Tag Archives: YourChoice

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.

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness

[2 stars]

Resident Evil, the franchise that never fails to disappoint…or at least hasn’t since near the end of the second movie. There are actually two series of this adapted game, one live action and the other anime. Though they heavily overlap, they are from different sources and have different continuing storylines that run roughly in parallel.

Infinite Darkness continues the Leon thread of the anime sequence. And it continues to use the photorealistic style to mimic the game interstitials. And, aside from really bad plotting, that is its biggest weakness. While the landscapes and objects look amazing, and even the characters (when at rest), the second a character begins to move or talk, you sink rapidly into the uncanny valley. The lips don’t even mildly sync well to the voiceovers.

And why is it that all women look the same in these entries? The men are diverse in shape, size and visage. The women are all built on the same thin, lithe template only differing in hair color and slight facial distinctions. Honestly, I kept confusing the two main women in the short series and finally just had to memorize their hair color. What’s worse is that one of the character is a recurring character there to balance out Leon and I still couldn’t keep her straight.

Suffice to say that this series is for the die-hards only. Though, you may be happy to hear that I have heard rumors that the live action reboot that is on the way is somewhat credible and could revive that aspect of the franchise. So perhaps there is yet hope for the story that would not die about the virus and monsters that would not die.

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Intersect

[2 stars]

When a story is taking place at Miskatonic University, it sets up some expectations. Some of those are met in this odd little indie, mostly it is left wholly unsatisfying.

Admittedly, I came because Gus Holwerda added in a time paradox. The two concepts together were too intriguing to avoid. And there is some interesting story telling going on. As is typical we start at the end and work our way backwards-ish. Slowly revealing the truths and issues of the past.

It doesn’t help that some of the script is just bad science and some is just woodenly delivered; ultimately that isn’t it’s greatest flaw. Jason Spisak (Pacific Rim: The Black) and Leeann Dearing (despite her costuming) do relatively fine with their parts. And James Morrison adds some solidity for the time he is present. Abe Ruthless, however, isn’t the least credible. But it also isn’t the acting that’s the issue. Where it all fails is the final moments.

Time paradoxes need a resolution or a definitive lack of one to end comfortably. They also need a clear and obvious paradox. The ending to this tale is an unresolved chord with a sense of what might happen but with nothing clear. In fact, in some ways it makes no sense at all, in terms of resolving the unidentified paradox or threat and the outcomes from it.

I did love that Holwerda allowed this to be a slow burn. It isn’t at all rushed and there are layers to experience. But because of the end, I can’t really recommend it. If you are intrigued enough to seek it out on your own, remember I did warn you.

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Vanguard

[3 stars]

I came for the Jackie Chan (The Foreigner) and stayed for the fights and action. Really, there isn’t much else in this latest Stanley Tong adventure. The story is standard and the dialogue (in a multitude of languages) is neither clever nor surprising. And, just as often, delivered with the emotional truth of a large pine tree as anything else. There isn’t even much of the trademark Chan humor.

But the fight choreography is pretty wonderfully conceived. Even the wire-work and CGI moments are fun. But there is plenty of honest work in there too. And it’s visually pretty amazing as it globe-trots through various continents.

What was also interesting was how loaded with cliché and Chinese propaganda the script was. Chan, as a Hong Kong native and with a movie that was finished just as China was locking down, headlines this flick that is arguably a slap at his roots. While Chan is only acting in this film, I was surprised he stepped into it…though I’m sure it had something to do with how previous collaborations with Tong’s helped launch him out of Hong Kong and into the world with movies like Rumble in the Bronx.

This is an entertaining diversion if you like the genre, but this isn’t a good film. Settle in for the eye candy and athletics, but check your brain and emotional critic at the door.

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Hard to Be a God (Trudno byt bogom)

[2.5 stars]

There’s nothing quite like a 90 minute tale told in 180 minutes. And while that’s probably a bit too quippy, it is certainly the effect this Russian sci-fi had on me by the end. That and a lingering sense of nausea from the wealth of filth and bodily fluids being bandied about.

But Aleksey German’s final film has an ethereal and hypnotic quality to it. The camera work is glorious and simply floats along. It is in black & white, but filmed with ability and care. And the camera has its own presence in the story as well, though it never really seems to be for a reason.

The tale, set up at the top, is that a group of scientists have landed on a planet similar to Earth but about 800 years behind in development and where the Renaissance never took place. It’s a grim and awful world indeed. One of the scientists has set himself up as the son of a local god. And that’s about all the story you get.  The rest is mayhem and casual violence and abuse. It is a long tale that has multiple interpretations, I’m sure, but the one that is loud and clear is that god doesn’t exist and the awfulness that we have in the world is of our own making…and even if god existed they couldn’t prevent man from screwing it up. (Don’t try to parse the paradox that, in theory, god made man as he is.) Oh, yes, and Jazz is an acquired taste (which is as close to humor that the movie gets). It didn’t need 3 hours to make all that clear.

And while German and his wife adapted the classic novel by Arkadiy Strugatskiy and Boris Strugatskiy, my understanding is that it is a rather loose interpretation on the order that Jodorowski or Fellini might do. Whether you want to dive into this or not is really up to you. There is something in it that kept me going for the full run, but I can’t rightly say I enjoyed it or that it left me surprised or shocked or enlightened. I simply went for the ride and came out the other side wondering how I might have better spent my time as a shorter version of the story was not on offer.

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Blythe Spirit (2021)

[3 stars]

Noël Coward is known for his witty dialogue and comedies of manners. He thumbs his nose at society while embracing it utterly as a goal. Pulling off a Coward script requires an open-eyed love of what all that means, and rapid fire repartee with a dry wit.

Dan Stevens (Solos), Leslie Mann (Welcome to Marwen), and Isla Fisher make a wonderful trio to tackle that challenge. Each embodies the 1930s pre-war sensibility nicely, as well as the broad comedy of the story. But even with the assist of the wonderful Judy Dench (Staged), the movie lacks any chemistry between the characters. And without that chemistry it becomes only a collection of performances…it just doesn’t quite work.

The end result isn’t the Twentieth Century or Thin Man it needed to be. It isn’t even Death Becomes Her (with or without all its flaws). Somewhere, shortly into it all, director Edward Hall lost the rhythm and energy. The bottom falls out of the movie and it all just drifts along to a funny, but not punchy ending. Of course much of that has to go at the feet of the new adaptation by the collective that brought us such varied comedies as St. Trinian’s and Finding Your Feet. In their attempt to update the story so it was less arch, they lost the focus and the point. The ideas were great, but they never went quite far enough.

The movie makes for a shortish distraction, with some really nice locations and costumes. And none of the individual performances are bad; there are some truly laugh-out-loud moments. However, while the parts all work, the flick fails to impress on the whole. But with the kind of talent it has on screen, it was certainly worth the attempt even if the end-result fell short. Ah, but what it might have been in better hands or a better matched cast.

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Monster Hunter

[2.5 stars]

Wow, this is as bad as you probably think it is. There are plenty of fights and lots ‘o monsters, but plot? Not so much, just a lot of pretty pictures and indications of character, but no depth. Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) isn’t exactly the top genre writer out there, or director for that matter. But he keeps trying to recreate his Resident Evil success with ever diminishing returns, even as Milla Jovovich (Paradise Hills) has improved over the years.

In this case she gets to partner up, after much shedding of extraneous characters, with Tony Jaa (xXx: Return of Xander Cage). Jaa turns in a fairly solid performance with what he’s got, though his fight scenes aren’t quite to his typical standards. Throw in a bit of Ron Perlman (Moonwalkers) for spice and you’ve got all you need for mindless fun. Which is good, because it is.

If you enjoy Jovovich enough to just watch her kick some butt (and get her own butt kicked plenty), this gives you plenty of that. If you are hoping for or looking for a complete story, move along, this isn’t the movie you’re looking for. And try as he might, and even with the help of Toho Studios, this just doesn’t have the making of a new franchise for Anderson. He’ll have to find another game property to mine for Capcom and try again.

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The Astrologer

[2.5 stars]

So why write about a 1975 film that has no one recognizable and a director/writer, James Glickenhaus, not really known for his quality material? Because, despite the illogical leaps, racist overtones, and odd story telling, there is something intriguing about this thinly veiled metaphor for the CIA and its ilk. And something uncomfortably appropriate to today’s situations around the world as well.

Set 8 days before the “second coming” the story posits a world where astrology has been turned into a precise art. Well, that’s the opening voice-over, but as it turns out it is more about potential than precision, but let’s not mince details (the movie certainly doesn’t). The idea is both amusing and intriguing. But the real focus of the story is the arrival of the baby messiah and whether it will be a force for good or evil. It isn’t like this is a new concept, but this movie has more philosophical overtones than horror.

However, it should be noted that it is also prone to making assertions…which it promptly violates or otherwise invalidates. And while there are a few credible performances, most are in that painfully 70’s, almost porn stilted delivery. I will grant Glickenhaus one thing: the cast is actually quite diverse, even for its time.

Now, I’m not recommending this without severe reservations, but it somehow came to my attention (how, I can no longer say) and got onto a long list for days when I had 90 minutes or less to burn uselessly. This certainly qualified. I actually found myself intrigued and curious, though ultimately disappointed, by the plot. But when it’s that short and the historical lookback alone is fascinating, I didn’t chock it up to a complete loss or even unentertaining. Though, I suspect, it would work better when slightly mentally altered, if you go for that sort of thing.

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Those Who Wish Me Dead

[3 stars]

Taylor Sheridan combined his pervious efforts, with films such as Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse and Wind River, to put together an eerily calm look at survival from hired assassins. That calm is, by far, the best aspect of the story. The emotional component, led by Angelina Jolie (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil), frankly falls flat.

Aidan Gillen (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Nicholas Hoult (The Great) are two cleaners that barely raise an eyebrow at their various challenges and orders. While some aspects of their story may be a bit forced, generally they come across as efficient sociopaths with a job to do rather than just “bad men.” It is refreshing to see those kinds of parts played for the cold brutality they should inhabit rather than as comic book characters.

Jon Bernthal (Peanut Butter Falcon) and Medina Senghore (Happy!) intersect with these men in interesting and surprising ways. Bernthal plays his part with heart and Senghore with a quiet and intelligent power. Similarly, Jake Weber (Learning to Drive) presents a controlled and loving father trying to explain an untenable and incomprehensible situation to his son, Finn Little (2067). Little is at the center of it all, but he’s somewhat overshadowed by everyone else around him.

In total, this is really just a middling suspense thriller…even as the final 30 minutes really pounds home the power of wild fires. It’s up to you whether you want to spend time here. There are some interesting performances and moments, but not a particularly great plot or sense of completion despite the (literal) trial by fire the main characters travel through.

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Songbird

[3 stars]

What better way to mark the lifting of so many pandemic restrictions than by watching a flick about what might have happened (or may still) if things swing in the other direction? Songbird is one of those inevitable movies based on the current disaster…and it makes about as much sense as a rushed-to-market flick can do. Basically, it’s a suspense/action/romance that traces three intersecting tales.

The primary thread follows K.J. Apa (The Hate U Give, Cul de Sac) and Sofia Carson as separated lovers. They are the heart of the tale, literally, and are about as sappy as you probably think they are.

In parallel, Bradley Whitford (Godzilla: King of Monsters) and Demi Moore (Brave New World) are an established couple trying to hold on to what they have and protect their daughter during the decay of society. They’re a bit arch, but Moore manages to find some interesting moments and levels.

And, finally, there is the odd internet relationship of Paul Walter Hauser (BlacKkKlansman) and Alexandra Daddario (Baywatch) that is intensely disturbing and uplifting at the same time.

And tying them all together is Peter Stormare’s (American Gods) power-drunk official.

The performances are all fine. And they even all work together well, though Whitford has done better and Hauser had a bit of a broken sort of structure to his story. But it will keep you watching and curious as to the path to the inevitable outcome.

I have to say that I could, by squinting, make sense of the title, but it really isn’t a great moniker…and, because of one of the main threads, it’s actually more confusing rather than, perhaps, dual meaning-ed.

Director and co-writer Adam Mason did fine, but a bit more time honing the tale to get it tighter and work through some of the problematic logic wouldn’t have hurt. As it is, it’s a good B-grade flick for a rainy night or afternoon. But not much more.

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