Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on February 8, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio! My February 7th appearance on talkSPORT I chat with Martin Kelner about the Steve Carell political comedy IRRESISTIBLE, crime thriller THE LITTLE THINGS with Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, & Jared Leto, and historical drama THE 24TH. Click below. My segment begins 17 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 13 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

The Little Things

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

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

02-04-21

Palmer

Posted in Drama, Family with tags on February 2, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A former high-school football star has been in prison for 12 years. Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) is now free and returns to the small town of his youth. He manages to secure a job as a janitor at the local school. There his grandmother Vivian (June Squibb), who raised him, offers a place to stay. She’s an upstanding church-going woman. Palmer acquiesces to her demand that he attend services along with her. He must readjust to life on the outside. Vivian also frequently watches the neighbor’s kid (Ryder Allen) for extended periods. Sam is a 7-year-old boy who lives a modest life in a trailer with his drug-addicted mother (Juno Temple) and abusive boyfriend (Dean Winters). Palmer is ostensibly a rough-hewn criminal hardened by years in prison. Meanwhile, the boy prefers watching a cartoon about princesses and having tea parties. They have nothing in common. There’s no way these two are going to connect. Can you imagine what happens next?

I can foresee how certain tales will unfold from a mile away Palmer relies on predictable plot developments. However, it isn’t familiarity that can sink a film such as this. It’s artificiality and insincerity. This, on the other hand, is a heartfelt and emotionally resonant account that is assisted by its understated acting. Given that Timberlake was in the boy band NSYNC and has had a wildly successful solo singing career, it may still surprise some people to hear that he’s a talented actor. When he’s good (Alpha Dog, The Social Network, Inside Llewyn Davis) he’s very good. He wisely underplays the role as a “strong silent type.” He’s a stoic man of few words sporting a Paul Bunyan beard and flannel to visually represent a tough guy here. Initially, he snaps “You know you’re a boy, right?” upon witnessing Sam play with dolls. It isn’t long before Palmer is protecting the boy from bullies. I wasn’t surprised by the turnaround. His pretty-boy features and sweet-natured disposition shine through his gruff exterior. His change of heart should be believable and it is that.

Palmer exceeds expectations. I wasn’t expecting the saga to be so reassuring and wholesome. Credit the presence of actor Ryder Allen as Sam, Eddie’s young neighbor. He pulls off the most challenging piece that is key to the entire project. His character could have been a parody of a confident tyke with catchphrases and overacting. Instead, we are offered a deeply nuanced portrait of a boy that doesn’t adhere to traditional interests. Sam seems like a genuine person and we are invested in his plight. Some recognition for this (and honestly every great child performance) should also go to the director. Oscar-winning documentarian Fisher Stevens (The Cove, Crazy Love) deserves kudos. Stevens doesn’t direct fiction often. His comedy Stand Up Guys (2012) wasn’t well-received, but this is surprisingly entertaining. Cheryl Guerriero’s screenplay adheres to reliable story beats that entertain and uplift with a relaxed air of comfort. I will admit I eye-rolled more than once at situations I foresaw well before they occurred. For example, the second Palmer meets Sam’s beautiful and conspicuously available teacher (Alisha Wainwright), I knew it was only a matter of time before they would date. And yet, I was OK with the clichés. Why? Simple old fashioned storytelling and honest portrayals. That is enough to propel a conventional film into an enjoyable experience. Simply put, this movie made me happy.

02-01-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on January 31, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio in the UK!  My Jan 31st appearance on talkSPORT I chatted with Martin Kelner about historical drama THE DIG (Netflix) starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, likely Oscar nominee Vanessa Kirby’s PIECES OF A WOMAN (Netflix), and the 2019 legal drama JUST MERCY. Click below. My segment begins 19 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 11 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

The Dig

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on January 31, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You don’t know how badly I wanted to simply title my review: I DUG THE DIG. Aside from the fact that it’s a corny beginning, I had to convince myself that I loved it that much. I did appreciate the film, but “dig” is a slang word that seems to imply more admiration than I truly felt. In short, this is a perfectly fine film, but it didn’t wow me.

The Dig is one of those movies “inspired” by historical events. A 2007 novel by John Preston is the basis for this leisurely paced story. The 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo is the location where a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artifacts dating from around the 6th to 7th centuries were found. The owner of the land Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) has hired Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the large burial mounds on the grounds of her estate. When he discovers an undisturbed 88-foot ship buried in the dirt, national experts take over. It becomes apparent that the site is a significant archaeological find. Edith is very protective of him and her property. She wants to make sure Basil gets credit for whatever he finds.

The drama is sort of an imagined idea of what transpired during their research . The narrative is curious because the account completely shifts the spotlight midway through from Edith and Basil to the marriage of Peggy (Lily James) and Stuart (Ben Chaplin). These are archeologists who have been called in to help out with the undertaking. It does return to the central duo by the end, but why the change in focus? It’s possible that screenwriter Moira Buffini felt there wasn’t enough excitement between Edith and Basil to sustain an entire picture. I liked their chemistry, but perhaps Buffini had run out of interactions between the two. Nevertheless, the first half is better than the second, so the pivot isn’t an improvement.

The production’s greatest asset is the beauty of the exploration itself. I like the details in their unearthing of various objects and the enthusiasm of their discovery. The cinematography is lovely since it’s a beautiful portrait to savor at a gentle pace. I’ll cite director of photography Mike Eley (Made in Italy, The White Crow) as his contribution is important. It’s an understated and relaxed tale, but I enjoyed the quiet simplicity of it. The Dig is a pleasant, if not deep, excavation of the period.

And there’s the pun.

01-29-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on January 26, 2021 by Mark Hobin

My Jan 24th appearance on talkSPORT radio I chatted with Martin Kelner about the Marvel TV series WANDAVISION (Disney+), crime drama THE WHITE TIGER (Netflix), and GREED starring Steve Coogan. Click below. My segment begins 15 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 15 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

The White Tiger

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

01-19-21

Pieces of a Woman

Posted in Drama with tags on January 21, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

If nothing else, Pieces of a Woman will be remembered for a home birth sequence that unfolds in a single take less than 10 minutes in. Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are having a baby. Their midwife Barbara is currently involved with another birth so she sends another, Eva (Molly Parker), in her place. The next 20 minutes is an agony that culminates in tragedy. What follows is a chronicle about how a mother and her family deal with that grief.

There is an undeniable craft to the construction of this account that is praiseworthy and compelling. The talented Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó (White God) has fashioned a saga with artistic flair. It is rooted in Vanessa Kirby’s portrait of a woman undone. Her performance is the best reason to see this. She is utterly disaffected by life after this trauma. Shia LaBeouf is her husband Sean. One’s familiarity with the actor’s personal issues may prove to be a distraction to his credible work here. Then again, it may even help because his character is not likable. The always dependable Ellen Burstyn plays her controlling mother Elizabeth. She elevates the narrative with her presence as well.

Pieces of a Woman is yet another dramatic exercise where a film is an excuse for actors to converge and exhibit their thespian skills. The audience is subsequently invited to marvel at all the acting on display. Like all of these recent efforts, there are indeed impressive performances. Furthermore, this looks like a fully formed piece of cinema. It feels like real life as opposed to a theatrical showcase, but to what end? This is an unpleasant experience that depicts the degradation of a marriage. Martha is understandably wounded. She is cold to everyone, especially her husband. The couple fight. Sean cheats on her [with their attorney (Sarah Snook) no less!] Yes, movies can present the ugliness of life. However, the viewer should feel enriched for suffering along with the protagonist when the credits roll. Pieces of a Woman is a punishment to watch. I suppose if there’s anything to be gleaned from this nasty ordeal, it’s that the death of a child is hard. These actors truly make you endure that awful event and its aftermath. Uh thanks, I guess?

01-13-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on January 19, 2021 by Mark Hobin

On Sun, Jan 17, I chatted with Martin Kelner about Regina King’s directorial debut ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI as well as Christopher Nolan’s TENET. Click below. My segment begins 20 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 10 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

One Night in Miami

Posted in Drama with tags on January 18, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

So let me set the stage. Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) has just pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history by beating Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander). Civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr. ), and NFL player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) were all ringside to witness it. Afterward, these four American icons decided to hang out. The date is February 25, 1964, and their meeting really happened. This movie, however, is a fictionalized version of what they might have talked about. It is an compelling idea for a film. This was a pivotal moment of contemplation in the career of each of these 4 young men. The magnitude of their encounter is underscored by the fact that Malcolm X and Sam Cooke would both be murdered within a year.

One Night in Miami is the directorial debut from Academy Award winning actress Regina King (Jerry Maguire, If Beale Street Could Talk) based on the play written by Kemp Powers. The plot merely revolves around a conversation. The play leans heavily on the repartee between its four principal players. You’d expect them to agree but their differing ideologies are a big part of the conflict. Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali seize focus as the principals. They control and guide the deliberation. They are more aligned in political spirit whereas Jim Brown and Sam Cooke’s views are a little divergent. Yet they all share a mutual respect for one another. The Civil Rights movement was ongoing concern. As they speak we come to know what’s going on in their lives and how they wish to proceed in their separate careers.

One Night in Miami concerns four inspirational icons that spar over weighty matters. The screenplay is shrewd enough to present each of these individual men not as legends but as human beings with vulnerabilities. Of all the depictions, Leslie Odom, Jr stands out as Sam Cooke. He disappears into the role so you feel you are watching the soul crooner himself, not an actorly achievement. Odom’s extensive theater experience (Rent, Leap of Faith, Hamilton) also means he can do his own singing and that is just as impressive as the performance. The best interactions involve him and Malcolm X. My favorite part is when Malcolm X reminisces about attending the singer’s concert and how Cooke won over the crowd when his microphone didn’t work. That little vignette was so captivating I started to wonder what a Sam Cooke memoir would look like. His life would undoubtedly make a fascinating movie. This is not a traditional cradle to the grave biography. This is merely a snapshot in the lives of these men. I do appreciate that approach. It is unique.

Where the picture falls short is in the authentic presentation of a leisurely exchange. The dialogue here doesn’t sound natural. It’s infused with the well-researched viewpoints of a writer. You never forget this is a play. What might these historical figures have talked about? Apparently the preferred subject is politics. It’s focused on a philosophical debate that deals with the plight of African Americans and what the moral obligation of black men in positions of power and cultural influence should be. There is a lot of self-reflection. No resolution per se. Just conversational gymnastics. Most of the so-called action takes place in Malcolm’s room at the Hampton House motel. This isn’t a production rooted in a strong narrative structure. To that extent, the tale doesn’t rise above its stage origins. That has been a difficult task as of late. The recent Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom also had that issue. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting and timely effort. This is sure to be a future favorite of high school history teachers on the American civil rights movement. As an intellectual exercise, the work is intriguing. As a piece of entertainment, it’s a bit less engaging.

12-29-20