Sunday, October 10, 2021

Waterworld

Movie Name:
Waterworld
Year of Release: 1995
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter, Jack Kehler, Gerard Murphy, Sab Shimono, Leonardo Cimino, Zakes Mokae, Robert A. Silverman, Robert Joy, Jack Black, Kim Coates, John Fleck
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
One of the big budget films to come out in 1995 was Kevin Reynolds's "Waterworld", the other being of course, Renny Harlin's "Cutthroat Island". Whereas the first one actually made out fairly well, the second one has gone down in the annals of the industry, as a massive failure. Rivers of ink at the time were written on the shooting of "Waterworld", which included some expensive natural disasters, not to mention the disputes between Kevin Reynolds and actor/producer Kevin Costner. The film takes place in the future, where the polar ice-caps have melted, forcing the populations to re-adjust to how they live, and even changing the evolution of the human kind itself. The surviving pockets of humanity live scattered throughout the oceans, in artificially constructed atolls, whereas some others have become itinerant voyagers. One of those voyagers is known as Mariner, an amphibian, who travels in his catamaran, from atoll to atoll, trading items he needs, while keeping himself away from any other human contact. When he visits a particular atoll, he comes into contact with a group who wants him to provide a very specific service, something he passes on, while he also gets to know Enola, a young child who seemingly has the map to dry land tattooed on her back. When the atoll is attacked by a series of pirates under the command of the dangerous Deacon, Mariner escapes, taking with him Enola and Helen, her guardian. Deacon also wants that map, and will stop at nothing to get it.
At the time of its premiere, much was discussed about the enormity of the budget that had been spent in order to bring this film to life. Kevin Reynolds, the director, previously responsible for "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and also "Rapa Nui", manages to successfully bring to life this post-apocalyptic world, which in a way has quite a few similarities with George Miller's "Mad Max", only this time around on water. It's essentially a B-movie with a big budget, however it's deft and concise narrative falters when it comes to characters definition and motivation. For all of Dennis Hopper's villainy, his Deacon has very little to do, the same of which can be said for Jeanne Tripplehorn's Helen, or even Kevin Costner's Mariner. Though all these characters are nothing but sketches, the film does manage to keep its momentum, and Kevin Reynolds does build a compelling world, one where water is everywhere, and people's dreams of finding dry land seem very much like a distant utopia. It's a film with moments of humor, one that doesn't take itself very seriously, and where the adventure is almost puerile, yet not less enticing. Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Michael Jeter, Tina Majorino all create satisfying characters, whereas Dennis Hopper is on overacting mode. The cinematography from Dean Semler is fantastic, as is the production design from Dennis Gassner and score from James Newton Howard. While not a masterpiece by any means, it's nonetheless a film worth watching.

No Time to Die

Movie Name:
No Time to Die
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Rami Malek, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Lashana Lynch, Rory Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright, Billy Magnussen, Christoph Waltz, David Dencik, Dali Benssalah, Lisa-Dorah Sonnet, Coline Defaud
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Writer/Director Cary Joji Fukunaga is the latest director to tackle the James Bond franchise, following his celebrated "Beasts of No Nation" and the mini-series "Maniac", both of which he released with streaming platform, Netflix. This episode of the series, is also the last one featuring actor Daniel Craig as James Bond. It picks up right after the events from "Spectre", where Blofeld is imprisoned, and James and Madeleine are trying to have a life outside of his secret service work. However those ties are hard to shake, since Madeleine herself has secrets she's never disclosed, the same way Bond has a difficult time letting go of the death of Vesper Lynd. When they're targeted in Italy, Bond suspects Madeleine is associated with the whole thing, and they both go their separate ways. However Bond is lassoed back once more, this time around courtesy of his friend Felix Leiter, who wants him to capture a doctor who is in possession of a biological weapon that can be devastating. Turns out Bond is not the only on the trail of this doctor, with his previous team, and in particular a new 007 also pursuing that same doctor. Turns out that biological weapon was crafted with the consent of his old boss, M, but has been usurped by someone with far more sinister intentions, someone connected to Madeleine's past. Bond has to race against time and uncover who this menacing individual is, before his whole world collapses.
What has always been interesting about the James Bond saga, is the fact that it never takes itself very seriously. Its central hero is indeed someone with a license to kill, but is also someone who is able to crack a joke, on top of being lethal with all sorts of weaponry and knowing everything about the financial and arts worlds. As the years have passed, this series has veered into campy and over the top, but with Daniel Craig, the series definitely approached a more Jason Bourne type of edginess and some would say, "quasi-realistic" approach to its different narratives. Of all the films Daniel Craig has fronted, Sam Mendes's "Skyfall" is quite possibly the best one, since it convincingly weaves a tapestry of betrayal within the Organization Bond comes from, while also humanizing him and some of his team mates. Not to mention, it features one of the most charismatic and pained villains of the entire saga, Silva, as impeccably played by Javier Bardem. "No Time to Die" fails to capture both the compelling drama which sustained "Skyfall" but also its riveting energy. Cary Joji Fukunaga's attempts to further humanize the agent, giving him somewhat of a blissful domestic/romantic life, but Madeleine always remains somewhat of an unresolved character, whereas the villainous presence played by Rami Malek, fails to elicit either real danger, or an actual compelling motivation for him to do what he's doing. It's ultimately a chapter that closes the arc around this particular approach to the character, one that is populated with some solid action set pieces, but where once again the story fails to deliver as efficiently as some of the previous chapters. The cast is a mixed bag, with Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Jeffrey Wright, all being top notch, whereas Rami Malek is miscast, and Daniel Craig seems to be portraying a much more relaxed version of the agent he was in the other films. Highlights should go to Linus Sandgren's stunning cinematography and Hans Zimmer's score. It's entertaining feature, but not a memorable one.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Mama

Movie Name:
Mama
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat, Morgan McGarry, David Fox
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Writer/Director Andy Muschietti and his sister, producer Barbara Muschietti, made a name for themselves initially with the short "Mama", which they then expanded to this feature, which turned out to be their feature debut. With the collaboration of Guillermo Del Toro as executive producer, the film premiered in 2013 to substantial commercial success, propelling their career to new heights, which eventually led them to the Stephen King adaptation of "It". "Mama" follows the story of two young sisters who find themselves in a precarious situation. Their father has a breakdown, following a particularly brutal financial collapse, and kidnaps them from their mother's house. While on the run they experience a car accident in the mountains. They manage to escape unarmed, and discover what seems to be an abandoned cabin in the woods. Their father is taken by some entity, who in turn begins feeding them. 5 years pass, and the girls have grown in the woods. They're finally discovered by a group of explorers hired by their uncle, who lives with Annabel, a rock musician. As their uncle eventually gets legal guardianship, and the girls move to his house, strange occurrences begin happening, something that the therapist assigned to them tries to solve and understand. When Lucas, their uncle, suffers a rather serious accident, Annabel has to become the caregiver to the girls, something that she never wanted to do. The girls however have another entity caring for them, who has plans of her own.
"Mama" has an interesting premise, where children who are left to their own devices, are protected by an entity who has an agenda of her own. For a while the ambiguity if that entity is an actual projection of the children's subconscious or is it instead a sinister ghost, keeps the story rather interesting. However as the narrative unfolds, and the entity's true nature reveals itself, there's a vague influence of Hideo Nakata's "Ringu" which was remade by Gore Verbinski's into "The Ring", in the sense that there's a tragic occurrence in the past that has triggered all these events taking place in the present. While the plot is unfolding, with the typical scares from a ghost story, the most interesting part of the narrative itself, is the fact that the lead matriarchal character, is very against type. Jessica Chastain tries to bring some dimension to this mother figure character, making her an emo rock musician, who has little patience with children and even less to the whole domestic aspect of a relationship. Though the reasons for her resistance to children are never truly clarified or expanded upon, it gels with how she and the children progressively bond. Sadly this part of the story is not as emphasized as it should, and the third act revolves around the understanding of what's taking place and explaining the supernatural aspect of the narrative. Overall the film has a lot of promise, even taking some cues from Guillermo Del Toro's "The Devil's Backbone", but ends up shortchanging character development for the obligatory scary/ghost sequences. Aside from Jessica Chastain's Annabel character, none of the supporting characters have much dimension to themselves. The cinematography from Antonio Riestra is impeccable, as is the score from Fernando Velazquez. While not a bad film, it's not necessarily a very memorable one, though this director has gone on to do some interesting films in the meantime. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Midnight Mass

TV Show Name:
Midnight Mass
Year of Release: 2021
Created by: Mike Flanagan
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Henry Thomas, Hamish Linklater, Annabeth Gish, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, Igby Rigney, Annarah Cymone, Alex Essoe, Matt Biedel, Michael Trucco, Louis Oliver, Robert Longstreet, Ebony Booth, John C. MacDonald
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Writer/Producer/Director Mike Flanagan continues his ongoing relationship with NetFlix, this time around with another mini-series, originally created by him. The mini-series starts by introducing us to Riley Flynn, who following a drunken accident is sentenced to prison due to the fatality that was incurred as a direct result of that accident. Upon his release, he returns to his family, hoping to pick up the pieces and restart his life. His family lives in a small island, Crockett Island, where most of its inhabitants are very religious and frequent mass regularly. While some of the families in the island have been there for quite some time, some of its most recent inhabitants are people who grew up there, left to pursue some adventures, and are now back to somewhat resume their lives and recover from whatever they experienced. A new priest also appears, by the name of Father Paul, indicating the previous reverend is taking a rest, following a much desired trip to the Holly Land. As Father Paul starts interacting with the congregation and providing his sermons, life in the small community starts changing, subtly at first, and dramatically as time progresses. And this is something that affects everyone in the community. Riley who is going to AA, and has his sessions with Father Paul, notices some incongruences and outspoken lies. What lies beneath Father Paul's actions reveal something far more sinister than what anyone could have anticipated.
The talented Mike Flanagan has been keeping himself quite busy, with a rapid succession of projects, which have included the well received "Gerald's Game", "The Haunting of Hill House", "Doctor Sleep", with "The Haunting of Bly Manor" being the first of his projects to somewhat fail to get universal praise (in all fairness, "Doctor Sleep" while fairly well received, wasn't unanimously appreciated). "Midnight Mass", while not an exact stumble, isn't as well accomplished as his previous projects. And a lot of the issues are tied to the momentum of the storyline, and also how for the most part the characters background and exposition is uneven, and at times feels like a bombardment of information. The mini-series starts with a strong premise, adding value to its momentum the fact that the narrative takes place in this smallish island, where everyone knows everyone. There are faint traces of Stephen King's influence in the way the community is described (particularly some ties with "The Mist"), but as Father Paul makes his appearance and the religious aspect of the community becomes visible, it's also pummeled into the audience, in a somewhat of a repetitive aspect. The whole aspect of the island being a shelter for people who ventured out an were battered by the world, is never truly fully explored, since the focus always returns to the religious belief and what Father Paul is trying to do. These two parallel threads eventually merge, but for some time the show gives the impression of going in different paths. As the big revelation occurs and violence escalates, the show loses some of its impact, since the massive cult like aspect of the narrative is never fully explored. Ultimately this is a show that has a lot of ideas, and could have gone in a variety of directions, but where it went is somewhat unsatisfying and a bit contrived. The cast is uniformly solid, with Hamish Linklater, Annabeth Gish, Henry Thomas, Matt Biedel and Samantha Sloyan all creating vivid performances. The cinematography from Michael Fimognari is solid, as is the score from The Newton Brothers. Here's hoping Mike Flanagan's next project allows him to focus on a more tightly woven narrative. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Movie Name:
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Andy Serkis
Starring: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu, Jack Bandeira, Little Simz
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Actor/director Andy Serkis, is the latest creative to tackle another Marvel property, this time around the sequel to the unexpected success that was "Venom", originally directed by Ruben Fleischer. The sequel focuses its attention on Eddie Brock and his co-existence with the symbiotic Venom, and how they try to navigate their relationship, in an Odd Couple kind of way. Eddie is faced with an interesting assignment which comes in the shape of Cletus Kasady, a serial killer recently apprehended, who wants to tell his side of the story to a reporter, namely Brock himself. Brock and Venom manage to discover where Kasady has hidden all the bodies of his victims, and soon Kasady finds himself on death row. Upon visiting Kasady for a last time, before his scheduled execution, there's a physical altercation between them both, which results in Kasady biting Brock, and getting a taste of the alien creature living within. This actually results in the  creation of something new, a new entity, which takes over Kasady and names itself Carnage. They soon escape prison, and go rescue Kasady's imprisoned lover, Frances, also known as Shriek, due to her special mutant powers. It's up to Eddie and Venom to not only save themselves, but also prevent the city of San Francisco of being obliterated.
What has now become somewhat apparent about the "Venom" films, besides the obvious quality of its cast, and production values, is how lightweight and borderline paper thin its storylines actually are. For all her reputation and projects she has tackled, writer Kelly Marcel has failed to bring some actual dimension to the scripts of these films, choosing instead to infuse both of them with a series of clichés and rather rudimentary storylines. This film,  much like the previous chapter, is filled with digital effects that provide the sound and fury, but everything in this narrative is light as a feather, the same going for its characters, relationships and motivations. The film places some interesting characters in place, but avoids providing much information or background on them, making this narrative instead something very basic, almost child like in its context, motivations and momentum, but with enough violence to keep it interesting for adults. For all its noise it's a surprisingly shallow film, where a talented cast is completely wasted. Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris and Tom Hardy are all somewhat playing it along, with only Stephen Graham actually bringing some actual gravitas and dimension to what is happening on screen. The cinematography from the wonderful Robert Richardson is fantastic, as is the score from the always solid Marco Beltrami. It's barely better than the previous chapter, and that is solely due to some of the humor that is tossed around. Hopefully the third chapter will have a different creative team, able to bring this character to life with some actual dimension. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Movie Name:
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng'er Zhang, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Yeoh, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le, Fala Chen, Wah Yuen, Stephanie Hsu, Jodi Long, Kunal Dudheker
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Another Marvel films release, this time around coming from director Destin Daniel Cretton, who made a name for himself with the wonderful "Short Term 12". This time around the story focuses on a young man by the name of Shaun, who works in San Francisco, alongside his best friend Katy, as valet parkers for a luxury hotel. When they are attacked by a group of very skilled martial arts experts, Shaun successfully fights them off, and eventually reveals to Katy that his name is actually Shang-Chi. He also reveals that his father is and has been for centuries, the leader of a criminal organization, all thanks to these mystical Ten Rings, which give him enhanced powers and eternal life. They go to Macao to warn his sister that she's possibly also a target of their father's organization, but the person he finds is quite different than the one he originally left behind. They're all captured, and they soon face their father, who warns them of his intent. He wants to travel to the hidden location where their mother is originally from, and free her from a supposed lockdown, even though she has been dead for years. Shang-Chi, Katy and Xialing escape their father's grip and go in search of the magical village, in order to warn them of what and who is coming for them. 
Shang-Chi has always been an interesting character in the Marvel cannon, having made its debut in 1973, and since then has had a very colorful path and even crossovers with other characters from the Marvel Universe. This film version modernizes his adventures to the 21st century, and infuses the story with some colorful mysticism and cultural elements that make it all the more interesting and distinct. Watching the film I personally couldn't help think what someone such as Stephen Chow would have done with this property, but as it is, Destin Cretton follows a rather formulaic origin story, of introducing the background of the central character, and his journey of awakening, only this time around partnered with a female wisecrack best friend. The film keeps its momentum and rhythm going, though for the most part the supporting characters are once again barely defined, the same thing going for the villainous father figure, who isn't so villainous after all. While this heritage and cultural significance aspects could have been at the core of the story, they become more of a detail, and instead some dark (digitally created) entities emerge as the villains of the story, once again without much to speak of in terms of character existence or relevance for that matter. While these dark digital creatures once again make for a lackluster foe, the film for the most part manages to keep itself engaged and entertaining. The cast is serviceable, but highlights should go to Tony Leung and Michelle Leoh, both of whom bring a regal and tranquil aspect to their roles, whereas the always fantastic Ben Kingsley is a wonderful humorist force. The production team is impeccable, with great cinematography from Bill Pope, production design from Sue Chan and score from Joel P West. While formulaic, the film has enough humor and momentum to keep itself engaging.   

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Explorers

Movie Name:
Explorers
Year of Release: 1985
Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Bradley Gregg, Amanda Peterson, Danny Nucci, Dana Ivey, James Cromwell, Taliesin Jaffe, Brooke Bundy, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following the success of "Gremlins", director Joe Dante tackled another fantastical story, which had a decidedly mixed reception, but has since then been more appreciated. The film follows the story of Ben Crandall, a young teenage boy who lives in a suburb of Maryland. Ben loves classic science fiction films and has these vivid dreams where he flies over the city, which also looks like a circuit board. After waking up from his dreams, Ben usually draws that circuit board he sees in his dreams. Ben shares his drawings and dreams with Wolfgang, who is a school friend, and also a prodigy. With the help of the rebellious Darren, they set out to bring that circuit board to life. Wolfgang manages to build the actual microchip, based on Ben's drawings, and once they do, they realize that the chip enables the creation of an electromagnetic bubble which surrounds a pre-determined area. They soon decide to create a scrappy spaceship, based on parts they uncover, and with some additional refinements of the chip, they're soon venturing out to space. On their maiden voyage, they're lassoed by a larger spaceship, and they soon become acquainted with the passengers of that craft. What they uncover surprises the boys, but also explains all that has been happening.
Joe Dante's films always have at their core an unexpected hero, who finds himself confronted with a situation that quickly becomes much grander and at times, riskier than what it originally started as. In this case, the narrative focuses on this trio of young boys, who just embark on this adventure of making their dreams a reality, of being able to fly. It's a rather simple premise, but one that Joe Dante illustrates and peppers with his particular touches and film references, such as the science fiction films from the 50s and 60s, which are part of his own childhood, and something that clearly has left a mark in him (which can be witnessed in the film "Matinee" as well for instance). While this film doesn't feel as well resolved from a storyline perspective, as "Gremlins" for instance, it still has plenty to capture one's attention. It's a film that captures the easy friendships of childhood, and the fearlessness that comes with it, married with the thirst for adventure towards the unknown. It has some influences from Steven Spielberg's "ET", but it ends up being something quite different, with comedic tones, more so than dramatic ones. The film marked the debut of Ethan Hawke's career, the same going for the fantastic River Phoenix. In supporting roles, there are great talented actors such as James Cromwell, Dana Ivey, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, the latter two, usual collaborators of Joe Dante. The cinematography from the late John Hora is great, as is the score from Jerry Goldsmith. An entertaining film always worth revisiting, from an underrated and very talented director. 

Slither

Movie Name:
Slither
Year of Release: 2006
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Elizabeth Banks, Don Thompson, Gregg Henry, Xantha Radley, Tania Saulnier, Dustin Milligan, Haig Sutherland, Jennifer Copping, Jenna Fischer
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
James Gunn is a well known name these days, since he has successfully brought to the big screen some very iconic Marvel and DC properties, including "Guardians of the Galaxy" and more recently, "The Suicide Squad". However, before he tackled comic books, Gunn had made a name for himself as a screenwriter, starting with his work for Troma Productions, and eventually writing bigger films such as Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" and Raja Gosnell's "Scooby Doo". "Slither" from 2006 is his feature directorial debut, and follows the events that occur in a small town that is suddenly victim to an extra-terrestrial parasite. The film focuses specifically on Starla Grant, a high school teacher, whose husband is the older and wealthy Grant, a very successful local businessman. One night when Starla refuses his sexual advances, Grant decides to fool around with another woman, and on their way to her place, he gets attacked by this strange parasite, who invades his body. He soon infects the woman he was with, but decides to return home, where Starla apologizes for her behavior. Grant soon starts acting very oddly, and his appearance starts rapidly changing until he becomes this monstrous creature. Starla upon refusing his advances once more, is almost infected, but the local sheriff, whom has always had an interest in her, comes at the right time saving her and forcing Grant to flee. As the sheriff and his team investigates what is happening in the small town, everyone suddenly realizes that the parasite's intentions are far more sinister than they imagined.
One of the most interesting aspects of "Slither", or for that matter, of James Gunn's most celebrated features, is his ability to marry different genres and styles, always populating his narratives with humor and a lack of pretension, which allows for his characters to be somewhat relatable and ultimately humane. "Slither" is a film that has influences from David Cronenberg's "Shivers" but also George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" and Philip Kaufman's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", but makes its own narrative distinct, by placing all the occurrences happening in a small town, where everyone knows everyone. Much like Joe Dante's "Gremlins" showed a darker side of what can happen in an idyllic small town in Middle America, James Gunn does the same here, but in this case he peppers the story and the central villain in particular, as a mix of monstrous being doing despicable things, while also being a creature who still has remnants of love for his human wife. While the characters are once again fairly thinly defined, the film has momentum, and allows for the interactions between the main characters to introduce who they are, and what their relationships have been in this small town. As third act comes around, the film deftly mixes action and comedic moments, making the film all the more entertaining. The cast is uniformly solid, with Elizabeth Banks and Nathan Fillion making a good central couple, with the always fantastic Michael Rooker stealing the show as Grant Grant. The score from Tyler Bates is great, as is the cinematography from Gregory Middleton, who more recently worked on the limited series, "Watchmen". An entertaining film from a very interesting director. 

Shoot 'Em Up

Movie Name:
Shoot 'Em Up
Year of Release: 2007
Director: Michael Davis
Starring: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Daniel Pilon, Ramona Pringle
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Writer/Director Michael Davis made a name for himself as a storyboard artist, before embarking on a directorial career. Prior to "Shoot 'Em Up" his previous features were a combination of light hearted comedies and some horror ventures, with "100 Girls" being his feature that got some further recognition (back in 2000, featuring Jonathan Tucker and Jaime Pressly). "Shoot 'Em Up" follows the story of Smith, who is sitting by himself at a bus stop. His moment of tranquility is shattered when a frantic pregnant woman runs by, who is being pursued by a man with a gun. Smith ends up helping the woman, who is also in the middle of delivery, while the both of them are being shot by an array of hoodlums who have joined in. While the woman doesn't survive, Smith grabs the newborn, and manages to thwart all of his opponents. He seeks help from a woman he had a prior relationship with, who is currently working in a brothel, and decides to investigate why so many people are trailing him and wanting to kill a newborn. Heading the chase is the ferocious Hertz, who will stop at nothing to get that baby.
"Shoot 'Em Up" is an unpretentious, B-movie type of experience, where there's paltry character definition, but where the momentum and action is non stop. Since the moment we're introduced to the lead character, there's a continuous sequence of actions, all finely orchestrated, where the events themselves feel straight out of a Tex Avery/Chuck Jones cartoon, only bloodier and possibly not quite as humorous. The narrative itself is very much similar to the staples of a Charles Bronson/Death Wish or even Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry series, with the central hero having little to say, but being ruthless & efficient, honest & incorruptible and also kind to those who can't defend themselves. While the film never spends much time explaining who these characters are, they all have their own charisma and a great cast to bring them to life. Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti and Monica Bellucci all perfectly showcase just enough traits and information to make these characters feel more than two dimensional clichés (just barely). The production team is solid, including the cinematography from the award winning Peter Pau, the score from Paul Haslinger and editing from Peter Amundson. Entertaining, though easily forgettable. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Greenland

Movie Name:
Greenland
Year of Release: 2020
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Starring: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, Hope Davis, David Denman, James Logan, Holt McCallany, Okea Eme-Akwari
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Ric Roman Waugh had a lengthy career in stunts, before becoming a director. "Greenland" is his second collaboration with Gerard Butler, after "Angel Has Fallen". This time around the film focuses on the story of John Garrity, a structural engineer, who alongside his family find themselves in a race against time. There's a series of fragments from a comet who are about to hit the planet and destroy most of it as a consequence. John receives a notification on his phone, that he alongside his family are meant to go a specific location in order to shelter. As the world unravels, and the process to reach their destination becomes more difficult, they have to contend with the fact that their son, due to the fact that he is a diabetic, can not board the plane destined to take them to safety. While John gets separated from his wife and son, they eventually reunite, and eventually meet at her father's farm. They realize the only way they can get to safety is by trying to reach Greenland, the safe haven where there are bunkers prepared to deal with emergency situations such as these. 
After Dean Devlin's "Geostorm", this is Gerard Butler's second epic disaster type of film he has tackled in the last 5 years (he's also a producer on this one). This film tries to create a distinct narrative from what Roland Emmerich usually does with his blockbuster and disaster films, by placing a fractured family as the center of the action taking place. However and unlike Emmerich's films, there's a lack of any type of humor. Roland Emmerich's epics are somewhat shallow since he essentially populates his films with archetypes and characters that have little to no substance, such as the characters of "2012". However he never takes his films very seriously, though he does pepper the over the top entertainment value of his films with some of his takes on environmental and social issues (which can also be found on "The Day After Tomorrow"). Ric Roman Waugh however, tries to give this film a somewhat authentic and documentary style grit, particular with the set piece where the family tries to board the place in almost real time, much like the show "24", but the story itself ends up lacking credibility to sustain this style itself. Screenwriters have somewhat equated that characters become dimensional because they're flawed or have a shady past: in this case John had an extra marital affair, but is looking for redemption. A painful episode or a quirk doesn't make a character memorable or profound: having an arc, a motivation, a context allows for the audience to understand and create empathy with what's happening onscreen, and eventually be invested in what is happening with this same character. This film fails to give these characters much depth, or credibility for that matter, wrapping everything fairly quickly as the family goes from the US to Greenland in apparently a snap of a finger. The cast is completely lost, and it's quite surprising to find the wonderful Hope Davis, Scott Glenn and David Denman trying to bring some emotion and heart to the film, but for the most part this is a hollow endeavor. Forgettable.

The Messengers

Movie Name:
The Messengers
Year of Release: 2007
Director: Danny Pang, Oxide Chun Pang
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett, Dustin Milligan, Evan Turner, Theodore Turner, William B. Davis, Jodelle Ferland, Michael Daingerfield, Tatiana Maslany, Anna Hagan
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Sibling film makers and directors  Danny and Oxide Chun Pang, made a splash in the early 2000s with their feature directorial debut, "Bangkok Dangerous", which they followed with the successful "The Eye", which became a franchise of its own. "The Messengers" was their first American film based on a story by Todd Farmer, who also wrote one of the "Friday the 13th" installments. The film follows the story of Jess, a teenager girl who is moving to North Dakota, alongside her family, following some traumatic events which took place in Chicago. The family invested all their money in the purchase of a farm, and the father is committed into making the whole experience work. While Jess embarks on the journey, her relationship with her parents is somewhat rocky, based on what happened in the past. Jess also starts noticing strange things around the house, much like her younger brother Ben, which leads her to believe something has happened in the house. As she goes about discovering more about the previous owners of the house and whatever happened to them, her father gets actual help in the shape of Burwell, an experienced farmer who works alongside him to get the crops settled. However and the longer the family stays in the house, the stronger the indication of supernatural elements actually become, something which horrifies Jess, and causes nothing but disbelief in her parents.
"The Messengers" has some traces of Stuart Rosenberg's "The Amityville Horror", in the sense that the house in which the action takes place, is somewhat of a container for all the events that are going to haunt this new family. However whereas Stuart Rosenberg allowed for the audience to understand and get some insight into the family dynamics and what lied within that house, in the case of "The Messengers", the directors are seemingly more interested in dusting the action with suggestions of the supernatural, never truly giving much dimension to who these characters actually are. Nothing much is ever revealed about the life of the parents, whose sole purpose in the film seems to be antagonizing Kristen Stewart's actions, including her revelations, and generally operating as some shady nurses of a rundown mental institution a la "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest". While the film in the hands of director such as Guillermo Del Toro could have become somewhat of a gothic tale of ghosts vying for justice, here it's sadly a generic and forgettable tale of frights, that truly never amount to much. Kristen Stewart tries her best to carry the film through, but even her presence can't make this film compelling or memorable. Forgettable. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Sideways

Movie Name:
Sideways
Year of Release: 2004
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht, Missy Doty, M. C. Gainey, Alysia Reiner, Stephanie Faracy, Robert Covarrubias
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After the success of "About Schmidt", writer/producer/director Alexander Payne tackled the adaptation of the Rex Pickett novel "Sideways" in what turned out to be another critical and commercial success for him (and his team). The film follows the story of two close friends, Miles a recently divorced wine aficionado, who is struggling to get his book published, and Jack, an actor, once very popular but who now has resigned himself to doing well paid voice/commercial work. Jack is about to get married, and Miles as his best man, takes him on a weekend to enjoy the wine country and relax, before his big bash. While Miles has the best of intentions, Jack soon starts veering off the schedule, starting out with an affair with a local single mom by the name of Stephanie, who is seemingly under the impression she is entering into a relationship with him. As Miles also meets the lovely Maya, and has suddenly an opportunity to engage in a mature relationship, Jack's antics not only put himself in awkward situations, but also threaten to crumble Miles's and even potentially his upcoming nuptials.
A common thread that is clearly identifiable in Alexander Payne's films are central heroes, who are somewhat at a crossroads in life, having to figure out what they want to do next. They typically are coming off a rather traumatic event, which forces them to reevaluate what their choices in life have been, and what the next stage of their lives is going to be. These are scenarios which can be identified in "About Schmidt", "The Descendants", "Nebraska" and even "Election". "Sideways" manages to be in tune with Payne's themes, this time around focusing the narrative on two friends, one with a dour personality, who is at a junction in time, trying desperately to move past his shortcomings as a professional, as a husband and as an adult, while the other, is a perpetual irresponsible teenager, refusing to grow up and tackle the responsibilities of his own actions. As life presents this set of new opportunities for the both of them, it's interesting to witness their very different journeys. Alexander Payne smartly crafts this character study without judging these characters, allowing them to exist, as profoundly flawed and uncertain as they may be. The film flows languidly but also infused with humor, insight and at some moments, with a certain kind of tenderness, that makes it all the most memorable. The cast is uniformly fantastic, with highlights going to the tremendously talented Paul Giamatti, the iconically hilarious Thomas Haden Church, and the luminous Virginia Madsen, who manages to carry within her delivery tenderness, emotion and sensuality, in what is one the finest performances of her career thus far. It's a wonderful film, always worth revisiting, populated with characters that while flawed and somewhat damaged, are hopeful of moving forward, for the next chapter of their existence.

Coma

Movie Name:
Coma
Year of Release: 1978
Director: Michael Crichton
Starring: Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Richard Widmark, Lois Chilles, Rip Torn, Elizabeth Ashley, Tom Selleck, Hari Rhodes, Gary Barton, Richard Doyle, Lance LeGault, Charles Siebert, William Wintersole
Genre: Drama, Suspense
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following his feature directorial debut with "Westworld", writer/producer/director Michael Crichton tackled the adaptation of a Robin Cook book, an author well known for his medical set novels. The film follows the story of Dr. Susan Wheeler, a Boston Hospital resident, who is an accomplished surgeon, and who is involved in a relationship with one of her colleagues, Dr. Mark Bellows. Susan starts investigating a few incidents that are occurring at the hospital, once one of her good friends, who is coming for a small procedure has what it seems a complication from the surgery and ends up in a coma, the same occurring shortly afterwards with a professional athlete. Susan's investigations get her in trouble with the general direction of the hospital, but undeterred, she eventually uncovers a sinister plan that is being executed at the hospital. Her investigation also places her as a target for everyone trying to keep that plan running smoothly, people who will stop at nothing to make sure things remain unchanged.
"Coma", which was released in 1978 manages to be a film that is to this day, somewhat timeless in some of the topics that it tackles, and yet also very representative of the 70s. For starters it's a film that makes its central focus a woman, a protagonist who is highly skilled, and also someone who has a highly visible job, who sadly has to constantly deflect & battle some preconceived notions of how women behave, and also tackle all sorts of harassment. Michael Crichton doesn't shy away from showcasing these unfortunate situations Susan finds herself in, though sadly he never gives her character more opportunities to demonstrate who she truly is, beyond being a doctor who is investigating a series of suspicious incidents. The film definitely captures the struggles of Susan balancing a thriving career, with a personal life, something that other films in the 70s also captured in different environments, such as Martin Ritt's "Norma Rae", Paul Mazursky's "An Unmarried Woman" and even Martin Scorsese's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore", to name but a few. While Susan's journey is enticing, the supporting characters are sadly formulaic, including both her partner Mark, and her boss, the duplicitous Dr. Harris. It's a film that while having his contrivances, has a great cast, with Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Richard Widmark and Elizabeth Ashley all creating solid characters, with a solid score from the wonderful Jerry Goldsmith and equally solid cinematography from Victor J. Kemper. Worth watching. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Kate

Movie Name:
Kate
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Woody Harrelson, Miko Patricia Martineau, Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura, Michiel Huisman, Miyavi, Mari Yamamoto, Kazuya Tanabe, Hirotaka Renge
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan has a lengthy career in visual effects, but made his directorial debut with the feature "The Huntsman: Winter's War", a film that has been quickly forgotten by everyone, including its own very talented cast. "Kate", another release hailing from Netflix, comes on the heels of the recently released "Jolt" from director Tanya Wexler, and the also Netflix distributed, "Gunpowder Milkshake", from director Navot Papushado. All these feature films, with certain subtle differences aside, are all trying to bask in the influence and accomplishments from David Leitch's "Atomic Blonde" and to even further removed extent, the legacy of Luc Besson's "Nikita". "Kate", written by Umair Aleen, who has also written a straight to video film named "Extraction", follows the story of Kate, a highly skilled assassin currently working in Japan. She works in partnership with her handler Varrick, who has been both a teacher and a father figure to her since she was a child. Following a particularly emotionally draining contract, Kate starts thinking of retiring and moving on, but after a romantic tryst, she finds herself poisoned, and with only 24 hours to live. Attributing her fate to her latest failed contract, she goes on a rampage to avenge her unavoidable death, stopping at nothing in her path.
Independently of their stylized fight scenes, very influenced by "Atomic Blonde" and even Chad Stahelski's "John Wick" series, all the aforementioned films, including "Kate", for all their choreography and carefully orchestrated movements, these films fail to actually resonate, since for the most part these set pieces are incorporated into a somewhat generic and bland narrative. "Kate", which also has some similarities to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's "Crank", never develops and establishes who Kate actually is, what makes her stay in Japan, and what her actual life aspirations are, beyond the existence she currently has (which we never get much insight into as well). While films regarding isolated assassins and their lifestyles have been previously tackled, some with a certain degree of success such as Luke Besson's "The Professional" or even more recently, the not so memorable "Colombiana" from director Olivier Megaton, "Kate" fails to elicit much praise, since not only is Kate herself a cypher, but most of the secondary characters have literally no dimension to themselves (for instance, why is Woody Harrelson's character in Japan, is he a freelance handler, what are his plans, and the questions go on and on). It's a film whose premise is somewhat basic, but even then the creative team behind it forgot one essential fact: in order for a film to be memorable and enjoyable, it has to be inhabited by characters who have enough motivation and life breathed into them. As it is, it's a gratuitous exercise in violence, wasting the considerable talents of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Woody Harrelson and newcomer Miko Martineau. Avoid. 

Malignant

Movie Name:
Malignant
Year of Release: 2021
Director: James Wan
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jean Louisa Kelly, Susanna Thompson, Jake Abel, Jacqueline McKenzie, Christian Clemenson, Mercedes Colon, Ingrid Bisu, Amir AboulEla
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
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Synopsis and Review:
After the colossal commercial success of "Aquaman", director James Wan is back, this time around going back to his lower budget, horror specific origins, where he originally started and also where he has crafted some of his best features to date, namely "The Conjuring" and "Insidious". "Malignant" focuses its narrative on Maddison Mitchell, a nurse who is currently pregnant and overworked. Her husband, Derek, is abusive and non supportive, and following a particularly vicious discussion, throws her against the wall, resulting in a heavy concussion. Later that evening, there's what it seems to be a home invasion, resulting in Derek's death, and Maddie losing the baby. As the police investigate Derek's murder, a series of subsequent gruesome murders starts occurring. As the police looks through data from one of the victims, they realize these doctors that are being murdered are all connected to Maddison's childhood, something she has no recollection of. Turns out, her actual name is Emily, and she was adopted when she was a young girl, following some traumatic events. She repressed some of those memories, and they may be essential to figure out what is happening.
"Malignant" definitely falls more in tune with James Wan's prior features "Dead Silence" and "Death Sentence", more so than the more supernatural inclined features which were "Insidious" and "The Conjuring". It's also a film where the presence of his frequent collaborator Leigh Whannell, is heartily missed. Whannell in all their collaborations, has always managed to imbue their scripts and narratives with an intelligence and humor, both of which are somewhat missing from this endeavor. While the film is finely crafted, and the cast embarks on the journey that Wan establishes for them, there's definitely a few components missing, namely giving some dimension to these characters, and also making the threat both more visceral, surprising and not reliant so heavily on gore and brutality. What has always been so rewarding about James Wan's features, is how economical his setups for the narrative actually are, and how inventive he manages to be, with premises that at times may be rather repetitive. "Malignant" suffers from a lack of nuance to its story, portraying its central heroine as a one note victim, failing to provide much dimension or arc to her journey during the narrative. For all its intended surprise third act, it never truly gels, since Maddison as a character never got a chance to be more than just an asterisk to everything taking place. Though not as solid as his previous and more celebrated features, it still demonstrates James Wan's ability in staging and crafting a dynamic narrative, with a great score from Joseph Bishara and equally impressive cinematography from Michael Burgess. A minor effort from a usually compelling and interesting director. 

The Witches

Movie Name:
The Witches
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Nicholas Roeg
Starring: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jasen Fisher, Rowan Atkinson, Bill Patterson, Brenda Blethyn, Charlie Potter, Jane Horrocks, Anne Lambton, Sukie Smith, Jenny Runacre, Jim Carter, Roberta Taylor, Leila Hoffman, Vincent Marzello
Genre: Comedy, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Nicholas Roeg who made a name for himself in the 1970s with the films "Walkabout" and "Don't Look Now", started the 90s with another of his most celebrated features, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's book "The Witches", which he developed in collaboration with the fantastic Jim Henson. The film follows the story of Luke, a young boy, who following the accidental death of his parents, returns to the UK with his grandmother, his legal guardian. As his grandmother is experiencing some health issues, they go to a resort by the sea, at the suggestion of their family doctor. Coincidentally, a coven of witches is having an assembly at the same resort, and Luke stumbles upon their secret gathering, listening to their sinister plans in the process. As Luke is transformed into a small mouse as a result of being captured by them, he seeks the help of his grandmother to prevent the same fate of being unleashed on all the children in the UK.
"The Witches", which coincidentally has been recently adapted once again, this time around hailing from Robert Zemeckis, and featuring Anne Hathaway as the lead witch, manages to channel Nicholas Roeg's unique sensibilities into a children's universe, with the unique collaboration and participation of Jim Henson and his creative team, who work in the visual and makeup effects. The film, in its rather straightforward premise, establishes Luke, his friend Bruno, and Luke's Grandmother, as the central heroes of this narrative, with the charismatic Ms. Ernst, as the vicious villain with her ambitious plans to transform all the children in the country. It's a film where the characters are thinly developed, but their brief characterization allows nonetheless for the audiences to understand their motivations and what they want to accomplish. Nicholas Roeg and Allan Scott who wrote the screenplay adaptation, pepper the narrative with humor and interesting details, namely the obliviousness of Bruno's parents, played to perfection by  Bill Patterson and Brenda Blethyn, and the suspiciousness of the resort's manager, played with gusto by Rowan Atkinson. The cast is perfectly suited for the roles, with Anjelica Huston portraying the head of the coven, with just enough disdain, viciousness and humor, and she gets great support from Atkinson, Patterson, Blethyn and Mai Zetterling. A solid and entertaining film always worth revisiting. 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Movie Name:
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Year of Release: 1982
Director: Amy Heckerling
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Ray Walston, Vincent Schiavelli, Amanda Wyss, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Andrews, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, Nicolas Cage, D.W. Brown, Tom Nolan, James Russo, James Bolt, Stuart Cornfeld
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is by now well known for jumpstarting the careers of a series of well respected and critically acclaimed actors, but also of their creative team, including writers/directors Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe (who in this case, was only the writing force behind the feature, adapting his own book). The film, which takes place in the San Fernando Valley, follows a series of characters, including Brad Hamilton a popular senior, who works at a fast food restaurant, from which he gets fired, following an altercation with a customer. Stacy Hamilton, his younger sister, a sophomore, who works at a pizza parlor, alongside her older best friend, Linda Barrett (who is also more experienced sexually, and therefore provides plenty of recommendations to Stacy, who is still a virgin). Mike Damone and Mark Ratner are another duo of best friends, with Damone being the more outspoken one, earning money by taking sports bets and scalping concert tickets, while Mark is quieter and works as an usher at the movie theater. And there's also Jeff Spicoli, a stoner and surfer, who just wants to finish high school, but finds Mr. Hand, the history teacher, in his path. The film charts all their adventures, during the school year. 
"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is a film that has become something of a time capsule for what going to high school in the early 80s actually was like in North America. It's a film that evidences some of Cameron Crowe's focus themes, namely characters drifting in their lives, trying to find a sense of direction, intertwined with Amy Heckerling's point of view, simultaneously focused on young women coming of age, but also and to a certain extent, power struggles between sexes (something she would tackle as well in "Clueless" and even "Look Who's Talking"). "Fast Times..." manages to be successful in the sense that the director crafts the environment in which these teenagers live, and this gifted group of performers, bring these archetypes to life, providing them with enough quirks, longings, ambitions and fears, to make them distinctive, compelling and ultimately watchable. There is a vast array of high school films, and at times it's easy to dismiss them as either parodies or clichés, however "Fast Times..." and director Amy Heckerling manage to never condescend towards these characters, bringing humor and a humane aspect to all they go through. By humanizing them, she invites us all to embark on their journeys, even if at times they're rather shallow. Ultimately it's an insightful and entertaining snapshot, featuring solid performances from Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus and Ray Walston. The cinematography from Matthew F. Leonetti (who went on to work with Kathryn Bigelow on "Strange Days") is solid, as is the score featuring songs from Stevie Nicks, Oingo Boingo, and The Go-Go's. Worth watching.

The Craft

Movie Name:
The Craft
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Andrew Fleming
Starring: Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer, Cliff De Young, Assumpta Serna, Helen Shaver, John Kapelos, Kathleen Lloyd
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Writer/Producer/Director Andrew Fleming made a name for himself with "Threesome", which premiered in 1994, and featured Lara Flynn Boyle, Josh Charles and Stephen Baldwin, all tangled in an unconventional relationship. For his follow up, he tackled a story from Peter Filardi, well known for writing "Flatliners" (directed by Joel Schumacher). The film focuses on the story of Sarah Bailey, a teenager who moves with her father and stepmother to Los Angeles. At the new school she soon starts a friendship with a group of girls, all of whom are rumored to be witches. Sarah has some innate powers within, and they soon form a coven, which renders them all more powerful. As a result of their newly enhanced abilities, they start unleashing spells to other students in the school, and people in their lives whom they feel have wronged them. As the spells become successful and their lives take interesting directions, Nancy, the unofficial lead of the group becomes greedier for power, taking on more sinister initiatives. As some of the spells start showing a darker side in terms of outcomes, Sarah attempts to control the situation, which makes the girls turn on her. 
"The Craft" since its premiere in 1996, has gone on to become something of a cult film. It's a film that has a somewhat distinctive point of view, centered around the lives of young women in high school, all of whom find solace in each other. They are all excluded from social activities, either due to economical difficulties, or physical issues, race issues, past traumas, all of which function as a powerful uniting forces for these 4 young women, all trying to find their voice and wanting to be heard. The film had plenty of material to mine here, with all these four distinct backgrounds for the central characters, but goes in a different direction, introducing the supernatural angle, allowing them to overcome their foibles, in the process enabling them to become all they supposedly wanted to be all along. Of course there's always a moral aspect to this narrative, namely with power comes responsibility (or everything has a price), and they refuse to accept it, until that same power goes in a dark direction. It's somewhat of a heavy handed metaphor, but the film does manage to capture the complicity and relationship between these central characters, particularly as they learn more about each other. While the film towards the end goes a bit overboard, it's nonetheless a fairly entertaining exercise on friendship, with supernatural overtones, and with some humor tossed in at times. The supporting characters are underdeveloped, which also prevents the film from actually being more memorable. The cast is solid, with the underrated Fairuza Balk going a bit over the top, in a Jennifer Jason Leigh crescendo, with good support from Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell and Rachel True. While not a fantastic feature by any means, it's nonetheless worth watching.

Reminiscence

Movie Name: Reminiscence
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Lisa Joy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Mojean Aria, Brett Cullen, Natalie Martinez, Angela Sarafyan, Javier Molina, Sam Medina
Genre: Mystery, Romance, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
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Synopsis and Review:
"Reminiscence" is writer/director Lisa Joy's feature directorial debut, on the heels of a successful and varied writing career, which has seen her working on such projects as "Pushing Daisies", "Burn Notice" and the acclaimed "Westworld", which she created, alongside Jonathan Nolan, based on the book by Michael Crichton. "Reminiscence", which takes place in a near future, follows the story of Nick Bannister, a former soldier, now a private investigator, who focuses on retrieving memories from people, using a device that allows him to go deep into other people's memories and psyche. He lives in the near flooded Miami, working mostly at night, as most people do, due to the inclement temperatures during the day. He works alongside Watts, a resourceful and very much prone to drinking fellow former soldier, and though their business isn't exactly booming, they get to work alongside the police on occasion, in order to retrieve information from suspects. A new client shows up in the shape of a woman by the name of Mae, who has lost her keys and wants to find them. She soon is involved with Nick, in an amorous relationship, but soon disappears without a trace, leaving him inconsolable. As he persists in finding what happened to Mae, he stumbles across a much larger conspiracy, involving some dark forces from the criminal underground.
The biggest issue with Lisa Joy's "Reminiscence" is the fact that it is unable to marry all the threads that puts in motion, not to mention it can't figure out the style that it wants to adhere to. While the film is somewhat of a "Chinatown" version for the near future, attempting to make Hugh Jackman into a less cynical and jaded J.J. Gittes, with Miami as a replacement for  Los Angeles, it never quite accomplishes it, since it tries to be merge all these influences and narrative threads, without them woven together with satisfaction. At its core this feature is essentially a B-film, however it has been trapped within a futuristic romantic exercise. It has its central anti-hero, the femme fatale, the supporting best friend, the seedy underworld, but all these players and scenarios are tepidly staged, in a series of scenarios that while well crafted, lack a sense of urgency, despair, and a visceral sense of both fear and wonder, which is what the story is trying to elicit from its audience. It also doesn't help the film has some anachronistic moments, which feel pulled straight out of a Nicholas Sparks' book adaptation. It's ultimately a film where all the characters lack authenticity and belief, and that is one of its core issues. Rebecca Ferguson's Mae may well be a figment of a memory, but all the other characters barely exist, including Nick the narrator, whom we never know much of, even if he is indeed the central character. The talented cast tries to make the best of what they can with the material, including the central trio of Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton, but their best is simply not enough. The cinematography from Paul Cameron is beautiful, the score from Ramin Djawadi is solid, as is the production design from Howard Cummings. Here's hoping the next endeavor from this director is a more fruitful one.