One Fine Morning

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on May 15, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Director Mia Hansen-Løve’s biggest box office success ($4.97 million worldwide) was the 2016 release Things to Come starring Isabelle Huppert. Hansen-Løve has always been more of a critic’s darling. Despite her many accolades on the festival circuit, it may surprise some that this is her eighth feature. The filmmaker’s approach is understated, naturalistic, and deeply personal. Her latest fits well within her oeuvre.

One Fine Morning is an account of a widowed mother named Sandra, played by Lea Seydoux. Sandra is a busy gal. She raises a preteen daughter while attending to a sick father (Pascal Greggory). Georg suffers from a neurodegenerative disorder that causes vision and memory loss, so he often gets disoriented. During this period, Sandra also reconnects with a friend she hasn’t seen in a while named Clément (Melvil Poupaud).

The chronicle is an engaging character study of a woman increasingly overwhelmed by life. She balances motherhood, working as a translator, and trying to make the right decisions for her dad. Georg is becoming less and less of the person she remembers. Socializing with a male friend from her past reawakens feelings she had long since suppressed. The approach is very French, mixing sweet, tender family interactions of the aging patriarch with explicit love scenes showcasing her affair.

The French New Wave is a significant influence on Mia Hansen-Løve. Directors François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol are an inspiration. The performances, especially Léa Seydoux, are quite good. I felt her sadness, so the actress made an impression. The same goes for actor Pascal Greggory who — as her elderly father — effectively coveys an academic, losing his cognitive abilities as the film progresses. He is the heart of the tale. I’m not sure I connected with the melancholy rhythm of the story. The narrative thrust is a like a leisurely-paced stroll without a destination. The ambivalent ending conveys the emotional power of a shrug. “Life happens. Accept it.” However, the portrait does feel authentic and natural. I appreciated that.

One Fine Morning is available to rent on digital streaming (Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Redbox, Google Play, YouTube, ROW8, Vudu, etc.)



Posted in Biography, Comedy, Drama on May 11, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Capitalism is hot. Earn the highest profit by producing the best good or service at the most competitive price. 2023 has already seen its fair share of movies that tackle the subject—First Tetris, then Air, and now Blackberry. However, not all tales of entrepreneurial determination have the same approach. While the first two were uplifting sagas of can-do spirit, the latest is decidedly less inspirational. The accelerated rise & disastrous fall of the first smartphone is the subject of this exhilarating but sad account.

I take biopics — which blend fact and fiction — with a grain of salt. The screenplay is adapted from Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s book Losing the Signal. According to this, BlackBerry started with two nerds. Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) has an idea and starts a company with his buddy and fellow geek Douglas Fregin. Actor Matt Johnson (who stars as Douglas) also directs from a script co-written with longtime collaborator Matthew Miller. The messy hair, headband-wearing Douglas manages the engineers but is just as focused on scheduling weekly movie nights for the staff. John Carpenter’s They Live is a favorite.

Mike and Douglas are schooled in technology but not in the ways of business. Their Waterloo, Ontario-based firm, Research In Motion (RIM), has a product called the PocketLink, “a pager, a cell phone, and an e-mail machine all in one.” It’s going nowhere. They’re a couple of minnows in a world for sharks. They need an aggressive personality. Enter corporate fast talker Jim Balsillie. Star Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is almost unrecognizable as the balding businessman. Antagonistic and overbearing, the actor gives the performance of his career thus far. He’s incredible and believable as the tycoon who leads their enterprise — for better and for worse — into a 50% market share and $20 billion in annual sales.

BlackBerry is a narrative of contrasting ideologies and bruised egos. Despite being extremely intelligent, Mike and Douglas were innocent and naive children in a world of adults. This is a Canadian saga told by Canadian filmmakers. Yet the film perfectly captures the lackadaisical style that characterizes Silicon Valley tech companies like Google and Facebook. Jim is a different fit altogether. The volatile mix would prove both advantageous and detrimental to the corporation’s success. Also, Steve Jobs’ launch of the iPhone in 2007 didn’t help. Mike initially insisted users would prefer their tactile, clicking keyboard. Of course, Jobs’ revolutionary keyboardless design would ultimately become the industry standard. Although the movie simplifies things considerably by making it seem like Jobs’ announcement was an immediate death knell. In reality, Blackberry would continue gaining users until 2013 before gradually losing to Apple in the cell phone arena.

Competition is ideal for encouraging the finest products at the lowest price people are willing to pay. The downside is that one company’s triumph often means another’s defeat. This is one of those “true” tales of capitalism that inspired me to delve deeper when it was over. How they came up with the name of their device is never even explained. (Someone thought the tiny black keyboard resembled the surface of the fruit). While certain developments feel fictionalized, it blends a heady amount of facts to be highly informative. The chronicle brilliantly melds comedy with truth into a thoroughly entertaining (and depressing) mix of history and fun. Blackberry is a fascinating account of “that thing you owned before you got an iPhone.”

BlackBerry is a limited release in theaters on May 12.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Superhero with tags on May 8, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 caps off a trio of films nine years in the making. I’ll cut right to the chase. The 32nd chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a touching and satisfying end. It’s the most consistent trilogy in the MCU (Spider-Man and Captain America are contenders too). It may not compete on a level with the original Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, but I teared up several times. I wasn’t expecting that.

Our ragtag team of intergalactic mercenaries is just settling in their new headquarters. We see that Peter Krill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Cosmo the Space Dog (Maria Bakalova) are all there. Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) will appear later, but she, well, uh, her reemergence requires more explanation. Anyway, they are suddenly attacked by a powerful being named Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). In the ensuing fight, Rocket is injured to the point where his very life is at stake. Now the team must search for a cure which leads them to a wicked scientist named The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).

We learn in flashback that Rocket was part of a cruel genetic experiment by this man. We meet other animals, an otter with mechanical arms (Linda Cardellini), a walrus with wheels for legs (Asim Chaudry), and a rabbit (Mikaela Hoover) with robotic attachments that make her look like a spider. They are strange in appearance but have sweet and cuddly personalities, giving Rocket emotional strength. What sets this episode apart is the sentimental component. Sure, we get a big-budget extravaganza boasting a curated soundtrack full of songs that I love, but it’s in the narrative’s quieter moments that truly shine. Rocket Raccoon is the focus, and his backstory is truly affecting.

This PG-13 release pushes that rating to its limit. The High Evolutionary, played by Chukwudi Iwuji, is a sadistic villain full of Shakespearean intensity. He is a degenerate with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The account can be violent. “Kill ’em all!” Star-Lord instructs when faced with an unholy army at one point. Or could that be the Earthling’s favorite Metallica album? Director James Gunn’s casual disregard for life is troubling. However, it’s the scenes involving animal cruelty that have garnered the most discussion. Some of it is a bit much.

The various incidents — even the traumatic ones — inform a narrative with real stakes. Ok, so yeah, there’s a surplus of characters, and it’s overstuffed with plot. Nevertheless, I’m now convinced MCU films need over two hours to excel. Thor: The Dark World is the shortest and arguably worst entry. Vol. 3 presents a thrilling saga with action spectacles that deliver. The production design is a dazzling display of sets and costumes with an eye toward humor. Nathan Fillion appears as Master Karja wearing a suit that looks like it was borrowed from the production of The Fifth Element. That’s exalted praise. Throw in a genuinely poignant tale that tugs at the heartstrings. Rocket’s origins are explored in depth, and his past is tragic, to say the least. There’s a lot going on. Developments can get visceral, but the story’s intentions are noble. Animal testing is wrong, and good wins out over evil. This beloved group goes out with style. I couldn’t ask for a more hopeful sendoff than that.


Peter Pan & Wendy

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on May 4, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

J. M. Barrie’s 1904 play and 1911 novel have inspired a multitude of live-action movies. There’s been nine (according to Wikipedia), including Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), Peter Pan (2003), directed by P. J. Hoganan, and Joe Wright’s 2015 prequel Pan. The most notable is still the animated adventure fantasy by Disney in 1953. That is the inspiration for this official non-animated version of their animated treasure.

Director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) has a talent for detailed art direction, heavy on the mood. The Green Knight (2021), a poetic saga, was a feast for the senses but low on plot. Predictably, Lowery’s take here offers a darker, more realistic look than its predecessor. The production design is luxurious. Unfortunately, an inherently captivating adventure is somehow rendered less engaging. Peter Pan & Wendy would play better with the sound off and listening to an alternate soundtrack. Leonard Bernstein’s score for the 1950 Broadway musical would seem appropriate.

There’s no one to root for. The characters are sapped of their charm and warmth. The biggest miss is the titular Wendy Darling herself (Milla Jovovich’s daughter, Ever Anderson). She affects a perpetual state of resentment. Her two younger brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), irritate her. She’s also upset that she’s being shipped off to boarding school the next day. She tells her mother (Molly Parker) she does not want to grow up. She’d much rather swordfight. That night a sprite (Yara Shahidi) that emotes without words appears in their room. Tinker Bell was a fiery and jealous individual in the original. Here she simply exists as a device to sprinkle magic dust and little else. Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) appears as an afterthought. Actor Alexander Molony is a suitably impish boy but strangely gloomy and withdrawn. His waifish countenance is almost expressionless. No matter because his role is significantly reduced in this narrative.

The rest of the cast fares no better. The three Darling children (that’s with a capital D) get sprinkled with Tinker Bell’s fairy dust and fly off to Neverland. There they meet Captain Hook (Jude Law), who we learn had his right hand cut off by Peter Pan and fed to a crocodile. Hook is the villain but has a backstory explaining why he’s misunderstood. Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk) is a dignified and noble hero who heads an ethnically inclusive coterie of children. The so-called Lost Boys also happens to include girls. “But you’re not all boys,” Wendy notices, then immediately corrects herself. “I guess it doesn’t really matter!” she observes. Indeed, it doesn’t, and neither does any of this.

Peter Pan & Wendy begins promisingly. Their mom, Mrs. Darling, portrayed by actress Molly Parker, affects a maternal love that is most appreciated. But over 109 minutes, the developments become a chore to watch. This straight-to-Disney+ exercise is labored and dreary. It needs fun. Even the battles are monotonous. The messy amalgamation inartfully blends a slavish devotion to its source but with conspicuous course correcting. The film feels more like an apology than an affirmation of Disney’s animated classic.

What more can I add? The actors are unengaging. The action is mundane. The color is often dull. Oh, Peter is a supporting character in a movie that bears his name. Just call this Wendy: The Tale of a Petulant Individual.


Big George Foreman

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sports with tags on May 1, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

One of the most extraordinary developments in boxing history is when George Foreman, age 45, became the oldest heavyweight champion when he defeated 26-year-old Michael Moorer in the 10th round in Las Vegas on November 5, 1994. That event would have been enough to warrant a biopic…but there’s so much more.

What makes this a compelling sports drama is the man at the heart of this true tale. Living in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Foreman came from absolute poverty. Underestimated, he had to control his anger throughout a difficult childhood. After dropping out of high school, he joined the Jobs Corps work program, which assisted young adults in need. Actor Khris Davis (Judas and the Black Messiah) portrays the titular subject as an adult through the various stages of his career. Davis turns in a solid performance. Foreman would meet Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker) in the Jobs Corps. There he discovered and encouraged Foreman’s talent for boxing. Broadus would become both trainer and mentor. Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) is particularly engaging as the legendary trainer. Together the actors effectively evoke their close bond.

The ups and downs of George Foreman’s life are tailor-made for a biopic. You barely have to tinker with the details because the facts are inherently interesting. He achieved the gold medal in the heavyweight division at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. From there, he won his first 37 professional matches, 34 by knockout, then famously faced Joe Frazier and defeated him by KO. The boxer was crowned heavyweight champ. However, Foreman would lose in 1974 in Zaire to then-underdog Muhammad Ali in the storied “Rumble in the Jungle.” A few years later, he retired from boxing, became an ordained minister, and founded a youth center. I could go on. The accomplishments grow more incredible.

The saga moves from one episode to another with little drama or conflict. Director George Tillman, Jr. (The Hate U Give) reverently presents the various highlights of Foreman’s life in a celebratory manner. (The star athlete is an executive producer.) The movie is traditional and episodic. Yet his story is so uplifting and sweet (like the man himself) that it’s hard to dislike. His smiling demeanor has sold over 100 million units of the George Foreman Grill since 1994. There’s a reason for that. I recommend this inspiring portrait to fans of the champion.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on April 30, 2023 by Mark Hobin

This was recorded Sunday, April 16th: THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE continues to be a phenomenon at the box office. RENFIELD is a new release that barely made a dent. I talk about both on UK-based talkSPORT. My segment begins 5 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 segment (about 25 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: Live Radio, Breaking Sports News, Opinion – talkSPORT

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on April 30, 2023 by Mark Hobin

This was my Sunday, April 9th appearance on UK-based talkSPORT. AIR (in theaters) reunites Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in a sports drama about how the Air Jordan came to be, and OPERATION FORTUNE is a spy thriller (available to rent) starring Jason Statham. My segment begins 2 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 segment (about 28 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: Live Radio, Breaking Sports News, Opinion – talkSPORT

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant

Posted in Action, Thriller, War with tags on April 27, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Even though The Covenant noticeably includes the filmmaker’s name in the title, this is not a typical Guy Ritchie movie. The designation was ostensibly done to differentiate itself from others with similar titles. The most well-known being a Renny Harlin-directed flick in 2006 about high school boys descended from colonial witches. Ritchie’s latest may be another macho tale for the director, but it still upends expectations. For one, it lacks the comedy brimming with witty one-liners that usually highlight his movies. This is a seriously-minded military action drama.

It’s been 18 years since Jarhead, the Persian Gulf War drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The actor returns to those military digs. Here he portrays U.S. Army Sergeant John Kinley needing an interpreter in Afghanistan in 2018. He selects Ahmed (Dar Salim), a local Afghan man whom John is told can be difficult. Ahmed proves to be a loyal and dedicated guide. The Afghan aide saves his life; now, various events lead to a situation where Jake must return the favor.

The Covenant is not based on any one specific account. However, it is inspired by the genuine relationships between Afghan interpreters and the U.S. Armed Forces. The War in Afghanistan began shortly after 9/11 in 2001 and would continue for 20 years. The U.S. exited the country in 2021. The applicants were promised visas to America. That’s the agreement, but thousands were left behind. The Taliban took control of the country within weeks of troops exiting. These supporters were hunted down as traitors. A title card emphasizes this in a bit of commentary in closing.

The saga leans into the features of a traditional war movie with straightforward action. As such, the chronicle is less concerned with detailed specifics of the Afghanistan War. Nevertheless, it’s thoroughly entertaining. Several tense and exciting sequences punctuate the narrative. That would have been enough, but the story’s heart is the close relationship that develops. John and Ahmed comprise one of the more engaging male friendships as of late. Gyllenhaal often affects this stoic, blank stare in his performances as an actor. That quality works well for this war-torn sergeant. Actor Dar Salim (Game of Thrones) is even more impressive as his interpreter. He, too, is a man where “actions speak louder than words.” Yet the unspoken bond that emerges as two men interact in various situations is compelling. What transpires is an emotional tribute to the human spirit.


How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on April 24, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is as incendiary as it sounds. Originally a 2021 nonfiction book by Swedish author Andreas Malm whose politics on climate change have been described as Marxist. He advocates eco-terrorism; that is, he maintains that economic sabotage is an effective form of environmental activism. It’s a controversial opinion.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline (the movie) is a creative adaptation of his book into a fictional story. It concerns a disparate (and desperate) group of youthful zealots that decide to do precisely that. It’s an extreme undertaking and not easily defensible. Nevertheless, one need not subscribe to Andreas Malm’s beliefs on how to protest for change. It is a tense thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat as this faction of radicals attempts this task. The impending danger that the bomb makers will inadvertently blow themselves up is a constant threat.” Will they accomplish the deed?” is an ongoing question.

The diverse band of eight young actors is charismatic. Each one has a backstory that offers just enough info as to why they’re doing what they’re doing. Directed by Daniel Goldhaber, he co-wrote the screenplay with Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol. Co-writer Ariela Barer also stars as Xochitl, the eco-terrorist organizer whose mother died after a freak heatwave accident. Xochitl’s childhood friend Theo (Sasha Lane) has been diagnosed with leukemia due to toxic pollution. Meanwhile, Native American Michael (Forrest Goodluck), frustrated with his mother’s pacifism, relies on Youtube tutorials to make homemade bombs. Dwayne (Jake Weary) is a married father with a baby daughter. The government has seized his land and home due to imminent domain. Actors Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Jayme Lawson, and Marcus Scribner portray the other four. The cast’s naturalistic performances and the film’s low-budget aesthetic add significantly to the atmosphere. The cinematography almost feels like someone in that collective was documenting their work.

The tenets of good old-fashioned storytelling bolster this chronicle. The account paints this discontented gang as idealistic heroes. The filmmakers are sympathetic to their ideology. Yet this propaganda is compelling for reasons that have nothing to do with accepting the writer’s worldview. As these anarchists explain their motivations, we get a fully realized portrait of their cause. Those existing on the left and right-wing fringes have more in common than you might think. These personalities blame fossil fuel companies for all their various problems, and that despair is gradually suffused with an air of delusion. These aren’t perfect people, but hey — highly flawed individuals have always been more entertaining. This depiction imbues nuance and subtlety that elevates it to the next level. I was captivated by their humanity, if not their methods.


Boston Strangler

Posted in Crime, Drama, History on April 19, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Boston Strangler was an infamous serial killer who, in the 1960s, allegedly killed 13 women in Boston, Massachusetts. This saga concerns the investigative journalism surrounding that true crime tale. Our chronicle narrows its focus to the trailblazing ladies who broke the story.

The picture boasts two talented actresses. Keira Knightly is Loretta McLaughlin. Loretta works in a male-dominated environment, so she has to break through the proverbial glass ceiling to get heard. She does manage to stand out, as her reporting skills are top-notch. She is assisted by another reporter named Jean Cole, played by Carrie Coon. The two work together to become the first journalists to connect the murders to a single perpetrator. According to this, the men in the newsroom initially ignored McLaughlin and Cole’s demands to bring their revelations to the press. Editor Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper) ultimately trusts her instincts. Surprise! Their perseverance paid off.

There’s nothing overtly terrible about the account. It’s a serviceable retelling, dutifully told. The presentation is competent with deferential, almost obsequious respect for its dogged reporters. However, the screenplay by Matt Ruskin is intellectually shallow and emotionally vacant. Furthermore, the mood is gloomy. The heavily filtered atmosphere of grays and greens recalls better productions like David Fincher’s Zodiac. Given that the details of this case have long been mired in doubt, it’s challenging to make a definitive statement on this subject. As a result, the denouement is hampered by an ambiguous ending that closes the production on a weak and unsatisfying note.

Boston Strangler is currently streaming on Hulu in the U.S. (Disney+ in other parts of the world). It debuted on March 17 and briefly occupied Hulu’s #1 most-watched movie for six days.