Tag Archives: YourChoice

Unlocked

[3 stars]

Unlocked is a solid, but standard, espionage and betrayal tale with few surprises, but some fun action. Unfortunately, also completely without heart. There are no personal stakes here other than Noomi Rapace’s (Child 44) individual struggle with her past…death, even of friends, is far too cheap to get us to engage with the story. What should have been Rapace’s version of Salt ended up more a forgettable drama with some nice moments and a strong female lead.

Toni Collette (Japanese Story) delivers her own solid performance as well, and even gets to have a couple brilliantly fun moments. Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Michael Douglas (Last Vegas) and John Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire) fill out the known cast and each provide what was required. None however exceed that requirement in memorable ways. At least Bloom is playing a kind of character we’ve not really seen of him before, and he does it well. No one is bad in their role, they’re just victims of the movie itself.

The root problem of this film is in the inaugural movie script by Peter O’Brien. Michael Apted’s (Voyage of the Dawn Treader) direction was nicely contained and naturalistic, keeping it all within the realm of the believable amid the craziness, but it couldn’t solve the problems of predictability and uninspired mystery. The film isn’t boring, but it just isn’t surprising. We’ve seen all this before.

Unlocked

Logan Lucky

[3 stars]

Logan is a character-driven, Southern heist film that isn’t nearly as clever as it wants to be, but clever enough to entertain. The real problem is the pacing rather than the caper. It is slow. Very slow. Not at all what you’d expect from the director that brought us the slick Ocean’s 11/12/13 series. It is steeped in the sensibilities of its region both in attitude and energy.  That makes it both quirky and, well, at the lower end of the energy scale despite being set against the biggest NASCAR race of the year.

While there are no bad performances bringing this to life, there aren’t any brilliant ones either. There are, admittedly, a couple surprising ones. Seth MacFarlane (The Orville) is practically unrecognizable in his role.  It isn’t a great performance in that it is a little broad, but it serves its purpose. Adam Driver (Justice League) transforms as well, exchanging his typical frenetic energy for a less-educated, Southern twist on his Paterson role. While Channing Tatum (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) slows himself down and drives the story from a family angle in a laconic way, it isn’t something entirely new for him, just more extreme. And, while certainly not a female driven film, Riley Keough (It Comes at Night) provides at least one strong woman in the cast. Katie Holmes (Touched with Fire) isn’t weak, but she is very much in the background; the young  Farrah Mackenzie, as her and Tatum’s daughter, is a more impactful influence.

Director Steven Soderbergh directs Rebecca Blunt’s (which is likely a currently unbroken pseudonym) first script about as well as could be expected. It really is a family drama with a caper veneered over the top. The two aspects live in an unhappy balance through most of the film. You get a glimpse of what it wanted to be in the final moments, but not really much before that.

There are some fun and funny moments in this escape, but it isn’t going to end up on your top 10. Save it for an evening that needs filling and trust it as you watch…it will get to where it is going, just not as quickly as you probably would like.

Logan Lucky

47 Meters Down

[3 stars]

I’ll admit up front that this is a tautly constructed suspense tale, even when some of it is obvious. However, as a diver myself, I really cringed through a lot of the opening and cavalier stupidity of the choices Mandy Moore (This is Us) and Clare Holt (The Originals). It wasn’t unrealistic…people really are that dumb, especially when trying to prove something to themselves; it was just painful.

Matthew Modine (The Hippopotamus, Stranger Things) was a  surprisingly well done character too. His motivations and choices managed to avoid the expected at almost every turn. For a small role, his was an important one to keep the movie on track.

Co-writer and director Johannes Roberts’s crafted a good horror film out of a fairly simple concept that plays homage to Jaws, Alien, and dozens of other similar efforts but without feeling like a copy. The camera work and production also did a great job capturing the action and underwater world. I can see why it was such a surprise hit. I can’t say I’d need to see it again, but Roberts clearly has ability and a sense of how to hold an audience. I’d be curious to see what he manages next and if he can apply it to something a bit less cheap-genre.

47 Meters Down

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 Beguiled

[3 stars]

Told from the reverse angle of the original film, this version of Beguiled looks at the arrival of a Union soldier from the women’s lives he invades. Sofia Coppola (Somewhere) brings her strong sense of visual design and female strength to the screen and script, but I think falls a bit short in selling the intent despite a solid cast.

Colin Farrell (A Home at the End of the World), Nicole Kidman (Top of the Lake: China Girl), and Kirsten Dunst (Hidden Figures) make a mighty trinity on the screen, at least individually. The interaction is a little stilted, in part due to the nature of the period.

The younger women are a bevy of talent that few directors outside of Coppola could have pulled together. Among them, Angourie Rice (Spider-Man: Homecoming,The Nice Guys) and Oona Laurence (Pete’s Dragon) stood out nicely. On the other hand, Elle Fanning (3 Generations) while magnetic as ever, is still seeking the role that will make her a star. She is always interesting to watch, but rarely feels completely natural to me. Fanning has an otherworldly aspect, a detachment, to her performances that is haunting, but odd. And it is particularly off in period pieces such as this film.

But performances aren’t where this film feels weak to me, it is the directing and script choices. While Kidman and Dunst have some quiet moments of desire, and Fanning is pretty clear about what she wants, the conflict of jealousy is either too subtle for my blunt brain or it was just not strong enough to bring about the resolution. The women just never connect, either with each other or Farrell. Each is an island of desperation. Perhaps that was Coppola’s intention, but it made for a very distancing sensibility. I didn’t care for these women, didn’t worry for them, didn’t weep for their losses, nor enjoy their small triumphs. And the ending just sort of laid flat emotionally, though hauntingly beautiful in its presentation. That, to me, indicates the movie didn’t work or was, at most, a mixed success.

The Beguiled

The Child in Time

[2.5 stars]

I completely get why Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Kelley MacDonald (T2: Trainspotting) tackled these complex and subtle parents working through tragedy. They are a different take on an all-too-common theme, and they have a different path to travel than you’d expect. Likewise, their mirror couple in the piece, Stephen Campbell Moore (Burnt) and Saskia Reeves (ShetlandThe Worricker Trilogy) had their own acting challenges that were probably irresistible.

For the acting and the sense of honesty in the tale, I enjoyed the trip till near the end. Director Julian Farino (The Oranges) navigates a layered story that isn’t very obvious and does what he can with Stephen Butchard’s (Falcon) adaptation.

But there’s the rub. You can see the beauty of the original book behind this adaptation. The story, ideas, and language are all what you’d expect in an Ian McEwan story. The problem is that as a movie, it just doesn’t quite work. It ends up feeling a little wrong and cheap by the end, even though you can see the intent.

Overall, I don’t think it really works, or at least it didn’t for me. Perhaps if the rest of McEwan’s five book series is done it would come together, but that’s no reason to give this telemovie a break; it should stand on its own believably, and it misses for me at the conclusion.

Beatriz at Dinner

[2.75 stars]

Yeah, I know, that is a weird rating, but it comes down to how the movie paid itself off…or not. Salma Hayek (Sausage Party) does a wonderful job driving this film and navigating a journey of revelation and frustration. But the resolution took days to crystallize for me…and even after I finally got it to make sense, I wasn’t entirely sold on it.

The ending aside, there is a great dynamic set up, Led by Connie Britton (American Ultra) and John Lithgow (Miss Sloane). Britton serves as the uncomfortable bridge between Hayek and Lithgow’s worlds. Each brings a particular kind of tension to the screen.

Jay Duplass (Transparent) and Cloë Sevigny (Love  & Friendship), provide some distraction and a peek at the next generation coming up in the world. They are an odd couple, and come off with varying degrees of believability. In addition, Amy Landecker (Project Almanac) and David Warshofsky (Now You See Me 2) are side notes to the tale. Warshofsky is probably the most grounded and credible of the cast, outside of Hayek, but has relatively little screen time. Landecker is  her typical, crass, ugly person. She does it well, but it is rarely an approach I find sympathetic or engaging.

You can’t help but compare this to The Dinner, which released around the same time and has a similar sort of dynamic and pathway. And again, the path and story are intriguing in Beatriz, but it ultimately didn’t pay off for me. I will admit this is a huge leap above Mark White’s most recent script, The Emoji Movie. The level of maturity is an entirely different league. And Arteta’s direction of it is uncomfortably realistic while maintaining a sort of theatrical stage sensibility. Perhaps I wasn’t able to see the point or wasn’t ready to see the point, but either way, it left me (amusingly given White’s involvement) with a “meh” feeling.

Ultimately, you see this for the performances. So whether you seek this out or not has to be left up to you.

Beatriz at Dinner

Rocco

[3 stars]

Who is Rocco Siffredi? Well, if you don’t know (and I admit I didn’t), I’ll let his 30+ years and 512 film titles speak for themselves. When you see how his films are made, you’ll understand how he can have so many. I even expect the number is under-reported. But in short, Rocco is an Italian porn star, and this movie is his explanation, apologia, exposé, farewell note… one or more of those things, or something more. He is a legend bidding goodbye to his fans and an industry that reveres him.

You get the sense that this is the documentary counterpart to Nymphomaniac or, perhaps, the nicer side of Boogie Nights. Rocco has no illusions about what he does, even if his reasons are murky at best, even to himself.

At the same time, this is a different view and facet of the porn world than I’ve seen in the past. One that purports to be of choice rather than exploitation, if the performers are to be believed. If I sound a little dubious, read on…so were the filmmakers. It is also an oddly personal film, while remaining slightly detached.

The film is explicit, at times, which should be no surprise. It has to be in order to document this tale. The language and situations are also sure to be uncomfortable for a large group of viewers. Interestingly, I don’t think that is intended. Rocco and his colleagues would say they are just being honest and why should that make anyone uncomfortable? They know no other way to live.

From a cinephile point of view, this is a fascinating documentary. It is handled with a real attempt at being objective and respectful, but not unaware of its place in the action that is occurring. The filmmakers know that the camera is skewing responses. They even take time to hold, uncomfortably long in some cases, on people they feel are perhaps not being honest with themselves or the interviewers. You can see the facade as well as the moments of honesty.

Should you make time for this? Well, first you should check your comfort level with movies like Love, Short Bus, The Dreamers, or the others already mentioned. If discussions and depictions of explicit sex are not in your comfort zone, just run away. If you are OK with that, then make sure you are also fine with rather intense moments of domination (however seemingly consensual). If you’re still around then consider that Rocco is a story told well and with some nice subtlety and heart. How you parse the information you are provided by both the men and the women could probably fill a doctoral program in psychology, sociology, and sexology. Rocco himself, however, only asks that you make a 100 minute foray in that world and listen to his story.

Black Narcissus

[2.5 stars]

While not your typical tale of Nuns, it is still the rather presentational and overwrought emotional approach to film from the 40’s. From near the beginning of the story you know where it has to go because of the scenery and the clumsy setup of Kathleen Byron’s Ruth, though Deborah Kerr’s (An Affair to Remember) Sister Superior wasn’t much better at the critical moments.

Attempting to balance the Nuns was the somewhat interesting portrayal by David Farrar, who had gone-native, as it were. The film is ethnocentric to a frightening degree, though it squirms a little trying unsuccessfully to break away from that. What was interesting to catch was a young Jean Simmons (in black make-up) and Sabu (Jungle Book) as a young adult. Again, neither were comfortable portrayals for a contemporary audience, but were interesting from a film buff point of view…or a sociological one.

The film did pick up a couple of Oscars for its cinematography and art direction (both are rather good), and a few critics awards. But, overall, it was rather ham-handed and didn’t really show the promise that long-time collaborators in writing and directing, Powell and Pressburger, would go on to achieve the next year with The Red Shoes.

See it, if you must, for its place and capturing of historical perspective, or other work by faces you know. The story itself, while paced out well, is now just an uncomfortable curio of Western culture and broad drama.

Black Narcissus

The Magic Flute (2006)

[2.5 stars]

There is a reason Magic Flute has survived 100s of years; the music is glorious. But when Kenneth Branagh (Cinderella) and Stephen Fry (The Hippopotamus) collaborated to reimagine the opera as a tale from the battlefields of WWI, the shift is not really successful and no amount of great music can heal the issues. Generally, Flute is seen as a comic opera with a bit of adventure, but this version drops us into trench warfare and mustard gas as backdrop to the kinds of silliness and romance that drives the story. Frankly, it makes war and sacrifice feel cheap. And the new lyrics and plot don’t really come together into a complete story. Even done traditionally, Flute sort of skips ahead from song to song with the thinnest veneer of story to contain it.

Story aside, the design and production values are very good all around. The singers are excellent, even if the looping is imperfect. There is also an odd effect where some things are done with high realistic value, but others, like Papageno’s playing of his flute, look as fake as they do on stage. It was as if Branagh couldn’t decide if he was making a movie or filming a stage presentation. A commitment to one direction or the other would have made it all a little sharper.

Honestly, if you’re looking for an interesting take on this story that works better, seek out Julie Taymor’s (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) 2004 production (which was also remounted in 2006). It captures more of the fantasy aspect but doesn’t lose the menace and has an equally clever English libretto. There is a DVD, though I don’t know the quality, and you can read more about it and see images on the net. But as to this production…as a curio it is interesting. As part of the Branagh’s opus, it was good to seek out. As a piece of film: not something I’d recommend.

The Magic Flute