Tag Archives: YourChoice

Mute

[3 stars]

Mute is not a feel-good romp nor even what could be termed a fun distraction. Its roots are in films like Blade Runner, but without the history to support it. However, it has its own sort of magnetic pull thanks to director and co-writer Duncan Jones’s (Warcraft) efforts in this noirish confection.

The film unfolds at Jones’s typical laconic, but compelling, pace. The story and genre aspects aren’t entirely right, but it is consistent in its approach which allows it to work. And Jones’s nod to his previous release, Moon, is both subtle and amusing… it took me a few minutes to even realize what I’d just seen. Nods like that, which also fit into the world that has been built, you have to respect.

Most dystopian stories are about overthrowing the status quo so that sanity and justice can reign. Not this tale. This dark story is small and intimate against the background of the greater darkness of a totally screwed-up world that looks all-to-familiar. Mute also takes time weaving its its multi-threaded story into whole cloth. And then it heads down a corridor that almost ends on one of the darkest moments I’ve witnessed (we’re talking Oldboy dark). Fortunately it goes beyond that to get to someplace more palatable, but still not what one would really call happy.

The main dance is between a near silent Alexander Skarsgård (The Legend of Tarzan) and a hyper-juiced Paul Rudd (The Fundamentals of Caring). Their paths intersect over and over, eventually pulling them into the same story. Around these two are a bevy of odd characters. Justin Theroux (The Girl on the Train) as Rudd’s sidekick is creepy if not entirely believable. And Robert Sheehan (Geostorm) gets to totally tear it up with his outlandish character, but still manages to give him a bit of heart. Just a bit. I was also surprised to spot Dominic Monaghan (The Day) and Noel Clarke (Star Trek Into Darkness) in a couple of smaller and nastier roles.

This movie had a long road to screen. That it landed on the little screen rather than the large is probably for the best. While it has visual scope, it definitely would have had a narrow audience appeal. However, the restrictions of theatrical release may have also forced Jones to tighten up his final cut a bit as well; sort of a dual sword. The story-telling and conceits of the result, particularly the unique blending of cultures he works with, make this an interesting couple hours. Just don’t go in depressed or angry as this will only feed that spiral.

I enjoy Jones’s willingness to try new things and difficult story lines, and to tell them at his own pace. His opus definitely isn’t for everyone, but there is a talent there that is still developing and one worth watching. He got great a great performance out of Skarsgård and took Rudd some places I’ve not seen him do…and even managed to guide him to just enough humanity to pay off the plot. If you like Jones’s previous work, you should give this your time. If you haven’t yet discovered Jones, you can try this, but you might want to start with Moon and decide if his style jibes with yours first.

Mute

Den of Thieves

[2.75 stars]

When the writer of London Has Fallen, Christian Gudegast, decided to write, direct, and produce this bit of caper-violence, I didn’t hold out much hope despite its surprisingly good reception on release. The result is mixed. It is either hyper-realistic, like The Departed without the careful control, or slow and boring with little understanding of pacing, depending on your point of view and likes. On its side, Gudegast really tries to create characters with depth on all sides rather than cardboard cutouts. The problem is that there isn’t a single likable character in the tale and it is clear from early on where the story going to end up, at least it was for me.

The two sides are led by Gerard Butler (Geostorm) and Pablo Schreiber (American Gods). Both are powerful actors and each brings some levels to these fairly flat characters. They each have a crew of misfits and some have families, but no one really stands out as anything special.

The plot is very much in the spirit of Oceans 11 (remake or the original) and Logan Lucky, though without the humor. In fact, the characters lead lives of fairly obvious desperation.  The plan is clever and the cat-and-mouse game with the police is intriguing. However, much of the police part lacks credibility and the final heist is a bit unexplained and unseen. Regarding the latter, it isn’t that you can’t guess what happened, but a few shots are missing to make it clear.

Overall, this will appeal to those who like dark and violent crime stories with exceedingly flawed characters. It isn’t so much a tragedy as it is a clusterf@*# on all sides. For Gudegast’s first time directing, it is an impressive show of juggling, and his script is better than some of his previous, but it isn’t a high recommendation. Basically, this is a distraction for the right audience, but it isn’t something that will demand rewatches to appreciate any nuance that may have been missed.

Den of Thieves

Proud Mary

[2.5 stars]

Coming on the heels of Atomic Blonde and John Wick 2, this movie felt like it had a lot to prove. It wasn’t helped by the miss-promotion of it as a kissing cousin to Jackie Brown. But it really isn’t any of these. The reality is that it owes more to the 1980  classic Gloria. In fact, one of the co-writers, Steve Antin, even worked on the 1999 remake of Gloria. And Gloria, of course, was also reflected of the equally classic Léon: The Professional. But Proud Mary is a pale reflection of all of these because it isn’t really anything on its own.

The heart of the issue is that Proud Mary relies on a single thing to sell it: all women want to have kids. Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) is better than that, but I can understand why she took the role despite its weaknesses. How often do you get to drive a Maserati and play action hero? But the films from which it takes its roots got around the parenthood issues by removing that from the equation. Gloria and Léon were drawn into  protecting their wards by circumstance, not desire. It is the struggle of them finding a human connection again that drives the stories. It isn’t that they want to be parents, it is that they want to be human.

Proud Mary does attempt to set up the reasoning for Henson’s path, but we don’t really see any transition from guilt to love, though there is lip service to that being the case. Of course, director Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen) isn’t the most subtle or capable of guides, though he gets a great sense of 70s films at the outset of the movie. But, frankly, if that’s what you’re looking for, just rewatch Jackie Brown.

So basically, yes, skip this unless you have a real jonesing for Henson or Danny Glover…because though Jahi Di’Allo Winston (Everything Sucks!) does a fantastic job as the young man, the rest of the film and the performances are really pretty mediocre at best.

Proud Mary

Furlough

[2.5 stars]

There are many things that can draw you to a movie. On rare occasions, such as this one, it is the cast alone. With billing for Melissa Leo (The Equalizer) , Anna Paquin (Bellevue), Whoopi Goldberg, and Tessa Thompson (Annihilation) I wanted to see how that bucket of talent came together. The answer is that it sort of doesn’t. Leo and Thompson drive the story and do play well off each other. However, though Leo makes a credible inmate, Thompson doesn’t really strike the figure of a credible prison guard. And while you can suspend disbelief for chunks of time, it crumbles again and again due to her decisions and actions.

To be fair, the choices are more on Surgatz’s script, which is a bit forced and not particularly believable. But a larger, more imposing woman may have worked better. Even had Thompson brought her angst-ridden Valkyrie persona to bear from Thor, I don’t think she could have dominated Leo’s personality nor made us believe the plot.

Another missed opportunity was Whoopi. She is lost in this tale, there more for cheap comic relief than real impact. Of the cast, Paquin probably has the best role. It is small, but rich in unspoken emotion. A lot of groundwork from Leo and Thompson goes into that moment to pay it off, but it still Paquin that gets to take it away.

The faults in this movie are really more with the material than the actors. Collyer’s (SherryBaby) direction helps them to some good moments, but overall it never really sustains itself nor finds a rhythm. It wants to be a road movie with kooky side-stories that mound up into a tale of redemption and moving forward for Leo and Thompson. Instead, what we get is vignettes with some funny moments and some some touching moments, but no feeling of fulfillment at the end. I can’t really recommend the movie, but if you like the actors enough, you may find it fills an evening.

Furlough

Rampage

[2.5 stars]

Abandon hope all ye who saw Jumanji. Not even The Rock could save this weak offering with his charisma and humor. I’d say it was on par with Geostorm, expect that weak bit of sci-fi had more believable villains. I really had a secret hope this latest Dwayne Johnson entertainer would surprise me. Well, it didn’t, other than at how ham-handed and bad the script and direction was. Johnson certainly gave it his standard all, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the writing.

Likewise, Naomie Harris (Moonlight) did her level best opposite Johnson, even though they barely made her credible as a person and as a scientist. There were other familiar faces that struggled along in the same way. Perhaps the least harmed was Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike XXL), whose scarred mercenary was never anything but over the top. Then there was Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Extant), whose cowboy caricature just got tiresome, even with him modifying it at times. Again, a game effort, but not fully successful.

But for our good guys to truly triumph, you need credible and engaging villains. Sadly, Malin Akerman (I’ll See You in My Dreams) and Jake Lacy (Miss Sloane) as sister and brother baddies were about as cardboard as they come. Stupid criminals that never would have survived as long as these two supposedly had (especially Lacy’s character).

There is basis of a fun story here, despite being adapted from a video game. And there are moments (some massively obvious or telegraphed) and some good one-liners, but there are no real characters and just horrible plot construction. Director Brad Peyton (San Andreas) just went a bit too broad to make this work. The result is too intense for the young audience level it was aimed at but not believable enough for the people showing up. It isn’t even a non-stop action ride which might have helped cover for the bad plotting; it certainly has for many other films by The Rock.

Honestly, if you’re looking for a good Kaiju distraction, Pacific Rim: Uprising is much better.

Rampage

The Death of Stalin

[3 stars]

So what do you get when you have an unchecked leader running a country with only sycophants at his side? No, not that, I’m speaking of Russia in 1953. Though the parallels are utterly intended and the implications somewhat overwhelm the humor at times. But when Armando Iannucci, the co-writer and director of In the Loop and Veep, decided to tackle the Russian oligarchy for his second film, you rightly expect dry, wry. and bleakest black humor. If you didn’t, you probably have gone to the wrong movie.

Here’s the thing, this is not my favorite kind of humor. I enjoyed this movie to a degree, but I found it painful at times, and quite silly at others. It has a Monty Python-esque meets Chekov quality, and not just because Michael Palin (Remember Me, Absolutely Anything) is in it as Molokov (yes, that Molokov). That it also manages to cleave close to historical fact at the same time is a credit to Iannucci and his gang. But the movie doesn’t flow in a way that feels entirely right for my tastes. He does, however, know how to cast for his needs.

The actors are all top-notch comediens, from Steve Buscemi (Electric Dreams), to Jeffrey Tambor (The Accountant), to Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown), even to the stoic and surprising Olga Kurylenko (The Water Diviner). Andrea Riseborough (Battle of the Sexes) and Rupert Friend (Hitman: Agent 47) have their own little storyline to run out and Jason Isaacs (A Cure for Wellness) comes in hard and fast to steal a good part of the last of the film. But it is Paddy Considine (The Girl With All the Gifts) and Tom Brooke (Preacher) who launch us into the world and set the tone perfectly and who manage to bring it all back together, in its way.

Iannucci has given us a cautionary comedy; a well-done satire. For the right audience it will entertain completely. For others it will cause an uncomfortable frisson. And for yet others, it will simply stoke the frustration and anger they are currently feeling with the world. So go in knowing what kind of film you might be seeing and decide if it is for you.

The Death of Stalin

Tulip Fever

[2.5 stars]

Tulip Fever, much like the mercurial bloom’s marketplace namesake, is beautifully filmed, but ultimately not particularly satisfying on any level. The story here is purportedly one of romance, but it is as much about feminism, class, politics, greed, and a reflection of modern times. Unfortunately, all of that is easy to see, but not really felt in the final cut.

The story revolves around two couples and one man. Alicia Vikander (Jason Bourne) and Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness) are the focus of the story, providing the main thread to pull us through. But the story is being told by Holliday Grainger (Strike), who’s relationship with Jack O’Connell (Money Monster) is affected as well. Both couples do what they can, though neither are particularly magnetic nor gripping in their passions emotionally, despite some nice on-screen physical examples. Frankly, when all is said and done, it is the path that Christoph Waltz (Downsizing) walks that is the most interesting. It is his most sympathetic and compelling role in a while. He is subtle and tormented in fascinating ways, and he manages to support the film from the background rather than trying to dominate it with a crazy portrayal.

There are also several notable supporting roles and characters. Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) and Judi Dench (Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children) are the most amusing and believable, but Matthew Morrison (Glee) and Zach Galifianakis (Lego Batman Movie) add their own value too. Galifianakis is hurt more by the script than his performance in this (but I’ll get to that). Finally, in a bit part that sort of goes nowhere is Cara Delevingne (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets). The only reason to call her out is that she was paired with DeHaan in her next film; the performance here is fine, and I give her credit for making of it what she could.

So with all this talent, why did it fail? Despite being co-written by the great Tom Stoppard (Anna Karenina), the script is the real problem for this story. It depends entirely on two incredibly stupid choices by characters. It isn’t that the choices aren’t set up, but they are both avoidable and, in one case, purely ridiculous that no one stops it from happening. No amount of commitment or clever aspect of plot nor unexpected endings can overcome those points for me because they undercut the credibility of the story as a whole. Using the conceits of farce amid the romance just deflated the whole for me. And, while these items are also used in classic tragedy, they need to be credible to work. In this case they were blindingly avoidable.

There is some interesting history and reflection to absorb with this film. And Chadwick directed it reasonably well. But only make time for this if you must see the actors or have some deep interest in Holland in the 1620s, though historically you are likely to feel short-shrifted.

Tulip Fever

Una

[2.5 stars]

This isn’t an entire waste of a film, but in the #MeToo era it rings a bit oddly and, frankly, doesn’t manage a satisfying journey even absent that cultural phenomenon. I will say that David Harrower did manage to adapt his own play successfully to a movie script, but Benedict Andrews’s direction of the result never quite leaves his National Theatre roots behind.

The experience is basically a two-person play with a few extra characters thrown in, despite the number of locations and situations that are used. Rooney Mara (A Ghost Story) does believably create the results and shattered confusion of a young victim grown up. It isn’t a break-through performance, but builds on her odd energy and presence to help us feel her damage. Opposite her, Ben Mendelsohn (Lost River) gives us a tortured, denying predator. There is also a nice turn by Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, The OA) who helps pull some of the threads together.

The struggle with the film in this hyper-aware atmosphere is that it dances between something a bit too close to Lolita and a bit too far from something like The Club or Mysterious Skin or any number of other titles. A couple of years ago, this may have been seen as intriguing or challenging, but today it is politically deaf, even with the best interpretation of the ending. It isn’t that the story doesn’t have points to make, it is that it plays heavily in the gray area of the subject at a time when only black & white are going to resonate. So, if you do want to give it your time, watch with care and awareness that it may be a tad out of step with your expectations.

A

Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no jûnin)

[3 stars]

Violence? Check. Dark comedy? Check? Crazy choreography? Check? Bizarre story? Check.

Blade is a manga adaptation (not to mention anime), and the dark humor and violent sensibility of that form are very present; right in director Takashi Miike’s (The Happiness of the Katakuris) wheelhouse. Blade adds another notch in his fluid and prolific opus.

This movie is never going to be a classic, nor is it something I need to see again, but if you enjoy the genre it is a pretty good romp. In some ways it feels like a riff on Kurosawa’s classic re-conceived as The Seven Anti-Samurai.

For a variety of reasons, I had to watch the dubbed version, which was unfortunate. The voices are off and mixed poorly (not unusual). But it is also a workable option once you settle into the story if you don’t want to get whiplash reading the rapid subtitles.

And there is a story, if a somewhat unexplained and unresolved one; it is essentially 2.5 hours of carnage and fighting. Despite the thin veneer, Miike does manage to take all his main characters and explain their actions; at least a little. Morality isn’t nearly as black and white as you think when it starts. But neither is there any really deep musing on the choices or philosophical meaning explored. But did you really expect there to be?

Blade of the Immortal

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