Saturday, July 24, 2021

Old

 


You know the routine by now. If we are getting a horror thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, there will be a slow build up, a series of crisis moments, and then a twist reveal to finish things off. Sometimes it works great, and other times it is a disaster. This one falls a little bit in the middle of the bottom half of his work. The twist you can see coming from ten minutes in, so there is not really a great surprise, the part of the movie that works is the emotional component, not the shocks and horror. 

At a luxury resort, several guests find themselves on a secluded private beach that they cannot escape from and that seems to be aging them at a rapid pace. Now if you are paying attention in that first ten minutes, you will notice something about the guests, and that is where the twist gets spoiled. Shyamalan has been better at hiding the reveal in plain sight in the past but this one is not subtle enough to escape our attention. By the end of the film, everything will be revealed and suddenly you will have a lot more questions. 

The characters in the movie are fine. Those of you who worry about stories focusing on kids in movies, don't fret. The children here are not annoying, in fact we get just enough of them to appreciate them as people before the horror elements start. Obviously, the location produces the opposite of a fountain of youth. Accelerated aging creates conundrums for the group of people on the beach, most of which will become clear as time marches on. Being on the short side of sixty, I was most frightened by the impact that the process had on a persons mental capacity. Children turning into adults over the course of a few hours is disturbing, but watching someone lose themselves and any sense of control was another. Rufus Sewell spends half the film trying to remember the name of a movie. OMG how may times have I struggled with something like that in the last couple of years? That is scary. 

One thing I do appreciate about M.Night and his movies is that he does not overdo the gore element. There is death, and it is not pretty in any way, but we are spared witnessing up close, the deaths that might be the most physically traumatic. There is one sequence near the end where that is not the case, and it was likely done for shock effect because in a horror film, most people are not going to be satisfied watching someone lay down and simply not get up again. Gael García Bernal is a little stiff as the father of the main family. Perhaps it is because he is acting in a language that is not his first. That would be the case with others in the film as well but they come across a lot more naturally in the end. Vicki Krieps is his wife and although her part is written in a self conscious manner, she never comes across that way, unlike Nikki Amuka-Bird, who is written as a parody of her profession. The kids , since they go through the greatest physical changes, are played by four actors each and the casting team did a good job matching up looks and other physical characteristics. 

So, the film is an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone", but instead of it being filled out with special effects and gore, we get psychobabble and make up. If you are looking for a heartwarming horror movie, this might be your cup of tea. Apparently nothing addresses martial discord like having to face your own mortality. I think the rules of the story are a little inconsistent and that we get some scenes that are probably not necessary. The characters don't seem to act the way you might expect them to, and maybe that is a good thing. Ken Leung's character does an exposition dump every time he is on screen, but the real weakness of the storytelling is the Deus ex Machina conclusion of the film. The little touches that connect earlier parts of the movie to the exit are fine, but the resolution for some of the characters does seem a little arbitrary. If "the Happening" and "Lady in the Water" are Shyamalan's worst, then this is closer to "The Village". It is an interesting premise that doesn't go very far in the direction of horror, or any other dramatic destination either. You can think about it, but don't spend too much time doing so, the time you lose is probably move valuable elsewhere. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Dune 2021 Trailer Preview Screening

 


Tonight I was lucky enough to see a special preview of the new Dune trailer. Tickets were reserved through the Facebook site for the Dune movie. We went down an hour early and we were glad that we did because there was a long line when we got there. Having followed the directions I knew that I was not supposed to bring in any electronic devices. It turns out that they weren't collecting them after all so well other people around me took some pictures posted on Facebook, Instagram, and assorted other sites I sat on my hands patiently waiting for the show to start.


Everybody was surprised to discover that in addition to the trailer, which would be shown at the end of the presentation, we were going to get a chance to see the first 10 minutes of the movie. There was an audible gasp from the audience and people seemed quite excited. Once the film started excitement grew, this movie is going to be incredible. Last year when the trailer dropped for the film that was supposed to open in November, I was generally pleased but I was not inspired by what I saw. That first trailer seem to emphasize characters and a little bit of the action. You saw a little bit of the planet and that was it. This this material covered the first 10 minutes of the movie and then a 5 to 10 minutes segments that will probably be about Midway, that features the worm attack on a spice harvester. So we saw 2 long sequences that featured some spectacular special effects, amazing costumes, and unbelievable visuals and some solid acting.

The director Denis Villeneuve spoke on screen about his enthusiasm for the project and he introduced and spoke with composer Hans Zimmer, who talked about inventing instruments for the score to suggest an alien environment. The sounds that we heard we're pretty amazing and they definitely are distinctive and different from other kinds of Science Fiction films. So this 30-minute presentation included the first 10 minutes of the film a long sequence that's filled with action and special effects, and while they were talking about the music we saw several clips from other segments of the movie. This film is simply going to rock. You will be overwhelmed with a creativity that the director and other filmmakers have brought to this project.

I have high hopes for the movie success because the enthusiastic response of the audience and the number of people who showed up for this. We arrived an hour early and there were a hundred people in line in front of us, by the time they let us end they were another hundred people behind us. That's not for a screening of the movie folks that's for a screening of the trailer and some promo material. At the conclusion of the film as the audience was filing out we were all offered a miniature version of the IMAX movie poster. This was an AMC IMAX theater that we saw the preview in. The size of the screen is impressive although it is one of those IMAX presentations it is not really seven stories tall. Anyone who sees this movie for the first time streaming on their home television is crazy. You will want to see this with an audience, you will want to be part of an experience, you will miss the size of the screen no matter how big your home theater is. 


Saturday, July 10, 2021

Black Widow

 


Here is my take on this long delayed film, I will try to explain why but I am not sure I can articulate it as clearly as I would want. Black Widow is an entertaining, mid-level MCU film. It left me unmoved by the events but I can live the action scenes and over all story. There is very little connecting it to the Avengers, except the presence of Natasha, Scarlett Johansson, and the fact that she is an Avenger. All of the other characters are new to us and although there is an attempt to develop character for all of them, some of it is a bit rushed.

For those of you dying to know, this takes place between "Civil War" and "Infinity War". While hiding out after thwarting Secretary Ross's attempt to arrest her, the Black Widow is lead by to her origins by a mysterious package that shows up in her effects. Several chase scenes and hand to hand combat sequences later, we get a clearer explanation of what is going on. The totality of the Budapest story that she and Clint made reference to back in "The Avengers", is not revealed, but there is enough detail to understand why she has regrets and feels that there is so much "red" on her ledger. 

Maybe the reason I had difficulty connecting to this emotionally is that the secondary characters are all new. There is one, a fixer that Agent Romanoff has used before, who is treated as a longtime ally and associate. This is the first time in any of the films he has been referred to. He is not really given a backstory but the character is represented to us as one we should appreciate without knowing anything more, and that does not quite work for me. The movie starts with a flashback story to 1995 and we see a family coming together for dinner and suddenly taking flight from pursuing dark forces. Maybe the fact that we are being asked to sympathize with a Soviet Sleeper Cell, operating in Ohio, which is killing pursuing FBI agents, just does not sit well with me. This is a Post Cold War world, but those of us who lived through that war may have a hard time deleting the suspicions that we have. The character of the Red Guardian is slipped into this segment only vaguely, and when he returns to the story, we have to build another relationship.

The one new relationship that works well is that of Natasha to her supposed sister Yelena, played by Florence Pugh. The combat ready reunion was a bit much but it does establish the creds for this character as well as the other Black Widow zombies that the villain is creating. Pugh does great with her action sequences and is a believable female badass who can get the job done and stand toe to toe with Natasha. I enjoyed their banter a great deal, and they need more time together to make this the key relationship of the story. Unfortunately, there is a Mother Figure, Father Figure and villain who also need time with the main hero and that makes the plot points feel a little repetitive and it sucks up a lot of time. 

Look, I know this is a comic book movie, and maybe I'm overthinking it a bit, but it needs some explanation. How did this Soviet Era Program continue, go private, and remain hidden? How was it funded? There is technology here that the Avengers would be envious of, but there is no Tony Stark or Russian version of S.H.I.E.L.D. visible. It feels like a 1970s Bond film with a secret lair that would be impossible to keep a secret. Maybe that's why the movie that gets interrupted on Natasha's TV is "Moonraker". It's a subtle attempt to nudge us more toward the fantasy world that exists outside of the MCU and use that to justify some shortcuts.

Hawkeye and Black Widow are master assassins, and they took on a job twenty years prior to this story. How is it that they could botch up their mission so much as to leave their actual target alive, much less the collateral damage that goes along with it. There is no explanation of why that happened, even after we have witnessed an explosion that is immense and would have killed any other character in this universe, except for those from space. It feels like lazy writing. There are three screenwriters credited, one was at least partially responsible for Thor Ragnarok, but also episodes of WandaVision and Agent Carter. Maybe the styles just don't mesh well or the fertilizer is showing and too much of what we are getting is set up for future projects. 

David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are able to play both young and older versions of themselves with only slight assistance from CGI. Harbour is doing comic riffs with a Russian accent and that is funny. The Prison escape is fun to look at but it does little to advance the plot, it was merely an obstacle that gives the two women a chance to run an elaborate action sequence and have some comic relief along the way. I like Ray Winstone as an actor but his part in this is underwritten and it consists almost entirely of monologuing with the heroine. 

I was happy to see the film finally open. I was thrilled to see that the theater was sold out and that people are going out to the movies. I was surprised by the number of people who have already forgotten that MCU films tend to have stingers at the end of the credits and lot of folks left before the last scene. I was just not blown away by the film. I will certainly see it again, but if you are looking for a ranking in the MCU, put this at the top of the bottom quarter of the films. I liked them all but let's keep some perspective, they can't all be the greatest thing since Ironman. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

F9 The Fast Saga

 


I have been a sometimes fan of the series. I have never seen 2,3, or4 and only half of 5. 6,7, and 8 as well as Hobbs and Shaw are in my back pocket. Frankly, there is nothing to say about this except it is stupid, but I enjoyed watching the stupidity. 

The substitution of Jon Cena for Dwayne Johnson allows Vin Diesel to be the focus of the film, and that's fine. There are a couple dozen secondary characters that some people seem to like but all seem to me to be replaceable at any time. OK, maybe Tyrece Gibson as the main comic relief would be a little tough to replace, but otherwise, they are cardboard cutouts being moved around the set pieces.

Most of the film is made up of one outlandish chase, race, or fistfight punctuated with some flashbacks that explain most of what is happening. Don't worry about following that, just keep your eyes on the screen for the next impossible stunt, physics defying escape or miraculous moment of self awareness. This film goes full meta, acknowledging  how silly it is and even nearly saying "we are a movie". 

There is no sense in analyzing any of it, or critiquing the story. this series jumped the shark years ago, it's now just a question  of what the next shark is. I may be in spoiler territory here, but don't worry, it was going to come out somewhere anyway, this is the "Moonraker" of the series. They make a bunch of corny jokes, and go to space. I'm only surprised that Roger Moore did not show up with his laser equipped Space Shuttle to help out. 

F9 was the subject of this week's Lambcast, and we spent an hour just laughing at all the idiotic coincidences, resurrections, and tropes these films wallow in. I will post a link here when the podcast is live, I will credit Mark Hofmeyer, for coming up with my favorite title for a movie next time. "Fast Ten Your Seatbelts".  That's better writing than anything in this pile of stuff that is instantly disposable, but fun while you are disposing of it. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Sparks Brothers

 


So, I've seen the new Edgar Wright film, have you? No, I'm not talking "Last Night in Soho", that comes out in October and it looks to be scary fun. This film is a documentary about the eccentric band "Sparks" and the two brothers that are the heart and soul of musical integrity. Someone once said that rock and roll and comedy don't really mix well, but that person had never heard Sparks, or maybe that's why they never heard them because their offbeat sense of humor keeps the pop market from fully embracing their music. 

This was a father's Day activity for me. My daughter, who barely had any inkling of this band, found the subject  delightful and fascinating. I was slightly better off than her in approaching this, I knew of Sparks during their second phase, and I enjoyed their music, owned a couple of albums and even went to see them once live at the same amusement park that they filmed a movie appearance in. I was a casual fan, who lost track of them, and now I wish I was the kind of person who had all of their albums and had been following them for fifty years. 

Well there is an abundance of Talking Heads in the documentary [the interview style not the band], there are also performance clips, news footage, chat show appearances, and intriguing music videos to bring us all up to speed. Ron and Russell Mael are not British, though many might think so since much of their breakthrough work was first successful in the United Kingdom. They are in fact Southern California boys who unfortunately went to UCLA, but do not seem to have been permanently harmed by that experience. The older brother Ron, is the Principle songwriter and keyboardist for the band and his younger brother is the lead singer/frontman of the band. They have had various other musicians, in and out of the band over a fifty year time span, and many of them appear in this film as do a legion of their admirers. 

In movies, there are several uses of "Sparks" music. One of my late wife's favorite films was the 1983 film "Valley Girl" and there were two Sparks songs on that soundtrack, "Eaten By The Monster of Love" and "Angst in My Pants". My favorite film of 2010 was "Kick Ass" and it features a moment with their first big hit "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us". In the documentary, there is a discussion of the era of KROQ radio station in Los Angeles and how influential it was in getting New Wave acts played on the air, Sparks, while not a New Wave band per se did get covered on that station. In the years 1980 to 1983, my radio was always on that station number and that's how I heard about Sparks appearance at Magic Mountain for a Halloween show. The band made a brief musical moment in the movie "Rollercoaster"  in 1977 at the same park, but in the Halloween show, they played the same stage where the Puppet show headlined and "Spinal Tap" got second billing. It's also the stage featured in "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park", and coincidentally, my Father played that stage in 1971 right after the park had opened, I worked with him for two weeks at the holiday period. 

The band is prolific and continues to be eccentric. This film was two hours and fifteen minutes, and we saw it at an Alamo Drafthouse with a thirty minute lead in hosted by director Edgar Wright, so the whole experience was even longer. It still felt short, especially in comparison to "In the Heights" which we had jus seen a couple of days earlier. If you are a fan of the band and their music, you really should get out to a theater to see this. If you are not a fan, you should go see it and become one. 

In the Heights

 


The Tony Award Winning Best Musical, from the creator of "Hamilton", is finally a movie after several starts and stops in the production process. It was due out last year and the pandemic delayed it like a lot of other films. That might be doubly unfortunate because sometimes timing can make a difference in a movies fortunes and I think this one may have missed the mark. The world is an angrier place than it was a year ago, and the generally upbeat tone of this film seems at odds with the cultural climate of the diversity issues that are being discussed now. Rioting and looting to musical numbers is just not the same. 

I will admit upfront that this movie and the play were probably not made for me. Hip Hop music can be invigorating but the frequent absence of melody and the near conversational lyrics, don't pull me in the same way a traditional Broadway showtune does. It feels to me like there is no hook, and the chorus in most of the songs is not memorable enough to be catchy either. That doesn't make it bad, it just makes it far different from what I expect in a musical and that diminished my enthusiasm for this film. 


Another problem I had with the movie is the overproduction in every musical sequence. That sounds like an oxymoron but the film feels like it is trying to top the last sequence every time a new moment occurs.  So it is often a bigger crowd, a more elaborate environment, wilder dance moves and bigger emotional bullet points. It gets exhausting. One of my on-line friends quoted a critic who suggested it was like watching a film length Coke commercial. Everything is gracefully shot, swiftly choreographed, but ultimately a bit shallow. The colors and the lighting pop, but not in a stylized way, just in the cheerful way you might try to sell soda with.  Director Jon Chu has a talented eye but could use a little restraint at times. The film feels like the writer and the director want every song moment to be a show stopper, and that puts the characters in the background of their own story. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda is certainly a talent that can create something compelling. He managed to make the founding fathers hip, and bring attention to American History in a contemporary way.  His love story here is a bit problematic., in part because it is so overstuffed. Usnavi loves Vanessa, Benny loves Nina, and Usnavi and Benny both love their neighborhood and want everyone else to do the same. If the story stuck to those characters it might work better, but we have a story about Usnavi's adopted Grandmother Figure, his cousin, Nina's Father, Vanessa's dream, the women at the hair salon, the closing of the car service, the dream of opening a beachfront bar, the kids in the neighborhood, Usnavi's role as story teller, it just gets exhausting, and it does so over a period of two and a half hours. I don't want to sound like Emperor Joseph II from "Amadeus", but "there are just too many notes."                                                                                                              The movie is well made and performed. Anthony Ramos as the lead is fine, he appears to be experienced with Lin-Manuel Miranda having performed in "Hamilton", although I first noticed him as the more sympathetic of the two crooked FBI guys in Honest Thief" last year. Except for Jimmy Smits, everyone else in the show was new to me, but they all seem talented, but don't get as much opportunity to shine as is necessary to make the characters engaging. I liked the movie but not enough. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Cruella




Cruella is the next in a long line of Disney films designed to exploit their previous properties and put a reboot Twist on them. So although there are Dalmatians in this film the movie is not really about the dogs. This is an attempt to reimagine Cruella de Vil as a sympathetic character gone wrong. In the long run not much is going to change on the main stories except our perceptions of these characters as they appear early on and then return in their original form.

I didn't expect a great deal from this movie and I was pleasantly surprised and how much I enjoyed it. Much of the credit goes to the production design team who's amazing designs for the mansion, the workshop the cars, and all of the technical things that get used in the film are a lot of fun. In addition special notes should be given to the craftspeople who designed the clothes that were worn by the various characters but especially those made for star Emma Stone. She wears these outfits and commands the screen simply by looking outlandish and confident while doing so.

The plot of this film imagines Cruella from her earliest age until just before the events that makeup  101 Dalmatians. Cruella appears to be the orphaned child of a former acquaintance of a fashion designer, The Baroness. Of course appearances always turn out to be slightly skewed in a movie like this and there will be plot turns that confound us, amuse us, and in the long run make a little bit more sense then they probably should. I like the use of characters that are referred to in the previous films and they also have been given revised backstories. Jasper and Horace, who are Cruella's henchman in this version of the story, turn out to be orphans that are similarly abandoned and are using petty crime as a way to survive. The movie really get started when characters get together and start plotting for Cruella to get into the fashion industry that she is always dreamed of being apart of.

There is a long sequence where Cruella is poorly used as an entry-level member of the Baroness' Empire. The idea that she ends up scrubbing floors and being ignored despite her good ideas is maybe a little trite but it's played for good comic effect. Emma Thompson provides great opposition as the heartless and manipulative fashion maven that Cruella is up against. The best parts of the movie are the three or four dramatic moments when Cruella's designs upstage the Baroness at key moments, typically a fashion show. These are usually presented as clever tricks or reversals of the Baroness own plans. They are also very well designed and have a great visual flair to them. That flair makes it feel as if the Fashion World could operate in these sorts of ways. The Cruella character becomes the Banksy of the Fashion World, a renegade artist with a sense a panache. Of course the more she is blocked by the Baroness the more fantastic her revenge scenarios become.

If you were thinking of taking your children to see this film, think again, because one of the major plot points involves the murder of a woman. That death is followed up by another plot to murder another woman. Then we are given a situation where there might be even more murder involved. And there is plenty of cruelty to go along with the plotting. There are Dalmatians in the film and in the early part of the movie they are villainous. Two other dogs are the charming heroes, if you can call criminals heroes. The fact that in the end the Dalmatians become a more important part of the plot, really has nothing to do with the original movies. This is not a kids movie with dogs, it's a movie made for adults based on characters from a kids movie. It would not do you well to confuse the two because your kids could very well end up traumatized by some of the things that take place in the plot.

It's a little schizophrenic that sometimes we see Cruella as a victim and other times see her as the perpetrator of something evil. Admittedly the character is evil but actress Emma Stone holds back on making Cruella completely irredeemable but only stopping short to keep a PG-13 rating. I found the movie very entertaining and funnier than I expected. Worth a watch for adults, but beware bad dogs. 




Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

 


The original film came out four years ago, and was obviously successful enough to spawn a sequel. The high concept of The Hitman's Bodyguard is all in the title. This film is no more subtle than the original. It hits you in the face with the premise, follows it up with a lot of mayhem, and then tops it with enough vulgar language for three Al Pacino and two Samuel L. Jackson films. This is the embodiment of mindless entertainment, it often makes no sense whatsoever, but you won't care because you are shame laughing the whole time. 

I said it in the review of the first film, and I will repeat it and emphasize it here, Selma Hayak not only gives Jackson a run for his money, she clearly wins. It must have struck the writers of this film that doubling the use of the f-word by Jackson's character's wife would be funny, and they calculated correctly. Hayak delivers the good twice as much and frequently in a second language which makes this even more preposterous. She is a songbird with the f-word. Poor Ryan Reynolds has to make due with using the word mostly as a rejoinder to the other two. He can barely get a f-you in edgewise. 

It's not entirely clear why the love interest for Reynold's character in the original film was left out, although she would have been superfluous to the story with the direction they have taken here. Instead, they have inserted a character for Morgan Freeman to join the cast and get a paycheck. He also gets a few choice f-bombs but some of the biggest laughs he generates are from Reynold's worshipful description of his voice. 

Appearing as the bad guy is Antonio Banderas, who does most of his acting with silly hairstyles and even sillier clothing choices. I would have appreciated a bit more by play with Banderas and Hayak, they were once matched together in another hitman story, "Desperado"  about twenty five years earlier. They do get a fight scene towards the end, and unlike the Robert Rodriguez film, this one is often played for laughs. In fact most of the action in the film has a comedic element to it. 

There is plenty of blood to go around, and many of the deaths are done for comic effect. Ryan Reynold is first billed but once things get started, he becomes a supporting character to the married couple of Jackson and Hayak. He is quite a bit the Coyote to everybody else's Roadrunner. He gets dropped, kicked, run over, shot, stabbed and generally abused, but is right back up for the next sequence, ready to do it all again. 

The story is not as strong as the first film was, although neither is particularly sturdy. I do think there are more laughs in this film and that makes it a winner in my book. This is entertainment that is crude and disposable, which means for adults, you can enjoy your date night, drink to your heart's content, and not worry that you don't remember much about the movie the next day,...you don't need to. 



Friday, June 11, 2021

80s Nostalgia Central

 


If you were not aware, I am in essence, continuing the original project that launched this blog, with another project focused on the Summer Movies of the 1980s.  We are only a few days in so it would be easy to catch up. Those of you who have followed or subscribed to this Web Site are encouraged to do the same on this new project. The Kirkham A Movie A Day blog page will continue, this is just something extra for the Summer Season. Come on over and have some fun. 



Friday, May 28, 2021

A Quiet Place Part II

 


One of the best horror films of the last few years has a follow up, and it does so much right that I am willing to ignore most of what is wrong (which was not much).  The original film, "A Quiet Place" tells the story of a family, coping with the after effects of an alien invasion of a different kind. We don't know what brought this species to our planet, but we do know the impact it has had on humanity and it is devastating. Our family is a microcosm of the world, managing as best they can, but early on in the story, there is a horrifying moment that inadvertently drives an emotional wedge between an adolescent girl and her father. While managing to survive is the main story, the key theme of the film is the love that the father has for his family and the lengths to which they all struggle to express that love. The suspense is built up in a slow and incredibly tense manner, and the conclusion of the film feels hopeful despite the fact that significant loss occurs and huge barriers lie in front of the family.

This film picks up at the same spot that the first film ended, with one major side road. We have a flashback opening that reveals the first day of the alien crisis on this part of the world. This is an incredibly tense sequence, which is reminiscent of two other apocalyptic type films in the not too distant past, Zach Snyder's reworking of "Dawn of the Dead" and the Netflix film starring Sandra Bullock, "Bird Box". In essence we see how quickly the façade of civilization can vanish in a catastrophe. This feels like we are watching the events in real time and the overwhelming confusion and panic are shared by we the audience as much as the characters in the story. The major problem with this film is that the opening sequence is the best one in the movie, so everything else will seem a little less than it should by comparison. 

In reality, that should not be the case. There are a half dozen sequences of immense terror and even greater suspense. Like the best of Hitchcock and Spielberg, each of those moments gets racketed up with small complications that make the moment a bit more intense. Director John Krasinski, has studied those masters well. Most of those little complications have been set up in the story so they feel organic rather than tacked on, and the scenes work well in the moments. Having rewatched the first film two nights before, it was satisfying to see how efficient it was at getting to the point and moving the story along.  This movie makes a great effort to repeat that efficiency. It would have been an easy side trip to take by spending more time with the groups of humans who are coping differently than our main family, but that would take away from the dynamic of those relationships, which are the point of the story.  

Having managed to avoid the trap of turning this into another zombie movie, where we discover that humans are also the monster, Krasinski, as principle screenwriter for this episode, falters a little by separating the story into two paths. It is a typical strategy, and it works adequately for the plot but not as much for the themes. Emily Blunt was the key figure in the first movie, and young Millicent Simmonds was an important supporting point. Those roles are reversed here and Simmonds has to carry the movie, and her plot themes are good but had mostly been resolved in the first film. Blunt's character here is a fierce fighter for the family, but her story is not advancing the plot, and we already knew what she is capable of. Noah Jupe, as the other child in the family does get to evolve a bit in the film, but that story line feels the least organic of all the things happening to this group. Cillian Murphy takes on a surrogate role in the film, and his character development is the new thing that we need more of in the movie. His hopelessness is a good counter point to the fragile perseverance of  the Abbot family. Because the story has been bifurcated, we get a little less time with this plot than I personally would like. I thought it was credibly developed and played well by the actors, but the transitions between the action sequences feel a little too quick for this to be a complete story.

All movies with a horror theme seem to need a jump scare or two. Some of them seem to consist only of those kinds of moments. The first film was judicious in it's use of those kinds of scares, this one is a little more dependent on them and so it feels like a lesser film, even though it is quite good. The movie does not feel like a cash grab, I think the story sustains itself well and we as an audience had earned a follow up by giving the Abbott's our hearts in that first film. I can also see where a follow up to this film could work perfectly well without having to force us into a contrivance to justify the story. In large part because we understand the threat in this film more clearly than in the first, it loses something. There are also continuing plot convivences that will bother people who start to notice them, and that will likely occur to many. Still, I will give a pass to those points for the suspense and energy that this film brings to a theater, and yes, I said theater. That is where you have to see this movie if you want to catch it before Independence Day.  So "A Quiet Place Part II" will not take a position on the podium of films who have sequels that are superior to the original. That will remain a fairly exclusive spot to reach. It will however satisfy the suspense fix you are looking for, and it will burnish the careers of all the principle, but especially the director and Millicent Simmonds. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Mortal Kombat (2021)

 

I'm late to the party. I never played the arcade version, I don't own a gaming platform, and I skipped the 1995 film. None of it seemed like something I would be interested in, but the world changes and I have changed incrementally along with it. I won't be driving to Best Buy to get a Play Station or X-Box, but I will be watching this again on HBO Max, because it was a ton of fun. 

The Red Band Trailer above is frankly what sold this to me. There is a bucket full of CGI violence that will appeal to a certain audience element (that includes me) and the trailer gives you a taste. I understand that there were some gruesome images in the primitive version of the original game, and even the 1995 PG-13 film managed to make some people look twice. I'm afraid that when the steel hat that gets used as a Buzzsaw, bisected one of the villains, I cheered a little. No apologies though, because that was the kind of stuff I was looking for.

For a movie that builds up the importance of the Tournament, it was a bit discombobulating that there is no actual Tournament in the story. This whole movie is a set up for the sequel, which I have no doubt will be ready soon and should feature even higher amounts of decapitations, heart plucking and assorted dismemberment. There is plenty of martial arts style combat but much of it is infused with super powered effects and enhanced visual imagery. My personal favorite was in the opening of the film and featured samurai/ninja sword play and a flying spike on a rope. 

This is basically a violent cartoon for adults, that will probably be seen by kids anyway. The gore is not lingered over but it is in your face so if you are a parent, try to use a little discretion in deciding whether to take your kids to see this. We had a six or seven year old in the audience and he seemed a little frightened and upset at times. It did not enhance my theater going experience. 
There is a deep dive episode of the Lambcast [which I did not participate in] where you can get details about your favorite characters and some criticism of the story elements. None of that is essential however to understanding what is going on. You can pretty much tell the good guys from the bad, and the characters are a bit wooden but they are all based on a video game after all, so Shakespeare it is not. 

Go have a good time, eat some popcorn and support your local theaters. Then you can watch it again at home.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Wrath of Man

 


Director Guy Ritchie has managed to entertain me  repeatedly with his blend of hard cases, colorful language, non-linear films. As a matter of fact, my favorite film of the previous year, during which we were locked out of theaters for far too long, was his movie "The Gentlemen". That film had a star studded cast and a convoluted plot that mixed hipster drug culture with high finance and then threw in a substantial dollop of violence. That is pretty much the Ritchie formula. "Wrath of Man" forgoes many of the tropes of a Ritchie film. As a consequence, it feels a little more generic and definitely not the film I expected.

That's not to say I was disappointed, this movie largely delivers an action packed, violence leaden crime drama. It eschews the wisecracking criminals, and the absurdist moments that make Ritchie's other films so unique. The one signature element that is utilized involves the non-sequential story structure. This plays out with a series of flashbacks, repeats from alternative perspectives, flask forwards and time shifting.  That structure however has become it's own cliché, and it is used not only in films but television programs and commercials, so that freshness, is not going to be a selling point for the movie. 

The main selling point is going to be Jason Statham. If you look up movie tough guys, Statham will show up with the Dwayne Johnson, Lee Marvin, Kurt Russel and a dozen other well known actors who made their bones kicking ass and taking names. He has made more than thirty of these hard action films in the last twenty years and has built a career out of being a badass even among other badasses. So what happens here? Statham gets quiet, skips most of the fisticuffs and shoots the hell out of anything that moves. There was a sequence here where machine guns are used in combat and it was one of the more intense combinations of sound and photography and direction that I have seen. No headbutts or neck snaps or flying kicks, just a lot of sharpshooting and massive spraying of bullets. These kinds of films are not hard to find, Gerard Butler, Sylvester Stallone, Nic Cage are all making two a year these days. There is nothing wrong with that, it's simply that there is nothing special.

To borrow a description from another movie, every magic trick has three acts,  The Pledge, The Turn, and the Prestige. Ritchie has been great about that last act in all of his English crime dramas. The pieces fall elegantly into place at the end and we are impressed by how well they all fit together and explain what happened. "Wrath of Man" fails to stick "the Prestige". There are unclear relationships and confusing explanations, which instead of being elegantly detailed at the end, have to be worked out after everything has happened. You will probably be able to make sense of it, but we want the magician to do the trick for us, we don't want to work it out after dinner two hours later. 

The actors are solid. Statham has that thousand yard stare down pat. Holt McCallany, who I knew from "Mindhunter" is an appealing presence as well.  Jeffrey Donovan shows up late in the movie, dominates all his scenes and should have been a bigger part of the plot. Scott Eastwood's character will make you angry, which it is supposed to do and you will wonder why Josh Hartnett doesn't have more to do. This movie will be satisfying for a moment but it is not rewatchable the way so many other Guy Ritchie films are.  There is nothing wrong with it except it is not what I was hoping for. 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Jim Steinman and the Movies

 



As a child of the 70s, it is of course inevitable that I would be infected by the virus that was "Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell".  The original album was a late 70s antidote to Candy Pop, Disco and novelty music that made up so much of the decades music. Heh, I fully embraced all that stuff so that is not a criticism, merely an observation. I knew the singer Meat Loaf  from the movies. Yes I was one of those regulars at "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" Saturdays at Midnight. When the inaugural recording project came out, it could not helped but be noticed by the stylized cover art. 


Also on the cover was an additional credit, right at the bottom, "Songs by Jim Steinman". That is where I first heard the name of the mad genius who practically invented the Power Ballad for the next generation of hard rock acts. I remembered reading a story about Steinman who said in the article, that one of the ways he was inspired to write the music for the album was by listening to the complete Ring Cycle by Ricard Wagner, in one sitting. That's more than 14 hours of opera in a row. I thought that was a great idea so I went to the library to check out recordings of the Wagner Operas. I did not succeed. I listened quite a bit, but not all four operas and not all at one sitting. My failure convinced me that Steinman was crazy and also brilliant. Listening to the music on this album showed me how the scale and scope of an opera piece could be distilled down to a single musical segment (although a heck of a lot longer than most three minute pop songs). 

The follow up to the album was complicated by Meat Loaf having vocal issues and some falling out between the two over artistic issues (probably money too). They would reconnect years later, but in the interim, Steinman released a collection of his works that he recorded himself. 


I bought the LP while I was in grad school, at the record store in the University Village, right across from college. Once again I was drawn to the overblown passages, soaring melodies and humorously dark lyrics. There is definitely a style that is identifiable as a Jim Steinman work. 

This last week, Mr. Steinman passed away at the age of 73. You might think his overblown songs were relics of a particular time, that is until you go to a movie or watch one at home streaming, and suddenly, there they are again, the distinctive building structure or repeated musical runs as they crescendo behind a booming voice that suddenly becomes softer, lulling you in until it slaps you again with an operatic outburst. Steinman's work lives on in dozens of movies. Frankly, there are many that I have never seen, and some even slipped by that I have seen but I forgot.

In concert with a Roll Your Own Top Five Lambcast, i now present an inventory of Jim Steinman music in films. Let me star with one that I was really surprised about and doesn't seem to fit with his usual oeuvre. 

No Matter What-From Notting Hill


This is a love song, that is smooth and melodic, and soft. It is actually performed by a boyband from the era that I never heard of, Boyzone. They were an Irish singing group that had substantial success in the U.K. and Ireland. The reason the music is atypical is because this was a collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Weber. Steinman is credited with the lyrics.  It is an appealing enough song for a rom-com, and the montage of scenes form the movie suggest it was probably used to promote the film. I've seen Notting Hill a few times but I had never noticed this credit until this week.


The next three pieces were not written specifically for movies. The first of these is another soft rocker that is atypical of Steinman's bombast but the lyrics and the sad melody betray him as it's author. It was in fact a substantial hit in the U.S.  for a band from Australia.

Making Love Out of Nothing at All



As you listen to the chorus build, that is the main clue to the authorship of the song. The lyrics have the vaguely sad and empty emotional component that Steinman can be known for. 

The song was used in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie action film from 2005. It is apparently used in the Dumb and Dumber prequel that no one saw.

A more appropriate vocal for the Steinman style is found in the Bonnie Tyler version.




Paradise by the Dashboard Light

The ultimate car make out opera was of course a hit from "Bat out of Hell", so it was not made for the movies but it has been used in them a few times. 


I have never seen "This is 40", but this song is apparently used in it and I bet I can imagine how. It also was used in "Leap of Faith" which I have not seen since it came out 1992. I do however remember the brief reference to it which was a little spot on with the lyric, in "Josie and the Pussycats". It did make me smile however so it was worth it.

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Not technically written as a song for a movie, but Steinman plundered his score for the 1980 film "A Small Circle of Friends", to make this song's verse melody. Bonnie Tyler became something of a muse for him when she sang this song and took it to the top of the charts (incidentally keeping the "Air Supply" song listed above from reaching number one). 


The backing vocals are credited to other singers but if you listen to the first "turn around bright eyes" it sure sounds like Steinman from "Bad for Good". He also said he started it as a song for a musical version of Nosferatu. So while it was not written for a specific film it has been used prolifically in a hell of a lot of movies, including:

Urban Legend
Old School
Party Monster
Harold and Kumar go to White Castle
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Some Days are Better Than Others
Dead Snow 2 Red v. Dead
Trolls
Gloria Bell
Stage Mother

The remaining songs for this post were all tailored for the movies. 

Original Sin-The Shadow

As was typical in the 90s (and probably still is) a pop song was desired to play over the closing credits of a movie. "The Shadow" was a less than successful, although highly watchable take on the pulp character from the 1930 radio show and comics. The score from the film was by the great Jerry Goldsmith, with a big orchestra supplemented by synthesizers. It includes the usual innovative sounds of a Goldsmith work. The pop song for the credits is completely separate from that except that it has some of the same dark, lush melodies that might be found in the score.  No Bonnie Tyler here, instead the song was performed by dance music diva Taylor Dane.




Holding Out for A Hero-Footloose

Dean Pitchford who is the screenwriter for the movie Footloose, has a writing credit on every song in the movie, including this one. I can't say what his contributions were, but I can say the song is unmistakably a Jim Steinman epic. 

Wikipedia quotes The A.V. Club's William Hughes as stating that the song "displays some of the worst of its decade’s (and composer’s) typical excesses: The lyrics are laughable, and the heavy-handed synths and piano riffs come dangerously close to cheese", but adds, "The sum of those parts transcends their limitations, hooking directly into pure emotional need like only the greatest of torch songs can.

So even harsh critics can see the transcendent nature of a Steinman song's passion.

Once again, Bonnie Tyler is the muse that brings Jim's song to [larger than]life.



Tyler’s original version has featured on several soundtracks, including Footloose, Short Circuit 2, Who's Harry Crumb?, Bandits, Regular Show , The Way Way Back and The Angry Birds Movie 2.

Jennifer Saunders recorded a version for Shrek 2. 

The last two songs I'm going to mention are both from the same movie. 

Nowhere Fast-Streets of Fire

This may be my favorite song on the list (at least until I listen to the next one).

Streets of Fire is a film that was a misfire from a narrative point of view but from a stylized visual perspective it is absolute genius. 




The chorus is pure Steinman 

"You and me are going nowhere slowly
and we've gotta get away from the past
There's nothing wrong with going nowhere, baby
But we should be goin' Nowhere Fast"

The song was performed by a studio group called Fire Inc. with Laurie Sargent as the lead vocalist. Diane lane is the on screen singer Ellen Aim, the lead of her own band. This is the dramatic opening song for the movie. It has a hard driving intro and takes off from there. The last song in the movie goes the other direction.

Tonight Is What It Means to be Young-Streets of Fire



The song is led into by the big single from the film [Not a Steinman song, "I Can Dream About You"] but you can tell it is the climax of the film. The story is that the film makers expected to get the rights to the Bruce Springsteen song "Streets of Fire" and they even shot an ending featuring that tune, but the rights to use that song were denied. Steinman was asked to come up with something quickly and he gave them this song which he wrote in two days. 

According to the wiki version:

So I wrote this song that I loved and I sent it to them and he and Joel, I remember, left me a great message saying, I hate you, you bastard, I love this song. We're gonna have to do it. We're gonna have to re-build the Wiltern Theater, which they had taken down, it was a million dollars to re-do the ending... and I felt all his hostility for Universal. A guy named Sean Daniels, who was head of production, one day said to me, well there is hostility because we understand you waited about eight months to come up with that final song and you never did it. I said, where'd you hear that? I did it in two days. He said, Jimmy Iovine. So I went to Jimmy Iovine and I said all that to his, yeah it's true, I know. I blamed you but you can't be upset with me. I'm not like a writer. I've gotta make my way with these people. I had to have a scapegoat.

Regardless of it's origins, it's a great song, again by the studio band this time with vocals by Holly Sherwood. She had a solo career in the seventies and sang backup vocals on many Steinman projects.

So there you have it, a list of some great songs from movies by an artist who was incredibly successful but was not the frontman for most of his career. His Wagnerian brand of Rock music calls to mind certain emotions that mesh well with a lot of films as you can see. 

Today Jim Steinman is the angel on the beach, his hair flying out in ribbons of gold and his touch has the power to stun.









Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Nomadland

 


So this review is late in coming because I did not see this until after we did our Oscar Preview show on the Lambcast. The others who were on the show recommended it and everyone seems to agree it is the likely Best Picture winner. In our current times, with the limited releases we had this last year, and the way the Academy has consistently trended for several years toward honoring smaller movies, I can 100% understand why this will be the case. It may be limited in scope, and plot and technical innovation, but it is beautiful and it contains another marvelous performance by Francis McDormand.

I am sure that someone, somewhere will find themes in here that will offer a social criticism. In the long run, I don't think that those ideas are what the movie is about or how it should be processed. This is a character study of a woman, who stands in for a number of like minded people, who can't quite adjust to living a rooted life. It seems apparent that she did so for a number of years to be with her beloved husband, but the fact that her whole town vanishes seems to suit her. She is happy to be an itinerant worker, moving from job to job and place to place, in order to satisfy a need for independence that seems to define her and the others she crosses paths with.

As a travelogue, the film shows us some truly beautiful parts of our country, without simply becoming a travelogue. The vistas, sunsets, and roadside stops are all photographed in a way that draws us in but without being showy or self reverential. It is a crisp and efficient way of seeing things and the only time it seems to be drawing attention to itself is when it lingers on an image.  Otherwise, we are seeing the world the way Fern, our main character, would see it. 

While there is a sense of melancholy that hangs over Fern and the other "Nomads", none of them seem to be bitter or unhappy. They are functioning in the moment and who thinks that every moment has to be uplifting for life to be worth? Sure Fern is a displaced person, but she never sees herself as a victim. She has multiple opportunities to settle into a more comfortable lifestyle but rejects those repeatedly because of her wanderlust and desire to be unfettered. As someone who treasures way too many things, quilts, pictures, dishes and even furniture, I know I would have a hard time with her life. McDormand shows Fern to be resourceful, and capable of managing herself. She is friendly but does not want to be encumbered by her friendships. In a number of ways, including the wandering lifestyle, she reminds me of my late sister-in-law Darla. They want to have friendships but they want them on their own terms. Comfort is less important to them than control. The ability to choose for yourself is more important than the consequences of some of those choices. 

The director Chloé Zhao, has a good eye for those things that make the character personal. I don't think the film is a technical marvel or innovative in any way, it is just put together in a manner that works for the kind of movie it is and I think restraint in choices may have much to do with the acclaim that her work on this has achieved. McDormand is a natural for a role like this, she is less fiery than she has been in other pictures where she is the central character, but I think that shows her range pretty well. This is a graceful movie that has a lot going for it. It is contemplative without telling you what to contemplate. It can be read in a number of ways which will probably inspire a thousand think pieces in magazines and cinema schools. The best thing about it is that it seems genuine and true to the person at it's center. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Voyagers

 


"Voyagers" is a perfectly fine science fiction morality tale, that goes off the rails about halfway through and devolves into an average action film in space. The big ideas that it starts with get left behind for a replay of issues from some very familiar material. I think if they had stuck to the questions concerning the morality of the entire enterprise instead of becoming "Lord of the Flies" in space with sex, this could have been something special. As it is, you can enjoy it as a passable theatrical experience that will not sit long in your head.

Let me begin by telling you what I thought was intriguing about the concept in the first place. In order to allow the species to go forward, scientists have devised an ark, that they will send forth to populate a new planet. Since it will take 86 years to get there, and unlike other films in the genre, there is no hibernation technology, the decision is made to seed the galaxy with children derived from genetically manipulated and selected materials. The kids get raised in isolation so they do not know what it it is they are leaving behind. This is to spare them the emotional trauma of separation anxiety. Right there, you could stop and develop that storyline and have an interesting picture. That's not what the script does. Instead, we go on an accelerated launch with only one adult to manage things for the three or four dozen four year old who are being set afloat. OK, that would make an interesting film also, but that section lasts five minutes and we then enter into teen world. Here. the emotions and biology of the passengers is being manipulated to sustain  resources, space and to avoid potential emotional conflicts. The ethics of that choice would also be a worthy trail to follow. Instead, we get the consequences of a rejection of the process and what we end up with is "teens going wild". 

Much of what happens does not make sense given that the kids have been immersed in a controlled environment their whole lives. How do the genetic offspring of geniuses, go from docile well oiled parts of a grand plan to sex crazed maniacs within a short period of time. The story shortcut seems to be a little too quick. It also appears that in spite of their intensive education, starting practically out of the womb, they never studied ethics, philosophy, theology or any system that would justify a moral code. Some of these kids shed the veneer of civilization as quickly as taking off your coat. The main villain is practically leering with evil intent five minutes past a key point in the movie. His naked ambition remains hidden to almost all of the rest of the kids with the exception of our two or three heroic figures. There is one idea that works for a while, the rebel maniacs start exploiting fear and uncertainty among the whole crew about a possible outside threat. "The Thing" vide works well at building animosities but everyone gets pushed over the threshold so easily that it feels a bit laughable. 

The young cast is attractive but sometimes a little too mechanical. The characters are supposed to be somewhat level headed but it's not until some really bad things happen that they wake up from the growing threat.   It was not clear why there was not more than one sustaining hand to guide these kids through the early part of their development, in fact at one point is seems as if they were going to be launched on their own. Fortunately Colin Farrell does go along for the ride, adding some credibility to the start of the whole process. I know it would be difficult to imagine him as impotent in the face of the growing problem, but the catalyst for the escalation seems to be a shortcut. Farrell certainly has a charismatic impact on the film, and that could dwarf the focus on the kids. Tye Sheridan has been solid in the things I have seen him in, and once the movie gets to the outburst of violence, he is a little more active, but early on he is playing it as a somnambulant. Lily-Rose Depp is new to me but she seemed very familiar as a type, I think if the movie was better this could have been a breakout part. As it is, she is simply the best in a largely bland set of performances. 

Production design for this movie feels a bit trapped in pre 1970s sterility. Most of the sets consist of well lit hallways with some trim on the doors. The ambient lighting reminds me of THX-1138 and 2001. The exteriors of the space vehicle are vague and brief, suggesting that the budget here was not quite as big as it might have been originally. It looks like someone who was trying to project something futuristic, but they never got past modern minimalism. There were only two of us in the theater for this screening, which suggests to me that the future is not long for this world.  



Saturday, April 3, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong


This mish mash of film ideas is all over the place. The movie has moments out of Transformers, Thor, Harry Potter and of course past Godzilla and Kong films. It creates some of the most implausible ideas to explain it's own implausible ideas, and then shows us some amazing footage that looks like it could be two guys in suits wrestling among miniature models. So how is it that I don't really hate this movie? It's simple, it's because this movie is designed to be stupid fun, based on old Japanese movies about a guy in a big green dragon suit destroying property. 

Maybe the original Godzilla from the 50s had something to say about atomic weapons and it was played straight for the most part. My guess however is that people who fondly recall these movies think of the later films, that featured Mothra, Baby Zilla, Rodan and other rubber suit characters. If the 1990s "Power Rangers" TV episodes are a delight to you, then this will be a gas. CGI monsters that act like rubber creatures in combat are just as entertaining. 

At least this time, Millie Bobbie Brown has something to do, although Kyle Chandler might as well not be in the movie. Watanabe and Hawkins are long gone, and it's not that they were bad in the earlier films they appeared in, they were unnecessary, not the actors, the characters. Alexander Skarsgård and Rebecca Hall replace them as unnecessary characters and we are just fine as a result. Brian Tyree Henry brings the funny and Julian Dennison is the requisite non-threatening friend who assists Brown in whatever it is she is doing. 

Two stories play out, the first involves finding a secret place for the titans to have originated, and for some reason to take Kong there. The second story involves corporate shenanigan's at "APEX" which is mysteriously linked to provoking Godzilla out of a three year non-active space. Fans of the old Toho films will know what is coming, everyone else will probably not be surprised, but let's just say there is a reason that "Pacific Rim" exists.  

I have had serious doubts about movies that portray mass destruction on the scale depicted here. If you started adding up all the dead, you will end up with a figure that is likely to out do the dollar gross for this movie in theaters on opening weekend. Here is the thing though, there is almost no attempt to show casualties that result from the mayhem. The sailors in a fleet are almost non-existent, and the citizens of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated spaces in the world, are invisible. Thank goodness because a lot of building get knocked over and any sense of reality would be disquieting enough to turn us off.  

It looks pretty funky, there are a few amusing moments, and the battles between the combatants are staged in a way that is so much clearer than other giants fighting each other movies. I was happy to see a solid turnout in the theater, even though this is also playing on HBO Max. We picked a Dolby Cinema experience and the sound mix was worth it. Do yourself a favor. If you have any real interest in this, see it in a theater. I watched it at home the next day and fell asleep. This is one of those foilms that needs theatrical to really work, and it does as far as it goes. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Nobody

 


Ok, let's see here, nondescript older guy, precious family possession taken away, fearful looks from Russian mob figures when they discover who is after them, a secret horde of gold, flamboyant car stolen, yep, this is indeed from the producers of John Wick. They have taken a number of components from that series, transported them to a different context, rearranged them in the story and produced this film from the mix. You know what, in this case I'm alright with it. A little photo copying works sometimes and if you have the right lead to carry it off, the audience will follow. Done.

Bob Odenkirk has the quiet voice that sounds like a man defeated. Very quickly we learn how he finds himself in a rut. He has lost intimacy with his wife, respect from his son and the daughter who still looks up to him is the apparent real victim of a home robbery that he lets go by without taking a violent action. In addition to his voice, his face is hangdog frustrated and the routine that we see tells us that the domestic tension is mounting. A quick view of the trailer reveals that there is more to him than can be seen on the surface. It takes this random act of violation to tip him back into a life that he has tried to leave. 

Conveniently, he takes his frustrations out on a group of drunken thugs who board a bus that he seems to be trolling for the purpose of releasing his pent up frustrations. Naturally, they turn out to be associated with the Russian mob, and a vendetta ensues. One man against an army of gangsters, hey it was no match for Keanu Reeves and for the most part, Bob Odenkirk, who is not known as an action star, manages to sell us on the concept.

At first, Hutch Mansell, Odenkirk's character, has to work hard at making the combat successful. He is not built like a superman, he is older and a little more weary, and the bad guys rough him up quite a bit in the process. About mid-way though the story however, the director and writers just give in and make him into the implacable foe that the story demands. There are a couple of nice sequences with Hutch and his wife , played by Connie Nielson, which suggests that there is some personal drama to what is taking place, but for the most part the adrenaline mainlining starts and it is the focus of the rest of the film. 

Maybe Hutch doesn't kill quite as many mobsters as Keanu in John Wick 3, but it is still an impressive number and for the most part, Odenkirk is up to it. The Dolph Lungren doppelganger who leads the Russian mob in this vicinity, is an extroverted narcissist who really does not care about his partners but knows that they will not tolerate his failure to extract revenge for the insult that has been tossed in his lap. This is basic macho posturing done with the stylized balletic movements that the action films of the last two decades have been mining repeatedly, and it looks great. 

So there is nothing very original here, but what is presented is very satisfying. Both Michael Ironside and Christopher Lloyd show up in the movie, and someone cleverly thought to switch their obvious roles for one another. RZA, a guy who can't really act but has managed to turn some hip hop cred into a film career, shows up near the end, with just about as much screen time as he can carry. The next day I suffered a little from Popcorn belly because I finished the whole tub, and that was completely worth it. I will be looking forward to watching large chunks of this movie at random in the future. I think anyone intrigued by the trailer will feel satiated.