Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Movie reviews abound!

STUCK TOGETHER (2021)
It’s on Netflix.

An ensemble cast of Parisians are forced into each other’s company during the covid lockdown.

Dany Boon produced this comedy with Netflix and it’s a cause to rejoice. Boon is a huge star in Europe and a true comic genius. He makes well-crafted comedies that are pure escapism. Here he deals with the serious subject of the pandemic with a lighter touch than usual. It’s not quite as manic as his normal fare and has some touches of drama, even pathos. But this slight departure is handled deftly and effectively as we become involved in this cast of engaging, well-delineated characters who are each having their own adventures during their forcibly shared experience.

Plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in a movie packed with solid

material, seamless plotting, characters you’ll care about and

some twists and turns you won’t see coming. Good to see that

someone still knows how to construct a funny movie that can

deal with topical issues without indoctrination.




RED NOTICE (2021)

Internationally infamous art thief Ryan Reynolds is caught by

 FBI agent Dwayne Johnson, but both fall prey to Gal Gadot,

 another internationally famous art thief. And a series of fights,

 chases, escapes, more fights, more chases, more escapes

 follow for the next two hours before Netflix mercifully suggests

 something else to watch.

It's not enough that the streaming service uses algorithms to

 determine your tastes, Netflix has now allowed their AI to write

 a movie, and this is the result.

And the end product is a movie in which Reynolds and

 Johnson play characters they’ve played before and say things

 they’ve said before and do things they’ve done before in

 service of a tired, contrived, simple-minded mess of a buddy

 flick. The characters live a life without consequence as they

 are beaten, blown-up, concussed and fall from great heights

 without the slightest harm. If the MCU was a germ that sent

 Hollywood down this dead-end road, this movie is the corona

 virus.


There is not a single original exchange or line of dialogue in

 this movie. The characters all speak in the same voice as if

 they’re at a production meeting. Worse than that, it’s like the

 notes on the script found their way into the actor’s mouths as

 though mis-typed on the final draft by an inexperienced studio

 typist.


The cast exists inside a bubble with no interaction with the real

 world. There’s no sense of a larger universe. I suppose giving

 life to anyone other than the five main characters proved

 problematic for the limited abilities of the program that came

 up with this. This claustrophobic effect in the writing is

 heightened by the painfully obvious use of greenscreen and

 CGI effects that fail to convince. (Hint to filmmakers: stop

 trying to fool us with those phony lens flares until you figure

 out how to do them)


To call this movie a train wreck is an insult to the old Ninety-

seven. At least train wrecks are exciting and surprising. 




THE TRIP (2021)

It’s on Netflix.

Soap opera director Aksel Hennie plans what he believes is the perfect crime. He’s going to murder his wife during a weekend trip to the family’s summer cabin. Unfortunately for him, his wife is Noomi Rapace who, film fans know, is virtually unkillable. Things go sideways, pear-shaped and ass backwards in a big hurry.

The kind of movie no one makes here anymore. What starts out as a dark comedy gets grimly serious it the second act and winds up being a satire on the state of current entertainment. Oddly, though essentially a bloody and hyper-violent horror action flick, this movie follows the same basic plot development as Preston Sturges’ SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, the only other movie I can think of that starts as a comedy, leaps to suspense film/tragedy in the second act and comes back to offer a timely observation about human nature and the arts.

But, like I said, it’s a bloody romp. Slickly made and highly suspenseful with lots of highs and lows for the characters and a bitterly satisfying conclusion. And, once again, Rapace does her best to maintain her title as most physically abused woman in cinema history.



THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (1968)

Top psychiatrist James Coburn is tapped to be the private therapist for the leader of the free world. While the sessions help soothe the president’s psyche, they’re making a paranoid nervous wreck out of Coburn. When the good shrink goes on the lam every intelligence agency in the world wants to capture him to pick his brain for national secrets.

A VERY 60’s satire of politics and American life in general that turns out to be precisely prescient about how the world of government and corporations were converging as they vied for power over one another. It’s also a sharp critique of the potential abuses built into our various intelligence agencies. Given what’s going on right now, this more relevant today than the day it was released.

It’s also funny, cynical and has some fine comic performances. Godfrey Cambridge is terrific and it’s a real pity he didn’t make more movies. The standout is Coburn’s infiltration of a “normal” American family of self-proclaimed liberals who keep themselves armed because they fear their “right-wing” neighbors. The movie takes no real stand on party politics or ideologies beyond mocking them. Its real concern is with government overreach and the very real dangers of corporate corruption.

The ending, in particular, was very funny at the time but is more chilling given the evolution of technology since 1968.
And yes, as I said, it’s very much a product of the at 60’s because it has so many really groovy sequences, man.
This was written and directed by Theodore J. Flicker who directed television for most of his career including an astonishing number of BARNEY MILLER episodes.



THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (2021)

Angelina Jolie is a smokejumper assigned to a remote watchtower in the Montana wilderness. Her lonely days are livened up by the arrival of a little boy with two killers on his back trail and an approaching forest fire.

A pretty darn good action drama with some moments of high suspense and a pair of truly despicable villains. Angelina’s proven her action star chops in the past and doesn’t disappoint here or, more importantly, doesn’t engage in the kind of superheroic antics that have infested the genre.  

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, it seems to be his foray into action flick territory. While good, it’s very much inferior to his earlier efforts like the two SICARIO movies, WIND RIVER and the YELLOWSTONE TV series. And the MacGuffin, a hastily scribbled note containing information dangerous to some powerful people is of of step with the times. The idea that a little boy carrying around a piece of paper that could bring down a government or corporation is beyond naïve in a world where a laptop filled with information incriminating the president of the United States and his family is treated like a nothingburger.

Still, one of the better thrillers I’ve seen recently with some impressive set-pieces and a good cast.

An on a side note, does Sheridan love or hate Jon Bernthal? The guy gets put through the grinder in every movie the director makes.


SPEED (1994)

Dennis Hopper plants a bomb on an LA city bus that will go off if the bus slows below 50 mph. It’s up to courageous Keanu Reeves and perky Sandra Bullock to keep the bus at speed until a solution can be fond to save the passengers from going boom.

This crowd-pleasing thriller still works after all this time. The earnest performances, fast pace, masterful editing and the entirely CGI-free effects help lift this above the endless spate of DIE HARD knock-offs the studios churned out for ten years following the events at Nakatomi Plaza.

Hopper is creepily effective as a psychopath with a twisted worldview and warped sense of entitlement. Reeves is properly heroic and self-effacing. But the standout here is Bullock providing humor and heart into what could have been purely a shrieky victim roll. This is the movie that made Sandy a star and where audiences first fell in love with her. I recall seeing this at a packed house multi-plex and her effect on the audience was palpable as she drew laughs and cheers from all.  

The only flaw in the flick is the obviously tacked-on ending that takes place after they finally get off the bus. We’re “treated” to the kind of one-liners Stephen DeSouza might inflict on us as well as expected to believe that disabled Dennis Hopper could hold his own against Keanu Reeves atop a speeding subway car. But, by the time the movie turns silly, we’re all too giddy to question what happens next.

Still, I’d much preferred to see Hopper go down in a hail of bullets from the SWAT team than the ludicrous series of events that close out this solid actioner.


THE GUILTY (2021)

It’s a Netflix thing.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a cope working overnights as a 911 operator while on probation for a shooting incident. At his rope’s end in his persona and professional life, he gets too involved in a woman’s call for help risking all involved as he responds to the mystery voice.

This was a tough one to pull off on so many levels. The movie primarily takes place in the LAPD call center and Gyllenhaal is on screen for almost the entire running time. It’s essentially a one-man play though there are few ancillary characters. But the most important members of the supporting cast are the characters on the calls. Obviously, the lead actor carries a movie like this on his shoulders and Gyllenhaal is more than up to the task. Thanks to his performance, the movie is riveting beginning to end.

On the writing side, it’s quite a task to make a story like this compelling but the work here is superior, and we’re drawn into the story even though we only experience much of it through voices over a phone line. The reveals are well placed and presented without contrivance. They are also played out in such a way as we begin to get a really bad feeling about where things are going long before Gyllenhaal’s character begins to realize he consequences of his actions.

Good stuff.






STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997)

Earth is in danger of annihilation from a distant planet populated by an insect race. Johnny Rico and his school friends enlist to go to space and face the alien threat head-on.

This is the rare film that works as a parody, a pastiche and a straight-up badass action extravaganza all at the same time. Paul Verhoeven set out to make a movie that simultaneously glorifies and mocks fascism and the military. What makes it work is that he allows both sides of every argument to establish their points logically and earnestly. I mean, you can be appalled by Michael Ironsides’ stated world view or be nodding along. This is much the same approach that Stanley Kubrick took in DR, STRANGELOVE; presenting opposing views while not telling you how to think about each even though he filmmaker’s point of view was clear.

All that said, though clearly a pastiche, all care is taken to give the movie a clear, compelling through line, a logical (if often coincidental) series of events and a cathartic ending meant to evoke a wide and varied range of emotional responses from viewers. The cast is terrific as they fearlessly lean into the cartoonish aspects of their characters. The end result is that we’re drawn into their lives despite the fact that their characterization is as thin as the ensemble in an Archie comic.

And Verhoeven delivers on the action in spades. This is the mankind versus aliens movie I’ve wanted to see since I was eight and no one’s yet topped it even though there’s some excellent efforts in recent years.

Sidenote: I saw this in the theater with my buddy Flint Henry who was not a STAR WARS fan because that franchise didn’t have enough nudity or gore. I’m cleaning up his actual remark here. As the end credits rolled on STARSHIP TROOPERS I turned to him and said, “This is your Star Wars.”



5 comments:

  1. Starship Troopers finally gets the review it deserves. Bravo!

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