Tag Archives: Action

Glass

[4 stars]

Go to Glass, but don’t try to watch the movie you wanted to see… see the movie that is on offer to watch if you want to enjoy yourself.

M. Night Shyamalan has always made the movies he wanted to make, for better or worse. He rarely compromises his vision, but he also often confounds audience expectations. And, sadly, most audiences don’t want to be challenged. Their loss, more often than not. And Glass definitely isn’t the movie you think it is going to be. Honestly, I loved it once I let go and went with it, but I know a lot of people out there were frustrated.

Another aspect weighing on Glass is that it isn’t a stand-alone story. Absent Split and Unbreakable, it means nothing and doesn’t work. Together, they are a great trilogy, but Glass has no individual foundation like the other two films. Ninteen years ago Unbreakable left us hanging with David Dunn’s and Mr. Glass’s story. It was a love it or hate it comic book film that predated the current rush of such things, but foresaw the tone. Split surprised us all a couple years ago by connecting to Dunn’s tale at the end. And now…Glass…the story we’ve been waiting for so long it was almost guaranteed to disappoint. To be fair, Shyamalan and the studios probably strung out the anticipation a bit too long to make this a complete success–we’ve had too long to plan on what we expected.

The challenges of the movie aside, Shyamalan managed to collect almost all the principles from the previous two movies. Bruce Willis (Death Wish), Spencer Treat Clark (Animal Kingdom), Charlayne Woodard (Pose), and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) all came back and felt like they’d lived the 19 intervening years. Likewise for James McAvoy (Sherlock Gnomes), and Anya Taylor-Joy’s (Thoroughbreds) three years since Split. Taylor-Joy, in particular, has a fascinating challenge for her character.

But these were from the past, and Shyamalan was just as invested in his world in the present. Sarah Paulson (Bird Box) with some assistance by Luke Kirby (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), and Adam David Thompson (The Sinner) create the framework for the new story…or the explanation of the old ones. As with all Shyamalan films, there are things that feel wrong or out of place, but if you trust the filmmaker, it will all eventually make sense.

In prep, I did rewatch Unbreakable for the first time in about 18 years and I was glad I did. It still holds up wonderfully and there are some important and minor aspects I’d forgotten. Unbreakable was also eerily prescient, coming out the year before 9/11 and with nods to other current movements in our culture. But, most of all, it was it’s intent on making an origin story that was ahead of its time. Heroes that are human, villains too, was not the coin of the day back then, but was about to sweep the entertainment world two years later with Spider-Man and eight years later with the launch of the MCU.

As the end of a trilogy, I think Glass will eventually find its place in the pantheon of fandom. Why? Because it is a real trilogy, with three different stories that connect into a great whole. Compare this to other trilogies that are just the same story but with raised stakes to sub in for more story (Hunger Games, Fast & Furious, John Wick). It is going to take some time for folks to adjust to the realities of this final installment and, perhaps, some investment in rewatching the previous movies to see how they all fit together so nicely. There aren’t many directors out there who would have even tried to complete that vision, and fewer still who have properties that deserved it. Shyamalan is still a storyteller I respect a great deal, even with some of his truly awful films like After Earth and The Happening.

So, again, let go of what you think the story is of Unbreakable, Split, and Glass. Give each character and tale their due, and trust a great storyteller to make something complete and satisfying, even if it isn’t quite the meal you expected to sit down to.

Voltron: Legendary Defender (series 8 – finale)

[4 stars]

What is it they say: Go big or go home?

I haven’t written Voltron up recently due to the uneven aspects of its story and the odd rhythm of release. But the good runs have been pretty good and this finale season definitely raised the stakes about as high as they could go while also supplying an interesting story.

It isn’t often an animated series, especially one that bridges younger and older viewers, is willing to do a complete cycle and finale. They’re usually designed to keep going and generate revenue as a business model. It is more common for manga series or adult anime where an end was always intended.

Voltron has bridged these audiences by creating a long-form, more mature story with a lot of kids-style animation spread throughout. They also took some interesting chances stylistically occasionally. It isn’t on the level of Attack on Titan, nor is it purposefully adult like Castlevania, but has definitely stretched to make something beyond the typical Saturday morning style stories. If you’ve not found it yet, give it some time and let it reel you in. I have to admit, it surprised the heck out of me, and only a few episodes really put my teeth on edge as too juvenile for my taste.

Bumblebee

[4 stars]

Under Michael Bay, the Transformers series of films had gotten bigger, louder, and thinner on story with each successive installment. By the release of The Last Knight, they were unwatchable. This reboot manages to rescue the franchise from oblivion, if they’re willing to take the lesson that character and story matter.

Hailee Steinfeld has the enviable position with this film to be driving two franchises this season, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also still strong at the box office. She clearly knows how to embody strength without losing track of humanity. Her semi-suburban-punk gearhead is nicely credible and engaging. With Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Love, Simon) in her orbit, but never overshadowing her, the two work together to save the world, as you do in this style of film.

And that is one of the cleverest aspects of the film, the style. Travis Knight’s (Kubo and the Two Strings) direction of Christina Hodson’s (Unforgettable) script is spot on. The two managed to set up and consciously deliver an 80s style family science fiction tale that still retains the big action of the Transformers but has all the silly heart and logic of 80s films, with some minor updates for the times. Think a less dark, bigger effects Stranger Things in style. It isn’t a perfect film, but it delivers on what it sets out to do with great pacing and fun sequences.

John Cena (Ferdinand), Pamela Adlon, and Stephen Schneider complete the main cast with some adult support to the story, each with some surprising moments. And Jason Ian Drucker, as the kid brother, completes the tableau.

If you’re a hardcore Transformers fan, you’ll probably find a lot to argue with in this story, and a lot to enjoy. It certainly explored aspects of the story, like Bumblebee’s voice, that I’d not seen before. I can say that as an adventure film for the holidays, it was great fun, full of humor, and solidly delivered. It certainly set itself up for a franchise as well, which, if they learned their lessons, could be good news. For now, at least, this was a worthwhile and fun romp on a lot of levels and for a wide range of ages. In other words, perfect for the holidays.

Aquaman

[3.5 stars]

Great, silly, popcorn fun. Yep, that’s about it.

I won’t bore you with the mountain of specific issues with the script. This could have been DC’s breakthrough, and it is close, but they still just don’t get how to make it about characters and not effects. Of course, that was never director James Wan’s (Furious 7) forte to begin with. In this case his script writers didn’t do him much service either; there was so much potential, but they went for too large a scope and lost the thread.

I will say that idea of weaving the origin story into flashbacks to make this into a single film was clever. But that created a problem for the story in that it doesn’t explain things until too late. You keep seeing behaviors and science and abilities that are wrong or foolish, and by the time they try to explain it, you’ve already dismissed it as a problem rather than going for the ride. This happens over and over again. Much like things blowing up to separate people (which becomes something of an unintended joke after a while).

Jason Momoa (Justice League) does show he can mostly carry a movie. Amber Heard (The Danish Girl) makes a credible play at being a super hero princess herself, though with oddly confused motivations. Surprisingly, Dolph Lundgren (Creed II) actually comes across as one of the more layered characters as Heard’s father. But Patrick Wilson (The Commuter) is so teeth-grindingly cliche it’s frustrating. Likewise for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s (Boundaries) Manta. Even Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) doesn’t get to stretch his rather broad-based abilities thanks to the script and directing. Frankly, that’s just criminal.

Honestly, the only relationship and moments that work are Nicole Kidman’s (Boy Erased) and Temuera Morrison’s (Moana) framing scenes. They’re predictable as hell, but they work and provide the only emotionally satisfying payoff in the entire movie.

So, if you’re going to see this, and you likely will, see it on the biggest bloody screen you can find. Enjoy the pretty pictures and the occasional humor. Squint through the dialogue and plot and just accept it. Munch your popcorn and have fun. This isn’t the ascendance of DC quite yet, Wonder Woman still tops their attempts, but they’re getting closer to understanding what makes a great comic book movie.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

[4.5 stars]

Talk about an unexpected treat. This film has so much going for it: action-packed, visually inventive, well acted, clever story. Amusingly, some of these are also to its detriment, especially the visually inventive aspect. But the sum total is that it is a sure-fire hit and a near lock for the Best Animation Oscar this year, with all due respect to Incredibles 2.

The cast is loaded with talent; a list too long to completely discuss. But none really stand out either. The film is a wonderfully balanced ensemble, not a collection of star voices covered by ink. That said, Shameik Moore (Dope), as Miles Morales, in the lead keeps the story pumping along with his naivete and strength. Through him we get to experience Spidey’s origin story again (and again, and again) but without it feeling like a cheap reboot. And that’s saying something for the most rebooted storyline in current cinema (though Batman and/or Superman may exceed Spidey, now that I consider the statement).

It isn’t giving anything away to say there are other Spider people. Jake Johnson (The Mummy) and Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen) stand out in that crowded and entertaining field . And Morales’s extended family is top-lined by Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and Lily Tomlin (Grandma). And that’s just the beginning of the talent list. On the other side of the plot, Kathryn Hahn (Hotel Transylvania 3) and Liev Schreiber (Everything is Illuminated) bring some humor and darkness to the evil side of Spidey’s world. The rest should just be a surprise.

Phil Lord, half the team behind the unexpected hit The Lego Movie, clearly loves the material and the world of comics generally. It is in every aspect of the film. And that, in part, is what I meant by it is both a strength and a weakness. The movie literally looks like a comic, with overlayed shading dots on the surface of everything, word bubbles at times, framed action panels, and even turning pages. While visually engaging, it also kept knocking me out of the movie and the action. It was too self-conscious and never really quite allowed it to just be a movie. It was a movie-comic. That isn’t necessarily bad. Lord has succeeded in doing something directors and writers have been trying to do for decades: He’s manifested the comic book experience on the screen beautifully. Only a true lover of graphic novels could have done that. Lord borrowed and expanded his lessons on The Lego Movie very nicely.

Bottom-line is that this is an amazingly fun and funny movie. Unexpected in almost every way, even while cleaving to the tropes and stories we know, love, and expect. In Dolby Cinema it was glorious and bone-rattling (despite two rather important moments being marred by loss of sound during my showing–shame on you, AMC). Whether or not you think you like animation, this isn’t what you expect or assume. I admit, I didn’t expect this to be more than a cheap cash-grab at more of the Spidey universe, but it really is something new and wonderful for audiences of pretty much all ages above age 9.

Hotel Artemis

[3 stars]

This had so much more potential than it achieved. The idea, an odd mash-up of The Purge and John Wick: Chapter 2, is loaded with talent, just not with a script or director.

The emotional core of the story, such as it is, rests with Jodie Foster (The Beaver). Her characterization and efforts are filled with promise, but don’t fully pay off even if they drive the tale. The fault here is the script, not Foster, who brings a lot of subtlety and physicalization to her Nurse.

Foster is assisted by an oddly devoted Dave Bautista (Escape Plan 2: Hades). There isn’t anything new on screen here from him, but he serves his purpose. Likewise for Jenny Slate (Venom), who swings into the story late, but with nice complications.

Staying in the hotel are an unsurprisingly motley crew. Sterling K. Brown (Predator) leads that list, continuing his breaking out onto the big screen by leveraging what he does best. Brown’s intensity combined with his ability to remain vulnerable always makes him interesting to watch and relate to. He helps anchor Foster’s storyline with his own. Brown is joined by a lithe, bitingly cold, but not particularly surprising, Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond), and an absurd Charlie Day (Pacific Rim: Uprising). Each has aspects to add to the overall plot, but neither feels entirely grounded or real (by choice or presentation).

And then there were the smaller, but linchpin roles by Jeff Goldblum (Le Week-End), Zachary Quinto (Hitman: Agent 47), and Brian Tyree Henry (Widows). Each one is a domino to fall in the interlaced tales that drive the Artemis. None is particularly believable, though Henry doesn’t really misstep so much as not have as much to work from in the script as the other two. They all try to wring what they can from their characters and situations despite the shortcomings.

Like I said, loaded with talent. So what went wrong? Director and writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) never quite gets the pacing right, nor was he able to balance the emotions in a way that sells the situation and the characters. From the outset, the movie is off on the wrong foot with stupid choices made by supposedly practiced criminals. Setting it against a city-wide uprising was an interesting choice, but that reality was a story convenience that never did more than force the plot rather than enrich the tale or issues. When you start with something as obvious as naming the hotel for the goddess of the hunt (and, to a degree, chastity), you sort of know where you’re headed and where you’re not.

I’m not saying this is entirely a waste of time. Some of the performances, Foster for instance, are interesting to watch. There are some good fight scenes. The cinematography and production design are engaging. It just isn’t what it could be and it isn’t particularly good. Depending on your mood and what you’re looking for, it may work better for you than it did for me.

Robin Hood (2018)

[3 stars]

If you want the short version: this is a empty romp with a lot of problems, from production design to script choices. However, it does manage to entertain and have some good action scenes. If you’re looking for a great movie or a solid reimagining of the myth, look elsewhere.

Now for the longer version.

Robin Hood is one of the most remade tales in movies. Part of that is that it’s public domain. But a very real part of it is that it resonates with people, especially in times of great inequity. This is certainly one of those times and, done well, it should have been a break-out hit. With affable talent like Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and Jamie Foxx (Baby Driver) there was appeal and ability displayed on screen. Support from Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One), Eve Hewson (Bridge of Spies), Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan (The 9th Life of Louis Drax), and the redoubtable F. Murray Abraham (Isle of Dogs) didn’t hurt either, though not all of these actors had substance to work with.

Director Otto Bathurst, in his first big-screen credit, is better known on TV; not easy TV either. Having directed the first Black Mirror episode National Anthem, I would have expected a more astute political mind at the helm. Robin Hood, instead, is all over the place. It isn’t just an action film, though there is plenty. It isn’t a political statement, like V for Vendetta or even Ben Hur, which it makes nods to. I mean, it quotes Hillel the Elder, but can’t seem to follow-through.  Instead we’re left with some weird half attempt at both while committing to neither. In other words, a very unsatisfying movie.

Writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly are both newbies to this level. They needed someone with a bit more experience helping them to pull this story off. The fact is they had an interesting place to start. They ask us, literally, to forget everything we know about Robin Hood and launch into a nice revision of the story that has potential… and then they devolve into the story we know, but with a framework that doesn’t work. We don’t even really connect with the characters or the populace because we’re never given that chance in this, admittedly, fast-paced tale.

Add to these plot questions some of the most embarrassing production choices I’ve seen in a major film, and it gets even more frustrating. I don’t normally focus on costumes, but when you can see machine seaming on clothing and modern leotards on characters, not to mention perfectly forged metals, it tends to throw you out of the Middle Ages. I think there was a thought to pulling something of a Guy Ritchie and saying “screw the era, I want them to see themselves in this film.” Well, it failed on that level too.

So, yes, you can feel justified missing this if you want. It certainly isn’t great. It won’t translate to small screen well, but you can wait for it if you don’t care about that. On the other hand, if you can get a cheap seat or really love these actors, you’ll have a diverting couple hours. Just go in knowing they are trapped in an inferior reboot and are going to do the best they can. Yes, that was the long version.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

[2.5 stars]

What a bloody mess this movie is.

Director David Yates (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) tried to make up for the lack of script by going with lots of pretty effects, which are impressive, but often add little to the story. And even a lot of that eye candy was hard to watch and took very little advantage of the technologies in Atmos or big screen. What story there is from JK Rowling, is practically impossible to follow.

I’ll admit that I didn’t have much hope going in. The first Fantastic Beasts was a visual feast, but not a great movie either; it was really just all set-up. This second of the five planned chapters had to kick it up a gear and get things really rolling. I had hoped for at least a fun distraction and the next chapter in the story, but instead got a half-baked idea full of plot holes and pointless characters. Just a ridiculous waste of time. Even though the cast gave it their all, the story and the final cut did them no service.

Jude Law (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Johnny Depp (Sherlock Gnomes), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) all bring their talents to bear. Admittedly, none bring anything particularly new to screen, but certainly they do well. However, other returning characters added nothing to their stories. Even Ezra Miller (Suicide Squad) was practically a prop, with no appreciable moments despite being at the center of it all.

But you may have noticed that there are no women in that list. This movie, despite the current cultural wave and a female demigod of entertainment at one of the  helms, is driven entirely by men. Worse, the women that were strong in the first movie are made into weak ones in this. Zoë Kravitz (Kin), Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant), and in particular Alison Sudol (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) were all made into side characters or dumbed down into thin representations. And the one gift character, Claudia Kim (Avengers: Age of Ultron), despite her power, was just window dressing.

Here’s the thing with successful franchises like Harry Potter: If you want to continue the stories, you have to continue those stories or risk losing your rabid following. Such was the risk with Fantastic Beasts when it left Potter, if not Hogwarts and all the characters, behind. [Need proof? Search for Harry Potter on Netflix and Fantastic Beasts doesn’t even appear, though it does eventually on Amazon Prime]. It can be done, but it takes excellent writing and some patience. And I certainly understand Rowling’s desire to not be hemmed in or defined so narrowly that she can leave her pseudonyms and write something new under her name, even if it is derivative of her best known opus. But she clearly needed more time to craft this new epic. The first movie was tolerable and had promise. This second plays like half an outline that was rushed out. And there was so much potential given where the world is at present. FB2 is neither a kid’s film nor an adult one. But, hey, on the up side, it is also long.

Seriously, this is for die-hards only. It will probably continue on, but hopefully Rowling will realize she needs help and the studio will insist on getting her some going forward. Because, if this is the quality we’re going to get for the rest of the series, they might as well quit now.

 

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

[2.5 stars]

When Stieg Larsson died in 2004, he left us all hanging on the intended fate of Lisbeth Salander. His first three books weren’t the entire journey he’d envisioned. His fourth book will never see the light of day due to legal stupidity and family greed. And the final six lived only in his head. However, his remaining legal family licensed out the characters and commissioned more books, starting with The Girl in the Spider’s Web. I refused to support the ongoing book series, but I couldn’t resist checking out the movie. I wish I had.

Despite some real effort on the part of Claire Foy (First Man), this is a hollow movie with no heart at the core. The gap is in the plot and the script, which assume you know the previous stories (and are willing to forget parts of it as well). The story also veers radically from the central drives for Salandar and her relationships in the world.

This is most notable with Sverrir Gudnason (The Circle), who does a fine job of acting, but he isn’t Blomkvist. He’s far to young and pretty. And he has no emotional thread to grasp; though one is indicated in the script, the story isn’t there. He is a complicated man with complicated relationships, not just a foil or convenience with which to move the plot. Even the usually entertaining hacker Plague, Cameron Britton (Mindhunter), was somewhat flat in this story.

Three new characters were introduced into the series. Stephen Merchant (Logan) probably had the most levels to play with because the writers had to give him a story; we knew nothing about him from the beginning and it is his actions that start the plot. On the other hand Lakeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You) is OK, but sort of cookie-cutter American NSA from a European point of view. The writers assumed actions would obviate the need for character on his part. They were wrong.

More surprising was the lack of a character for Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049) playing Lisbeth’s sister. Forgetting how this and the rest of the revised/ignored backstory affects the series canon, there were rich possibilities for this woman, none of which were plumbed.

Director and co-writer Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) did a beautiful visual job with the film. He also managed to capture the Swedish emotional sense with a lot of the characters. But he failed to recognize the weaknesses in the script and fight for better. And he allowed cliche to triumph over effort by some of his cast.

So the core issues of this come back to the script by writers Steven Knight (November Criminals) and Jay Basu. It feels like they took a passing knowledge of the books and decided to take those characters and throw them into a standard story. There is a small nod to the core of Salander’s, saving women or reacting to injustice, but that is simply there as a short grace note before dropping her into a Bond-like story that just isn’t a good fit and doesn’t further her purpose. However, and in some ways worse, some of the law enforcement research is awful, making the Swedish police and secret service into idiots.

So, to sum up, this is a somewhat mediocre action film and a very poor continuation of the Millennium series. Foy does a game job capturing the character, but never really gets to emotionally explore or expand her. As a stand-alone flick, without any knowledge of the base tale, you’d be watching a rather empty action movie with some clever bits to it. And there are some good moments and aspects, but this could have been a triumph, especially in the current climate. I’ll leave it to you whether or not to spend you time with it.

Overlord

[3 stars]

If you were somehow lucky enough to miss all the ads and trailers for Overlord, stop now and just see the movie blind. Honestly, the studio really did the flick a disservice by telling you what it was about. Part of the fun of the film is watching it all getting revealed, and they took that from me in spades.

OK, from here out I’m assuming you’ve seen the trailers and the ads. You’ve been warned.

Sure this is nothing but an update to Resident Evil by way of Dunkirk, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. It is, in fact, fairly well done and full of good moments, surprises, and the kind of splatter that combination would suggest. There is also a real sense of a good war film here that goes, shall we say, quite sideways. It is well shot and really rather well acted by most of the leads.

Jovan Adepo (Fences) is our way into this band of brothers…and it is very much a bro film. But Adepo gives it both heart and sense of danger. From early on it is clear that no one is safe in this story and that registers clearly for him, and through him to us. The machines of war quickly begin to eat up the people we meet.

Alongside Adepo fight a mixed batch of characters that each bring different levels and layers to the story. Wyatt Russell (Ingrid Goes West) is the seasoned veteran there to run the mission. John Magaro (Carol) is the smart-mouth jackass who nevertheless proves his mettle. And Mathilde Ollivier, in an early film for her, gives them something to fight for and just a touch of badly needed estrogen in the film. In a smaller role, but fun to see, is Iain De Caestecker (Lost River, The Fades) who does a great accent and has a bit of fun.

Arrayed against this motley gang are the Axis. Only a single Nazi stands out worth mentioning in that bunch: Pilou Asbæk (Ghost in the Shell). While it is a somewhat scenery chewing depiction of a German officer, he manages to find some balance, though not any heart. He certainly finds the creepy, which was his purpose in the tale.

Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) delivers a very watchable, enjoyable, and surprising movie for his Sophomore outing. Sure it is of a particular genre, but he doesn’t treat it that way. He treats it like a film about war, people, and the horror of what it takes to win and survive. Part of that success was the script from an unlikely pairing of Billy Ray (Hunger Games) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant). Both writers have a wide range of styles, but of very different sensibilities. Playing off the real events of Operation Overlord gave the two a solid underpinning for the story and its drives that allowed their talents to mesh well.

This was originally rumored to be a Cloverfield universe film. It is, in fact, designed much like those movies…slowly unrolling layers that end with unexpected aspects. But it isn’t part of that franchise in any other way. I wish the studio had believed in the quality of the film and allowed it to surprise and gather an audience. I get that it would have been challenging given the genre mash-up. Folks going for a war film would have been pissed and those showing up for pure horror would have been confused and angry that it doesn’t really become that till more than halfway through. But the story is compelling, well-paced, and nicely delivered. Definitely worth the big screen if you like either mashups, splatter horror, or both. And Avery is definitely a director you’re going to be seeing again, regardless of how Overlord legs out or not at the box office.