Archive for 2022

Prey

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on August 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

In 1719 a young Comanche woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder) is underestimated as a hunter by her tribe. She tags along with the band of boys to hunt a lion. They dismiss her with a “Who invited you? We won’t be gone long enough to need a cook.” Yet she persists. They soon discover that perhaps there is an even greater threat than the lion in their midst.

“Humans hunted by an intruder” doesn’t qualify as the foundation for a masterpiece in my book, but admittedly it’s all in how you present the idea. Prey is the fifth entry (not including the two Alien vs. Predator films) of the Predator series. At first, the title and drastic change in setting suggest a complete reinvention of the franchise. The action occurs on the Great Plains within the grounds of the Stoney Nakoda Nation in Alberta, Canada, and Calgary’s Moose Mountain and Elbow River. On-location shooting makes excellent use of these stunning locales.

This prequel combines science fiction with a Native American backdrop involving touches that scream linguistic authenticity. Director Mel Gibson was lauded for having actors speak Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic for The Passion of the Christ. Likewise, this story has dialogue in the Camanche language. There’s a significant portion in contemporary English too. In addition to the alien menace, Naru and her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) must contend with hostile French fur trappers in this anti-colonialist tale. When the tribespeople are captured and tied to a tree, Naru recounts a fable where a beaver chewed off its own leg to be free. After suggesting she might do the same, she quips in a modern accent more appropriate to the San Fernando Valley, “I’m smarter than a beaver.” If this was 2022 and Naru was on Twitter. #girlboss Note: Prey is also available in an alternate all-Comanche dub on Hulu.

Gorgeous cinematography (Jeff Cutter is the director of photography) and a gender-swapped role of the lead are the unique elements in this Predator movie. When 20th Century Fox unleashed the first chapter upon the public in 1987, the film was dismissed as an Alien clone. Over the years, its reputation has grown among the cognoscenti. The latest installment is being hailed as the “best sequel since John McTiernan’s original.” That’s a pretty low bar. I’ll admit director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) shows impressive restraint. Nevertheless, the buildup to actually seeing the creature is so gradual that it’s frustrating. We don’t even witness the predator (former professional basketball player Dane DiLiegro) clearly until fully halfway into the picture. He’s portrayed as a translucent blur accompanied by chittering sounds. The beast finally becomes perceptible when covered in blood after he attacks a bear. Not many surprises in this violent game of “kill or be killed” which ultimately limps to an inevitable conclusion. Apparently, extraterrestrials underestimate women just like their human counterparts.

08-05-22

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

DC League of Super-Pets

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Superhero with tags on July 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You’ve enjoyed actors Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence and been enchanted by their chemistry in not one but two Jumanji movies. Yet you’re aching for more. Perhaps you’d like to experience their personalities in an animated saga about furry superheroes? Today I bring you good news.

DC League of Super-Pets is little more than an animated yarn seemingly inspired by The Secret Life of Pets, but it’s a lively reinterpretation. The tale concerns beloved critters that obtain superhero powers after being exposed to orange kryptonite. So for the uninformed, green kryptonite is bad, but orange is good. The story stars Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) — Superman’s (John Krasinski) Labrador Retriever — who possesses the same special skills as his master. The villain is a guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon ), who belongs to Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). She’s patterned her entire life on the Brain, that megalomaniac mouse of the Animaniacs. Well no, not technically, but that’s the level of characterization going on here.

Lulu is currently confined to an animal shelter but is able to acquire a shard of orange kryptonite. The element gives her super abilities. The other creatures at the pound inadvertently get powers too. The coterie of individuals includes a boxer dog (Kevin Hart), a pig (Vanessa Bayer), a turtle (Natasha Lyonne), and a squirrel (Diego Luna). However, unlike Lulu, they embody a good-hearted temperament. Conversely, there is also a kitty named Whiskers (Winona Bradshaw) that is not so well-meaning. After the humans in the Justice League are defeated and imprisoned by Lulu, it’s up to this superpowered team of strays to save the day. The adventure may sound rather incomprehensible, but it makes sense while you’re watching.

The most poignant moment in the DC League of Super-Pets unexpectedly occurs in the middle of the chronicle. Ace (Kevin Hart), a stray Boxer, recounts his backstory. He once had an ideal life in the home of a loving family. Then one day, Ace witnessed their toddler teetering on the edge of a flight of stairs. To rescue her from falling, he grabs the baby with his mouth. The parents hear their infant crying and only observe the little teeth marks on their toddler’s arm. They mistakenly think their dog has bitten her. Ace is removed from the household and taken away. The moment arouses genuine pathos. That random aside holds the seed of a narrative more compelling than the one the writers decided to pursue. The rest of this chronicle is rather frivolous and forgettable. That’s ok. I still enjoyed this lighthearted diversion.

07-28-22

The Gray Man

Posted in Action, Adventure with tags on July 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Action + adventure = a thriller, right? The Gray Man gives us a movie, but the formula is lacking.

Ryan Gosling is a CIA operative with the code name “Sierra Six.” He is a decent fellow with a moral compass that is forced to go on the run after discovering incriminating secrets about his agency. Unhinged bad guy Lloyd Hansen played by Chris Evans, is hired to pursue him. The chase is on in a game of cat and mouse for the entire duration. The story doesn’t seem particularly literary, but the production is based on a 2009 bestseller by Mark Greaney.

Netflix has high hopes for this installment to become a series. They astonishingly paid a whopping $200 million for this episode. I get it. This spy thriller presents a hero in the style of James Bond or Jason Bourne. Those guys are captivating individuals with stories that have emotionally compelling stakes. In this production, we’ve got a great cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas. Regé-Jean Page from Bridgerton emerges as another antagonist. That’s not a spoiler. He’s in an irritable mood right from the beginning. These are charismatic stars, but you’ve got to give them something interesting to do other than shoot at each other.

The Gray Man truly tests the idea of how essential a famous star is to the enjoyment of a picture. This screenplay reduces everyone to a cipher. Dull personalities populate the film. Ok fine. What usually makes these tales of espionage thrilling is the action, anyway. There is a lot of combat – some involve weapons, and other conflicts are hand-to-hand. However, it helps to have an emotional component, so you actually care what happens. The narrative is an array of various maneuvers that play out one after the other, spiced up with explosions and fights. Unfortunately, even those aren’t imaginatively staged.

I was expecting more from directors Anthony and Joe Russo. They established an impressive reputation by directing four Marvel flicks. Both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are in the Top 5 highest grossing movies ever made…(coughing) unadjusted for inflation. However, their output is far less enjoyable when not being handed a lucky assignment. This rote production — like Cherry and Extraction (which they wrote and produced only) is yet another unremarkable, colorless offering. Points for truth in advertising, though. The Gray Man has been aptly named.

07-19-22

Nope

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on July 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The difference between homage and rip-off is subjective. The old joke is that an “homage” is when you copy someone else; a “rip-off” is when someone else copies you. Another glib definition is that when one enjoys the appropriation, the borrowing is deemed a lovely tribute, and when offended, it’s theft. However, I would like to offer a more sincere explanation. When you take elements that exist in beloved films and creatively manipulate them into something entirely new and innovative, it’s an homage. That is the process at play in Jordan Peele’s latest triumph.

The tale concerns a brother and sister who run a horse wrangling business. Daniel Kaluuya’s character incredulously goes by OJ, a nickname that invites double takes. Keke Palmer is the affable Emerald. Nestled 40 miles north of Los Angeles in the desert town of Agua Dulce sits the Haywood Ranch. Here horses are raised for use in Hollywood productions. This was their father’s livelihood, an enterprise dating all the way back to the beginning of motion pictures. In the official explanation, Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) has recently met with an untimely demise when he is violently pelted with stray particles thrown from a plane overhead. Yet something more ominous is looming. A mysterious cloud up in the sky seems to have a malevolent effect on the human and animal life in the area.

Nope is an ensemble anchored by the dichotomy of a pair of individuals. These two differ on how to proceed with the family’s legacy. Keke Palmer plays the free-spirited sister. Her lively performance is a vibrant counterpoint to Daniel Kaluuya’s aloof, almost lethargic personality. He is a man of few words, with virtually no expression. I have to assume the intention to render OJ so stoic was a directorial decision. To imbue this man with a sluggish demeanor was an unconventional choice I couldn’t embrace. Does nothing faze this man? In one intense, armrest clenching predicament, OJ quietly utters a simple — albiet hilarious — “Nope” when deciding whether to exit his car.

Once they realize something more sinister is afoot, the duo decide they need to document the threat. Aiding them is Brandon Perea as Angel, a tech employee at a Fry’s Electronics store who installs the security cameras they purchase. He’s also a conspiracy theorist that believes in aliens and wants to be involved in their endeavor. A dialogue about how UFOs are now known as UAPs is an amusing aside. They shun Angel’s assistance, although his tenacity prevails. Deep-voiced character actor Michael Wincott also appears as Antlers Holst, a cameraman from the old school that may have a solution to getting these mystifying events on film. If Nope has parallels to Jaws, then Antlers is our Quint.

Nope is filled with fascinating scenes, but it takes a while to groove into the rhythm of this picture. I didn’t know what the heck was going on at first. Nevertheless, Jordan Peele’s saga is a carefully constructed narrative that twists and contorts to include essential clues that gradually aid our understanding of the story. Paradoxes and red herrings crop up. The appearance of a TMZ reporter riding a motorcycle in a mirrored helmet becomes a fly in the ointment. Look again because these seemingly arbitrary ideas illuminate what makes these personalities tick. A key ingredient to the cast is Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), a former child actor named “Jupe” after his role on a popular 90s TV show Kid Sheriff. He now trades on that fame by running a Western-themed amusement park called Jupiter’s Claim. The outdoor show attended by a small audience is a jaw-dropping setpiece that descends into a terrifying sequence. A random vignette regarding his second failed sitcom and a monkey is a head-scratching bit of information that memorably opens the picture. It’s horrifying. Sometimes sound effects conjure up images that are worse than any visual.

Nothing about this chronicle is expected. That quality elevates this breathtaking odyssey into a compelling and bewildering experience. In a bit of misdirection, the movie starts with a cryptic quote from an obscure book of the Hebrew Bible: Nahum 3:6: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” The prophet foretold destruction, and that is precisely what you will get. I was immediately taken aback. Is this Jordan Peele’s religious awakening? In a sense. His latest shows a reverence for Hollywood filmmaking.

Nope is about slowly building dread and the method for dealing with that danger. The account is masterfully detailed and executed. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema is among the MVPs with his masterful celebration of the visual grandeur using IMAX cameras. The presentation is stunning. Whether it’s the magnificent sweep of an aerial object or capturing the incongruity of inflatable tube men blowing in the wind across the open prairie, the impressive exhibition of Nope is terrific in a production inundated with the majesty of the unknown. Michael Abels’ (Get Out, Us) atmospheric music heightens the awe-inspiring displays. Jordan Peele borrows heavily from the book of Spielberg in how his narrative plays out. Most notably, the elements of Close Encounters, Poltergeist, and Jaws. The bloody iconography of The Shining and the love for classic Hollywood cinema in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are in there too. Steven Spielberg made it scary to swim. Jordan Peele makes it frightening to look up at the sky.

07-21-22

Jerry & Marge Go Large

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Drama with tags on July 20, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Books often inspire movies, but I’m intrigued when factual stories can trace their humble origins to nonfiction articles. My mind immediately goes to “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” a 1976 essay by British rock journalist Nik Cohn that was the basis for Saturday Night Fever. More recently The Bling Ring traced its roots to “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales, and Hustlers was derived from “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jessica Pressler. Now we’ve got a new example. Jerry & Marge Go Large is a fascinating true tale based on Jason Fagone’s 2018 Huffington Post piece of the same name, and it’s charming.

A Michigan couple figured out how to beat the lottery. Recently retired Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston) is a math whiz. While going through a brochure describing the details of the Winfall lottery, he discovers a mathematical flaw within the game. The sweepstake’s pool “rolls down” whenever the jackpot remains unclaimed. Subsequent prizes are smaller but easier to win in those weeks. As long as you buy enough tickets afterward, you are guaranteed a win greater than the money spent according to probability.

Discovering how to beat the lottery was difficult, but carrying out the plan was even more challenging. This would require a large sum of money. Simply buying that many tickets and then manually scanning them all for winning numbers would also involve a significant amount of time. The thing is, Jerry and his wife Marge (Annette Bening) had nothing but time on their hands. They invited everyone they knew to invest, so their little venture wasn’t so small. The endeavor became a corporation, and the profits benefited the entire town. In a late development, Tyler Langford emerges as an undergrad at Harvard who also figures out the Winfall loophole. Actor Uly Schlesinger plays a smirking and condescending villain. He goes toe to toe with the Selbees to put them out of business.

This account is an uplifting slice of life. The saga is all the more enchanting because this really happened. Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening are refreshingly plain-spoken and pragmatic as the titular duo. Yet the pair is far from cloying. Jerry Selbee, in particular, lacks warmth. He’s a man more comfortable with numbers than people. These qualities subvert a quaint tale about older adults that could have veered into mawkish sentimentality. Nevertheless, Jerry still sweetly flatters his wife with, “I won the jackpot before we even started.” Ultimately their strong marriage and commitment to the community make an impression. The good vibes linger after the film is over. In this day and age, any production that dares tell a compelling story about people in their 60s is a bold decision.

Jerry & Marge Go Large has been exclusively available to Paramount+ subscribers since June 17. It has remained the #1 movie in the U.S. on that platform for the better part of a month. Distribution to other channels and streaming services is expected.

07-17-22

Persuasion

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on July 16, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Psst!! Do you want to know a secret? The key to happiness is letting each situation be what it is — instead of what you think it should be. This simple advice can be extrapolated to movie reviews too. Film adaptations based on a famous novel are often subjected to rigid preconceived demands. Persuasion is based on the work published in 1817 by Jane Austen. It was the last thing she wrote, and while not as famous as Emma, Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility, the volume does have a maturity not found in her earlier texts.

Persuasion is a work about manners. A polite demeanor can be a facade for moral shortcomings. As such, the nuances of the time period are challenging to convey to a modern audience. Oh, but this reconstruction tries. Dakota Johnson stars as Anne Elliot, and Cosmo Jarvis portrays Captain Wentworth. Both are single and unattached. They were once engaged in the distant past, but Anne was encouraged by family and friends to end the relationship. They meet again after a seven-year separation, setting the scene for a second chance at love.

The story is set around a series of clumsy encounters. Anne and Frederick are clearly smitten, but their interactions are awkward. Director Carrie Cracknell affirms period detail and costumes, but not Jane Austen’s language. The dialogue — in a screenplay adapted by Ronald Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow — has been gently updated. “It’s often said if you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath.” Critics savaged this update for its modern sensibilities. Yet I did not find the expressions irksome. The reinvention of the language is subtle. I am forgiving of such things. Full disclosure. I have not read the book, so I do not have a slavish devotion to the original text.

Yet the saga — as presented here — is not compelling. Anne is frequently seen glugging back wine or breaking the fourth wall. She often looks directly into the camera to signal when she finds a character’s behavior preposterous. That approach might be endearing coming from Jim Halpert on the TV series The Office, but it doesn’t serve a 19th-century heroine in a Jane Austin novel. Furthermore, the erratic fluctuations of the characters’ desires make no sense. When potential suitor William Elliott (Henry Golding) capriciously redirects his flirtations to another woman at the end, it’s a baffling development that demands an explanation. I found the story entertaining in parts. Dakota Johnson — a high point in nearly every production — is an absolute delight. The overall chronicle, however, is less captivating.

07-15-22

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on July 13, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Marcel is a one-inch-tall talking shell with a googly eye and a pair of pink footwear. He got his start in a 4-minute short that was a collaboration between director Dean Fleischer-Camp and writer/actress Jenny Slate. It went viral in 2010 and was followed by two equally concise sequels in 2011 and 2014. During that time, the couple would marry and later divorce. Yet Marcel remained. More than a decade after his debut, we are blessed with Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, an identically named feature. And it’s oh so charming.

The chronicle is built upon a foundation of the gentle warmth of a mood. Marcel lives with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) in a standard-sized home. When Connie calls her grandson Marcello, the palpable love in her soft voice is genuinely touching. He spends life going about his business and gathering resources to live. The residence has been converted into Airbnb. Dean (playing himself) is the current guest.

When the documentarian discovers the little guy, he begins filming Marcel and asking him questions. Marcel attempts to interrogate him too, but Dean is less inclined to answer his queries. Gradually we learn that Marcel was part of a larger community that went missing. Their separation occurred sometime after the house’s previous owners, Mark (Thomas Mann) and Larissa (Rosa Salazar), had an argument and split up. The picture concerns Marcel’s quest to find his lost friends.

Slight doesn’t even begin to encapsulate this amiable wisp of an idea. Marcel’s fascination with the world and his insightful observations are the basis for the story. Jenny Slates’s endearing vocal performance is a raspy, childlike whisper that almost lulls you into a state of ease. It’s a soothing idea that intersperses little bon mots during its runtime. When Marcel appeals to the internet for help, the clip circulates quickly. While the comments are supportive, they aren’t beneficial. “It’s an audience, not a community,” he laments. Similar witticisms are sprinkled like powdered sugar on a stack of pancakes covered in syrup.

This warm hug of production is too genial and sweet to dislike. I’m always fascinated when a movie has near universal acclaim on an aggregate website like Rotten Tomatoes and manages to inspire one review that takes that near-perfect rating down to a 99%. I understand that lone voice of dissent. Context is everything. A full-length feature that appears to be assembled from lovingly created shorts strung together entertains more effectively in smaller doses. Even at a mere 90 minutes, the preciousness wears a bit thin. I see this as an ideal flick for streaming to be enjoyed at your leisure.

At one point, Marcel uses drops of honey on the soles of his sneakers to climb the sheer cliff of a wall to reach the mantel from the floor. The use of that viscous nectar got me thinking. A spoonful of honey spread on biscuits or infused in tea proportioned throughout the day is a sugary treat. Finishing off a 12-ounce squeeze bottle all in one sitting is less delightful.

07-12-22

Thor: Love and Thunder

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Superhero with tags on July 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Comic book movies shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. That’s the spirit behind Thor: Love and Thunder. Director Taika Waititi returns five years after Thor: Ragnarok to helm this sequel, the 4th entry in the Thor series. Though it might not reach the heights of his previous effort, it’s still a smashing good time.

It takes an absolute eternity to get to the principal story. It felt like an hour in, but I could be wrong. The proper narrative begins when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is reunited with his brainy ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). This duo forms the emotional core of their ongoing romance. She has taken on super powers aided by Mjölnir, the hammer Thor once owned that she now commands. Meanwhile, Thor now wields an enchanted axe called Stormbreaker. An ongoing joke is that his — apparently cognizant — weapon is comically jealous that Thor continues to pine for his hammer. The duo takes on Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) who is wreaking havoc across the multiverse and killing every deity he can while capturing the Asgardian children and imprisoning them.

Their adventures take them to Omnipotence City, where they appeal to Zeus for help. Russell Crowe is affecting a Greek accent while advancing the cause of body positivity. Zeus proves you don’t have to lift weights 24/7 to play a significant character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Truth be told, it looks as if he’s never even seen a gym. He’s a role model to Thor, but Zeus turns out to be a real jerk and exposes the muscular hero (quite literally, in fact) to the entire assemblage.

Thor is a meandering tale. Like everything in this blessedly interconnected universe, the latest Marvel chapter pays homage to earlier incarnations. Voiceover narration from the rock-like creature Korg (Taika Waititi) recounts the legend of the god of thunder. A screenplay co-written by the director and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson fills in the extensive background minutiae, dramatizing his experiences with the Guardians of the Galaxy. We are treated to an extended sequence in the first 20 minutes, highlighting a planet overrun by bird-like invaders. After Thor and his team defeat the attackers, the king of the land gifts Thor and the Guardians with two giant screaming goats. Their human shrieks are a running joke for the duration of the picture.

Oh, but there are many more trivialities to learn. Thor has appointed Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) the leader of New Asgard. The place has become a tourist attraction, with plays featuring actors in amusing cameos that re-enact Thor’s exploits. The lengthy introduction is fitfully diverting, but you could eliminate the whole shebang. This critic favors clarity. A simple, straightforward narrative is preferred, but whatever. I realize some people demand this stuff, so it’s here for those who feast on the details.

Thor: Love and Thunder is a lighthearted account that promotes slapstick and humorous banter. A series of seemingly random developments and numerous characters wear on the viewer. Despite being a mere two hours, it feels longer because of the convoluted events and distended cast list. The sloppy chronicle fumbles in the 2nd half with several generic action setpieces that fail to deliver. And yet the atmosphere is so jovial it entertains. The production relies on a soundtrack that presents four — yes, count ’em four — songs by Guns N Roses: “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and “November Rain.” The account is a hodgepodge of lively ideas that ultimately fuse into something resembling a cohesive whole. Thor Love and Thunder doesn’t stay with you long after seeing it, but it manages to captivate in the moment. That’s something, I guess.

07-07-22