé about the robbery. They unexpectedly offer to help the thief out so he can be on his way. There’s one amusing interaction where the couple encourages the robber to negotiate his take up to half a million dollars. The cost of living has skyrocketed they contend. However a sum that large will require a day to arrive. Over the next 24 hours, the three participants will have a tedious conversation. We learn that the couple isn’t happily married. The intruder seems benign while the tech mogul grows more arrogant and obnoxious. That’s about the extent of it. There’s not much more to be discovered than that. A gardener shows up, but that doesn’t improve the story.

Director Charlie McDowell has worked with screenwriters Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker before. The One I Love had a similar single location setting, but that story had a supernatural component. At least it kept things interesting. The high point here occurs when the three of them are watching TV. We witness a scene from the 80s western comedy Three Amigos! That brief snippet is more compelling than anything in this picture. Windfall is only 92 minutes but I couldn’t wait for it to be over. (So I could watch Three Amigos!)

03-18-22

The Batman

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

03-03-22

Uncharted

Posted in Action, Adventure, Thriller with tags on February 28, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Actor Tom Holland is having a very good year. Spider-Man: No Way Home may have been released in 2021, but it has earned a staggering $166 million in the U.S. in 2022 alone. That means it’s currently the biggest box office hit of this year as well as last. The picture continues to earn money. It hasn’t left the Top 3 since it debuted 11 weeks ago.

Now on the heels of that success comes this fun action-adventure starring the web-slinging actor. This time he plays Nathan Drake. He’s working as a bartender in New York City when we meet him. His flirtatious flair for making drinks gave me flashbacks of another Tom…Cruise in Cocktail. However, Nate uses his job to pickpocket the patrons. We see him lift an expensive bracelet from a young woman. Noticing his “talent,” he’s approached by a fortune hunter named “Sully” (Mark Wahlberg) who offers him a job. Sully wants Nate’s expertise to steal a gold cross that is being auctioned off. Nate declines. Then later realizes Sully swiped the bracelet from his back pocket and left his business card in its place. Nate ultimately agrees to work with Sully. Thus begins a collection of escapades that the mismatched pair hope will lead to riches.

Uncharted the film is based on a series of games for PlayStation consoles. So full disclosure, I’m not a gamer. I have zero familiarity with the franchise that inspired this picture. However, knowing its origins had me worried. Movies adapted from video games don’t have an illustrious history. Expectations were low, but to my delight, this entertaining saga stands on its own. The popcorn movie is easy to enjoy as a swashbuckling adventure in the vein of National Treasure inspired by Indiana Jones. A big distinction is that Tom Holland’s character is a younger protagonist with a baby face. It’s an odd casting choice. Holland doesn’t look like a rugged hero. He is an everyman and though he is capable, he always seems a little out of his depth. I rather enjoyed his incongruous presence.

Uncharted excels in emphasizing the palpable chemistry between Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg. Both actors rest heavily on their movie-star personas. Mark Wahlberg has played tough guys before. Meanwhile, Tom Holland is doing Peter Parker goes treasure hunting. Nate and Sully are like siblings with a competitive relationship. Their witty repartee is highlighted in a screenplay written by Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway. The two stars bicker back and forth tossing off an array of amusing quips in an ongoing effort to top one another. Sure there’s plenty of action and it’s well-staged by director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Venom). The opening sequence of Nate falling through the sky out of a cargo plane is a wow. However, films of this genre often deliver computer-enhanced FX thrills. It’s the banter that kept me invested. I was entertained.

02-24-22

Death on the Nile

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Director Kenneth Branagh is having a moment. On February 8th, Belfast was nominated for an impressive 7 Oscars — including Best Picture. The celebrated filmmaker has followed up his movie with the more box office-friendly Death on the Nile. It was the #1 movie in theaters this weekend.

The mystery is of course based on the 1937 novel by Agatha Christie. Kenneth Branagh is not only the director and producer, but he also reprises his role as detective Hercule Poirot. It’s a sequel of sorts to his remake of Murder on the Orient Express, a monetarily successful adaption that came out in 2017. I wasn’t a fan, but I’m happy to report this one is significantly better.

All aboard the S. S. Karnak! This trip down the river Nile is an old-fashioned throwback — in a good way. Where Orient felt tired and stuffy, this is lighthearted and fun. Screenwriter Michael Green (Logan) even gives us a bit of a backstory of Hercule Poirot and why he has that immense mustache. The collection of stars is enjoyable to watch. In any large ensemble, the ability to stand out can be a challenge. Gal Gadot is perhaps the most memorable as a wealthy English heiress but Sophie Okonedo makes an impression as an American Jazz singer. Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Emma Mackey, Ali Faza, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders are among the other actors that show up. Note: It would be insipid to list the entire cast so the omission of any actor should not be viewed as a deliberate choice.

This interpretation is the kind of fluffy diversion I enjoy while watching but completely forget about days later. The thing I do remember most is how much CGI is used to make it look like they’re in Egypt. It’s quite obvious this wasn’t filmed on location. Credit goes to VFX Supervisor George Murphy and his team who utilize a London soundstage and an “extravagant” dependence on green screen. That does take away from the authenticity of the experience. The 1978 version of Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov WAS a production that was famously shot in Egypt. This revision doesn’t top its glorious predecessor for style or opulence. Let’s face it, that’s a major component of these Agatha Christie adaptions. I’ll concede the story moves briskly, however. The chronicle is not a chore to sit through. Thankfully this is just slightly over two hours. In an era where movies hew closer to three hours than two, that’s a welcome surprise. It’s nothing to die for, but still a solid piece of entertainment.

02-10-22