Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

Hotel Artemis (2018) a (mildly) belated Review

When I first heard about this movie, I was excited. Written and directed by Drew Pearce (screenwriter for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Iron Man 3), the film sounded like something right up my alley: A noir near-future crime/action drama featuring a most curious cast and a claustrophobic setting.

The movie, to my eyes, felt like something a young John Carpenter might come up with.

And, in many ways, it is.

Set in the near future of (if memory serves) 2028 Los Angeles, Hotel Artemis concerns a highly fortified building which secretly houses a medical clinic which heals criminals. The Artemis is run by two people, “The Nurse” (Jodie Foster, made up to look very old and fuddy-duddy) and Everest (Dave Bautista, quite good as the muscle with a heart).

The movie begins with a robbery that goes bad. Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his gang rob a bank during a riot. There is a shootout afterwards and one of the gang members is killed while Waikiki’s brother is injured. The two head to the Hotel Artemis to get healed and meet up with The Nurse and a couple of other clients in house, including the mysterious Nice (Sofia Boutella) and the loudmouth Acapulco (Charlie Day).

As the riots outside continue, electricity is on and off and our cast of characters interact. The pressure rises when Morgan, a police officer (Jenny Slate) appears at the door of the hotel injured and, almost simultaneously, Crosby Franklin (Zachary Quinto), son of powerful mobster Niagra (Jeff Goldblum… if you’ve seen the trailer of the film, which I’ll present below, you’ve seen roughly 1/4th of his total screen time within the film!) calls in that he’s on his way for treatment.

Morgan, it turns out, is known to The Nurse. More specifically, Morgan knew The Nurse’s son, who perished mysteriously (though we’ll soon find out everything about that) and though the Artemis does not take in police, The Nurse goes against her rules and takes her in.

Anyway, Niagra soon arrives and things go sideways in many ways (I’ll not spoil the story) and eventually we reach a conclusion.

Unfortunately, the film is never terribly action filled (except for the opening and closing acts) and the story presented, while interesting, isn’t that interesting. Worse, by the end we’re supposed to find a nobility in a few characters who sacrifice themselves for others but the film hasn’t presented viewers a strong enough reason for us to feel this is anything more than plot contrivance.

In the end, Hotel Artemis is a misfire, IMHO, an intriguing enough concept which could have used a stronger -much stronger- script.

Too bad.

Predator 2 (1990) a (very!) belated review

Way back in 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in what was arguably his second biggest/best role -after The Terminator, of course- as Dutch in the classic horror/action hybrid Predator

The movie, directed by John McTiernan (whose next film following this was the criminally forgotten Die Hard… 😉 ), managed to mix horror and action in equal doses and, further, presented a villain in the form of the alien Predator which was truly fearsome and made one wonder how someone as seemingly invincible as Mr. Schwarzenegger would survive.

Three years later a sequel to that film appeared. Cleverly (I kid, I kid) titled Predator 2, the 1990 sequel was directed by Stephen Hopkins (Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, numerous TV credits including 24) and starred Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Bill Paxton…

Unlike Aliens, the sequel to the terrific Alien, the movie wasn’t a huge box-office hit or held in as high esteem. Despite this, the Predator creature proved popular enough to appear in several subsequent films, up to and including last year’s The Predator.

I was curious to re-watch Predator 2 (don’t ask why), and a couple of nights ago I put it on, sat back, and watched it. I found it a most curious experience.

The movie takes the original Predator’s setting from the jungles into the then near future L.A. (the movie, as mentioned, was released in 1990 but the film’s opening states the action takes place in 1997). This near future L.A. was heavily influenced by the original Robocop. It is a hellscape of disorder, gangs, and heavy guns; of cops overwhelmed and dealing with sleazy TV reporters (including a cameo by the late right wing mouth-breather Morton Downey Jr.) eager to report on the latest street-level outrage.

The movie is certainly ambitious in presenting a very full cast of characters. It begins by introducing us to Danny Glover’s Lt. Harrigan (the movie’s protagonist) and his crew. The crew consists of his right hand man Archuleta (Ruben Blades) and right hand woman Cantrell (Maria Conchita Alonso). When introduced they are involved in a street level gang gunfight that’s gone out of control. Thanks to the actions of Harrigan, the bad guys retreat into a building. As Harrigan is about to order a raid on that building, he gets an order from above that he’s to stand down, that someone else will take care of the hoods.

Renegade as he is, Harrigan ignores orders and his crew raid the building. Within the crew find a grisly and bloody massacre. One gang banger is left alive and Harrigan pursues him to the roof and wipes him out. Afterwards, Harrigan spots something… strange (though fans of the original Predator know what it is): A weird figure who isn’t quite visible.

Back on the street, Harrigan is reamed out by Captain Heinemann (Robert Davi, pretty much wasted in what amounts to a cameo role as the cliched “stern Captain”). Another, strange group of people arrive at the scene and take over. They are led by an equally strange Peter Keyes (Gary Busey, also in what amounts to a cameo role), who seem to know more about what’s going on than they’re willing to say.

Once back at the station Harrigan and company meet newbie -and loudmouth- Lambert (Bill Paxton, playing a mild variation of his smart-ass Aliens character) and, with the cast in place, we get to the mystery of what’s killing the violent gangs of L.A., and whether the creature behind these massacres has targeted Harrigan and his people as well.

The problem with Predator 2 versus the first movie is that there are too many moving parts. As I mentioned, Robert Davi’s “stern Captain” is a cliche of a character and, frankly, could have been done away with to give the story proper more time to breath. Further, I got the feeling the theatrical cut of the film left plenty of scenes on the cutting room floor.

Perhaps the biggest example of this is when Harrigan presents to the crusty (another cliche) lab lady the Predator spear-head for examination. Only thing is: We never see Harrigan get the spear head. A certain character gets it before they… get it, but we never see Harrigan pick the piece of evidence up. It’s left to a clumsy voice over to have Harrigan states he got it from a dead person’s hand but never see that actual scene.

Eventually Harrigan goes mano-a-mano with the Predator, and it is in this prolonged bit that the movie’s logic takes its hardest fall. It’s simply impossible to believe after seeing the fierce Predator of the first movie to believe Harrigan could go after this Predator like he does… and actually have him on the run.

Finally, the climactic way Harrigan takes out this Predator requires the fearsome and clever alien become incredibly stupid and allow him(it?)self to get within stabbing distance of our hero.

So, yeah, as a sequel to the wonderful original, Predator 2 falls short.

However, and after saying all this, Predator 2 is far from the worst sequel to a terrific original film I’ve seen. There are serious problems with the film but I admired the film’s makers ambitions even if they ultimately fell short of the mark.

Chato’s Land (1972) a (ridiculously) belated review

Back when I was very young and growing up in the early 1970’s, there were certain posters which presented what would become iconic images and were found almost everywhere.  One of them was Rachel Welch in the film One Million Years B.C.

Boys like me loved that image, but I recall another poster that was found in/around that time, this one (I suppose!) being more eye candy for the ladies in the form of a very well toned Charles Bronson from the 1972 film Chato’s Land

This image served as the inspiration to the famous poster…

Chato’s Land was on one of the Starz! channels the other day and I happened to catch it from the very near beginning.  I recalled seeing the film a number of years ago but remembered not all that much about it.  I did recall liking it well enough, even if I didn’t feel it was one of Mr. Bronson’s best works.

So I sat back and watched it and was fascinated by what I saw.

The film starts with Bronson’s Chato going to a small town’s bar and being confronted by the racist ramblings/provocations of the town sheriff.  Chato, you see, is half-Apache and in this era and time the “white folks” don’t much like seeing Apache Indians in their establishments.

The sheriff eggs on Chato, insulting him and trying to make him act.  Eventually, and despite Chato warning him not to, the sheriff draws his gun but Chato is a faster draw and guns the man down.

Chato leaves town as word spreads that an Apache gunned down not only a “white man”, but the town’s sheriff!

We are then introduced to Jack Palance’s Captain Whitmore, a veteran of the Civil War originally on the side of the Confederacy.  He is a well respected and seemingly noble veteran and, with the Sheriff gone, it is up to him to get together a posse and hunt down Chato.  He pulls out his old war costume and builds up his posse.  Right from the get-go, however, the viewer realizes that the crew is a motley one.  There are some who are decent individuals while others are clearly hot-heads or worse.

The group heads out of town in search of Chato and things eventually go sideways as Chato proves a far more elusive, and deadly, prey.

Watching Chato’s Land today, I found myself fascinated by the story it presented.  It’s a simple one, essentially a long chase by horseback of the character of Chato and the simultaneous degradation of a group of what were friends.

Chato himself is presented as almost more myth than a “real” person and Charles Bronson is given very little dialogue throughout.  He is always a step ahead of the posse, except in one sequence involving his wife where the posse comes upon his home and the more vulgar members of the group violently rape her.

This sequence, which to some degree makes little sense (why did Chato decide to lose track of the posse?  Did he not fear they might track him to his home?), is nonetheless important in the film’s story as it exposes the ugliness of a mob and shows that Jack Palance’s noble character has one HUGE flaw: He is a coward.  He, and a friend of his in the posse, knows what’s going on is not right yet he does not act.  He is unwilling to stand up for what is right and force his by now mostly out of control mob to stop.

What Chato’s Land presents, essentially, is the tale of how a few rotten apples in a group -and the lack of courage on the part of those who should know better to speak up- damns an entire group to failure and, in the case of this film, death.

And in some ways, it made me think of current political events.

I’ll say no more about that, though given the movie’s original release date of 1972, whatever symbolism was originally presented likely had more to do with the events in Vietnam.

In the end, Chato’s Land delivers a deeper story than one would think and manages to rise a  bit above its more “typical” western/pulp/revenge roots.  While it may not be a lost “classic”, I found it worth revisiting.

Recommended.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018) a (right on time!) review

One can’t help but admire the length and breath of influence Sir Conan Arthur Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, has had over the years.

There are so may works featuring oddball/quirky detectives solving bizarre crimes while accompanied by their more “normal” sidekicks/partners and almost every one of them owes gratitude to Mr. Doyle’s Holmes.

So too it is with the late Stieg Larsson’s original Milennium Trilogy of novels, the most famous of which was the first titled The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and which has already been filmed twice featuring both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara in what is the most provocative role of the books, that of punk hacker -and oddball- extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander.  Salander’s Watson is journalist Mikael Blomkvist and their setting is the cold environs of Sweden.

The Girl in the Spider Web, based on a “new” Dragon Tattoo novel by David Lagercrantz, features Claire Foy as Salander and Sverrir Gudnasson as Blomkvist.

The movie takes place a few years after the original trilogy of stories and we find Salander hired by a skittish American techno genius who created a program capable of linking up and taking over every nuclear missile in the world.

He fears he made a very big mistake in both creating and giving the program to the U.S. government and wants it back so he can get rid of it.  He asks Salander to get the one and only copy of it from a Pentagon computer and she agrees (plot hole #1: Do you really think such a powerful program would somehow be limited to one copy only?).

Anyway, what Salander doesn’t realize is that there are already eyes on her employer and, after she manages to get the program, the evil schenannigans start and, soon enough, Salander is on the run for her life.   After her apartment is torched with her in it (plot hole #2: Do the villains want to kill Salander or frame her?  Truly this is the most irritating bit in the film and reminds me of the same problem with the last James Bond film Spectre.  The villain seems to want the protagonist to live so that they can personally take them out, yet their henchmen sure do seem intent on killing the protagonist anyway!), Salander enlists the aid of journalist Mikael Blumpkist and the game of cat and mouse formally begins.

Despite those two very irritating plot points that I mentioned above, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a decent enough film which, sadly, winds up being its main problem.

Apart from those two irritations, there is nothing in the film that will make you howl or shake your head or scream at the screen.  Alas, neither is there anything in this film that will blow your proverbial socks off.  You’ve seen most of this stuff before, and at times far better, in other works.

While the film is handsomely constructed, well directed, well acted, and the scenery is pretty, the plot and story provide little punch and, ultimately, are rather weak tea.

I suspect over time this is one of those films that will drift out of my mind and soon be forgotten.

Neither terribly good nor genuinely bad, The Girl in the Spider’s Web just is.

Ready Player One (2018) a (mildly) belated review

One of the nice things about going on a trip like I did (sorry for sounding like I’m rubbing it in… I honestly don’t mean to!) is that if you’re lucky and, like me, you travel via “regular” class (ie, not first class), you’ll find yourself traveling in an airplane that offers individual monitors filled with diversions during your long trip.

That was the case on the way to California: Each seat had an individual monitor on which you could watch TV shows, movies, play games, etc. etc.  The first film I saw via this device was A Quiet Place (reviewed here).  The trip proved long enough to allow me to see another recent release, the Steven Spielberg directed Ready Player One.

Based on the 1980’s nostalgia heavy novel by Ernest Cline, the movie is filled with references to -natch- movies, TV shows, video games, and general pop culture, much -though not all- of which is heavily 1980’s oriented.

If you’ve read the book (I have not), there is an interesting review quote on one of the edition’s covers…

Image result for ready player one matrix meets willy wonka

I know it’s tough to see, but on the upper left hand corner of this cover is the following quote from USA Today:

Enchanting.  WILLY WONKA meets THE MATRIX.

This quote essentially gets to the heart of what Ready Player One, the movie, is.  Here’s the trailer:

Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts, a young man who looks curiously like a young, beardless Steven Spielberg…

Related image

…who, in the year 2045, lives in your typical concrete and metal degrading city-hellscape and, like most of the people, longs to live there as little as possible.  Like many, he often heads out to the “Oasis”, a virtual reality playground wherein people can do all sorts of things with their Avatars, from playing games to participating in any sort of events (nightclubs, dances, romance, etc.).  This, obviously, is the Matrix-like part of the movie.

Oasis, we find in an exposition heavy first 10 minutes or so of the film, was created by an eccentric -and deceased- man by the name of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) who has hidden in this vast virtual playground 3 “keys” which, if found, will entitle the person who gets them control over Oasis.  And there, ladies and gentlemen, is your Willy Wonka element.

As you can guess, Wade Watts and his friends wind up chasing down the keys while an evil/no-good/bad industrialist tries to get the jump on them.

And… and…

It’s okay, I suppose, but the movie, on a whole, left me more underwhelmed than it should have.

That’s not to say there aren’t some delightful sequences, the biggest/best of which involves the hunt for the second key.  I won’t give the elements of this away, but it involves recreating key sequences from a very famous film originally released in 1980, a film which was directed by a person many, including myself, feel is one of the greatest directors there ever was.  I’ll say no more.

The problem with Ready Player One is that the film moves along at a rapid pace but doesn’t allow us to get sufficiently invested in the characters.  The fact of the matter is that they’re barely that: They’re the “good guys” and that’s that.  They’re up against the “bad guys” and that’s that.

Yet as a viewer I never felt they were in any big danger.  The film simply never makes us feel like there are real stakes involved, even though some ancillary characters are eliminated in “real life”.

Again, though, the film isn’t a total bust.  Along with the hunt for the second key, I did find myself laughing at a few sequences/jokes here and there, and it was kinda fun to try to spot all the “easter eggs” this film is filled with.

I also thought it was kinda fun that the film’s climax makes reference to the very first video game that did indeed feature an easter egg (as a long time video game player, I was aware of the game and the egg, so this stuff wasn’t a huge surprise to me).

Yet I can’t help but return to my main complaints: The movie never drew me in as much as I would have hoped and there is never a proper sense of suspense regarding the adventures shared.  We’re also, unfortunately, dealing with characters who are two dimensional and hard to care for.

(I could also get nitpicky and note the way the first key is found seemed waaaay too easy, especially when the movie notes how for so many years people going to Oasis were unable to “solve” it.  Considering the types of easter eggs found by people in all sorts of video games -some deviously well hidden, including that “first” easter egg- this “solution” was… lame).

So…

The bottom line is: The film has its moments and, as spectacle, is interesting.  But it could, indeed should, have been more.  I’d recommend it to those who are fascinated with video games and general pop culture.  Others may want to stay away.

A Quiet Place (2018) a (mildly) belated review

It’s a strange thing to find yourself enjoying, indeed, enjoying quite a bit, a film that by all rights should have triggered all kinds of logic problems in one’s mind.  Logic problems that, in a lesser film, would have made you walk away shaking your head and/or laughing at the silliness of the story you just witnessed.

A Quiet Place is just such a film.

Released earlier this year to great acclaim, A Quiet Place stars and was co-written and directed by John Krasinski (best known -at least up to now and that may well change!- for The Office).  His real life wife Emily Blunt co-stars in the film playing his -what else?- wife and Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, and Cade Woodward play their children.

The scenario is a frightening one: Strange, murderous creatures with hides as tough as metal and claws which can pierce through metal have appeared on Earth in the not too distant past.  These creatures have decimated humanity, appearing mysteriously and wiping out anything they can get their claws on.  Thing is: The creatures appear to be very sensitive to sound, so Earth’s only survivors are those who have been able to not make noise while trying to find a way to fight these seemingly indestructible monsters.

At the start of the film we are introduced to the Abbotts, the family we will follow through this movie.  I’ll tread very carefully here regarding spoilers, but suffice to say they lead a very quiet life, aided to a great extent by the fact that their eldest daughter is mute and thus had already developed the ability to communicate with her -and among each other- through sign language.

We follow them during one trip to the city for supplies and then a short time later during one fateful day where Mrs. Elliot, pregnant with child, and the family confront their worst nightmares.

It is terrific, suspenseful stuff and, wisely, John Krasinski knows how to build tension without going into gore.  This is an elegant film, a film that shows Mr. Krasinski’s a student of the masters.  His work here reminded me, quite positively, of Alfred Hitchcock.  The suspense at times was that good.

However…

As I said before, the main problem one might have with the film depends entirely on how willing one is to forgive the film’s many logic lapses and allow the work to, well, work for you despite these lapses.

I suppose if I get into them I’ll have to deal with SPOILERS so let me do so in a moment.

Before I do, let me say this: The problems I’m about to note below didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film.  Despite these problems, the film works, and works quite well.

Very much recommended.

Now then….

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

 

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!

Still there?

Welp, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Now then, as I said before, the film involves these mysterious monsters who are apparently blind and hunt their prey purely through sound.

In other words, you make a noticeable sound and… bang, you’re dead.

Which begs the question: Why the heck didn’t humanity simply create a series of noisemakers to draw these blind creatures to where they want them to be then rain hell upon them?

How about leading them like lemmings after, say, a remote controlled vehicle and over a very high ravine?

I mean, there seem to me to be a number of ways humanity could -indeed should- have been able to use the monster’s main attribute against them.

The movie’s climax does feature a use of this, effectively finding a noise that bothers/freezes the creatures so they can be picked off, but, again, if sound is their way of hunting, why not put speakers all over a city and blast music 24 hours a day to disorient and draw them in?

But that’s just one logic issue.  Here’s another: How exactly did the Abbots have electricity in their farm?  The movie shows they have lights and a camera system which they use to watch their property.  It’s all well and good, but how do they have this?

If they’re using a generator, it would make noise and that, naturally, would attract the monsters.  I didn’t see any solar arrays, so that seems out.  This is presented in the film but never explained in any way.

Finally, the movie’s climax features a very emotional scene in which the head of the family sacrifices himself for his children, who are pinned down inside a truck while one of these monsters are attacking them.

The monster had attacked and injured the father and he makes eye contact with his children, tells them through hand signs that he loves them, then yells out loud drawing the monster to him and getting killed.

Pardon my French here, but this scene was the one that bothered me the most of all the ones I’ve presented so far.

Why the fuck did he yell?

He had an axe in his hand.  He could have tossed it against the metal shack to his side to make noise to draw the creature away.  Why did he choose to yell and draw the creature right at him.

It was an emotional scene.  It was a scene that ratcheted up the already near unbearable tension… yet it was a scene that made little sense.

IF, of course, you let it.  That one, as I said before, bothered me more than the others, but even it wasn’t enough to make me hate this film.

Congratulations, all involved.  You took a somewhat flawed/illogical concept that could have failed pretty spectacularly in lesser hands yet delivered a first rate suspense/horror film.

As I said before and I’ll repeat again: Recommended.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) a (right on time!) review

As I’ve mentioned too many times before, I don’t get much of a chance to go out and see films when they’re first released.  I wish I did, but that’s the way it goes.

But I do try to make time to do so and, once in a while, actually manage to see a film while it is in theaters.  So it was with the latest Mission: Impossible film, Fallout, released last Friday.  Here’s the movie’s trailer:

I’m a fan of the Mission: Impossible films, though I would quickly state that they haven’t all been winners.  Starting with film #4 in the series (Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol) the last three of the six so far released have have developed a certain style and have been successful following that style, and this extends to the latest film in this series.

Having said that…

Sometimes I feel like I’m “that guy”, the one who reacts negatively to things when everyone else views them as positive.  Likewise, there are times I’m positive about things when everyone else is negative.  I am that fool that really liked Batman v Superman when  so many dismissed the film as dark and dull.  I’m the guy who didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy when everyone seemed to go ape… uh… crap over it.

And here I am telling you Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a very well made action/adventure film… that in the end left me wanting more.

Let me explain:

The movie presents us with nothing we haven’t seen before.  Yes, the movie moves and most of the stunt work is extremely well done.  And you once again have to give credit to Mr. Cruise for pushing the boundaries and doing some really crazy stuff on his own.

But the film offers a muddy story which doesn’t really surprise you all that much (if you can’t figure out who the bad guy is, you simply haven’t seen many films).  We have ancillary characters doing odd things to keep the story going, and the bad guys are presented as being unbelievably knowledgeable about everything going on and manipulate everyone so well yet of course manage to fail in the end.

Look, this is a good film.  A pretty great, in fact, summer popcorn film.  You will be entertained and there isn’t anything presented here that will make you groan of feel like the movie’s makers really screwed up.

However, this is not “game changer”.  Rather, it is the third film in a row of well done Mission: Impossible films and, alas, not much more than that.

And that, to me, is a shame.  Perhaps I was hoping the movie’s makers would push the envelope more than they did.

Still, don’t get me wrong: It’s a good film and worth seeing.  Just don’t go into this expecting anything vastly superior to the two MI films that came before it.

Tomb Raider (2018) a (mildly) belated review

I know little about the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider games, other than the fact that the character appears to be a female version of the Cliffhanger action heroes of yesterday and Indiana Jones, more specifically, of recent vintage.  I also have seen the Angelina Jolie films based on the character/games and they certainly looked nice and Angelina Jolie made for a beautiful hero, but the films themselves…?

Kinda average.

As is (sadly) the case with the passage of time, Ms. Jolie is no longer young enough for this franchise and in 2018 it was rebooted with Alicia Vikander in the titular role and…

…the more things change…!

The 2018 incarnation of Tomb Raider aims for a more grungier “look” versus the two previous film’s almost James Bondian look.  If memory serves, the previous films also had more of a “fantastic/supernatural” element, which this movie hints at but ultimately tries to be more grounded.

The same essential plot elements from the first films are there: You have your young hero, her lost -and perhaps deceased- father (Dominic West), and trip to find the (possibly) supernatural whatzit while dealing with a villain.  In this movie’s case, the villain is played by the usually reliable Walton Goggins who here looks like he was told by the director to act as if he’s sleep walking.

Ms. Vikander’s Lara Croft is aided -eventually- in her journey by Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) but, like pretty much all the characters presented in this film, he’s another cardboard cutout pretending to be a human being.

It’s a real head-scratcher to watch something like Tomb Raider because all the essential elements to a good film are there: Good budget, handsome production and effects, and for the most part usually reliable actors in the titular roles.

And yet to me the film never seems to hit any sort of spark despite all this.  The movie starts with a too long bit involving who Lara Croft is, including the fact that she doesn’t want her missing father’s fortune.  Despite being a zillionaire she lives hand to mouth and works for a restaurant delivering food.  We are presented precious minutes of screen time showing how one of the family members of that restaurant, a younger man/son, is clearly smitten with Lara but doesn’t have the courage to ask her out.  These good folks appear in this one scene and are never shown again and you’re left wondering how the hell this got put into the film proper and not left on the cutting room floor, where it deserved to be.

But that’s not all!

Even when we get to the actual story, one fairly dull sequence, action or not, is presented after the other until, voila!, the movie ends and, frankly, I was left wondering how something with so much going for it could wind up so dull.

Needless to say, I cannot recommend Tomb Raider.  But, for what it’s worth, my wife liked it a lot more than me.

Take that as you will!

The Commuter (2018) a (mildly) belated review

I have to give those who made The Commuter props for trying to create an interesting mystery/suspense film which clearly offers a tip of the hat to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, here’s the trailer:

Liam Neeson is effectively the entire show here, playing ex-cop and now -but not for long- Insurance salesman Michael MacCauley.  He has a loving wife and son and, day after day, commutes by train from his home to the “big city” for work.

As the movie begins, he goes through his day’s office routine while alert, and not so alert, viewers begin to see clues as to where the story is going.  This, sadly, is one of the movie’s big problems and I’ll get into that in a moment.

MacCauley is called to his boss’ office and is told that he’s being laid off.  MacCauley is understandably disturbed.  He has mortgages and is only a few years away from retiring/getting a severance and *poof* that’s all out the window.

He then goes to a bar to meet a cop friend of his (Patrick Wilson) and there also meets the Chief of the police and more hints as to the plot are laid out.

From there, he heads back home via the train and it is there that he eventually meets Joanna (Vera Famiga, rounding out with Mr. Wilson the two leads from The Conjuring movies… though they share no screen time together here).

Joanna offers MacCauley an intriguing proposal: There’s $25,000 hidden in a bathroom within the train.  He can take it and for that money and, for another $75,000 given to him afterwards, he is to identify someone on this train going to its final destination.

After making the offer, Joanna departs from the train and, curious, MacCauley checks the specified bathroom and, sure enough, finds the money.  Obviously, its a welcome relief considering he just lost his job, but soon enough he realizes there is a sinister reason for all this.

Duh!

I wanted to really, really like The Commuter, and as I said before it was clear the makers of the film put a great deal of effort in this Hitchockian pastiche.

However, and as I already mentioned, the film unfortunately hits you over the head with things you can see a mile coming.  When the camera early on lingers on a news report of someone’s suicide, you know that this is going to mean something later in the film.  When MacCauley shows off his wedding ring to his wife and she reciprocates in the movie’s opening minutes, that too comes back in force later on.

The movie’s villain(s) are also pretty easy to discern and whatever “shock” you’re supposed to have later on in the film regarding their allegiances are simply not all that shocking.

But the worst thing about the film, something my wife noted perhaps halfway through the movie, was that if these villains are so good and so connected and “high up” and all seeing as to what MacCauley does while in the train (including, for example, while quite hidden writes a “call the police” note in a newspaper), then how come they don’t know who the person is they’re hunting?

Given their efficiency and all, that becomes something that’s just too hard to swallow.  And don’t get me started on this question:   Why is this person everyone is hunting traveling alone if s/he is so damn important?

With all that said, the film isn’t a total bust.

If you are able to turn your brain off and enjoy it for what it is and not ask too many questions or scratch too hard under its obvious surface, the film is a decent suspense flick with some decent action.

Still, for me its hard to outright recommend The Commuter and that’s a crying shame.  Despite good acting and a clear attempt to create a modern Hitchock suspense drama, this film really needed a little more work on its script and a lot more work on how to more subtly deliver the story.

Anti Matter (2016) a (mildly) belated review

So I finished up my latest draft of book #7 in the Corrosive Knights series (read about that here) and wanted to give myself a bit of a break yesterday so I popped in the latest Netflix film I had on DVD.

Titled Anti Matter and released in 2016, I can honestly say I have no idea how that movie got on my radar or why I put it in my Netflix que.  Regardless, there it was and, having the free time, I put it on.  Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Doesn’t look too bad, right?

Well…

Anti Matter, as can be implied from the trailer, involves Ana (Yaiza Figueroa), Nate (Tom Barber-Duffy), and Liv (Philippa Carson) who are students at Oxford and are involved in a radical experiment.

Ana has discovered a way to make small objects “disappear”.  She consults her friend Nate and shows him the results of her experiment and he, in turn, brings Liv, a “wild child” but brilliant fellow student into the experiment which, they soon find, isn’t just about making things disappear: They can effectively move matter from one place to another (shades of The Fly!).

Their experiments progress nicely and they manage to transport plants, then a caterpillar, then a cat, all while protests against animal cruelty are staged near their lab.  Outside of this trio, however, no one knows what they’re up to and, with stars in their eyes and thoughts of becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams lurking just under the surface, they are forced to speed up their experiments to see if the ultimate immediate matter transportation is possible: Sending humans from one point to another.

As the one who created this experiment, Ana decides to be that first test subject.

But afterwards, things get strange and suddenly she finds herself having a hard time remembering things and her two friends and lab partners are suddenly acting very strange.  Is she paranoid or is there something sinister going on?

Anti Matter is a low budget, perhaps even minimally budgeted film which nonetheless manages to present a clever, at times quite deep story to its viewers.  However, and this is one of the film’s biggest problems, the “shock” ending is something I suspect almost everyone can see coming from a mile away and, further, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the story presented.

The actors are fine in the roles, though if there’s one quibble I have it is that I would have switched actors playing Ana and Liv.  The protagonist, Ana, is played by Yaiza Figuero and, unfortunately, she has a noticeable Spanish accent (she is originally from Puerto Rico) and didn’t seem quite as comfortable in front of the camera as Phillipa Carson, the actress who played Liv.

But this is minor compared to the film’s biggest problem: The script.

As I’ve stated many times before, a great script/story can do wonders to any movie, low or high budgeted.  In the case of Anti Matter, the story concept is quite good, though perhaps not the most original, but the story as presented has many flaws which become only more and more apparent after a) you realize what’s going on (again, that realization should come well before the movie’s end to most viewers), and b) once that realization is made, much of what we’ve seen to this point starts to make little sense.

I will discuss this in some more detail in a moment, but as it involves some rather massive SPOILERS, I’ll leave it for now.

There is a lot to like about Anti Matter.  I applaud the fact that the movie’s makers took what had to be a very low budget yet nonetheless tackled some interesting issues in its science fiction milieu.  I applaud the fact that they were trying to give us a science fiction film that made us think rather than resorted to cheap action or violence or “shock”.

But on the other hand I have to fault them for not thinking their scenario all the way through and giving us a film whose story, unfortunately, falls apart with close scrutiny.

A true shame.

Now, on to…

SPOILERS!!!!

 

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!!!

 

Still there?

Ok, so now let’s get into the meat of the matter: Where I felt Anti Matter’s script let down the story proper.

As I mentioned before, we have a scenario that, while interesting, is not incredibly new to the science fiction genre: Matter teleportation.  As I mentioned, this has been used in the movie The Fly and Star Trek and a whole host of other sci-fi works.

So our protagonist, Ana, decides to be the first subject in this matter teleportation experiment but when it is done, she begins to experience odd things.  She cannot remember things well.  She finds herself not hungry.  Her two lab mates, too, begin acting strange around her, as if they’re hiding things from her.  Even her mother, whom she calls frequently, starts to act strange over the phone.

To make matters worse, when she goes to her apartment, she finds someone is there, breaking in.  The person wears an odd Monkey mask and, in the movie’s only real action sequence, Ana fights the disguised intruder, even breaking through the glass window of their apartment and falling a floor down to the ground (this particular sequence, by the way, stood out like a sore thumb and felt like maybe it shouldn’t have been there… it seemed a little too “action” for this otherwise cerebral film).

So what’s happening?

Again, it felt too obvious to me: Clearly this Ana wasn’t the “real” Ana.  Somehow, the matter teleportation experiment created two Anas, and I knew the “real” one was hidden somewhere.

Surprise, surprise, that’s exactly what happened.

The Ana we follow from the experiment on, we find in the movie’s climax, is an echo, a “non” being fragment of the real Ana.  Further, we’re told that the lab partners have been dealing with her for days now, that she can’t remember things from one day to another because she hasn’t the capacity to do so.  They’re acting suspicious, in part, because they’re tired of dealing with this echo and going over the same thing day after day with her.

But this time around, things come to a head and the “real” Ana appears to tell the echo she needs to go back into the machine.  The unreal Ana doesn’t want to, she fears for her life, but the real Ana tells her she will simply go back to being a part of her.  So she steps into the teleportation area and disappears, forever.

Ok.

I ask the following: If this Ana was an echo that was running wild, why the hell did the real Ana and her lab partners let this craziness go on for so long?  Why the hell did they leave this disturbed non-person to roam the city and university freely?  Were they not afraid of what she might do?

And if she couldn’t remember things from day to day, effectively becoming the same being every time she woke up, why didn’t they simply confront her the first day with the real Ana and explain things?  Why let this charade go on for so long?

Aaaarrrghhhh.

Look, I really was rooting for this film to succeed, even though I could see that twist coming.  But the problem not only lies with that twist but with how it was handled.  Almost everything from the point where Ana is transported to the end made little sense and, even worse, ultimately torpedoed the film’s story because of this.

And that, my fiends, is really too damn bad.