Tag Archives: 2stars

November Criminals

[2 stars]

While this flick starts off with an interesting premise, it quickly slides into vague mediocrity. It is a shame since the cast is really pretty solid. Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) and Chloë Grace Moretz (The Equalizer) work well together, and David Strathairn (The Darkest Hour) and Catherine Keener (Get Out), as their respective parents, deliver too. Even the ideas, as it heads down a Vanishing sort of path, is full of possibilities.

However, the adaptation from director and co-writer Sacha Gervasi (Hitchcock) is overly compressed. All the interesting stuff that is hinted at bleeds out to the point that even the title is never explained (I had to look it up to figure it out–turns out Elgort’s character in the book loved dark, Nazi-tinged  humor; the term refers to those that involved with the Versailles Treaty at the end of WWI which led to the Weimar Replublik and the rise of the jackbooted fiends). Even after learning the roots of the title, I can’t map it to the actions in the movie, which implies strongly that it failed. I imagine the title was kept only to try and draw in the book audience, even though much of the book’s core had been scrubbed out.

The overall movie holds together, in a sort of light way, but there was clearly a lot more there when it started. The locations were a lousy choice as well; trying to pretend Rhode Island is Washington DC was a deadly stretch. In the end, it feels like Gervasi ran out of shooting time and made of it what he could.

As a high school romance, with a bit of life thrown in, I suppose it could be diverting for some. For the rest, I’d say just skip it. All of these actors have better venues to be seen in and you have better ways to spend your time.

November Criminals

mother!

[2 stars]

Straight up, I am a Darren Aronofsky (Noah) fan and have been since Pi. His narratives are almost always complex and unexpected. Certainly mother! is anything but straightforward. Oddly, though, it isn’t anything new or unexpected either. And it certainly didn’t land with most audiences.

From the outset of the film, you know there is something off. First there is the apparent rollback in time from a disaster. Then there is the odd tension between Jennifer Lawrence (Passengers) and Javier Bardem (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) which just isn’t quite natural. By the time Ed Harris (Geostorm) and Michelle Pfeiffer show up, it is clear this isn’t reality, or isn’t being viewed from clear eyes. Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant) makes a solid appearance as well to help seal the deal.

If you insist on still seeing the story as reality at any level after that point, it is no wonder that you would hate the film. Honestly, I was willing to go along for the ride, but in a year that included similar themes, like the more recent Phantom Thread, I was looking for something new, not just visually surprising.

Aronofsky has created a very personal vision and tale of his favorite themes: art, love, and religion/spirituality. But ultimately it is about a half hour too long to sustain the story and audience interest. After the first 90 minutes, you want answers, not more outrageous and infuriating situations. I appreciate he wanted to slow burn to the climax, but he asked too much from his audience; he never really fully earns our trust, providing no answers, only mystery and weirdness upon strangeness and offkey oddity. He has always been great skirting the edge of reality, as in Black Swan, to lead to a point. Here, however, the end result here is more the feeling of a surrealist play that is weird for weirdness’ sake alone rather than a cohesive movie. By the way, achieving that play-like presentation and pulling us along inexorably while staying true to the media is no small feat in itself.

I truly admire the craft and acting in the film, even if I disliked the result; it doesn’t feel satisfying in the end. After his last film, I was worried Aronofsky would try to stay more mainstream…I suspect he feared the same and veered way off the track to try and prove he wouldn’t both to audiences and, more importantly, to himself. The result is mother! Now that he’s made his point, I hope he will find his path again. He is a gifted film maker, but this isn’t his best onscreen musing.

Mother!

The Snowman

[2.5 stars]

Tomas Alfredson (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Let the Right One In) would have seemed a perfect director for a mystery suspense out of Norway. But the result is something less than I hoped for.  In fact, it comes across more as a bit of TV drama than it does a feature film due to its pacing and plot cheats. Frankly, the result is odd given the collection of actors Alfredson landed for the film.

Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant), while admittedly too young and handsome for the part, can do the brooding, damaged adult just fine. However, age here was really against him. Hole is supposed to be well established, revered even, despite his penchant for drink and cowboy mentality toward work. The character just never came together and never really had any stakes in his life or in the story.

Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman) had a greatly complex character and is Hole’s protege, or should be. Their relationship never fully gels either in respect nor in cooperation.

In three supporting roles, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac), Jonas Karlsson (Strings), and J.K. Simmons (The Accountant) each bring some potential to screen. None of that potential is ever fully realized, again thanks to the script and lack of filling out the plot. But they do their best with what they’ve got and it certainly helps flesh out the world.

In addition, there are two small roles worth mentioning. David Dencik (Top of the Lake: China Girl, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) creates a wonderfully creepy doctor who, again, sort of just exists in the story, but doesn’t really connect in it. And, in an almost total throw-away role, Val Kilmer (Song to Song), gives us a great character and history for the suspense tale. One last actor in this film is inanimate: the landscape of Norway. The location shots are stark and cruel and gorgeous, capturing a good sense of the book and the mentality of the characters. It is the one aspect of the movie that works very well, but not enough to overcome the other weaknesses.

Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series is deep, dark, and complex. This film, which drops us in the middle of that sequence, veers from book so radically as to destroy any chance of a faithful depiction, let alone a continuing series. It isn’t a bad evening in front of the TV, but it isn’t a great movie. Such a shame to squander a well of material that is that deep and interesting on what amounts to a forgettable throw-away.

The Snowman

Geostorm

[2 stars]

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I owe Maze Runner: The Death Cure an apology…at least as compared to this film. The only film at this scale that I’ve seen this past year that was worse than this was Life. I started compiling a list of bad science and stupid plot moments from the script, but gave up after about 5 minutes. Truly awful dialogue written by people who did almost no research on the science and none on the workings of the government.

And why do I owe Maze an apology after those statements? Well, because for all the bad science and silly plotting in Maze, at least the action sequences were good and there were some moments of value. Geostorm has neither. It is woodenly acted by actors who look so wrong for their parts the make-up artists and costumers should be shot.

Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas) , in particular, looked like a lost Millennial who didn’t know what a professional haircut was. Fine in business these days, but not as an Asst. Secretary in the White House (our current administration’s examples aside). His acting was equally hacked. Even Gerard Butler (London Has Fallen), while never the most impressive of actors, was decidedly phoning it in through much of this movie. Abbie Cornish (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), who has some reasonable cred, couldn’t even do much with the script and situations. And what was done to Robert Sheehan (Moonwalkers), Robert Schiff (Good Doctor), and Andy Garcia (Passengers) was near criminal. Only Ed Harris (Gravity, Westworld), Talitha Eliana Bateman (Nine Lives), and Zazie Beetz had anything approaching reasonable performances, but the bar was low in this flick.

Director and co-writer Dean Devlin (Independence Day: Resurgence) either rushed this or simply didn’t realize how clunky it all was. Though, perhaps, pairing up with his oft-time co-writer Paul Guyot (The Librarians) wasn’t the best choice, each reinforcing their small screen comfort zone onto what should have been a huge screen adventure in every sense, not just the special effects. They even tried to shoe-horn in a dog and a little girl to force you to feel emotions that just aren’t there in the story; cheap.

Yes, just skip this one. Even the thrills aren’t good enough to make it worth your time. You need something this silly and globe spanning? Rewatch 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow, both equally silly, but executed with better skill.

Geostorm

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

[2.5 stars]

With most of the stoopid science behind them, this finale is basically a lot of great action sequences, with a couple good moments, and some questionable script and acting. Enough for an evening’s entertainment? Well, that would be up to you. The ride, from the get go, is pretty unrelenting. As a story, this popcorner held together way better than the first two; motivations were mostly clear and mostly made sense. Satisfying? Eh. I never was able to read past the first book of the series myself (the science and plot were just so poorly thought through), so I’m clearly not the target audience.

You may have noticed I used “mostly” a good deal in my comments. There are still some truly horrendous moments of bad science, plotting, and dialogue. However, relative to its earlier installments, it is a huge leap forward.

What is sad is that these young actors, from Dylan O’Brien (The First Time), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones), Will Poulter (The Revenant), Rosa Salazar (The Scorch Trials), Ki Hong Lee (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales),  to the adults Giancarlo Esposito (Money Monster), Patricia Clarkson (Learning to Drive), Barry Pepper (The Lone Ranger), Aidan Gillen (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), and Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) are all capable. Of this rather packed list, only Salazar, Esposito and Goggins have any real moments in the final cut and they are minor characters. The rest are just going through their paces and getting through the script. They aren’t awful, but nothing pops out as emotionally effective, which is a crime at the end of a trilogy. You may have hated how Hunger Games finaled, but you can’t claim it didn’t have emotional punch.

There are also a few craft issues. First and foremost, directors have to learn that when you’re going to do an IMAX release, that any hand-held camera work you have should be cut by 30%-50% from what you think you want to do. The size of the screen amplifies movement and a shaky cam gets quickly unwatchable. Maze isn’t the first offender, or even the worst (which was Hunger Games), but somehow it still keeps happening. Then there were the costuming issues. Let’s just say that the lower class and the kids were way too clean and crisp for people living in the streets and that having female scientists in 4″ heels was, well, a bit out of touch these days (forgetting how absurd it was).

If you’re hooked or a mega-fan, you’ll probably enjoy this wind up. Frankly, as a film series, I’d have liked to see at least an attempt at a better script and more than a passing attempt to make a movie rather than a glorified and stitched together series of action sequences. If there is anything that films like Jumanji have taught the industry in the last year, you can have your cake and eat it too when it comes to silly action films. A good script pays massive dividends; pretty pictures alone only works some of the time (witness films like Avatar). While Death Cure didn’t make me wish for the big sleep, I can’t say I’d ever need to see this hobbled piece of trifle again.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

The Recall

[2 stars]

Take the worst of UFO paranoia and blend it with the often hokey offerings of the CW and you still would get something better than The Recall. Whatever they thought they were trying to do, they didn’t succeed. There is no through-line, no comprehensive plan, no continuity.

The actors do their game best, but there is only so much you can do from that side of things when the plot doesn’t come together or make any sense. Wesley Snipes (Chi-Raq) plays his typical smart-ass, self-serving action hero. RJ Mitte (Breaking Bad), Jedidiah Goodarcre (Tomorrowland), and Laura Bilgeri put in what they can as well, but they seem to be there either for comic relief or to show their skin; nothing they do makes much sense in the end.

All in all, this feels like a failed pilot. It takes some potentially interesting, if overdone, ideas, and spins out a story that could easily continue. However, given some of what they do tell us, none of the actions by the aliens make much sense. Basically, skip this. You don’t need to waste the 90 minutes to see it.

The Recall

Leap!

[2.5 stars]

If you’re between the ages of 5 and 9 you might find this very juvenile bit of animation fun. The ideas and messages are good, but the script, voice acting, animation, and sound engineering are all barely Saturday-morning level. It also gets a bunch of history wrong but, in the scope of things and the clear level of audience they were targeting, I was willing to let that go.

When you look at the cast, the lack of good voice acting is even more surprising. Elle Fanning (The Beguiled), Nat Wolff (Death Note), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters), and Mel Brooks (Hotel Transylvania) aren’t small talent to snag. But whatever effort they put in was lost thanks to the sound levels, which were really just a sound “level,” without nuance or change.

Unless you are entertaining a bunch of youngsters who are dancers, don’t put yourself through the annoyance of watching this. Animation has improved over the last 20 years thanks to Pixar, Laika, and others. There is a place for less grandiose efforts, but good script and voice are no longer optional. And this mishmash of a plot and technology is, generally, best avoided.

Leap!

Hocus Pocus

[2.5 stars]

Just about 25 years ago Disney was back on the upswing in its animation department and they took a swing with this live-action fantasy stocked with a couple rising stars [Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City 2) and Kathy Najimy (King of the Hill)] and one powerhouse: Bette Midler.  What was created embodied the best and worst of Disney, leaving a classically bad film in its wake.

Hocus Pocus has all the modern sensibility of a film from the 50s or 60s, but it is set, sadly, in the early 90s. It is all easy, breezy, and without much consequence despite high stakes. But in typical Disney sensibility of the time, there are no real risks or danger or doubt about what will happen. That could be acceptable if it also meant we got characters we could care about, but we don’t. Only the young Thora Birch (The Hole) manages to really dominate the screen and our interest.

A lot of the feel of this film comes from the creative roots of its crew. Co-writer Mick Garris has additional cred as a primary writer on the primarily-lost (though fun) TV run of She Wolf of London. Director Kenny Ortega was and remains primarily a TV director, like his remount of Rocky Horror last year. The fact that Hocus Pocus seems like a Wonderful World of Disney, Sunday night offering should be less confusing with that knowledge. About the only real risk they took was in who the virgin was in the curse…and they ran with that…often.

So it really all comes down to how much you like bad films that somehow transcend their badness enough to be entertaining. Either you laugh with them or against them. There are some good spot-the-actor moments in this one (one soon-to-be Buffy alum shows up and several adult roles are worthy catches too). But as a film, it is painfully sweet, silly, absurd, and intelligence insulting. Perhaps it is just aimed younger than I’d have liked, but I don’t think the plot points speak to a young audience, only to young minds.

Hocus Pocus

The Dark Tower

[2 stars]

If there is anything good that came from this tragedy of an adaptation, it is that it makes me want to re-read the original series again. Sony took an 8 book series written over 30 years and stripped it down to a 90 minute, lifeless overview. And let’s forget about everything you changed.

I know, I’m dog piling with ever so many others this past summer. There were such high hopes and plans when this project began: multiple movies bridged by TV shows. Something that could hold the scope and complexity of the world and characters that King created. As production neared, the studios panicked and scaled back, but rather than gamble and do one really great flick to try and hook people, they tried to just do all the books at once. That there is over 25 minutes of near-completed scenes on the disc that were excised, and which cover aspects like the Crimson King references, gives you a real sense of how badly they were flailing as the movie came to the wire.

Idris Elba (The Jungle Book) and Matthew McConaughey (Sea of Trees) play the larger-than-life, near-immortal combatants for the universe. Their work had incredible potential. Both men are tightly contained and complicated characters, though we never get to see much what that really means. Only Elba’s backstory is ever explored, and then only with a cheap, oft-repeated moment with his father. Tom Taylor (Doctor Foster), as Jake, also implied great potential, but was never allowed to grow and discover the new world and understanding around him. He ended up purely a pawn for the story to be told. And don’t bother looking for any kind of strong female influence in this version of the story, you’ll just get angry.

Better known as the writer of Antboy, the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Department Q, Nikolaj Arcel directed and co-wrote the mess that got delivered. To be fair, I don’t think all the bad choices were his…many were forced upon him…but it is his name on the screen and his legacy that has been marred.

If you have a choice still to make, read the books, skip the film. You’ll be glad you did.

The Dark Tower

The Emoji Movie

[2 stars]

Let’s start with the obvious. Emoji is like watching a grade-schooler’s attempt to re-imagine Tron. Mind you, whoever thought making a flick about emoji’s should have been laughed out of the pitch room to begin with. But they weren’t, so here we are.

That stated, Emoji does have two things going for it. First, there is a tough(ish) female hacker in a lead role. Second, its message is a solid, “be yourself.” Other than that it is a vacuous, obvious, unimaginative tale aimed at 6 year olds.

So, yeah, skip this unless you need to entertain a youngster or need a brain power-down from a crazy day. It is certainly an empty piece of colorful motion with a dance track. Which, honestly, is why I put it on in the first place. And yet, I could have, and wish I had, done better.

The Emoji Movie