Tag Archives: grrrls

The Suicide Squad

[4 stars]

Now, let us first admit making a better Suicide Squad than last time was a fairly low bar. But James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) went beyond doing it better, he found the balance. Margot Robbie’s (Birds of Prey) Harley Quinn certainly plays a central role again, but she doesn’t bulldoze the entire story this time. Everyone on the crew can not only hold their own, but each also has their own story for us to follow.

So let’s talk story for a moment. There is a sub-genre of genre fiction called “gonzo.” Basically it means anything goes. If there is a gonzo-style director out there that can really pull it off in a popular delivery it’s Gunn. He has no shame and he has few limits on his imagination. And Suicide Squad as a base for a story was made for him.

And that’s the heart of it all. Gunn found the story. With Idris Elba (Legacy: Black Ops) at the core and the primary support of Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man), and digitally hysterical Sylvester Stallone (Animal Crackers) the crew blasts its way through challenge after situation. And the returning and nicely altered characters for Joel Kinnaman (Altered Carbon) and Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) add some unexpected aspects to it all. There also are plenty of other fun performances, including a bevy of cameo gifts Gunn gave to his old Guardian’s crew, not to mention an odd opportunity for Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who).

The only weak spot in the cast for me was John Cena (Bumblebee). Yes he was intended to be a big douche bag (per the script), but his byplay with Elba never really works. They don’t connect or repel one another in any visceral way, only in a lightly and predictably comic exchange. If there is a place Gunn fell short, it was that casting and that relationship.

But the ride, overall, as predictable as it is at times, is unrelenting and full of great moments as well as an overall arc. And, yes, there are also two tags during the credits that clearly help set up a sequel. If Gunn were to tackle that, I’d definitely be back, but I’m sort of hoping that they just leave this silly and wonderful little gem as a standalone. Whether you see this on large or small screen (and I saw it on small quite happily) you should see this if you’re a fan of comic anti-heroes. It’s a fast 2.25 hours and it will leave you smiling.

The Suicide Squad Poster

Freaky

[3 stars]

Let me just say up front that I love this concept. And given that it was co-written and directed by Christopher Landon, the same guy who brought us the very funny and clever Happy Death Day series, I was definitely on board. And the resulting story does pull itself together in nice ways. I just wish it had been executed with as much care and finesse as the idea suggested and as the pedigree promised.

That said, it wasn’t for a lack of effort on the part of the actors. Everyone committed to the story and the silliness. The balance wasn’t always quite right, but everyone tried to maintain a thread to reality.

In the top spots, Vincent Vaughn (Hacksaw Ridge) and Kathryn Newton (Pokémon Detective Pikachu) have the most challenging roles. Newton manages to get “cold killer” down well, though we can’t really assess her “Vaughn” as we never know him. Vaughn, on the other hand, does a much more credible, if slight pushed, version of Newton. The tenor of the movie forces him to the broader side rather than the more realistic, but he rarely pushes it too far.

There are also some nice showings by Newton’s friends Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor. They are clearly over-the-top in just about every way, but with Landon’s guidance they are kept within a range that works. There is also a surprising performance by Uriah Shelton which helps the flick round out nicely.

Freaky isn’t as precisely crafted as Landon’s previous films, but it isn’t without its moments and value. It is definitely a movie that requires a particular taste in horror and comedy, but if you have it, you’ll enjoy this. Whether it requires more than one viewing in your lifetime, that’s up to you. Once was fine for me, though I will be watching for some of the players down the road. Landon does have a knack for finding lesser-known talent. And I still want to see what he comes up with next as well.

Gunpowder Milkshake

[3.5 stars]

Imagine a blend of John Wick and Bad Times at the El Royale, with maybe a dash of Terminal thrown in. Think a sort of hyper-real, female assassins tale. It isn’t quite as lyrical as it might have been, and the editing and timing were off for the first half of the film bringing down the energy, but it holds together and is definitely a fun ride.

At the center of it all is Karen Gillan (Spies in Disguise), in full Nebula voice, as a disassociated, abandoned woman doing the only thing she’s ever known how to do. And she does it very well. Things, of course, go wrong and she finds herself suddenly in the position of trying to do the right thing to balance out the voices in her head. This brings us to another wonderful performance by Chloe Coleman (My Spy), who has now lost her second chance at a big screen launch thanks to the pandemic, but who continues to impress.

Joining Gillan, from her past and present, are a collection of strong women fighters, cast as much for the abilities as they are for their past roles, providing a fun resonance. Lena Headey (Fighting With My Family), Michelle Yeoh (Boss Level), Carla Gugino (The Space Between Us), and Angela Bassett (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) make an impressive set of co-conspirators. And each gets their moment to shine. Paul Giamatti (I Think We’re Alone Now) adds a small bit of patriarchy for them to respond to.

This isn’t a perfect film. As I mentioned, the energy and timing are off for the first third to half. However, it does come together and has room for more stories. Much like John Wick, there is ongoing potential as the various levels of the onion get involved. For a bit of mayhem and girl power, spin this one up and enjoy the carnage.

Gunpowder Milkshake Poster

Fear Street: Part 2-1978

[3 stars]

When last we left our story in 1994, we thought we had an idea of what was going on…only to be disabused of that at the very end. So here we are in 1978 to learn more. Leigh Janiak returns to continue guiding the story, and this time it’s decidedly darker.

Gone is the wry humor, though there is a certain amount of sarcasm. Gone is the light fun. This one is deadly serious and angsty; much more a typical slasher in the woods film than the previous. Janiak captures the era in color pallet and sensibility nicely, but I did miss the fun of the first part. A change in her co-writer to the up-and-coming Zak Olkewicz probably helped inform that shift.

That said, the cast and her direction continues to impress: Embracing the genre and running with it while still managing to keep it female forward. The additions of Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), Emily Rudd, and Ted Sutherland to the sprawling tale also worked nicely. The three drive the majority of the action and expand what we know of the characters and the mystery from the ’94 frame.

Fear Street is turning out to be a wonderfully crafted, long story. As a series of movie releases over months or years, it would have been a frustrating wait and lose momentum. As a three week sequence it is building nicely and keeping me engaged. I’m curious to see how it continues to evolve into the 1666 origin time-frame and if it can pay off. But, even if it falls flat, the first two are credible horror flicks, full of fun, mayhem, surprises, and nice twists to the genre.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 Poster

Black Widow

[3.5 stars]

Preface: It has been 18 months since I last saw a movie in the theater. The last film I saw before lockdown was a dual weekend of Bad Boys for Life and Dolittle. I have wide tastes, what can I say? It wasn’t until the beginning of June I was even considering the possibility of returning thanks to finally being able to be vax’d in my state. But it wasn’t until this movie I was even motivated to try again.

So why did we even need this movie? It’s a reasonable question given what we know of Black Widow’s path. This movie nestles between Civil War and Infinity War for Scarlett Johansson’s (Marriage Story) character. We know where she ends up. So why? The simple answer is that she was always an enigma. It was part of her allure and charm. But we also had hints of her past and how it haunted her throughout Phases 1-3. There was never time to explore those tales because they would have been distracting to the main plots. This movie focuses solely on her and gives us the depth and some of the answers we had been looking for: who was Natasha and what was all that red ink she was on about for so long?

Basically, Johansson got the send off her character deserved in this gap-filling flick. But that is, of course, also part of the problem. We know a good deal of who lives and who dies because, well, we know what came next. It sucks some of the tension out of Eric Pearson’s (Godzilla vs. Kong) script which is, otherwise, an action and suspense-filled story. Though Director Cate Shortland did her best to keep us distracted from those facts with lots of clever fights and a mostly great cast.

As Johansson’s sister, Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is more than up to the task. No real surprise there either given her range and previous showings. And as her “parents,” Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) and David Harbour (Extraction) are comically and nicely cast. Harbour is doomed to be a sidekick the rest of his life, but he does it well.

If there is a flaw in the cast, it is Ray Winstone (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains). He just comes across as absurd and uncredible. Even if you buy into what he appears to have achieved, his demeanor and how he uses it feels wrong. From his accent to his posture he feels fake. Certainly, we enjoy his wrap up to this tale, but I would have liked to see someone else in that role who could have carried it with a bit more gravitas and truth.

Another aspect to this movie is that it was delayed almost 18 months. It should have come out before Falcon and Winter Soldier (which, in turn, should have been out before WandaVision). The only real connection is the tag to Black Widow, which is echoed at the end of Falcon and Winter Soldier, but it is also about the shape of the stories and information. Someday I may rewatch it all in the right order to see what that’s like, but it is interesting seeing the all the intended bits finally. And there is still plenty left untold about Black Widow…some of which I think we might see in the forthcoming Hawkeye. But if not, I’m OK with that too.

And to the last and most important question: is it worth seeing in theaters? That answer is mixed. It is certainly filmed for the big screen (I did go see it in IMAX). It’s gorgeous at times. But the pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already bad before the lockdowns: people think the theater is their living rooms. Talking, phones, etc were all on display. And, on a personal note, having folks right next to us (they opened the seats that morning unbeknownst to me) wasn’t very comfortable.

The truth is, a good movie is good on the big or the smaller screen, because it is about the story, not the spectacle. Black Widow will certainly be less breath-taking at moments on a home setup, even with a large TV, but the story should hold up and be engaging if you have interest in the MCU.

To be honest, I haven’t decided if I’m going back to the theater any time soon. My recent experience has left me a tad nonplussed on the idea, but we’ll see. And given the rise of variants, it may not even be a choice I have in a couple weeks, cause that’s just the world we live in now. Part of the reason I pushed for this outing was that I saw a window of opportunity and wanted to take advantage. It was certainly interesting to be packed in with the public again after so long. It also helped me realize just how nice my own home setup is now, having enhanced it a bit during the pandemic.

Black Widow Poster

The Tomorrow War

[3 stars]

Tomorrow War opens with a bang. And, honestly, that was my first warning signal. Because then it jumps back in time to set up that moment before coming back to it. I understand why director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie) felt he needed to do that. A segment of his audience would have been impatient with the setup; but I wish he had trusted them a bit more. Especially as the real frame of the movie isn’t the action, but rather the family relationships that are set up before the action really begins.

Chris Pratt (Onward) drives this story on that level. And he does it without all the wry humor and forced boyish charm he uses in his other franchises. Not that his humor isn’t present, it just isn’t weaponized in this role. Along with Betty Gilpin (Isn’t It Romantic) and Yvonne Strahovski (Predator), he builds out a dynamic and set of connections that pull along the story. J.K. Simmons (Invincible) and Edwin Hodge (The Purge) add to all that nicely as well.

But, as I mentioned, there are concerns in this movie. Genre shortcuts abound. Aspects are only half-considered. The world is only partially exposed. And there is a moment at the start of the final act that will simply make you cringe. It is the epitome of willful-stupid. Fortunately, they get past that rather quickly, though they still don’t accept all the consequences of the actions at the end. But I will say that Zach Dean’s script does try to cover at least some aspects of the science before the story wraps up.

What it comes down to is this: if you’re looking for more of a time-travel action flick, you still can’t beat Edge of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat. But that isn’t really what this movie wants to be. This movie is more like Contact or Interstellar. It’s about family with aliens as the foil for getting there. However, there is plenty of action to keep you focused in between and around the rest of the tale.

The Tomorrow War Poster

Woman in Motion

[3.5 stars]

Nichelle Nichols. The name alone evokes a smile. She is a force of nature and one of the most relentlessly optimistic and gracious people you’ll ever meet. And yes, I say this with a small amount of direct experience.

Director Todd Thompson had a challenge with this story. Talking just about what Nichols did for NASA would be interesting, but would lack context. Adding the context is so wildly off topic that it could distract from the focus of the story. But he managed to walk the line and bring it all together in a way that was, frankly, unexpected as the wandering narrative unspools. In some ways, and I think purposefully, it mirrors Nichols’ own conversational tone and threading.

Thompson did, however, over-produce the docu a bit. It is a little too gimicky and a little too polished/flashy at times. These aspects did distract from the story itself. I imagine not everyone will find that to be the case.

But the story behind how Nichols changed the face of NASA and, in no small way, the world is worth every minute you spend with it. And if you haven’t already caught Hidden Figures, add that on as required follow-up viewing for an even larger context.

At the end, stick around through the credits for a wonderful final look at a facet of Nichols that just didn’t fit into the rest of the story directly. It was a great note to leave the story on and only increases your respect for this powerhouse of energy and effort.

Woman in Motion Poster

Shadow in the Cloud

[4 stars]

Talk about an unexpected thrill-ride from beginning to end. Roseanne Liang directed and co-wrote this, with Max Landis (Bright), as her Sophomore offering. And it is damned impressive.

Chloë Grace Moretz (Tom and Jerry) dominates this film. From the opening credits she embodies her strongest female role since her Kick-Ass days. The story is tightly focused on Moretz, her actions and her reactions. As her character is slowly revealed, we are constantly re- evaluating what we think we know. There are several male characters, but who cares? They exist solely as fodder to Moretz’s tale.

In the center of it all, acting as engine to the machine, is one of the biggest McGuffins I’ve seen in a while…simply because it is so iconic. The movie opens with a war-time cartoon that sets up this horror piece of the story. If you’ve ever seen Nightmare at 20000 Feet you have a sense of what’s coming (or think you do anyway).

The rest is an unbelievably tense ride. Like Pitch Black, once this one starts downhill, it goes at breakneck speed and never relents. And it ends on a hugely satisfying tableau.

Make time for this one. It is ostensibly a horror film, but it is so much more than that as well, even managing to pay homage to the WACs and WASPs of WWII. I can’t wait to see what Liang offers up next if this was any indication of her ability and eye.

Shadow in the Cloud Poster

We Are Lady Parts

[4 stars]

Come for the title, stay for the utter hilarity with just enough truth to keep it grounded. In true-to-the-best of Brit humor We Are Lady Parts is part fantastical, part reality, and all heart. And to describe it at all is to blow some of the fun and surprise in this 6-episode first series.

Like other unexpected comedies such as Uncle and Moone Boy, it shouldn’t work, but it really does thanks to the incredible writing and direction of Nida Manzoor’s solid cast of mostly unknowns. Top among them is the band members Sarah Kameela Impey, Juliette Motamed, Lucie Shorthouse, Faith Omole, and our main narrator Anjana Vasan. A couple of better known faces in peripheral characters help it all along as well, especially Shobu Kapoor and Aiysha Hart (A Discovery of Witches).

Suffice to say it a fun and sympathetic look at a culture that rarely gets that treatment. And a bit of female punk rock to boot. At 22 minutes an episode, it isn’t a huge investment to find out if this is for you or not. I highly recommend giving it a try.

We Are Lady Parts Poster

Infinite

[3 stars]

When Antoine Fuqua (Equalizer 2) is directing you are likely expecting a gritty, well-paced action drama. It’s what he does and does well. But when a voice over starts off the movie explaining what’s going on rather than putting it into the story … and that explanation is utterly ridiculous to boot, you know you’ve likely set your expectations incorrectly. Fortunately, it does then go into one of several car chases and fight sequences to take the bitter pill of exposition out of your mouth. However it forever removes you from the chance to go on the journey with the main character, Mark Wahlberg (Instant Family), because now we know the truth.

To be clear, I have no problem with the base preference of the story (that there are people who can remember all their previous lives and skills). It’s a nice sort of reverse Highlander. However, it’s the explanation of the conflict and the goals involved that I found hard to digest. By the time we get a very delayed, and particularly illuminating bit of exposition, via Chiwetel Ejiofor (Locked Down) about half-way through the flick it’s too late to care. It is just all so arch.

What it does have going for it is a cast willing to commit to the story and some fun action scenes. Wahlberg and Sophie Cookson (Red Joan) work well together. And Dylan O’Brien (Flashback) gets to kick off the story in a role I’m sure he would have had trouble turning down…it’s as close to Bond as he’s likely ever to get.  Liz Carr (The OA) has the only role with a grounded sense of humor, while Jason Mantzoukas (Invincible) pushes it all a bit too much.

The fact is that this is a huge cast and a huge canvas, but with few standouts other than the main three players. It was intended for the big screen with visuals substituting for, and distracting from, the weak story. The logic holes, particularly around Ejiofor’s character’s ultimate plan, are gigantic. Add to this the Matrix-like aspects of the story (not to mention Endgame) that get shimmed in and, well, you’re left with an amusing actioner without a lot of believable substance. Maybe that’s enough for an evening’s distraction. It got me through…barely.

This was another of the big budget pandemic victims, pulled from theaters to be only streaming. I can imagine it played bigger and more distractingly on the huge screen. But on a smaller screen it requires a bit more story and character to hold the audience and my attention. Ultimately, I had some fun. I certainly enjoyed the action, and hummed through the plot. It wasn’t an easy story to tackle, though a group with more chops in genre might have found a more elegant path to present it.

Infinite Poster