Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
This is exactly the kind of film that opens in January. There is a premise that is easy to grasp, there is plenty of action to try to keep you interested, and the characters are bland enough that you can be okay if they make it or they don't. This is as disposable an action film as you are likely to come across this year. Liam Neeson and Jason Statham have this territory to themselves usually, but there is a reason that their movies succeed where this one merely exists, charisma. Jessica Chastain is a fine actress and she has been in some excellent films, but she doers not have the persona here to make the movie memorable.
I love the idea of female spies coming together to form a team of badass women to save the world. The problem is that the characters have very little personality and the plot is action driven rather than character driven. Diane Kruger is the one agent who comes closest to having a personality that is not simply a stereotype. Lupita Nyong'o is mostly defined by her costume and the technical skills she has, rather than something about her that would draw us in. Penélope Cruz is playing a part that makes no sense from a story perspective and it saddles her with the responsibility of being the obligatory damsel in distress. Bingbing fan is the most conventional character and she only shows up in the last quarter of the film. Sebastian Stan glowers through his sections of the film, and should have been a stronger presence for Chastain to play against.
Basically this is a movie composed of a series of chases, fistfights and gun battles that all go on far too long. Everything is competently done but nothing feels special about any of it. There is more running in high heels than any movie I can think of, ever, and it is noticeable that this handicap does not seem to effect anyone in any way. Chastain has a training sequence where her fighting bon a fides are established, but she seems to just miss an awful lot in some of the early fights, making us wonder if she really is as good as she is supposed to be. The fight she has in a cloakroom for five minutes while the "heist" elements of their plan plays out makes no sense at all, it seems to simply be there so she can show off those skills in an evening dress.
Plenty of spy films have featured effective women characters that are interesting and sometimes the leads in the film. The idea of this movie seems to be to exclude any men from participating in the team work and pander to a specific audience. What ended up happening is that bland characters become even less interesting when surrounded by other bland characters and a lifeless plot. The action scenes are fine but not especially interesting, and the result is a film that I doubt anyone will remember by February.
Friday, January 14, 2022
There are some things that you just don't expect when it comes to popular film. First of all, you don't expect a movie opening in January to be any good. This month is a notorious dumping ground for movies that studios have no confidence in. Another thing that you don't expect is that the fifth film in a franchise will be able to be as inventive as the original, after all, the ideas are all recycled at this point. In a horror film that is especially true, we are likely to have repeated killings, chases and twists that seem to come out of left field. The difference with the "Scream" franchise is that it as always been about more than the horror. The screenwriters have always used the movies to also comment on the genre, the culture and the overused tropes.
In the first sequel, the very notion of sequels is lampooned by creating a movie based on the incidents in the first film. The geek knowledge of the horror movie tropes referred to in the first film, become satire as the second film plays out those tropes while also pointing out that it is doing so. The phrase "Meta" was rapidly becoming synonymous with the "Scream" franchise. The third film in the series shifts the location but keeps the idea of self reference alive by focusing on the "film making" for the sequel to the fictional film based on the original movie. After a decade off, the original screenwriter updates the film by looking at how technology and social media were making the process even more self aware. The first four films were all directed by horror master Wes Craven, the fourth film being his last movie.
So now, a decade removed, it is time for a reboot of the series. New screen writers and directors are taking over, and the question shifts to figuring out how to continue the meta approach to the storytelling, and the answer is right there, acknowledge that this is a reboot but try to fix the things that all the recent resets have screwed up, and make fun of it at the same time. I'd not heard the term "requel" before, but it may be my favorite invented word from the movies ever.
This new movie follows the script from the originals by starting with a phone call that turns into an attack on a girl, home alone, but then shifts the outcome, she survives in order to bring other characters into the story. So something is different but still the same. The first half hour moves along and I started to lose interest because it was playing out like a traditional film horror story, but somewhere about a third of the way in, there is a brilliant monologue scene, much like Randy's from the original, which takes the film makers, the characters but especially the audience to the woodshed and slaps us silly. Fandom becomes the meta subject here, and for the rest of the movie, the best scenes are those which poke at the fans of the films, especially the fans who are so proprietary of their franchises. If you enjoy the prospect of not only horror fans but Star Wars fans, Super hero film fans and others being roasted in delicious snarky dialogue, this movie will appeal to you. This is a horror comedy that gets both genres right and makes fun of them simultaneously.
Admittedly, there are some plot contrivances that are hard to swallow in retrospect. The reveal is foreshadowed well and it plays out fine while watching the movie, but looking back, some of it makes little sense. On the other hand, there is a delightful moment at the climax of the film that references another film from a couple of years ago, and the ironic self reference and awareness of that moment was amusing as hell so who cares if it doesn't necessarily make sense, it does meet our meta-verse requirements for a "Requel".
I smiled at a lot of things in the film, there are Easter eggs for the work of other film makers but especially for Wes Craven himself. Those small moments are nice. Even nicer were the four times that I literally laughed out loud and hard at some of the things being said and a couple of the things being done. If you are a "Scream" fan, this should entertain you while you are watching it. The best review of the movie however is contained in the film itself when that big monologue about horror films is delivered. It judges it self and the film does not come up wanting.
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
Traditional Top Ten for 2021
Ten Favorite Films of 2021
10. The King's Man
9. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
8. Nightmare Alley (2021)
6. The Sparks Brothers
5. Spider-Man: No Way Home
4. Ghostbusters Afterlife
3. Free Guy
2. Dune (2021)
Saturday, January 1, 2022
There is nothing subtle about this story, nor should there be. While it is not a documentary, it is an accurate docudrama about a real life sports underdog story, the kind that will turn off the cynics in the world but should make sentimentalists everywhere year up in joy. This is a life affirming, dramatic and ultimately inspiring story of a guy who climbed to the highest echelon in his sport, from the lowest point possible. This movie helps explain to people who don't really care much about sports, why it is about so much more than just the score at the end of the game.
The actor who plays Kurt Warner, is Zachary Levi, who I know mostly from the movie Shazam!, although he has been in a bunch of stuff that many of you will recognize. He is very well cast, having the facial characteristics of the real Kurt Warner without being a doppelganger. He is also a good actor who manages to convey the weaknesses of Warner while also pushing forward his best characteristics. While I was watching the film, I kept thinking to myself that the actress playing Brenda Meoni, his eventual wife, was really good. I thought it was too bad the Awards season handicapping had not included her in any of their forecasts. Then I realized who it was at the end and thought, well damn, there is a reason she was so good. This is not a newcomer but Anna Paquin, who has been doing great work since she was nine years old. She is terrific in this meaty part and she tears into it with great energy.
Football is a frequent subject of movies, and there are lots of inspiring stories built around the game. People who love Ted Lasso but don't like football may see some of the positive vibes of that fictional character in this real life player. Look, we know the film is based on Warner's autobiography and that he and his wife are producers on the film, so it will probably be a lot sunnier than the real experience, except there are some pretty tough experiences in their relationship that are covered by the film. Some people might be put off by the Christian values at the heart of their experience, fearful that they are going to get a sermon rather than a story. Don't worry, those moments that are spiritual in nature are mostly universal, and it never feels like you are being preached to, only that you are shown how the couple's faith supplements the decision making process and lives that they lead.
Dennis Quaid is listed on the poster but his part is largely as a background character with a few inspirational moments. The third lead in the film is a young actor named Hayden Zaller, he plays Zack, Kurt's special needs stepson who sees thing in Kurt despite the fact that he is blind. Bruce McGill, ia a familiar face who plays the founder of the Arena Football league and the coach/owner of a team that helps nurture Warner to success. For those of you not familiar with arena football, it is a much different set of strategies and there are some significant differences in the two versions of the game. It's nice as a former season ticketholder of an Arena Football team, to see the sport shown this way, it was not degrading but it certainly feels different.
The directors Edwin and Jon Erwin, have made several inspirational films for the faith=based market, and that is another reason some people might shy away from the movie, but again you should not hesitate. They do a good job showing us the dramatic moments of Kurt and Brenda's lives and they competently recreate the football environment. So if you are up for an inspiring drama based in reality, this is what you are looking for to start the year off on a hopeful note. After the last couple of years, we can use it.