Archive for 2022

Black Adam

Posted in Action, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on October 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I don’t know how to enjoy a superhero picture like this anymore. As a coherent drama starring complex individuals with emotions that captivate your attention, Black Adam is awful. As a series of impressive special effects and explosions strung together in a halfhearted attempt at a story, it’s not….terrible. This is part of the DC Extended Universe which has been marred by more than a few clunkers: Man of Steel, Birds of Prey, and Justice League (both versions) being the most egregious examples. Comparatively, this is one of the better entries. I’d put it on the same level with films in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, which include Marvel characters like Venom and Morbius. To quote Mongomery Burns in the Simpsons episode Brush with Greatness: “I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this.” So that’s a recommendation of sorts.

Part of my exasperation with this film is the convoluted exposition. Screenwriters Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani have injected irrelevant plot details. It begins 5,000 years ago in a fictional land called Kahndaq. The middle eastern country is on the Sinai peninsula. It’s vaguely Egyptian to anyone with a casual knowledge of geography. An ancient king named Anh-Kot enslaves his people to dig for a magical element called Eternium. He wishes to create the Crown of Sabbac that will imbue the wearer with great strength. A young boy (Jalon Christian) using the power of Shazam transforms into a mighty champion initially known as Teth-Adam. Out for revenge, he kills King Anh-Kot and ends his reign. Teth-Adam is subsequently imprisoned, but the human man evolves from a myth into legend. Khandaq is still oppressed in the modern day under the rule of the Intergang, a mercenary team led by the militant Ishmael Gregor (Marwan Kenzari). Will any hero emerge to save them?

That’s a cue for the usually affable Dwayne Johnson — in a surprisingly somber performance — to take the stage. Teth Adam — later christened Black Adam — seeks to free the citizens of Kahndaq from being oppressed. That’s good. However, he’s also a godlike force with an unlimited appetite for destruction. . Because of that, the Justice Society (not the League) of America need to curtail his power. Their leader Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), rounds up a team consisting of Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). I guess Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were busy. I’m not a comic book aesthete, so I admit I am at a disadvantage. I rely on what is depicted here, but these characters emerge without explanation. Who are they? What can they do? Sorry. They simply appear and start doing magical things. When a poignant friendship between Hawkman and Dr. Fate is introduced, I felt absolutely nothing. Ditto for Cyclone and Atom Smasher’s developing romance.

Black Adam is a compelling character that straddles a murky line between a hero and a villain. He has an altruistic desire to help his community but remains a violent figure of chaos. The movie desperately clings to occupy a moral gray area for most of the production. A bigger threat looms when someone else takes the form of a demonic beast. The deeper we get into the picture, it’s clear that Black Adam is a good guy that is endearing. He was awakened from a 5,000-year slumber, so he’s got a lot to learn. Teen Amon Tomaz (Bodhi Sabongui) wants to help. Black Adam’s unfamiliarity with sarcasm is amusing. He attempts to incorporate it along with catchphrases into his interactions. The complicated exposition is merely an excuse to present an array of chaotic stuff. The production offers a lot of fights, chases, and battles for the viewer’s enjoyment. It’s never dull. I’ll give it that, so if you’re looking for action and excitement, it satisfies that department. Just don’t expect a meaningful story.

10-20-22

Significant Other

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on October 19, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s a shame that Significant Other is saddled with that title. It’s so generic; the name escapes me every time I try to recall it. The movie is substantially better than the label suggests. The production begins with a red meteor falling from the sky into the forest. Soon after, we see a deer unexpectedly grabbed by an eerie tentacle. The story then switches over to a couple in a six-year relationship. Harry enjoys camping and takes Ruth on a backpacking trip to the Pacific Northwest. She has prescient misgivings. You’ve seen this tale a dozen times before, right? That’s what you think.

So I’m impressed when I think I’m getting a predictable horror film and am pleasantly surprised by something that subverts my expectations. Taking risks doesn’t always reap the rewards. Unlike another recent slasher sequel to a decades-long franchise, Significant Other makes some bold swings that actually do connect. What seems to be a simple setup about “a terrifying creature in the woods” becomes much more. Writers and directors Dan Ber & Robert Olsen have fashioned a horror picture into a multilayered meditation on relationships with several twists and turns. It appears that Harry is deeply in love with Ruth. Her feelings are a bit more ambiguous. Ruth suffers from extreme anxiety and is not handling the outdoors very well. They hike to a gorgeous scenic overlook, and he proposes. Ruth has a panic attack and rejects his offer. That’s just the beginning of their problems.

Adding to the unsettling atmosphere is a pair of intriguing performances. Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy exhibit a range of emotions that often catch the viewer off guard. No stranger to being a scream queen, Monroe had her breakthrough in 2014 with It Follows. She followed that up with The Guest (2014), Greta (2018), and Watcher (2022). Meanwhile, Jake Lacy utilizes the same blend of drama mixed with subtle comedy on the HBO anthology series The White Lotus. Together they comprise an unstable duo that seizes our attention—two unique individuals with strange personalities. Neither can be trusted. Who are these people? Where should my loyalties lie? That’s all part of the fun. If a movie is to be judged by the shock of a reveal, then Significant Other satisfies with at least one (maybe two) that are off the charts.

Significant Other is currently streaming exclusively on Paramount+. 

10-16-22

Halloween Ends

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on October 16, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It all comes down to this. The film that started things back in 1978 is a classic celebrated by critics and audiences alike. There have been so many movies with various timelines in this series. Most are pretty disposable, but any franchise with crowds still demanding entries 44 years later incurs a certain level of respect. Call me crazy, but I think Universal Pictures should’ve dubbed the latest picture what it really is: Halloween the 13th — a winking nod to another well-known horror anthology.

Halloween Ends is technically part three of a modern trilogy following 2018’s Halloween and 2021’s Halloween Kills. This has also been sold as the climactic chapter (note the title) of the entire franchise. That’s a lot of pressure to deliver. Unfortunately, Halloween Ends fails to satisfy either as a follow-up that honors what came before or as a new standalone story.

We expect certain things from a sequel. This entry has very little interest in involving the characters we know. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a minor presence in the narrative, and we don’t see the main villain Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney), for a full third of the chronicle. He takes a backseat to the action once he does. Director David Gordon Green has a different focus. The script he co-wrote with Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, and Danny McBride, introduces an entirely new and rather bland fellow named Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell). He’s a teen who accidentally kills a boy (Jaxon Goldenberg) while babysitting in an admittedly promising prologue. Side note: The child was misbehaving. He got his just deserts. Corey is cleared of manslaughter charges but becomes the town pariah. Corey is a sensitive kid, and the local bullies mercilessly harass him. He snaps. Michael Myers understands Corey’s torment and takes him under his wing — like a protégé.

Halloween Ends takes some big swings but ends up striking out. Introducing a brand new outcast as the star is a risk that doesn’t pay off. Corey subsequently gains the affection of Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Their romantic entanglement is a major component of this saga. Allyson has been through a lot. Corey is clearly damaged and throwing up all sorts of red flags, so her pursuit of him makes absolutely no sense. Fans who came to see scream queen Jaime Lee Curtis and her nemesis Michael Myers share the screen together will have to wait until the final 20 minutes of this two-hour production. It is predictably violent and ridiculously bloody, so enthusiasts who feast on gore should enjoy that segment at least.

The screenplay attempts to make a grand statement about “the inevitability of evil that exists in the world.” Michael Myers is more than a character here. He’s a symbol. The ongoing weight of Laurie’s guilt and despair is poured into writing a memoir. “Evil doesn’t die. It only changes shape,” she opines. Her introspective voiceover narration is like Chicken Soup for the Soul. These wispy ruminations inject unwarranted and misplaced importance into a slasher flick. The plot of Halloween (1978) could be summed up in three words: “Man kills teens.” It was that simple. It’s not hard, people. I just want to be frightened, and I wasn’t. My pulse didn’t even quicken.

This “final” installment is a sorry excuse to revive a tired franchise that did not merit twelve additions to the original (so far). It may be called Halloween Ends, but I have no doubt some screenwriter will creatively resurrect Michael Myers in another sequel using his DNA or invoking his supernatural spirit. I don’t look forward to that. However, I will end on a positive. Halloween Ends is an honest title because it does indeed genuinely and truly have a definitive end.

10-14-22

Werewolf by Night

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy with tags on October 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

An eclectic group of monster hunters converges on the estate of dearly departed Ulysses Bloodstone. They are there to compete for a powerful relic — also called the Bloodstone. The gem affords protection, strength, and longevity to the possessor. One caveat, they’ll have to fight a dangerous beast to get it. Among the seven attendees are the enigmatic Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal). He may not be a Terrier, but he does have a hairy problem. Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) is the daughter of the recently deceased, a fellow monster slayer who is both Jack’s rival and teammate — but conspicuously not a love interest. Harriet Sansom Harris portrays Verussa, Ulysses’ eccentric widow.

Werewolf by Night is a unique offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness dipped its toe in the horror waters. Composer Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, Up) — making his directorial debut — completely dives in. That singularity is part of this picture’s charm. The narrative spotlights a decent protagonist (Jack Russell) that doesn’t want to cause harm. Everyone else is on a different page. Also enticing is the use of practical effects and black-and-white cinematography. This allows that jewel to shine even brighter as it glows ruby red.

Just in time for Halloween, this creature feature provides a seasonal but forgettable experience for MCU completists. This adaptation is based on a Marvel comic book character first introduced in 1972 and then updated in 2020. Giacchino evokes the classic Universal monster movies of the 1930s and ’40s. Taking you out of that milieu is bloodshed that is significantly more graphic than the films of that era. That’s fine. Perhaps this is meant to be a marriage of the present and the past, but only in a very superficial sense. In comparison, The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney, Jr. had real emotional stakes.

So why does this exist? I suspect this production will ultimately serve to introduce elements we will see later in the MCU. Jack Russell and Elsa Bloodstone are a given, but I hope to see another appearance of Man-Thing. The plot is inconsequential piffle. Oh, sure, necks will be ripped, and people will burst into flames. With all apologies to writers Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron, that is not the foundation for a screenplay you can sink your teeth into. (If this were a vampire flick, that would’ve been the perfect pun.) Falling somewhere between a feature-length movie and a half-hour TV show, I admire that this delivers a simple, self-contained story. Kudos that the saga wasn’t unnecessarily stretched to 2 hours. Yet even at 53 minutes, this “special presentation” on Disney+ is such a simplistic tale that it still manages to drag.

10-10-22

Amsterdam

Posted in Comedy, Drama, History with tags on October 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Sometimes distilling a perplexing film down to its bare essence can seem daunting. Director David O. Russell has made a slew of great films, Three Kings, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle. Amsterdam is significantly harder to enjoy. This is a case where my “powers” of reviewing a movie are put to the test. It isn’t easy to even know where to begin with his latest picture.

Let’s start with the plot. To put it succinctly, Amsterdam is a mystery set in the 1930s starring Christian Bale and John David Washington as longtime best friends. They are framed for a murder they didn’t commit and must get to the bottom of the motives behind the killing to absolve themselves. Margot Robbie rounds out their trio. They developed a close bond during their halcyon days in the Netherlands capital. The circle of friends made a pact to protect each other no matter what years ago.

Considering our core triad, Christian Bale is giving the best/most performance as nutty doctor Burt Berendsen. He’s doing a riff on Peter Falk as Columbo. He’s even got a glass eye that keeps falling out. Maybe there’s a dash of Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman in the character too. John David Washington portrays lawyer Harold Woodman. The actor — so riveting in BlacKkKlansman — has been seemingly replaced by a subdued, somber imposter I hardly recognize. Margot Robbie is a wealthy but eccentric artist named Valerie Voze. She met the duo while working as a nurse in France during World War I. She becomes romantically involved with Harold, although their interactions fail to generate any sparks.

Amsterdam is blessed (maybe cursed?) with a cast over-stuffed with stars. It would be tedious to list them all. Nevertheless, a surprising number of actors with speaking parts bear mention: Zoe Saldaña, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Taylor Swift, and Robert De Niro comprise a distended roster of celebrities. Most inhabit parts that coast on their fame. When De Niro recounts his political ideology as retired general Gil Dillenbeck, I saw an actor playing himself. Every time another well-known actor popped up, I chuckled at their conspicuous presence. There are many, and they keep coming. These appearances do contribute to the kooky nature of the narrative. However, they constantly remind the viewer that this is first and foremost a farce — not a period piece.

Amsterdam is plagued by a convoluted screenplay written by its director David O. Russell: simple at heart but tortuous in execution. A collection of capricious subplots meanders without a sense of direction or focus. The screenplay is merely a series of offbeat conversations in various locations. If there’s a bright spot to any of these deviations, it is the introduction of Anya Taylor-Joy and Rami Malek as an affluent married couple who sympathize with Hitler and Mussolini. Their mugging faces and campy line readings belong in a completely different movie — the one I wanted to see.

I looked at my watch one hour into the narrative, hoping it would be over soon. There had to be some grand design served by these random developments. Still another 75 minutes to go. Keep the faith, I told myself. The positive is that all becomes clear in the end. There is an ultimate purpose. The story is partly inspired by a 1933 U.S. political conspiracy called the Business Plot. In addition, the 2021 events at the nation’s Capitol on January 6th are an obvious inspiration too. My overall reaction to the way it was presented was ho-hum. None of it captivated me.

It’s obvious a lot of care and effort went into making this picture. I admit the production looks spectacular. I’m talking costumes and production design. Also, the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki is outstanding. He uses many close-ups to lovingly frame these actors’ faces, and they do indeed hold our attention, even if only visually. Amsterdam is largely a disappointment where whimsy and quirkiness are celebrated as the ultimate goal. On occasion, that works. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on October 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The adventures of an optimistic London charwoman (that’s a “cleaning lady” for U.S. speakers) circa 1957 is the basis for this quaint drama starring Lesley Manville. She works for the to well to do. One day Ada Harris comes across a beautiful Dior gown in the closet of her employer (Anna Chancellor). She immediately longs to travel to France and buy one of her own.

The picture is called Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, so it’s not a spoiler that she ultimately manages to acquire enough money to make the trip. Ah, but that’s just a formality. Buying an haute couture gown from the exclusive boutique at 30 Avenue Montaigne is a struggle too. She is a humble woman, but she speaks her mind. She’ll go toe to toe with the manager of Dior. Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) has appointed herself as the gatekeeper of taste. Claudine doesn’t appreciate someone of Mrs. Harris’ modest demeanor. However, Ada will charm everyone else. This includes the Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), an attendee at the fashion show, Natasha (Alba Baptista), one of the models, and accountant André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), who understands the value of a sale.

Charming British comedies comprise a whole genre. The preciousness can seem a bit manufactured. A mood of whimsicality and happenstance wildly swinging between two extremes: from trite and affected to fizzy and delightful. Furthermore, this production was made with the full cooperation of Dior. The importance placed on material possessions is a motif. The way it promotes a dress from the fashion house as the ultimate goal in a woman’s life is a dubious concept.

Fortunately, the overall feeling is enchanting. Mrs. Harris’ aspiration is not really focused on the dress per se but about following your dreams and standing up for yourself. Actress Lesley Manville imbues her character with the requisite warmth and dignity to carry this notion. Anthony Fabian’s sprightly direction and a scintillating screenplay he co-wrote with Carroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson, and Olivia Hetreed further this idea.

A gentle 1950s-period piece about a middle-aged woman doesn’t seem like something made in 2022. This is an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris. It was previously adapted as a TV movie with Angela Lansbury in 1992 when productions like this were more common. Its mere existence in today’s cinematic landscape incurs my respect. The fact that it’s so beautifully mounted elevates the story into something rather special.

Currently available to rent on streaming (Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, Redbox., Apple TV, etc.) in the U.S.

10-04-22

Hocus Pocus 2

Posted in Comedy, Family, Fantasy with tags on October 3, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hocus Pocus was underappreciated in its time. Released in 1993, the picture was a commercial failure at the box office and got terrible reviews. However, something interesting happened over the years. Repeat showings on the Disney Channel and ABC Family (now Freeform) ultimately refashioned the flop into a beloved classic with a dedicated audience.

I don’t hold the original dear. Why? Well, so full disclosure. I had never seen it until just last week. However, I was preparing to review Hocus Pocus 2. I figured I should be acquainted with the first film. Considering them both, they are equally lightweight and silly. Yet I’d give the sequel a slight edge.

The youthful supporting cast here surpasses that of its predecessor. In this story, a teen girl named Becca (Whitney Peak) inadvertently lights the Black Flame candle and brings the Sanderson sisters back, who are out for revenge. These are the witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Their vicious personalities have mellowed with age. The opening intro shows that the sisters were misunderstood as children. Incidentally, Taylor Henderson is a standout as a younger version of Winifred, Bette Midler’s character. The witchy trio of Winnie, Sarah, and Mary are the only characters that return. Oops! Save for the notable exception of zombie Billy Butcherson. His storied history with the sisters comprises a minor plot point. Billy is delightfully portrayed by actor Doug Jones (Hellboy, The Shape of Water), who frequently appears in Guillermo del Toro’s movies.

Girl power reigns supreme in the follow-up. Becca has a quirky best friend named Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). The two have a tenuous relationship with former bestie Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). She has become a popular girl, much to their dismay. Cassie has a dim-witted boyfriend (Froy Gutierrez), but her loyalties still reside with her girls. The teens ultimately band together to stop the evil sisters. Lessons taught are that sisterhood is a powerful thing and that making fun of others for being different is not cool.

Despite sweeping cultural changes over the past 29 years, Hocus Pocus 2 is still a retread. There are some new jokes. Instead of a broom, Mary flies around on two Roombas under each foot. Those robotic vacuum cleaners will assist them later. The utter confusion the witches experience at Walgreens is the funniest scene. Like its forerunner, there are some musical numbers. I did appreciate a cleverly altered Elton John song, “The Witch Is Back.” This is a family film after all. Furthermore, when a group of children is told that a virgin must light the candle to summon the witches, a little boy — who looks to be about 5 — asks, “What is a virgin?” Fitting because none of the kids asked this question in the first installment.

This comedy is a pleasant diversion and manages to offer some improvements. For most people who watch this on Disney+, nostalgia will be a significant factor in their enjoyment. If you treasure the 90s flick, feel free to conjure up an extra star for my review.

09-30-22

Moonage Daydream

Posted in Documentary, Music with tags on September 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“Moonage Daydream” is the third track on David Bowie’s seminal 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Yet, if you asked any casual fan to name 10 of his songs (even 20), it probably wouldn’t get a mention. Still, it’s a perfect title for this cruise through Bowie’s career, which is less a documentary and more of a feature-length music video.

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Brett Morgen, this is a sonic collage by the documentarian that weaves Bowie’s music, concert footage, and performance with various unrelated films. You’ll see snippets from Metropolis, Ivan the Terrible, Triumph of the Will, Nosferatu, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Plan 9 From Outer Space. The images will pop up again and again but without context. Are these his favorite movies? Did they inspire him? Are they merely pretty visuals? Who knows?

We also get cinematic examples of the man himself. Snippets from The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Hunger, and Labyrinth show up. Behind-the-scenes footage from Gerry Troyna’s Ricochet — which chronicled Bowie during the tail end of the “Serious Moonlight Tour” in 1983 — makes an appearance too. The artist wanders around Bangkok, staring blankly as he rides up and down escalators at night. The scenes are utilized so frequently that they gradually lose their impact.

The cinematic journey is a stream-of-consciousness head trip without regard for time, order, coherence, or details. It inundates the viewer for 2 hours and 15 minutes. The chronicle covers roughly 1969, when “Space Oddity” was released, on through the massive “Glass Spider Tour” in 1987. There is no narrative, although subtle points are made. He was an artist that constantly evolved, and a nomadic lifestyle reflected this — moving from the UK to LA because he hated the city (!) to Berlin. The gender-bending persona of Ziggy Stardust at the beginning of the film juxtaposed with a man that sold Pepsi in 1987 while dancing with Tina Turner. It’s a shocking dichotomy. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never found that poverty means purity,” he defends.

The inclusions are just as telling as the omissions. Any direct mention of his cocaine addiction from the 1970s to the early 1980s is absent. However, he’s clearly under the influence in a limo while drinking from a carton of milk (in a scene from the 1975 documentary Cracked Actor). Bowie’s marriage to Iman is presented as the realization of a life in search of love — a feeling he once called a disease. “Word on a Wing” underscores these images in the final quarter. It’s a touching moment. However, his equally famous marriage to Angela Bowie, a significant influence on him throughout his career in the 1970s, is wholly stricken from the record.

This production is simply an invitation to bask in the music of a legend. Under the full cooperation of the Bowie estate, Brett Morgen was given unprecedented access to his archives which included his journals, photography, and art. You’ll hear rare or previously unreleased live tracks, as well as newly created remixes. The soundscape of musical mashups and live performances curated by longtime producer and friend Tony Visconti looks and sounds as pristine as if it were recorded yesterday. There is an immediacy to the effort that excels. These are interspersed with monologues from Bowie himself. His observations are often delivered to interviewers like Dick Cavett. Bowie speaks timidly, in stark contrast to his avant-garde identity on stage. His thoughts are coherent and polite, although not particularly groundbreaking.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a casual observer is irrelevant to what you’ll glean from this. You won’t learn much. If anything, this document renders Bowie’s life even more confusing — a life lived as a fever dream. But hey, what a fantasy! Director Brett Morgen has cited Disneyland as an influence in his filmmaking. “I like to think of my movies as theme park rides where you’re getting all the sights and sounds and scents.” This is appropriate. I learned as much about NASA while riding “Space Mountain” as I did about David Bowie while watching this. But oh boy, what a ride!

09-27-22

Don’t Worry Darling

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on September 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Even before Don’t Worry Darling was theatrically released on September 23, it was subjected to an onslaught of negative publicity. The tabloid shenanigans concerning certain key people were the fodder for rampant gossip. I’m being vague because this is Fast Film Reviews, not The Hollywood Reporter. I only bring it up because I’d bet the farm that the drama behind the scenes is 100x more interesting than the finished product.

The company town of Victory, California, is a traditional community in the 1950s. Husbands go to work while women stay home, do household chores, and socialize. Alice and Jack are a young attractive married couple in love. However, Alice begins to detect cracks in their seemingly idyllic existence. Bunny (director Olivia Wilde) is Alice’s best friend.

So let’s start with the good: The ensemble features an outstanding performance from Florence Pugh, looking radiant in Brigitte Bardot-style tresses. She is another UK actress (like Saoirse Ronan or Millie Bobby Brown) that is more convincing as an American woman than many of her peers. She did it perfectly in Midsommar, and now she’s done it again in another psychological thriller. Also worthy of mention is actor Chris Pine. He’s scary good as the enigmatic Frank — the founder of the “Victory Project.” A job to which the men all report every morning. Their departure in cars en masse is a spectacle. The details of their employment are shrouded in mystery.

I was captivated by the aesthetics. The production design is visually striking as it recreates this picturesque vision of suburban life in America. The cinematography is impressive too. Director of photography Matthew Libatique often partners with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Libatique’s effort draws upon his iconic visuals in Requiem for a Dream. Remember the repeated montage involving extreme close-ups of heroin as it cooks, boils, and enters the body? Well, substitute those sequences for bacon, eggs, and sliced toast as Alice makes breakfast every morning.

Ok, so now the bad? The script presents an unimaginative tale that is wholly derivative. Any deep dive into what happens here won’t withstand scrutiny. Why does Jack dance like a puppet for the men? What’s up with the hallucinations that feature choreography à la Busby Berkeley? Why do Bunny’s loyalties suddenly shift on a dime? Why does Frank’s wife (Gemma Chan) do what she does at the climax? Why do the aggressive (and unsexy) sex scenes never progress beyond third base? These are just a few of the questions I had. At least consulting the internet for answers made me feel I wasn’t alone. However, it didn’t resolve my confusion.

It feels like the screenwriters simply watched The Stepford Wives, drank a bottle of whiskey, and then wrote this movie. Ok, so it’s not *exactly* the same thing. (They threw in a little of The Matrix) Yet it’s so similar that the estate of author Ira Levin — who penned the 1972 novel — might be entitled to a cut of the profits. Katie Silberman gets credit for the screenplay based on a story by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke, and Silberman. The best scene in the film is a dialogue at a dinner party that includes Alice and Frank while the guests look on. Sadly even the promise of that conversation doesn’t coalesce into anything meaningful. The plot didn’t offer surprises. The “twist” ending is a disappointment, although my predictive abilities remain acute. So no, this flick isn’t worth your time, but don’t worry, darling reader! I saw this, so you don’t have to.

09-22-22

The Woman King

Posted in Action, Drama, History with tags on September 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Woman King may rest on the conventional construction of established action epics, but it innovates with an eye-opening subject. This is the 1820s story of the Agojie, an all-female warrior tribe in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin), against their adversary, the Oyo Empire. The saga is epic in scale, has a fiery heart, and features rousing battles. In that sense, it shares an affinity with popular classics like Gladiator and Braveheart. Similarly, this narrative blends a healthy dose of fiction into its historical facts for exciting entertainment.

The chronicle is titled The Woman King for good reason. General Nanisca is indeed at the center of the account. Viola Davis is a commanding presence as the lead, radiating steely resolve while exhibiting vulnerability. A traumatic incident in her past becomes an emotional plot component. However, this journey feeds off an ensemble of tributaries into a mighty river of sisterhood. Sheila Atim portrays Amenza; a spiritual advisor turned fighter who also happens to be Nanisca’s close confidant. Thuso Mbedu stars as a brash, young recruit. Nawi’s rejection of an arranged marriage will lead to a tender examination of her life. In a pot violently boiling over with fierce women, the most ferocious is arguably Lashana Lynch as an assured lieutenant. Izogie’s charismatic personality blends humor with intensity. The woman has sharpened her fingernails into razor-sharp daggers, and she isn’t afraid to use them.

The men are less important in this account, but John Boyega is a crucial ingredient as King Ghezo. His subtly affected demeanor comes across as an individual to jeer. Ghezo’s prosperous rule benefited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade that flourished during his reign. The practice of selling Dahomey’s prisoners of war (and some of their own citizens) won’t win him any fans. His choice does not sit right with Nanisca, and it becomes a bone of contention. Also, in one of the more cheesy developments is the character of Malik (Jordan Bolger), a half-Portuguese, half-Dahomean explorer who struggles with his identity. This is where the element of soap opera takes over. His long hair and sculpted physique would be more at home on the contemporary cover of a Harlequin romance novel.

The sheer existence of the Agojie was an anomaly. Back then, European visitors referred to them as the “Dahomey Amazons” due to their similarities to the warrior women of Greek mythology. Even today, this concept is a revelation. They were the real-life inspiration for the Dora Milaje in Black Panther. The Woman King is one of those fascinating records that begs for more study. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees) maximizes the screenplay by Dana Stevens based on a story by Maria Bello. Prince-Bythewood understands how to present a compelling movie. This chapter of unexplored history might have felt didactic if not for the crisp, explicit fight scenes choreographed by Daniel Hernandez (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame). They feel immediate and grounded in reality. The thrilling combat takes this informative tale to the next level into captivating popcorn entertainment. Learning can be fun!

09-20-22