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
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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.