REVIEW COMING SOON!
I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to call this one something of a "hidden gem" this summer (at least, not a lot of people are saying anything about it on my end), but I will say that if you're looking for something a bit different for a thriller, this is a pretty good place to look. It's a fine example of a current man vs nature story, Idris Elba is the headliner, and there's plenty of good intensity throughout the film to keep you on the edge of your seat. For me, there was only one thing really holding it back, but I'll get to that soon.
Dr. Nate Samuels (Elba) heads on a safari vacation to the Mopani Reserve in South Africa to reconnect with his old friend, a biologist by the name of Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley). Along with Nate are his two daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), and the point of the trip is for Nate to reconnect with his daughters, following the tragic passing of his wife/their mother. We find out that she grew up in the area, and that Martin had introduced the pair, initially. Things go pretty well until Nate, Martin and Nate's daughters happen across an entire small village of people who have seemingly been attacked by something vicious and huge or, more specifically, a lion who has gone totally nuts.
As for the rest of the film, I might say the best way to think about it is a very 'Jurassic Park'-like situation, but with one terrifying, big lion as opposed to say, a T-Rex, or a velociraptor. Now, some of that 'JP' comparison includes, as I previously mentioned, the one thing really holding the film back. Remember in the original 'JP' when the T-Rex got out, and Lex grabs a flashlight from the back of the jeep, shining it all over the place, practically signalling the Rex to attack said jeep? That type of stupidity is constant with the daughters here. I can't count how many times I shook my head, facepalmed or at least rolled my eyes. Nothing against these two young actresses, but the writers made these characters almost extra stupid, and it didn't help the movie to make them damsels in distress.
But what we're really here to see, obviously, is Idris Elba fighting a lion with his bare hands like some kind of badass warrior. Well, no worries, because there's plenty of facing off against this creature. But I have to admit that there are many times you must throw reality out the window because the way this lion plays with its prey isn't entirely believable (as in how uninjured the prey is after being toyed with). With that said, I don't pretend to know a whole bunch about lions and how they work. I just can't imagine being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after some of the attacks that take place throughout the film. Although I will say that the attacks in question ARE quite unnerving. A lot of it takes me back to 'The Edge' with the bear attack, or 'Frozen' with the wolf attack (that's the non-Disney version).
All in all, other than the two daughters driving me batshit crazy for a lot of it, this is a pretty solid title as far as it being suspenseful and even kinda scary a lot of the time. However, if you're someone who really hates seeing stupidity unfold during a movie - you know, "don't go in there, you just saw the killer go in there!" then I'd honestly recommend avoiding it. It's not JUST these two girls doing it, either. I may be being a little harsh, as I'm sure the director was going for "panic" and "not thinking straight" here, but that can only go so far until it gets tiresome. I don't see the film doing incredibly well this year, but between this, 'Thor', 'Sonic 2' and 'Three Thousand Years of Longing', Elba will definitely be fine.
Where the Crawdads Sing
I'll start this one by saying that this wasn't entirely what I thought it would be, judging by what little I had seen of it. I knew that altogether it wasn't exactly on the top of my list of movies to check out, but I hoped for a pleasant surprise for my review. Unfortunately, this is a title that finds itself on that long list of titles I just plain don't care about. I don't want that to take away from anyone's enjoyment of it if you happened to like it. But for some reason, I expected things to be a little more "riveting" than they were.
As per usual, my general disinterest is probably going to make for a somewhat short review. That's not even to say that the film is that bad, but I do admit to succumbing to boredom a few times while watching it. In short - just not for me. Above all that, there is now a whole bunch of controversy that follows this movie involving the original book's author, and her supposed ties to real-life murder, apparently with eerie similarities to plot points within the film. Having said that, I really don't know what's what about all of that, and how much of what I'm reading is true, so I'm not going to dwell. But when controversy follows a movie like that, it makes you wonder about what kind of lifespan the film will even have.
Just a quick plot summary - the film involves a young girl named Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who, through a series of events, is abandoned by her whole family to live on her own, raising herself in the harsh marshlands of North Carolina. She does quite well for herself, living off of her gardening, and trading fish and mussels for gas to a couple, Jumpin' (Sterling Macer Jr.) and his wife, Mabel (Michael Hyatt). However, to the rest of the community, she gets that "hermit" status, and is referred to as the "Marsh Girl", which in turn, isolates her - that is until two young men enter her life and we start the whole love triangle thing (by the way, have I ever mentioned I'm not the biggest fan of "love triangle" plots?).
The formulaic two men in question are first, Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith); the sweet guy she meets in her childhood who helps her with what she needs and eventually forms a romantic relationship with her until he has to leave for some reason - in this case, college. Second, after turning 19, she meets the quarterback of the football team, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) who is the more sleazy type, trying to make advances on her and other things asshole-type men do. Eventually, one of these guys is found dead, making Kya an immediate suspect and it kind of goes from there to about what you might expect.
So for me, the whole love triangle plotline and overall predictability as to where things were going through the film, I'm not the biggest fan. However, at best, I might suggest that this could work all right as a half-decent romantic murder mystery one can watch from the comfort of their own couch on a Sunday afternoon. As far as comparison to the book, I really can't say anything, but I'm willing to bet that the book is probably better. However all this controversy goes back to that author, so I don't know what to think about this one altogether. But in short, it's almost sure to be (at least for me) one of the big "forgettable" titles this year.
Top Gun: Maverick
Regardless of how you feel about Tom Cruise, you've got to give it up for his dedication to his craft. Between the 'Mission: Impossible' franchise and movies like this, he keeps learning new things and pushing the envelope. I further learned that aside from Cruise doing his own flying stunts in this, he also got his fellow cast members trained in flying, and 100% of the flying in this movie is real! Incredible stuff, considering some of the maneuvers you see these pilots pull off. And all of this on an IMAX screen? *chef's kiss*.
Now, concerning the plot of this one, you might not want to continue reading if you care about spoilers for the original film. A lot of this film's plot hinges on spoiler territory, but seeing as the original IS about 36 years old, I'd imagine most people interested already know about these spoilers as though I might as well be trying to cover Darth Vader being Luke's father. Anyway, we begin over 30 years after the events of 'Top Gun', and we see Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Cruise) has gotten into being a test pilot for the US Navy. His current project is to get the hypersonic "Darkstar" scramjet to Mach 10.
Rear Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain (Ed Harris), however, plans on shutting the project down to redirect funds to drone programs. Of course, Maverick goes ahead and makes the attempt anyway, which gets him into a spot of trouble. Luckily, for Maverick, he still has Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer) in his corner, as he has since become Commander of the US Pacific Fleet and can pull some strings rather than see him grounded. This results in Maverick being sent back to Top Gun to teach a whole new crew of the best of the best to fly some F-18s into a dangerous mission to bomb a uranium enrichment facility that the Pentagon deems a threat to the US.
Among the crew of top pilots are the cocky Jake 'Hangman' Seresin (Glen Powell), token female pilot, Natasha 'Phoenix' Trace (Monica Barbaro), Javy 'Coyote' Machado (Greg Tarzan Davis), the somewhat geeky Robert 'Bob' Floyd (Lewis Pullman), Reuben 'Payback' Fitch (Jay Ellis), Mickey 'Fanboy' Garcia (Danny Ramirez) and last but not least, Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller), who happens to be the son of Maverick's former best friend and RIO, Nick "Goose" Bradshaw. Here's where the major spoiler comes into play, as Goose dies in the original while flying with Maverick. This, and more that one might not expect, causes Rooster and Maverick to have a very rocky relationship.
In the meantime, Maverick also reunites with the famous Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly); an Admiral's daughter who Maverick and Goose once did a high-speed pass over, as mentioned a couple of times in the original film. But while this is going on, this doesn't place any sort of love story front and center as the original pretty much did. Yes, I know it's about more than that, but one can't really deny that a good chunk of that movie IS a love story. For the most part, in this chapter, we see a LOT more of what we came to see - a lot of jet-flying action. Even if it's about 90% training for the mission, it's all not only a fun thrill ride we take with these pilots, but it's even somewhat educational. Sound boring? Well, trust me, it's far from it.
If I have any sot of criticism about this one, it's that we see a whole lot of similarities between this and the original within the storyline. There's even the equivalent of the famous shirts-off volleyball scene - but this time, it's a football, and it has the purpose of team building behind it. Little tweaks like that make me appreciate it so much more. It's a very bold statement, but I think I can quite honestly stand by it; I liked this MORE than I liked the original. It also appears that I'm not exactly alone on that. But if you really wanna have a good time in the theater right now - not just a movie, but an experience - then definitely go check this out in whatever maximized format you can. I had a GREAT time with this one!
To kick this one off, I should probably mention that my knowledge of Stephen King is still pretty green. Most of my exposure has been from films; many of which are apparently "bad" adaptations of his books. As far as his books go, I'm still just a noob, having polished off a grand total of two. 'Firestarter', however, is one King property that I haven't looked into in any way. Never read the book, and never saw the '84 Drew Barrymore movie. So you'll be getting a pretty honest review for this from yours truly as a big first-timer!
I enjoy the idea of this. It's that often overlooked concept of taking something like superpowers and giving it a horrific twist. The thing is, even if we look at his books, 'Carrie' predates this, and even King himself has admitted to wondering if 'Firestarter' was too much like 'Carrie'. Speaking for myself, I definitely see the similarities, and would personally claim 'Carrie' to be the better all-around horror story. But the differences between the two stories are enough that I think it's a "pick your poison" situation. 'Carrie' is a great tale of revenge and might make for better horror, but this is something much more along the lines of 'New Mutants' where it has more to do with how scary and dangerous it is to even have such power.
It all starts with a flashback to baby Charlene "Charlie" McGee spontaneously setting her bedroom on fire, essentially illustrating what we're dealing with here. Through the opening credits, we learn that Charlie's parents, Andy McGee (Zac Efron) and Vicky Tomlinson (Sydney Lemmon) were a part of an experiment in which they were injected with a drug known as Lot-6. This results in Andy gaining telepathy and Vicky gaining telekinesis. Of course, this, in turn, explains right away what baby Charlie is all about. We then come to the present day where we meet Charlie as an 11-year-old girl (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) who is struggling in school.
As Charlie is getting bullied at school, she finds keeping her abilities hidden to be a constant struggle. Eventually, an incident at school does get the ball rolling, however, and we find ourselves in a very similar plot to 'Stranger Things' (and yes, it's confirmed the Duffer Bros. took inspiration from this story). In other words, this is generally about a bunch of bad people trying to get their hands on Charlie for their own personal weapon-making gain. Meanwhile, Andy and Vicky struggle to try to hide her from these people. So, perhaps my recent 'Stranger Things' binge also took a little something away from this. It also sort of suggests that this was a cash-in attempt on the studio's part, dropped right before Season 4 of 'Stranger Things' kicked off.
It's a hard task for me to review this one as any sort of comparison, as this has literally been my introduction to this story. However, just speaking objectively, I might suggest this to be mildly entertaining, but still kind of pointless. Of all of the Stephen King titles to relaunch at this point, I wouldn't have thought 'Firestarter' would be on the list of priorities. But being that I'm still a noob, I guess I really don't know what King fans are truly asking for out there. As it stands, it does still feel ill-timed - especially when we kind of know people will be clamouring for 'Stranger Things' a little harder. Hopefully the next attempt at a Stephen King redo will come out a little more thrilling.
Putting my cards on the table right away, DC has completely proved me wrong, and not for the first time. When the trailer first came out for this, my thoughts generally leaned towards it being another eventual failure because it felt too soon after "Batfleck" - especially with the release of the Snyder Cut just last year. It looked like "just another Batman movie", and I figured people weren't gonna care as much as they did with the 'Dark Knight' series.
On top of everything else, things in the DC Extended Universe feel ultimately confusing at this point. But with all that aside, this does act as a VERY good 'Batman' movie. I'm altogether kind of blown away with how thoroughly good this was in as much as it connected with various dark Bat Titles - not the least of which is an old favourite - 'The Long Halloween' (which I really should read through again). It also draws from further familiars like 'Year One' and 'Ego', and finally plays with Batman's detective side rather than his superhero/action side. Some prefer that action side, sure, but even with that in mind, this is something long overdue!
The film opens on Halloween night in Gotham City, where mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) is killed by a mystery man who calls himself "The Riddler" (???) in various messages (both video and written) left for Gotham's detectives and The Batman (Robert Pattinson), himself. Batman has been a vigilante at this point for about two years, working alongside Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Up until this point, it has mostly been on petty thug crimes, and there's a wonderful opening to this where we see how it all works; how Batman uses fear as a tool against the lawbreakers of the crime-ridden city.
As Batman continues his detective work with some help from his understandably concerned butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis), it sets him on a path in which he meets the likes of the Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), Selina Kyle - better known as Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) and at the top of everything, notorious mob boss, Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). The whole situation ends up being perhaps the most taxing event of his career so far, but little does he know that this Riddler character isn't exactly the only recent threat to the city of Gotham.
Now, when it comes to DC movies and my particular tastes, it can get a bit confusing. The DCEU is pretty dark, there's no question. But, much like with Marvel, I think some of it should be dark, but some of it light. But Batman has this limit for me. Personally speaking, I'm one of those guys who doesn't think Batman should be killing people (at least that we see on screen), and I don't think "Dark Batman" means "He should get away with killing". To some, it works, but for me, I just always knew there was a good way to do it without it needing to be on certain levels. I've always said they should look to the 'Arkham' games and stuff like that, and well... here we basically are!
One caption on a poster for this says "the Batman movie we've been waiting for!", and I think for a lot of fans like myself, that rings absolutely true. This really does remind me a lot of the 'Arkham' games when it comes to things like the film's atmosphere, and even Batman himself. Pattinson as Batman was something I was always convinced could work, but I have to admit that to some degree, he actually impressed. He will undoubtedly fall into the age-old debate of "who is the best Batman?" (Kevin Conroy). He takes a different, more intensely quiet and mysterious approach to the role, and it works quite well. The guy moves slowly at all times like a Jason Voorhees, but when he fights, he fights with the reflexes of a cat... bat.... well, you get the picture.
This one comes from Matt Reeves as well, which is almost immediately a good sign that the film is in good hands. This is the guy who gave us the last two titles of the new 'Planet of the Apes' trilogy, and 'Cloverfield', which may not be for everyone, but it's still one of the best concepts for a found footage film I've ever seen. According to sources, there are two sequels planned for this as well, and I really look forward to seeing where it can go. Just thinking of things like new takes on various villains in this universe - especially Scarecrow for yours truly has me super excited. So if you have the means to do so at this point in time, I highly recommend this as a big-screen venture. But get comfy, 'cause it's like, 3 hours long.
Death on the Nile (2022)
For those keeping track, 'Death on the Nile' is the sequel to 2017's 'Murder on the Orient Express'. This is an updated version of Agatha Christie's book, and it certainly looks as though we've got a pretty solid series in the making here. It's a remake of an old story, yes, but I daresay that a good murder mystery goes a long way these days (with True Crime being so incredibly popular). And why not bring back some classic material for today's generation? Poirot, no doubt, can show 'em how it's done.
The film opens with a bit of great detective Hercule Poirot's (Kenneth Branagh) history, in which we discover why he's got such an awesome mustache. It doesn't feel like it makes a whole lot of sense, but we also get a chance to see his innovation in the trenches and meet his lost love, Katherine (Susannah Fielding), which is admittedly interesting. Fast-forward to 1937, where the real story takes place, we catch up with the now mustachioed Poirot at a nightclub in London. There, Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) performs while, very quickly, heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) steals the handsome Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) away from socialite Jacqueline "Jackie" de Bellefort (Emma Mackey).
Now that we have a good set-up, we eventually get to them all (somewhat coincidentally) on a cruise along the Nile River, six weeks later. Linnet and Simon are there on a honeymoon but appear to have been followed by a jealous Jackie. And while the main case seems incredibly plain, there's a boat full of all sorts of colourful characters who could be behind one particular murder. As one would imagine, it's all a big puzzle to solve, probably doesn't quite turn out as expected in the end, and the real charm of the movie is behind Poirot's character as opposed to the murder mystery aspect.
Now, truth be told, I'm terrible with murder mysteries like this, and tend to confuse fairly easily. I'm the kind of guy who blinks once and misses the entire plot to something like this, but I'm also not unable to find entertainment value in it. As mentioned before, I do find Poirot to be a rather charming character, the film has a mild sense of humour, but it's not altogether silly, and the cast of colourful characters is pretty solid. Among just some of the names included are Annette Bening, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French (who may be a little more obvious to us fans of British Humour), Russell Brand, Rose Leslie, and that's just naming a few.
I think it's safe to say that this will certainly be up other peoples' alleys more so than my own. But I say that very lightly because I was still entertained by this. There's really nothing I would point out as specifically bad about it, and I probably wouldn't mind checking it out again, it only to get a little more out of the story. I'll just say that if you're a fan of the classic murder mystery, this is well worth a watch - especially if you happened to be a fan of 'Murder on the Orient Express'. Poirot may not be any Sherlock Holmes, but I do have to admit that he's up there as one of the all-time great fictional detectives.
See For Me
Theaters are once again closed near me, which means I'm resorting to searching online for new VOD releases. This one's available for rent right now for nice and cheap, and it makes for a pretty decent home invasion movie, if that's the kind of thing you're into. While there's really nothing about it that particularly stands out, it's really not bad for a simple, evening venture if you want a little thrill.
While competing for the Olympics, downhill skier, Sophie Scott (Skyler Davenport) is diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease that causes blindness, thus bringing her Olympic dreams to a screeching halt. She becomes pretty bitter about her situation, and gives up altogether, even though her friend, Cam (Keaton Kaplan), seems to really want to help her train for the Paralympics. I have to admit, one thing that brings the movie down for me is Sophie's character. She's blind, yes, but it's hard to feel sympathetic when she ends up being such a jerk.
Anyway, Sophie gets by, cat sitting for the wealthy and stealing things like priceless bottles of wine, to resell on the black market. She answers an ad, and just about goes about her regular criminal routine, but soon locks herself out of the house. After doing this, she contacts a service through an app called "See For Me", which allows the blind to connect with a seeing helper through video chat. In reality, there is something called "Be My Eyes" that works on a similar level. Soon, she's connected to Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy), and she manages to get back in. But little does she know, she's in for an interesting night.
Sophie is awoken by a break-in, calls 9-1-1, and is told that due to her remote location, response might take a while. Being stuck without sight, she contacts Kelly again. Kelly soon sees the predicament she's in before being disconnected, and as the film continues, she does everything she can to try to help Sophie from behind her computer. Meanwhile, the motivation for the break-in is nothing at all surprising - it's about money. Even the criminals themselves are clichés - Otis (George Tchortov), Ernie (Pascal Langdale) and Dave (Joe Pingue). I forget who's who, honestly, but basically, your leader, your tough guy, and your sensitive guy. They're also lead by a man named Rico (Kim Coates) who isn't there.
So, as one might imagine from a home invasion movie, a lot of it becomes Sophie trying to survive the night in this strange house, while blind, and being guided by someone (when they can connect) on the other end of a phone. This is a movie that's better reviewed than how I really feel about it though, so let's just get into some good. There are some intense moments, the concept is somewhat original (I'm sorry, but 'Silence of the Lambs' did something very similar with night vision goggles), and I do have to say that Kelly is a very likable character. But for me, the bad sort of outweighs the good here.
Now, when I say "bad", I don't actually mean it in the strongest sense of the word. But the film's problems for me include it being a seemingly very standard set-up, the criminals are incredibly bland, the hero isn't very likable, and I feel like it's full of clichéd moments. However, it's that same basicness that makes it what I mentioned in the beginning - "really not bad for a simple, evening venture if you want a little thrill". I get the feeling that others would like this just fine, and perhaps I've just seen too much of the same sort of thing - like your average demonic possession movie these days, home invasion stuff gets pretty predictable. But hey, that's just me. It's a nice and cheap rental right now, if you wanna check it out for yourself.
West Side Story (2021)
With some recent reviews, like 'In the Heights', I've mentioned that musicals seem to be something I've been getting more and more into as time goes on. As a result, I figured I'd check out a version of 'West Side Story' as envisioned by the one and only Steven Spielberg. With that, I should probably mention that 'West Side Story' (aka 'Romeo & Juliet') was never really a favourite story of mine. A classic in it's own right, just not really up my alley.
My hope was to go into this and get something from Spielberg's direction, or some kind of mind-blowing choreography. While these aspects are quite good here, I couldn't help but get the feeling that it's really just... 'West Side Story' again. I know, I know, what exactly do I want, right? I'll be kind enough to give the film some leeway on that. But I think the film's overall biggest strength (at least in my eyes) happens to also be its weakness, and it leaves me not quite knowing how to feel.
The story takes place in 1957 Manhattan, as we immediately see the turf war taking place between the Jets; a gang of white Americans, and the Sharks; a gang of Puerto Ricans. According to officer Krupke (Brian d'Arcy James) and Lt. Schrank (Corey Stoll), who break up a scuffle between the rival gangs, their war is pointless. The whole neighbourhood is about to be demolished in order to make way for the now famous Lincoln Center. However, none of this stops leader of the Jets, Riff (Mike Faist), from proposing a "rumble" to finally settle things.
This brings Riff to his out-on-parole friend, Tony (Ansel Elgort), who wishes to start a new life, living on the straight and narrow. Owner of a Puerto Rican general store, Valentina (Rita Moreno), helps Tony with getting his life back on track, and Tony doesn't find it hard to say "no" to the upcoming fight. Tony soon meets Maria (Rachel Zegler, in her pretty amazing film debut) and falls madly in love with her, but there's a catch - Maria happens to be the sister of the Sharks' leader, Bernardo (David Alvarez). Their forbidden love then leads to a collision course between the two gangs despite the fact that neither Tony nor Maria want any part of this fight.
It's the story of forbidden love we've seen many times before. It's probably safe to say that you get everything you expect from the story if you're at all familiar with either 'Romeo & Juliet' and/or 'West Side Story', which both have a variety of stage renditions as well as screen adaptations. I think that's part of why I didn't see this as anything entirely special as opposed to... basically everyone else. It's just something I've seen before, the songs aren't new or different (and probably shouldn't be, to be fair), and it was never a favourite to begin with.
But having said that, let me point out the good about this movie. I have to say, for as much as I didn't really care, there really was no "bad" to this. Sometimes a story just isn't for me, and that's something I can accept. For those who love the original musical (be it movie or stage), I really think you'll have a great time with this. Spielberg has always done a good job at capturing eras in time, and the 50s is definitely no exception (even if I didn't like 'Crystal Skull', the setting was still well done). It doesn't stop at the clothes or the cars either. There was something about this that made it feel like it's authentically from the 50s.
Going back to what I said about the film's biggest strength also being it's biggest weakness, it's a messed up situation. On one hand, it kind of sucks that there was nothing very new or different about this. But on the other hand, it's authenticity for the era is what gives the film most of it's charm. It is a lot like watching a stage musical as opposed to many other adaptations that go out of the way to make sure you know it's still a movie... like 'Cats'... Anyway, the bottom line is that if you are into this story at all, you should definitely check out Spielberg's rendition. But if you're like me, just know that it's something you've seen before, and try to appreciate the direction more than anything else.
Last Night in Soho
For those who don't know, and to keep it perfectly short, Edgar Wright = favorite director = total bias towards his films. I am generally of the opinion that everything the man is responsible for writing/directing is essentially gold. Of course, this is all personal taste. For some, it's Tarantino, for others, it's Spielberg. But the point is, with anything I review by Edgar Wright, one must be mindful that I'm basically in love with the guy's work.
He has actually released two films this year; this along with a documentary called 'The Sparks Brothers', about the pop/rock duo, "Sparks". This, however, is the more mainstream one of the two, and once again flexes Wright's muscles as a director by being a more serious-toned thriller. You have to hand it to the guy, he likes trying out a variety of things. And yeah, this is me talking, but he succeeds every single damn time. 'Last Night in Soho' is certainly no exception. And interestingly enough, one might suggest this one leans more towards the female crowd based on overall subject matter. While I'm inclined to agree to a degree, I might suggest it's a good watch for the guys, too, if only as a cautionary tale of sorts.
The film focuses on Eloise "Ellie" Turner (Thomasin McKenzie); an aspiring fashion designer with a thing for the 60s that about matches my thing for our director, here. She loves the music, she loves the fashion, she loves the setting, and she dreams of one day becoming a fashion designer in the Soho area of London, England. She also has a special gift where she can seemingly see her deceased mother (Aimee Cassettari) in her mirror. This is another case of accepting something without explanation - she has this ability, but we can only really guess where it comes from. What's more important here is how her ability seems to come into play.
She one day gets her opportunity to study at the London College of Fashion, and moves from her country home near Redruth, Cornwall to the big city, only to find herself rooming with a snooty girl named Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen). After a night out, and being an emotional punching bag to Jocasta and her jerk friends (you really hate these girls quickly). Luckily, there is one kind student among them; a guy named John (Michael Ajao) Ellie decides to find somewhere new to stay while she goes to school, landing on a charming little room in Goodge Place, owned by a reasonably strict, elderly woman named Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg).
Ellie finds herself having a vivid dream that first night about being in the same area of the city in the 60s, and observing a young blonde woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) developing a professional relationship with a night club owner named Jack (Matt Smith) in order to get a gig as one of his performers. During the dream, Ellie is basically in the role of Sandie, as we see through a very cool effect using mirrors. These dreams, however, have an 'Elm Street' style to them in as much as what happens in the dream carries over to real life. While Ellie is sort of in love with what she's experienced, she keeps the dreams up only to reveal something much more sinister going on behind the scenes.
I will admit that while a lot of Wright's movies do a wonderful job of getting going, this one does feel like it has a bit of a slow set-up. But with that said, I never felt like things were really dragging. For this one, I give Wright a lot of credit for making this a cautionary tale for moth men and women. There's some "woke", #metoo material in here, but what I liked about it was that it didn't feel entirely black and white in the end. It certainly leaned one way, but it's clearly what Wright was going for. Just my opinion, but he did a good job here, right down to the twist ending. I'd probably prefer a good Edgar Wright comedy over this in the end, but I have to give Wright the credit for doing something kind of new with the whole "woke" movement.
Let me just start this one off by saying that I went into this relatively clueless as to what was what when it came to the whole 'Dune' thing. I was introduced to 'Dune' completely backwards by playing the strategy game for my PC before even realizing that it was once a movie (extremely loosely) based on an original book of the same name. I did eventually try the David Lynch movie, but I never did make it through, and it never quite made it onto my "cult" radar. This is just me, but I thought it was about as dry as the desert it took place in. So when this came around, my reaction to the trailer was less than enthusiastic.
However, there were a few things about the trailer that grasped my curiosity. First and foremost, the scope of things made it look like the next epic waiting to happen. Then there were things like the cast, taking from just about anything else that exists on an epic scale; actors from Marvel, DC, 'Star Wars', and all lead by a young Oscar bait actor. As uninterested as I may have felt, there were those few things that managed to stroke my curiosity enough to check it out. All in all, I would say things went pretty much as I predicted. This is a good blend of things, but it does take a little while to get going.
Taking place 22,000 years into the future, the main setting of the film is planet Arrakis; a desert planet which plays host to the one and only source of "spice" in the universe. Spice makes interstellar travel possible, and boosts human vitality, so it's pretty valuable stuff. Arrakis is currently ruled by House Harkonnen; the "bad guys", and Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) of House Atreides; the "good guys", to attempt to replace the Harkonnen with the Atreides as the planet's head rulers. While apprehensive, Leto does see political advantages in controlling the spice planet, but there may be something more sinister to this strategy than meets the eye.
Duke Leto's concubine, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is part of a sisterhood that bears uncanny abilities called the Bene Gesserit who tell her to have a daughter, who would one say become a very big deal. She has a son instead, however, named Paul (Timothée Chalamet), who is nevertheless trained by Leto's aides, Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) in different skills and disciplines. Paul ends up having some pretty haunting visions of the future, usually consisting of a mysterious girl with bright blue eyes we eventually know as Chani (Zendaya) and taking place on Arrakis where all sorts of unfortunate violence is ready to happen (at least according to his visions).
A lot of it ends up being about Paul being forced into a destiny that will involve him ultimately having to face his fears despite the visions he has. I also very much see it as a cautionary tale about war over supply and demand; generally comparing the spice to, quite simply, oil. However, the film explores other everyday avenues as well, and gives us a good visual of how things could get. It also touches on politics, religion, technology, and the human condition. While this still isn't completely up my alley, largely due to its pacing and somewhat blasé atmosphere (this is just personal), I have to give it credit for being what could be a pretty realistic future for humankind (especially considering how far into the future it takes place). Everything it shows us could be seen as metaphorical for our everyday here on present-day Earth.
This is yet another case of a film ultimately gaining my respect, and it certainly has the potential to grown on my through several viewings. But with that said, I'm not sure that this one was entirely for me. It's a very hard one to rate, because for as uninterested as I could get through it, I can't help but credit it for not only what I already have, but also being what appears to be a relatively faithful adaptation (again, I have no idea), coming out in two parts. And it does do a pretty great job of leaving us on that cliffhanger by the end. I'm certainly going to give this one another chance sometime down the line though, because there's that part of me that wants to be more interested than I am - it's almost like it's just missing a little something, but I can't place exactly what that something is.
A Quiet Place Part II
Some of my readers may recall how much I loved 'A Quiet Place'. Long story short, I made it one of my favourite movies of 2018. It did such a great job with building intensity, kept me on the edge of my seat, and provided a perfect example of how sometimes less is more when it came to horror. The scariness didn't lie in the creatures themselves, so much as the stress that comes from having to hide quietly in order to survive.
For a brief recap (along with some potential spoilers), the film centers on a family who are in the midst of some sort of monstrous invasion. The creatures they end up having to hide from and avoid hunt their prey by sound, so the idea is to have to stay quiet in order to stay alive. It doesn't help, however that wife and mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is pregnant, daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, and son, Marcus (Noah Jupe) is basically afraid of his own shadow. All the while their provider and protector is husband and father, Lee (John Krasinski). Again, spoiler alert (but without revealing how), we lose Lee, leaving Evelyn, Regan and Marcus on their own with a newborn baby.
This one picks up immediately where the last one leaves off, but not without an intro telling us just how this all began. We don't really get any answers though, other than knowing they came from the sky. The family of now three and a half sets out on a journey here, looking for other survivors, now that Evelyn can handle a gun, and more importantly, Regan's discovery. She learns that using her hearing aid at a high frequency is an effective distraction to use against these creatures - even more effective if amplified. On their mission, however, Marcus ends up critically injured and the family is somewhat rescued by their former neighbour and friend, Emmett (Cillian Murphy).
Emmett gives them shelter for the night, but somewhat cowardly insists they leave in the morning. During their stay, they tune a radio into clear music, suggesting there must be survivors out there somewhere. This prompts Regan to head off on her own, despite Marcus' objections, using her hearing aid as her main defence. Soon enough, Evelyn sends Emmett out after her while she heads out to look for supplies at the old pharmacy. The intensity of the film has a little more to do with the family being divided, and what can happen in a short amount of time. Can Regan find survivors with Emmett? Will Evelyn be able to fare on her own? Can Marcus take care of the baby with a bad injury? It just kind of adds up.
I'll keep this simple enough. It's a very worthy sequel to its predecessor, and this would make for a pretty great back-to-back feature. My only real nitpick about it is that things end on a very similar note as the first film, but involving different characters. Having said that, it's also a way to develop these characters, and it does leave room for what could be a pretty exciting third film (if that will eventually happen). I further appreciate how this one relied on the separation of the family, which adds a twist of dread to what we already know is going on. Otherwise, the movie is well-acted, well-written, and just as perfectly atmospheric as the first film. As far as horror/thrillers go, these are definitely a couple of my personal favourites.
In the Heights
When it comes to my particular taste in entertainment, musicals are fairly recent. It's a genre that I haven't really given a huge chance to, and there are many big titles I haven't seen yet, simply due to lack of interest. I finally started opening my mind up much more to them since 2016's 'LA LA Land' (one of the first movie I reviewed on this site). Since then, I've decided to give musicals a fair shake, and I can't really deny that there's something about them I can get into - perhaps the feel-good fantasy of it all. There really is something incredibly expressive about telling a story through song, and this is certainly no exception.
As the film opens, we meet Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) hanging out on a beach, and telling a group of kids a story about his experiences back home in Washington Heights. He lives with the neighbourhood's mother figure, Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), and owns a bodega where he delights in catering to the good people of the area. We are further introduced to Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) who runs the local taxi dispatch, and is father to recent Stanford drop-out, Nina (Leslie Grace); love interest to one of Kevin's employees, Benny (Corey Hawkins). Meanwhile, side-stories unfold involving Usnavi's little cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), salon ladies, Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Carla (Stephanie Beatriz) and Cuca (Dascha Polanco) and Vanessa; Usnavi's love interest.
A lot of the plot is pretty simplistic, if bittersweet one, having to do with the Washington Heights area of New York City slowly fading away over time. On one hand, the locals are preparing to get out of the area and follow their dreams before they get stuck, broke and without power (a blackout plays a pretty big role here). On the other hand, the same locals see the community as a sort of family, and Washington Heights is plan and simply "home". So in some ways, the film could be seen as a touch contradictory. I sort of found my own meaning to it all though, in that while the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, there's something about the current situation one may take comfort with. It's the difference between living where you were born, raised and made friends vs what may yet be a better lifestyle.
Getting the weaker points out of the way first, I did find this to be a very simplistic story with not a whole lot of originality. It is another musical about following dreams, it is another musical with a a love story or two, and in some ways, it becomes musical to a fault. What I mean by that is, this is one of those musicals that's almost all singing, very seldom taking any breaks. Even just the causal convo is lyrical, which may be trouble for some to get around. It's also a touch predictable, and once it ends the way it does, you may shrug your shoulders and say "ah, I thought that might happen". I have also heard that there are some pretty big changes going on here that alter the original musical in several ways, so if you've seen and become a fan of the musical, you might be a bit disappointed.
Having said all that, speaking for myself, I find the good certainly outweighs the bad here. I actually really enjoyed the musical numbers here, and was hard-pressed to find one I didn't enjoy. The one that really stands out here for me, 'Paciencia Y Fe', has to do with Abuela reminiscing about her past as an immigrant, and it does tug at the heart strings quite a bit. The other big standouts for me were the 'In the Heights' opening, '96,000'; a song about the possibilities of winning the local lottery, and 'Blackout', which was just a catchy and really well choreographed number that sees a lot happen throughout it. I have to say, the music is ultimately very catchy here, and gives me a whole new reason to finally check out 'Hamilton', as it also involves the multi-talented Lin-Manuel Miranda's lyrics and song writing (among other things... yes, I know, I haven't seen 'Hamilton' yet).
When it was all sang and done, I definitely enjoyed myself. Even though I mention the plot being so simplistic, sometimes that's just what's needed. I think people can get a lot from this (at least if they haven't seen the original play), especially in this day and age. With Covid 19, theaters are just barely opening back up (except for up here in Ontario, Canada) and this is a nice, feel-good, catchy musical that has a lot to do with getting out into the open, and having a community come together in a big way. This could almost be seen as a well-timed celebration of life, if you look at it a certain way. It's fun, it's upbeat, and still had enough heavy moments for it to be appropriately dramatic. So, if you like a good musical that's a bit heavier on the sing-song side that delivers a mostly feel-good story, this is a good one to check out!
By this point, this film has been around for a little while. But to be honest, it went right over my head, and things didn't really click for me until some people at work started talking about it. When people started comparing it to 'John Wick', and mentioned Bob Odenkirk as the lead, it was easy for me to be sold. Like watching 'Better Call Saul' if Saul was some kind of ex-military badass. Upon watching it, so far, it's one of my favourite movies of the year.
Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) lives the life of an "everyman", with an average office job at a metal fabrication company. He lives in suburbia with his wife, Becca (Connie Nielsen) and two kids; teenage son, Blake (Gage Munroe) and loving little daughter, Abby (Paisley Cadorath). He does the every-day grind thing, and slowly it really starts getting to him, and he's about to be pushed over the edge. This is essentially achieved when, one night, two burglars break into their house and try to rob them at gunpoint. Hutch actually lets the perps go, and with that, word spreads about his actions despite his feelings that he made the right decision - especially based on what he could have done to them.
The following day, Hutch is the subject of ridicule from such close people as his son, his brother-in-law, Charlie (Billy MacLellan), and his neighbour, Jim (Paul Essiembre). Upon coming home from work, Abby mentions that she can't find her kitty cat bracelet. Hutch figures that since it was in the bowl of cash the burglars grabbed, it went with them, and thus is triggered Hutch's "snap event", sending him on a mission to retrieve his daughter's bracelet. Things escalate fairly quickly as we find out Hutch isn't exactly the family man we thought he was, and soon his rampage leads him to unknowingly brutally injuring the brother of a notorious Russian mob boss, Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksey Serebryakov).
I tend to see this movie is as though 'John Wick' and 'Falling Down' had a baby with all of their best features. I love me a good revenge film, especially if it involves the "straw that broke the camel's back" situation. Here, it's a kitty cat bracelet, in 'John Wick', it's a puppy (though to be fair, that one's also incredibly relatable to most), and in 'Falling Down' it's really just a bad day for the wrong type of person. In other words, not typical "eye for an eye" revenge so much as that thing that pushes us over the edge. Every single one of us has faced some kind of God awful day, and movies like these allow us to live vicariously through these characters, in the legal safety of our own home. This could be compared to blowing off some steam while playing a good 3D shooter.
The only other thing I want to bring up are a couple of cast names I missed, who really help make this movie a fun time. Hutch's more immediate family consists of a couple more specially skilled characters; his father, David (Christopher Lloyd), and his half-brother, Harry (RZA). By far, Christopher Lloyd is the most fun part of this movie, and between this and another new one called 'Senior Moment', it's nice to see the 82-year-old actor not only still going, but having a lot of fun doing it. You can tell he had a blast in this, and it adds a healthy does of comedy to everything. Lastly, making an almost unrecognizable cameo here is Michael Ironside as Hutch's father-in-law. He's a bit of a true neutral character here, routing for Hutch but concerned all at once.
If you were ever a fan of 'Better Call Saul' (or enjoyed the character in 'Breaking Bad'), and you enjoy a good revenge film much along the lines of 'John Wick', then this is the movie for you right now. I had a hell of a lot of fun with it, and even watched it twice before landing on this review. It's a shame that it couldn't be a theatrical presentation for me, but even if you're stuck at home right now, it's a good one to cozy up to if you just want some senseless blood and gore with a more simplistic plot than 'Mortal Kombat'. It may have gone over my head back in March, but I'm glad that I caught up on it for this belated review. Maybe I'm a bit of a stand-alone here, but I really loved it!
What a strange week it has been for yours truly. 'Godzilla vs King Kong' was pushed back, so I had to seek out a different "Now Playing" review, not able to come up with much of anything too interesting. But then, I saw a trailer for this Apple TV Original (so perhaps a bit of a cheat) starring Tom Holland, and directed by the Russo Brothers. The trailer immediately grabbed my attention, as Holland looked like he was giving a tour de force, and so far, I only really know him as (arguably) the "best on-screen Spider-Man yet".
Luckily for us, we have Apple TV, because it was honestly the only thing I really wanted to check out this week - even if this review is technically running a couple of weeks late, being that it was released March 12th, and here we are almost two weeks later. Anyway, no matter, here I am now to give my pinion on what looks like it could be some award-winning material. As luck would have it, the performances throughout the film were pretty well what I expected, and more. Holland especially shines here, and shows that he has much more range than just being a smart-ass teenager with a super suit. As for a lot of the rest of the movie, well, let's just say it's not entirely without flaw.
We open things up with Cherry (Holland) robbing a bank, and taking us through the story of how exactly he got here. It all starts with a girl named Emily (Ciara Bravo) who he meets in college, and admits to us that at first, it's just lust. However, as things move forward, he falls for her hard, and their relationship becomes very strong despite a bit of hesitancy on Emily's part. She soon tells him, quite out of the blue, that she's leaving for school in Canada, and they would have to separate. In his devastation, Cherry joins the Army, but she comes back to tell him she's not going after all, putting him in an awkward position, having already joined up.
Cherry serves overseas for two years, and comes back with PTSD due to what he sees out there. Sure enough, Emily waited for him, but Cherry's PTSD and coping with various drugs eventually turn the couple into junkies, and the film sort of unfolds from there. It's a bit like taking a Nicolas Sparks movie and dirtying it up with some 'Breaking Bad'-ness - if you're familiar with 'Breaking Bad', the relationship these two have isn't exactly dissimilar to Jesse's and Jane's. Also, for the record, I've given away most of the movie already. It is split into parts, and the first whole hour and a bit are the war part of the movie followed by the drug part. It reminded me, in some ways, of 'Jarhead' in as much as it not having to really do with the war itself, but what the war did to the lead character - in this case, made a junkie out of him.
This is another one of those movies where the critics don't like it but a general audience certainly has the potential to. My only real criticism about the film is that I can see how it's quite formulaic in some ways - again, it really did make me think of the average Nicolas Sparks movie that has to do with a romance challenged because of war. But it also reminded me of just about any movie/show that has to do with becoming a heroin addict. I didn't personally find the whole ending of this predictable, but when it's all said and done, I could certainly see how one might. So, I think if you choose to check it out, you should be aware that you've probably seen something very similar. But this is an odd case where the story, at least for me, takes a back seat to these characters.
I found Tom Holland's performance quite convincing, and he really breaks out here, proving that he can do so much more. Bravo was good for what she had as well, but it's very easy not to like her character, and you do wonder what the hell Cherry is holding onto with her sometimes. I found this to be a pretty intense movie, emotionally, in many ways. Cherry is that guy you care for, and feel for, but at the same time, you want to set him straight. He's that dear friend you want to go down the right path instead of the path he's heading down. I didn't care nearly as much for Emily, but I also think there's a good reason they made her such a way.
Unfortunately for many, this IS an Apple TV exclusive, so hopefully other options will appear to eventually check this out if one doesn't have Apple TV. This is the problem with streaming taking things over - lack of accessibility to exclusives. It's like having an X-Box and wanting to play 'The Last of Us' because it's one of the best games ever created (humble opinion). But I can also say this is worth waiting for if you ever will be able to access it elsewhere. It's not a must-see now title, but I was entertained by what it was and moved by what it was saying, especially with Holland's performance. I sense big things for him, moving beyond the MCU.
Consider the following review a "bookmark" of sorts. In part protest/part not wanting to pay a whole bunch per month, I have gotten rid of Crave and therefore HBO Max. My reasoning; the WB titles streaming on HBO Max as well as theaters are only available in America, thus we Canucks kind of just get screwed. It's irritating to me that WB has what I think is a great idea, but they aren't making it available elsewhere. Last I checked, our theaters were closed as well, so this means missing out on a lot of cool up-and-coming material.
In fairness, the odd rental still might pop up here and there, like 'Wonder Woman '84' did. On a personal level, I'm okay with renting as long as the cost is relatively fair to my wallet ($20 for 'Onward' as opposed to $30 for 'Mulan'). For the time being, however, a lot of these "Now Playing" titles may be either late to the party (perhaps being released in Canada later than the US, like the last 'Spongebob' flick) or quite "Under the Radar" (as many of these have been lately). So, instead of reviewing the Oscar-Buzzing Frances McDormand movie that is 'Nomadland' this week, instead, it's movie that you've probably never heard of until now. But hey, it's "available"!
Diving right in, after some time passes from a tragic incident involving a nurse named Katie and her patient, she becomes a devout Roman Catholic, and starts referring to herself as Maud. She now works as a palliative care nurse somewhere in England, and her next assignment is to Amanda; a minor celebrity in the world of dance choreography. Terminally ill with stage four lymphoma, she confesses her fears of death to Maud, who confesses back that she often feels God's response to her prayers. We see this as Maud responding to things in an almost orgasmic fashion.
As time passes, Amanda is visited by Carol, who acts as a sex worker for her. As a result of this and Maud's devout faith to God, Maud becomes obsessive with the protection of Amanda, and wants nothing more than to save her soul from eternal damnation. Soon enough, the obsession turns sour and, through a series of events, Maud eventually has to question who it is that really needs saving; Amanda or herself. If the opening scene involving Katie/Maud locked up in an asylum is any indication, we certainly know that nothing will end up in Katie/Maud's favor, but it's mildly interesting to watch the events that unfold that got her there... very mildly. Just by reading the review here, your probable thoughts on the film being a little too religiously heavy are 100% accurate.
All in all, it's your standard, run of the mill, supernatural, psychological religious thriller. It doesn't have a lot of the typical imagery, and a lot more of is is psychological than physically supernatural. The film gets you trapped in Maud's life and personal thoughts, all the while delivering some pretty uncomfortable imagery, but nothing so over the top as to truly call this "horror". I'd probably just say it's more uncomfortable than anything, and it really doesn't feel like it has much more of a point than Maud's confusion on what's really right and wrong - again, speaking in the biblical sense more than anything. It seems to combine the issues of mental health with religion, and that's always an iffy area for me as it is.
So, as I expected, there's nothing particularly special here, and I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone in particular. It's not scary, it's not horrifically fun in any way, and it's just too heavy-handed with its religious aspect. I suppose it works out as a sort of hidden gem for some (considering its praise on Rotten Tomatoes with an average of 81%), but this is just one of those cases where if you told me I "just didn't get it", you'd probably be right. I guess it's ot without its moments of discomfort, and therefore doing its job, but I can tell that this will be a "forgotten title" for yours truly when 2021 comes to an end.
Fear of Rain
Ah the early winte months of the year, combined with a pandemic. It is what it is, but when it comes to my "Now Playing" reviews, some weeks involve tracking down something not so well known - like this particularly under-the-radar flick that's just kind of floating among the New Releases list on Google Play Movies (this is pretty much how I do things now). With titles like these, I always go in expecting it not to be very memorable, but I have to admit, this had some cool things about it I appreciated.
The film opens with a girl running through the woods from a mysterious, hooded figure, chasing and attempting to kill her. The girl, Rain Burroughs (Madison Iseman) suddenly wakes up in a hospital, overhearing the voices of her mother Michelle (Katherine Heigl) and father John (Harry Connick Jr), and is taken to a therapy room for recovery. Upon a therapist visit and her coming back home, we quickly realize that Rain seemingly wasn't chased by anyone, but hallucinated the whole thing due to taking herself off whatever meds she was supposed to be on.
The next day, Rain goes back to school where she seemingly loses a friend to a group of stuck up little brats who presume Rain is out for attention. However, along come Caleb (Israel Broussard) who manages to brighten her day with a card trick, and asking her out. But just as things are looking up for her, Rain starts to have more visions. While coming home from school, she sees a child get snatched, but suddenly the child and the kidnapper vanish. Then, one night, she has a nightmare involving her teacher and neighbor, Mrs. McConnell (Eugenie Bondurant) harboring a child.
The next day, John and Rain go to check out Mrs. McConnell's house, but find no evidence of anything. However, Rain is still pretty certain of there being something fishy going on. She the recruits Caleb to help her out, as he seems to be the only one who will listen to her. Soon enough, however, she and the viewing audience begin to question what's real and what's in her head - namely, the situation involving Mrs. McConnell, and Caleb, himself. Can Rain rescue the little girl trapped next door, or is there even anyone in danger?
All in all, I meet this one in the middle. Sometimes when movies show the dark side of mental health, and the people who react around the victim, I can have a hard time of it. I find myself looking for something to appreciate about it, and in fairness, this does a decent job of showing us the every day horror Rain has to go through on a daily basis. This poor girl suffers from both auditory and visual hallucinations, so things can get pretty uncomfortable to watch. In that case, the film does its job. She hears voices, sees things, and even has inner battles with herself.
One thing I really appreciated about this was its cinematography. Rain's hallucinations are all portrayed visually quite well, utilizing some pretty cool effects, and text that jumps across the screen representing her "list" (things she has to question in order to snap out of her hallucinations). This all ends in an interesting twist, as one probably expects, but when it's all said and done you might consider it pretty predictable. Personally, I knew A twist was bound to happen, but when the big reveal shows itself, you just think "I shouldn't have missed that". All in all, this was pretty cool for what it was, but I can't imagine that it will stick out as a "favorite" by the end of 2021.
The Little Things
Right off the bat, I'm going to have to confess that this review may not turn out to be my best. The fact of the matter is, this was not a movie that sucked me in, its ideas have been done before, but better, and it's just plain too long and boring for what it's trying to be. That's something I hate to admit to when Denzel is involved, as I consider him one of the finest actors in Hollywood, but it's sadly true. There is just nothing particularly special about this one.
It all opens in 1990 where we see a girl being chased. She manages to run towards an oncoming transport truck and flag it down, thus rescuing her from her pursuer. So we get that there's some creepy guy on the loose and our first victim isn't even a mood-setting victim. Fast-forward a bit to Kern County, LA, where deputy sheriff Joe "Deke" Deacon (Denzel Washington) is called to collect evidence for a recent murder. Deacon soon accompanies new lead detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) to a fresh murder scene, where he finds similarities between this murder and one he was unable to solve during his time as a former LA sheriff's detective.
Before long, the pair end up questioning one Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a prime suspect in the murders who works at a repair shop. As the FBI starts to take things over, the detectives find themselves up against the clock even more so. Further to that, will they be able to solve these grizzly murder cases and find their killer without it affecting Deacon's performance? Or indeed, is Deacon the one we have to be worried about to begin with? The film is fairly reminiscent of 'Seven' and/or 'The Bone Collector' from my perspective - but also, from my perspective, both of those movies offer a lot more than this. While the aforementioned films consist of great suspense and disturbing imagery, this one tries, but manages it to a much lesser extent.
My final impressions of this one were simply that it felt too long for what it needed to do, I've seen better movies within the genre, and this is a lot more talking than anything else. There's not a whole lot here that gives you an "edge-of-your-seat" perspective, and I would say it would be worth waiting out the current rental cost so as to stream it for free. If you're into the whole dark and disturbing detective thing, it works okay, but I'd liken it more to a 3-part TV miniseries than a movie made for big screen appreciation. Though it has shadows of movies like 'Seven', there's nothing that stands out about it apart from perhaps the performances. That actually brings me to my next point, because I don't necessarily mean that in a good way.
In a movie with a cast that consists of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto, the only one who really stands out is Rami Malek. Denzel seems to have taken a voluntary step down, and it feels like this might be a "paycheck" movie for the man. He's still charming as ever, but the writing has him sleepwalking through most of this. As for Leto, I think there's still too many shades of his Joker here, and that just turns me away altogether. He's always been incredibly hit-or-miss for me, and never truly a personal favorite. Malek, on the other hand, really seems to have come into his own after his portrayal of Freddie Mercury, and it's almost as if we're seeing Denzel pass the torch from solid A-lister to rookie A-lister. It's interesting, but you do kind of wonder how a movie starring Denzel does not have Denzel carrying it on his shoulders.
So, if you're super curious about this one, I'm not gonna sit here and try to steer you away from watching it. I would, however, encourage you to wait it out so that at the very least it might be less costly. In the days of the video store, this would be the equivalent of me suggesting renting it from the video store when it comes out, as opposed to paying to see it on the big screen. There's just nothing special about it that stands out, and despite its best efforts, it's just a bit of a snooze-fest. It may manage to capture someone else's attention better than mine, but this one is reserved for those who get a kick out of detective movies where the conversation takes a front seat, leaving the action and overall suspense in the back. It does hurt to give a Denzel Washington movie a poor rating, but I suppose these things are eventually bound to happen.
As if specifying the year shouldn't be enough, I actually feel like I should probably specify which 2019 'Dreamland' movie this is. Believe it or not, another film of the same title was released in the same year, but with a very different story. To put it simply, this is the Margot Robbie one, recently released on VOD, directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte of upcoming 'Tank Girl' fame (or infame, the movie isn't made yet).
Here we have a depression-era 'Bonnie & Clyde' wannabe with a story you've basically seen about a million times. This is that story where the renegade character hides out in a barn while someone tends to (in this case) her, all the while hiding her from family and authorities. In this case, a fugitive bank robber named Allison Welles (Robbie) finds herself crossing paths with the son of a bounty hunter named Eugene Evans (Finn Cole). Eugene dreams of a fantasy life of being rebellious, going against authority, and reads action comics to escape. For the time being, about as rebellious as he gets is going so far as to steal these comics. The family being in dire straits makes him "have to" steel them, but he is soon caught.
Meanwhile, on the run from the law, Allison finds an abandoned barn that belongs to the Evans family, but unused due to the drought. Here, Eugene finds her and eventually finds himself torn between two decisions; does he turn her in and get a piece of the bounty, saving his family? Or does he side with her and live the renegade life he's always fantasized about? Truth be told, the decision they go with here is something I have to give credit to. I won't spoil what happens, but I will say that when it's all said and done, there's something very real and believable about the story here. I enjoyed the path it took, but I will admit that not everyone is going to agree on it.
One thing about this I find interesting is that it's narrated by the grown-up voice (Lola Kirke) of Eugene's little sister, Phoebe (Darby Camp). It tells her account of what happened between her brother and Allison, so it ends up being a love story from another person's perspective which I don't think is all that common. You'd think that such a setup predictably spoils the fates of our heroes, but you just might be thinking wrong. I didn't entirely love this movie, but I had to give it up to the way it all ended. Let's just say it's pretty open, but it's also not the kind of ending that's gonna blow your mind.
The performances here are pretty solid, but it's Robbie who really shines through. I suppose that shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but it's cool to see how far she's come. If it weren't for her performance in this, I daresay the movie would have been pretty boring. For a 'Bonnie & Clyde' wannabe, there's not a whole hell of a lot going on. There's just mid-level suspense when it comes to whether or not they're going to get caught. But you end up liking Robbie's character, and even empathizing with her a little despite what she's been through. The end of the film, once again, brings it all to light.
I'm gonna be a bit generous with this one, perhaps, but there was enough to hold my attention based on Robbie's performance, certain visual sequences and once again, just how real the story felt. For a work of fiction, it's more believable than some movies based on true stories - so I really have to give it credit for that. Finn Cole was nothing to sneeze at either, but he is a bit jittery and often not altogether likeable. But that's also part of what makes things make sense in the end, so I can't be too mad at that. It's a redundant storyline, but the execution is good enough that I got something from it more than I have in a while now with recent releases.
The Craft: Legacy
In 1996, 'The Craft' became a sort of phenomenon among all sorts of teenagers. I brought it up earlier this month in my Screening Suggestions, recommending it as a sort of Halloween favorite for the season. It's a neat time capsule to use in order to see the late 90s when certain gothic trends were taking over, and even the overall story is pretty well timeless. It didn't really need a reimagining, but just out of curiosity, I figured I'd see how well this turned out as a sort of nostalgic reach.
The film opens with three girls; Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Tabby (Lovie Simone) and Lourdes (Zoey Luna) attempting a spell, but things don't work, as they need a fourth member for their Coven. Enter Lily Schechner (Cailee Spaeny), who moves into town with her mother, Helen (Michelle Monaghan) to live with Helen's boyfriend, Adam Harrison (David Duchovny) and his three sons, Abe (Julian Grey), jacob (Charles Vandervaart) and Isiah (Donald MacLean Jr.). After an incident at school, the girls befriend Lily, and find out that she makes a perfect fourth member due to her ability to communicate with them telepathically.
Throughout the film, the coven uses their newfound powers in various ways, very similar to the spells used in the original film - namely a spell to make a bully into a nice guy. The powers are much more superhero-like here, however, and to me that sort of ruins things. 'The Craft' was much more subtle with their magic, where here they have things like flames coming from fingers. They don't overdo it necessarily, but it's still kind of distracting. Either way, these powers are generally used to get back at their bullies, as they're the odd ones out in their school. They even repeat the "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board" scene in a montage. It may be part of the love letter to the original film this is, but it does feel redundant.
Right around the half-way point, however, things do get a bit more interesting and original. For example a spell makes one character reveal his sexuality, and it's honestly pretty touching. It's a neat idea to show that circumstance of using magic, and it adds an original twist to the otherwise seemingly repetitive story. So there is a balance here between cheesy-looking magic that makes bathwater sparkle and magic that can reveal the deepest side of someone, showing us that they may not be who we think they are.
You may already know it by now, but there's a very interesting twist at the end you don't fully see coming. That said, even looking for the movie to watch, Google spoiled it for me pretty well immediately. I won't say anything here, but if you're at all interested, I might recommend not Googling any info on it. Just find it on Google Play or whatever you may have, and check it out. hat said, missing this one is sort of no harm no foul, as the original still does stand very well on its own. This was all around unnecessary, but it really wasn't bad at all, either. It provides a rather easy-to-access big title for the Halloween season, and does manage to strike that chord just well enough.
So, if you're looking for something not totally horrific, but something to watch for October 31st, and you're a big fan of the original film, this isn't a bad place to look. It's certainly not without a few issues, like redundancy from the original and some tacky visual effects, but I was still entertained, and really did enjoy the surprise ending. Even if you can predict the ending, it's still a neat note to go out on. I also think this doesn't quite have the dark fun of the original, and its notes are quite a bit more serious. But depending on who you are, that could also be a good thing. So check it out for yourself - it may just stroke your nostalgia just right.