Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

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.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), a (mildly) belated review

For the first twenty-thirty minutes of watching Thor: Ragnarok, I strongly feared I was about to repeat the Guardians of the Galaxy experience, ie see a comedic action/adventure/superhero film that most critics/audiences like but which Mr. Contrarian here would absolutely hate.

And it was a terrible sinking feeling, because I really enjoyed director Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows and was hopeful his comedic skills would suit the Marvel Universe films.

But those opening minutes were a freaking chore to watch, first with a confrontation between Thor and Surtur, who is presented as considerably less powerful than those familiar with Thor and his mythology would think, followed by a semi-amusing (but which went on too long) cameo by another prominent actor, to an incredibly unfunny Dr. Strange cameo (I recall a video clip released shortly before the movie was released hyped up the great “chemistry” between Benedict Cumberbatch as Strange and Chris Hemsworth as Thor.  There may be chemistry -though I feel this is arguable- but the whole encounter, IMHO, was dull reflected with the groan worthy line “not tea”.), I felt my fingers reaching for the remote, to shut this whole thing down before more permanent damage is done.

And then, after most of this (IMHO!) boring/unnecessary stuff is dealt with, the movie proper actually began.

Thor and Loki meet Odin and then face the movie’s “big bad”, Hela (Cate Blanchett… merely OK in the role but that is more related to the fact that the script doesn’t give her much more to do than be evil) and things finally get off the ground and the movie starts to rock n’ roll.

Thor: Ragnarok may be the third Thor film but it eschews the past Thor films and instead tries hard to be a thematic twin to the 1980 film Flash Gordon.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this trailer…

If you’ve seen Flash Gordon, you probably know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, this trailer might give you some idea (and compare it with the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok below).

Thor: Ragnarok, like Flash Gordon, presents bright and very wild sci-fi worlds and at times the goofy encounters the hero has with the various wild creatures all while keeping his chin up despite the long odds against him.

There is the appearance of yet another very big superhero in this movie whose role, I strongly suspect, was meant to be a surprise but that didn’t happen (the trailer below shows who I’m talking about, in case you don’t know).  That character’s appearance adds to the overall fun of the film as does Jeff Goldblum’s delightfully bizarre turn as the Grandmaster, Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful return as Loki (he just gets better and better in the role!), and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie.

But a special mention should be made to Karl Urban as Skurge.  His role is relatively minor but his character has the best story arc within the movie, from big mouth fool to unwilling ally in evil to… I won’t give it away, but with little actual dialogue and plenty of acting with his eyes and body posture Mr. Urban gives viewers a sense of a man in great conflict.  Very much liked his role.

In sum, if you decide to see this film and you’re just about to shut it off after the first twenty or so minutes, stick around.  The good stuff comes after the bad.

Recommended.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) a (mildly) belated review

Sometimes, you just sit back, put your brain in neutral, and enjoy whatever you can about a goofball comedy you’re watching and, afterwards, decide its best not to think too hard about what you’re seeing.

Such is the case with the Ryan Reynolds/Samuel L. Jackson film The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

I mean… where to start?

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: Ryan Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a very good “bodyguard” who, in the movie’s opening minutes, loses a charge.  Two years later he’s considerably lower rent and dealing with some clearly whacko clients.

Meanwhile, villainous ex-Dictator Ladislav Duckhovich (Gary Oldman in what amounts to an extended cameo role) is under trial at the Hauge for his brutal reign in Belarus (or some such country) and it turns out the case isn’t very strong and prosecutors need to get the testimony of Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson).  Kincaid is imprisoned in England but offered a deal for his testimony.  He agrees to testify.

Bryce’s ex-girlfriend Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, who is OK in a pretty blandly written role) is in charge of moving Kincaid to Amsterdam but, of course, things go sideways and after a bloody encounter with the ex-Dictator’s thugs winds up having Roussel and Kincaid in the wind.

Roussel calls in her ex-boyfriend Bryce to protect and take Kincaid to the Hauge and hilarity ensues as the two are familiar with each other and, of course, don’t like each other much at all.

(It is not terribly clear why Roussel brought her ex-boyfriend in to do this.  You would figure in another movie she would have moved Kincaid on her own.)

Anyway, what follows are some good laughs and plenty of -at times- bloody action.  Of course in The Hitman’s Bodyguard world, stray bullets or out of control vehicles or explosions don’t hurt any innocents and Kincaid, who is shot in the leg early in the film and is so weak from bleeding out, nonetheless recovers remarkably well minutes later and moves around with a light limp which doesn’t affect the action all that much.

Look, its a silly film and I’m starting to do what I shouldn’t: Think too hard about it.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard aspires to be nothing more than an entertaining work which gives people a few chills and thrills, laughs and romance and it accomplishes this, though the plot itself lurches around and could have been streamlined—

Again, don’t think too hard about it!

I recommend the film.  It is at times quite fun.

Just don’t expect much more than that.

Deadpool 2 (2018) a (almost right on time!) review

It’s so very rare to review a just released film… one that’s still in theaters.  In fact, one that was released less than a week before!

Let’s bask in that particular glory for a second or two…

All right, enough of that crap: Deadpool 2.  My 0.02 cents…

When the original 2016 Deadpool was released, I liked but did not love it.  (You can read my review of the first film here)

My hope was that the people who made this film refined their formula and made a better overall work.

Long story short: They did.

Now, I know there are people out there who have expressed a preference for the original Deadpool, but I’m not one of them.

Deadpool 2 follows the manic formula and kicks it up several notches, this time around offering a surprisingly meaty plot that -take it from someone who writes- was very well thought out, despite the fact that it offered plenty of silliness.

In some ways the film’s silliness is not unlike the works of the Zucker Brothers and Abrahams (Airplane!, Top Secret!, The Naked Gun films) in the sense that the jokes come quick and thick and I’m sure, having seen the film this one time, that I missed many, many jokes.

For example, over at one website I was on a little while ago, someone mentioned laughing out loud when, during the movie, we see a TV News report and the crawl on the bottom of the report says something like this: Christopher Plummer rejects role of Deadpool.

Totally missed that one!

I also loved many of the new characters brought into the feature.  Josh Brolin was great as the gravel voiced, grim time traveler Cable.  Zazie Beetz, similarly, was a delight as Domino, the hero whose big power (or mutation) is… luck.  She more than held her own in the craziness that came around her.

If there’s one thing I wish there was more of, its Brianna Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead.  She was, IMHO, one of the great delights of the first Deadpool.  I loved her silent exasperation at the antics of Deadpool but this time around she doesn’t show quite as much of that.  On the other had, they expanded on her character by introducing her girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna, quite delightful!), and this character’s interactions with Deadpool were quite a hoot.

I’ve tried very hard not to get into spoilers here regarding the story presented in the film, up to and including what happens in the opening minutes, and I’m not about to give that stuff up now.  I will say this, though: There are two hilarious cameos by big named actors, one of which if you blink you’ll miss it, the other of which is pretty heavily disguised so, if you don’t notice it, you’ll be forgiven for checking the web for who/when this person appeared.

In conclusion and suffice to say, I recommend the film and highly suggest you stick around during the credits as there is an extended bit that’s quite hilarious and… I’ll say no more.

What are you waiting for?  Go see Deadpool 2!

Violent Cop (1989) a (very) belated review

Takeshi Kitano, also known as Beat Takeshi, was primarily known as a comedian but, over time, became even better known as an action/adventure star.

Mr. Kitano has appeared in many works, including many films he’s directed, acted, and written.  He’s also appeared in American films, including Ghost In The Shell and Johnny Mnemonic.  He even appeared opposite David Bowie in the 1983 film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

But for Mr. Kitano, one could say it was his first directorial work, Violent Cop, which really put him on the map.  Here’s the movie’s trailer.  Mr. Kitano not only directed, he stars in the film as Azuma, the proverbial Violent Cop…

I have to admit, I bought the film on a whim and because it was on sale.  While watching it, I found it intriguing and entertaining but the reviews that stated it was a Japanese “Dirty Harry” seemed a little exaggerated.

For most of the film first couple of acts, we don’t see so much as a single gun!

This turned out to be a coldly calculated storytelling technique, because while the first forty or so minutes of the film allow you to enter Azuma’s world and all seems edgy but otherwise not out of this world, there are many dark edges peeking out, one of which is presented in the movie’s opening minutes…

The movie begins (MILD SPOILERS) with a truly perplexing -in a good way!- sequence where a homeless man is enjoying a meal before he’s attacked and beaten up by a bunch of youths.  Given the way the man is left, the viewer wonders if he is still alive.

The young boys head home and one of them leaves the group to go to his house, which turns out to be in a nice neighborhood.  Shortly after he arrives at the house, Detective Azuma shows up.  He flashes his badge to the youth’s mother after she answers his knock, then heads up to the boy’s room where he proceeds to beat him up.  He then tells the youth that he and his friends better turn themselves in the next day at the police station for what they did to the homeless man.

Questions are raised: If Azuma saw what the young boys were doing to the homeless man and followed at least one of them home, why didn’t he stop them while they were beating the poor guy up?  Why did he wait for them to finish and go home before coming after one of them?

The answer, in a way, is revealed through the course of this movie, and the answer isn’t pleasant…at least with regard to Detective Azuma’s character.

The movie goes on, showing us what Azuma does.  He’s assigned a rookie (a classic police drama cliche) to tag along with him and we also find he has a sister who he cares for but who has mental issues.

He also skirts the law and isn’t above beating up a potential snitch.

But I’ll repeat: The first forty or so minutes of the film lure you into a sense of false security, a sense that things are rough but not that rough.

Which makes the film’s conclusion all the more shocking, difficult to watch, and, yes, nihilistic as hell.

While watching the film to its end, I felt -wrongly as it turned out!- that this movie was influenced by the violence present in Quentin Tarantino’s early movies.  While I’m aware Mr. Tarantino has cribbed from many works, including those released in Hong Kong and Japan, Violent Cop was released in 1989, three full years before Mr. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was released.

I could go into more and more of the film but I feel that would be counterproductive and involve way too many spoilers.

Suffice to say Violent Cop is a film that will shake you up and surprise you by how much it pushes the envelope.  This is ultimately not a pleasant film but that’s what makes it work so exceedingly well.  Having said that, it is also quite clearly not for everyone.

If what I’ve said above intrigues you, give Violent Cop a look-see.  For everyone else, best you stay away.

The Presidio (1988) a (very) belated review

I’ve always been kinda/sorta fascinated by the works of director Peter Hyams.  While he may not be a terribly well known director, he’s made some pulpy films that have lingered in my mind over the years.  They may not always be the most original works, they do have their interesting elements.

Among the many films he’s directed is the Mars landing conspiracy thriller Capricorn One, the remarkably not all that bad 2010 (a sequel to the classic Stanley Kubrick directed 2001: A Space Odyssey), and two of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s better movie outings, Sudden Death and Time Cop.

Mr. Hyams also made two films with Sean Connery, the Alien set/visuals-inspired and High Noon story-inspired Outland and The Presidio.  Here’s the trailer to The Presidio:

I have to say up front: Unlike the many Peter Hyams directed films I mentioned above, there was little I recalled about The Presidio, which I only saw once many, many years ago.  The things I remembered about the film were a) Meg Ryan looked really attractive and b) the characters played by Sean Connery and Mark Harmon were constantly arguing.

Anyway, fast forward to a few months ago and the film was airing on some cable channel and I recorded it to my DVR.  It lingered there, recorded but unwatched, until yesterday when I had a little bit of free time and decided to give the film a go.

The first thing that struck me about the film, and you can catch glimpses of it in the above trailer, is the appearance of Jenette Goldstein as the victim of a murderer -this happens quite literally in the movie’s first few minutes so I don’t feel its a terribly big spoiler- and that sets off the movie’s story.  I point her out because she’s only a couple of years removed from her role as Private Vasquez in Aliens and, because she’s dressed in military green, still looks very much like that famous character.

Anyway, so we have her mysterious murder within the Presidio, the famous San Francisco military academy, and that in turn leads to Mark Harmon’s detective Jay Austin meeting up with Sean Connery’s Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell, the head MP of the Presidio and the man in charge of the case there.

The two have, we soon find, a history.  Austin used to be an MP under Caldwell and at some point he broke from the academy and became a police detective.  He doesn’t care for Caldwell much and the feeling is mutual.

However, because the murder occurred on the Presidio’s grounds, of course the two are eventually forced to partner up.  And it is when Austin heads to Caldwell’s home that he finds the man’s daughter, Donna (Meg Ryan, natch) and the attraction is instant.

Things move on and the conspiracy is eventually exposed but the fact that I couldn’t recall much of the film all these years later becomes more evident as I watched it.

To be blunt, the film isn’t all that good, even though it features a typically strong Connery performance, a charismatic turn by Ms. Ryan, and a so-so turn by Harmon.  I can’t be too harsh regarding Harmon as his character is pretty one note as written: Brash and handsome, handsome and brash.  What may be interesting to some is to see Mark Harmon play essentially a younger, brasher version of his character on N.C.I.S.

The story turns out to be a rather uninteresting one with one “big” surprise regarding one of the ancillary characters that is so obvious that even newborns should see it coming (though, of course, our leads didn’t).

Worse and especially early in the film it seemed we were jumping forward, story-wise, to the point of near incoherence.  I feel like there were scenes missing which were meant to elaborate on Donna and Austin’s relationship.  Perhaps they were filmed and clipped from the final cut or perhaps they were dumped in the screenwriting stage, but nonetheless there were times it felt like I was missing something.

For example, there is a scene which suddenly occurs where Austin and Donna are at an officer’s/military dinner and her father is at another table, seething as he watches them.  Donna acts up and provokes Austin into a fight.

There is no lead up to this scene -either that or I fell asleep for a moment or two and missed it.  One moment Austin and Caldwell are investigating the murder and suddenly they’re all at that military party and Donna’s acting like a crazy person.

A little before that scene there is one where Austin and Donna are walking on a beach and Austin very clumsily states his love for Donna, noting how he’s come to feel this way after seeing her all this time.  At that point in the film I believe we only had them together twice, the first time they “meet cute” and then when they first go out!

Weird, huh?  As I said, I get the feeling there was more to the whole Donna/Austin relationship but romance was torpedoed in favor of action/mystery.

Anyway, I can’t recommend The Presidio, even to hard core Peter Hyams (there are some of you out there, no?), Sean Connery, Meg Ryan, or Mark Harmon fans.  There simply isn’t enough “there” there to justify the time.

Too bad.

Game Night (2018) a (right on time!) review

This past Friday, the 23rd of February, I pick up the local paper, head over to the Weekend section to see what’s up in the world of entertainment and found, as one does, reviews for the films being released that day.

Among the films being released was Game Night, a film that, until I saw the review in that paper, had heard absolutely nothing about.  Here’s the movie’s trailer, which clearly I also missed when it was shown on TV (if indeed it was!).  Though I’m putting the trailer here, I would urge those who know about and/or are interested in seeing the film skip the trailer.  It gives away a lot of information about the film.  Thankfully, not everything, but too much:

Anyho, I read the review, which was positive, and my wife spotted it as well and on Sunday we didn’t have all that much to do in the afternoon so we headed out and saw it.

I have to admit, I was somewhat leery.  The movie’s directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, previously directed the 2015 remake/sequel Vacation, a film that wasn’t very well received and fizzled at the box office.

Nonetheless, based on that review and the overall very good reviews of the film on rottentomatoes.com, we went.

And you know what?  The movie was quite good!

I mean, it isn’t a “classic” in the realm of, say, Airplane! or the Monty Python films, but it nonetheless is a film that is consistently funny and, as an added bonus, quite clever with several fun twists and turns.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a married couple who share an interest in playing games and are damned competitive about it (one of the more humorous lines in the film, found early on, has our protagonists playing Risk with another couple and joining forces to crush the others.  When told they can’t join forces while playing Risk, their response, which I won’t give away here, is quite hilarious).

Anyway, Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, quite good) is in town and, after a game night ends, he invites Max and Annie and their friends to his house where, it turns out, he’s got a “next level” game night planned: He’s hired a company that stages a kidnapping and its up to the players to solve the kidnapping.  The winner gets Brooks’ beautiful cherry red Stingray.

This part you probably see coming: The staged kidnapping turns out to be a real kidnapping, though the players are, at least at first, blissfully unaware of that fact.

I won’t give away anymore of the movie’s plot here but, again, expect more than a few twists and turns.

Everyone within the film delivers here.  Having said that, special mention has to be made to Jesse Plemons.  He plays Max and Annie’s next door neighbor, a creepy police officer who has just divorced and seems to wear his police outfit twenty four hours a day.  A great character!

In sum, if you want to have a fun time at the cinema and laugh throughout a film (as opposed to some “comedies” that give you a couple of laughs here and there), you could do a lot worse than Game Night.

An easy recommendation.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) a (mildly) belated review

As I’ve made it abundantly clear before, I’m a big fan of -and have  even worked in- comic books.  I love many, many characters and can point out many stories, writers, and artists who have to this day inspired me with their works.

Among my favorite runs of comic books is the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko take on Spider-Man, which started in the famous Amazing Fantasy #15…

Image result for spider-man first appearance

Steve Ditko would go on to co-plot and do the art for 38 issues of Spider-Man plus two Annuals, a very long run on the character, before parting ways with Marvel.  Sadly, from all accounts his departure was acrimonious, not unlike the departure a little later of Jack Kirby.  Spider-Man, the comic book, would do quite well after Mr. Ditko left.  John Romita would take over the art on the book and many people consider his run even better than the one Ditko produced.  I don’t share that opinion though I would quickly add that John Romita did some excellent work, though I still like the Ditko stuff better.

Spider-Man is easily Marvel’s biggest, best known character, on the par with legends such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (all DC characters who have existed for many years before the web-head’s first appearance) and thus it makes sense he’d show up -multiple times!- on the big screen.

Like many others, when comic book movies first began appearing with greater frequency, I was curious to see a live action Spider-Man film.  In 2002 audiences finally got a taste of a big-budgeted (as opposed to the cheesy -sorry, they were!- TV version) Spider-Man, via director Sam (Evil Dead) Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.  They would go on to make three Spider-Man films, the second of which many consider one of the best super-hero films ever created before flaming out with Spider-Man 3, which many (including me) consider a misfire.

Only five years after the release of Spider-Man 3 and in 2012 a new, rebooted version of Spider-Man, named The Amazing Spider-Man and featuring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, was released to much acclaim.

And I really, really didn’t care.

As I said above, I’m a fan of comic books and I’m always on the lookout for a new (hopefully good) superhero film, but for whatever reason, after three Spider-Man films by Raimi, I felt I’d seen enough of the good ol’ web head on the big screen.

As the saying goes: “I’m good.”

I have yet to see The Amazing Spider-Man or its 2014 sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which featured the same leads.  That later film didn’t connect well with audiences and Sony Pictures, the producers of the films, decided that run was done.

After negotiations with Marvel/Disney, a deal was reached where the Spider-Man movie property, which Sony had the rights to, would be allowed to appear in the very popular Marvel films.  Thus the “new” (now third) iteration of Spider-Man, this time played by actor Tom Holland and with Marisa Tomei playing the role of Aunt May, showed up briefly in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and, last year, Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first feature film with Mr. Holland in the lead, appeared to much acclaim.

And I still didn’t really care.

Understand, I’m not trying to sound like some kind of grouch here.  As I said, I really like the Spider-Man character.  But unlike many other superheroes out there, for whatever reason seeing him on the big-screen no longer appeals to me.

Yesterday, however, the movie premiered on the Starz channel.  It was the purest of luck that I happened to be watching TV a few minutes before it came on (Starz was showing the Michael Mann directed movie version of Miami Vice, a movie I really didn’t like when I originally saw it in theaters but, now catching it again, I’m finding more fascinating… though still flawed).

Anyway, so I see that Spider-Man: Homecoming is coming on next and I say: “Why not?”

The movie starts and we get an intro to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, damn good in the role) who I knew would be the movie’s villain The Vulture.  Here’s how the character looked in his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #2, with art by the amazing Steve Ditko:

Spider-Man Vulture

It’s sorta/kinda interesting but I’m not totally there.  Then the movie shifts to a few years later and we get a brief rundown, from Peter Parker’s point of view, of what happened in Captain America: Civil War.

Ok stuff, but I’m still not feeling it.

We then move to post Civil War and awkward high school Peter Parker and… I dunno.  I’m still not feeling it.

After some twenty/thirty minutes of watching, I’m seriously thinking of turning the whole thing off and giving up.

And then, the movie finally starts to click.  The story of Parker/Spider-Man and the Vulture slowly begins to come together and all the elements begin to work and I’m having myself a pretty good time.

It’s not the best superhero stuff I’ve ever seen and though the opening act nearly ruined it for me, I’ll be damned if I didn’t find the second and final act of the film worth checking out.

Thus, I recommend the film.

However, and this is one really, really BIG “but”… do yourself a favor and don’t think too hard about what you’ve seen because the story flaws are plenty and can be very bothersome.

For example: What’s with Tony Stark?  Not to put too fine a point on it, but how is what Spider-Man did which got Stark mad at him halfway through the film different from the destruction and near death he caused at the movie’s end, which earned him kudos?  Granted in one case Tony had to clean up a mess that Spidey made but it would seem the person in the wrong in both cases IS Tony for ignoring Spidey and/or not communicating well with him as to what he was doing and what was going on.

In other words: Tony Stark sure was written as a big jerk here.

Further, the surprise reveal of who Toomes was, while suspenseful in the movie proper, seems awfully –too– convenient story-wise, as does the way he discovers -too conveniently, again- who Parker is.

Also, how exactly did Toomes’ henchman arrive so quickly at the Homecoming party?  Is he always hanging out with Toomes?

Also, what happened to Peter Parker’s “Spider-sense”?  In the books it allows him to sense danger around him yet is completely absent in this movie (it is presented in the trailer to the new Avengers film, by the way), which allows not one but two people to surprise him while he’s in costume.

At this rate, he won’t have to do a news conference like Tony Stark to announce who he is… everyone will know.

Finally: I liked most of the “blue” jokes, but there’s this one bit where a group of high school girls are engaged in the game of “fuck, marry, or kill” with the various Avengers aaaaaaannnnnddd

I know, I know, girls that age no doubt say and do far worse but we’re talking about a movie where Peter Parker (and thus, I imagine the girls in this film which are going to school with him) are like 14-15 years or so old and maybe that joke should have been left out.

Yeah yeah, get off my fucking lawn already.

Anyway, I don’t think these story problems are as big as, say, those present in Star Trek: Into Darkness, a film I also enjoyed when I watched it but almost immediately afterwards realized the story quite literally fell apart and have since grown to dislike the damn film.

Again, I don’t think I’ll grow to “hate” Spider-Man: Homecoming like I did that film yet I’d be lying if I said it is anything more than a cute, fun time-killer.  At the very least, it is far better than the other Stan Lee/Steve Ditko creation made for the big screen, Doctor Strange.

As for it making me want to see more of this version of Spider-Man on the big screen?  Well, maybe it has made me a little curious, and that’s saying a lot.

Quintet (1979) a (ridiculously) belated review

The late director Robert Altman (1925-2006) had an incredibly long and fruitful career, working on many different genres both in TV and in film.  Some of the output highlights include MASH (the original movie starring Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland), McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, The Player, and the delightfully quirky pseudo-Agatha Christie mystery/comedy Gosford Park.

Of all the films and TV shows he was involved in, it is fair to say that many of his fans consider Quintet, Altman’s -and star Paul Newman’s- sole 1979 foray into sci-fi his most divisive work.  And that’s being kind.

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Quintet involves a world on the verge of apocalypse that has entered a new ice-age (the cause of this is not explained, though one could presume this might be the result of a nuclear winter).  Paul Newman plays Essex, a seal hunter from the south who, along with his pregnant companion Vivia (Brigitte Fosse), traveled to one of the last remaining “cities”, another frozen hell-hole.  Seals no longer exist and Essex needs to find another means of survival along with his companion.  They go to this city in search of Essex’s brother and, once they arrive, we realize that Vivia is, unlike the other city inhabitants, quite young.  This is surprising to Essex’s brother and people living with him.

We also find that the citizens of this city are into Quintet (who’da guessed?!), a dice/board game which figures into the movie’s plot.

The people of the city, apart from being older in age, share a seeming malaise.  Packs of dogs roam this frozen city and chow down on anyone who dies while, true to form, very few care.  Indeed, the viewer soon realizes the citizens feel more than just malaise: They’ve given up.  There’s little left to do but play Quintet and wait for the end.

As you know, I’m loathe to give away too much of a movie’s plot but I’ll proceed to one more element, which puts the story in motion.  However, given it happens some thirty minutes plus into the movie, it is a SPOILER…

Still there?

Ok, Essex finds his brother and, after introducing himself and Vivia to everyone, leaves them in their apartment home and heads out, looking for work.

While away and while Essex’s brother, Vivia, and the others are busy playing Quintet, a mysterious stranger silently opens the apartment door and rolls a bomb into their living room.  It explodes, killing everyone, including Vivia, in the blast.

Essex hears the blast and rushes back to the apartment and finds everyone dead.  He also sees the man responsible for the killings and gives chase.  However, before he gets to him, the man is attacked by another and his throat slashed.  Essex finds the killer’s still very warm corpse and searches through his belongings.  He finds a list of people’s names along with Quintet game trinkets.

Essex takes these items and assumes the man’s identity, his goal being figuring out why the man a) killed his brother and Vivia and b) why he himself was killed.

Soon enough, Essex comes to realize the game of Quintet extends well beyond the board.

I’ll stop withe movies SPOILERS here and turn to my feelings regarding the movie:

In some ways I found Quintet a fascinating work while in others I felt the people who made the film, those both in front of and behind the camera, failed… at times quite spectacularly.

The first big failure, and it pains me to say it, is hiring Paul Newman for the movie’s lead.  Please understand: I usually love Paul Newman’s work as an actor but in this case… it just felt like he was the wrong choice for the role.  This is most apparent in the sequences right after he finds Vivia’s dead body.  Paul Newman’s reaction is curiously muted and almost a non reaction.  This, to me, was a big problem.  Newman’s playing Essex as a far too unemotional individual and this, sadly, works against us caring for him, his tragedy, and subsequent need for revenge.

The next big problem the film has is director Robert Altman’s decision to film the entire movie with Vaseline around the edges of the frame.  Let me repeat: THE ENTIRE MOVIE features blurry images along all four sides of the screen and, while in theory one could view that as an interesting choice to further emphasize the “cold” nature of the scenery around us, its distracting and silly.  Yeah, Altman and company tried to do something different but in this case it just didn’t work.

Another problem: The sets at times don’t look all that good.  There are more than a few moments where you feel like you’re watching some kind of cheap and overwrought play in a local (frozen) park.

Which leads me to one final big problem: Paul Newman is surrounded with a cast whose native tongue, for the most part, is not English.  This becomes a big problem in scenes which feature plenty of dialogue infused with the movie’s philosophical ideas.

So those are the movie’s minuses, and they are considerable.

Yet after pointing these problems out, as the movie played I nonetheless found myself curious as to where the story was going.  Where it went, in its conclusion, was particularly strong, at least in my opinion.

Despite the strong ending, I simply can’t recommend the film to a “regular” audience.  However, if you’re willing to take a ride that’s far from the ordinary and ignore the problems I listed above, you may find yourself intrigued by this film.  At least intrigued enough to not feel like you just wasted two hours of your life.

Atomic Blonde (2017) a (mildly) belated review

Like many films out there, Atomic Blonde appears to have its fans and detractors.  Those who like the film enjoyed the action sequences -some of which are quite excellent- while those who don’t like the film all that much point out the fact that the plot is rather bland and, at times, confusing and/or slow.

I can see both sides, though I ultimately fall on the “liking it” side.

Directed by David Leitch, Atomic Blonde basically plays out like a late Cold War version of Mr. Leitch’s previous film, John Wick.  Instead of a pseudo sci-fi set up involving assassins and their murky world, we’re placed in Berlin during the Cold War, when the city was separated by a wall and, as we find, we’re at the moment when the wall is about to come down…

…only there’s a problem: There’s this guy with a list that could prove very damaging to all the various spy agencies populating the area.  The Brits send Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron, quite into the role) to go look for this list (I suppose they could call it the McGuffin list).  Once in Berlin, things quickly go sideways as the Soviets seem to already have a bead on her.

She meets her contact, David Percival (James McAvoy, quite fun), but doesn’t know just how much she can trust him.  She also realizes she’s being followed and dangers lurk around every corner.

Atomic Blonde is told in media res.  When we meet Lorraine, she’s already out of Berlin and is debriefing with her boss (Toby Jones) and in the company of a CIA man (John Goodman, quite fun as well) of the events that happened in Berlin.

The events make for a whopper of a story, full of plot twists that border -and often pass- into the realm of the ridiculous.

And yet… I was entertained.

There are plenty of things the film could and probably should have done better yet I liked what I saw and felt Ms. Theron once again proved herself more than capable of doing the action hero thing.

So, if you liked John Wick (and, bear in mind, I did not like John Wick 2), then Atomic Blonde might just be up your alley.

Just sit back and enjoy the action and the wonderful 80’s soundtrack and don’t think too hard about all those plot twists.

It’s not worth the headache.