THE TOMORROW WAR (2021)

July 1, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There are some great time-travel movies, some great Science-Fiction movies, and some great alien-invasion action movies; however, there are very few that successfully blend all of the above. Director Chris McKay (THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, 2017) and writer Zach Dean (DEADFALL, 2012) come up short in this attempt, and in fact, much of the movie is borderline ridiculous in story line, dialogue, and special effects. It’s extremely rare for me to go two hours (or 2:20 for this one) and never engage with a character or story.

We open on Chris Pratt (and many others) falling from the sky and landing in a horrific war zone. Immediately we flashback 3 decades. Pratt plays Dan Forester, a high school science teacher and former Special Forces soldier in Iraq. He has a supportive wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin, THE HUNT, 2020) and a whip-smart young daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong, “Anne with an E”). A glitch in the matrix occurs during the World Cup and a platoon of soldiers announce they are from the future and need help fighting aliens that are annihilating the human race.

Soon, a global military draft is put in place. Thanks to a “worm hole”, those drafted can serve 7 days by bouncing from 2022 to 2051 and back … well at least the 30% who survive get to come back. When Dan is drafted, he hopes to save the world for his little girl, and told her and his students that “science is how you resolve problems”. Of course, big guns help too … but not as much as you’d hope since these aliens are fast, strong, and terribly ugly to look at (with a bit of a throwback look to the 70’s).

In 2051, Dan reports to Romeo Command played by Yvonne Strahovski (“Dexter”), and he works closely with fellow draftees played by Sam Richardson (“Veep”), Edwin Hodge (THE PURGE franchise), and Mary Lynn Rajskub (“24 Hours”). Romeo Command also happens to be a brilliant scientist concocting a potion to destroy the aliens. The hope is to take it back 30 years and prevent the alien invasion from ever occurring. It’s a wing and a prayer plan and there’s a bit more to the story that won’t be revealed here.

Pratt is no stranger to action movies (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, JURASSIC WORLD), and he’s at his best when cracking wise with one-liners. Unfortunately many of those fall flat when there are only 500,000 humans remaining on the planet, and the human race appears doomed. A crazy (and not believable) turn of events leads us to a segment that includes riding snow mobiles on a Russian glacier. The filmmakers try overly hard to work in serious topics like climate change, government incompetence, and anti-war demonstrations (why sacrifice for a war that’s not yet happening?). On top of that, daddy issues abound with multiple characters, which is where a buff JK Simmons (Oscar winner for WHIPLASH, 2014) comes in.

If the film had received its originally planned theatrical run, there likely would have been a few refund requests. However, streaming on Amazon is a much better fit for lower expectations.

Available on Amazon Prime beginning July 2, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


FIRST DATE (2021)

July 1, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. This is the first feature film for co-writers and co-directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp. Despite mixed reactions from its Sundance Film Festival premiere, it’s safe to say that this madcap action-comedy-romance-crime drama provides enough to set the stage for additional projects from the filmmakers. It likely works best as midnight fare, but the film juggles multiple genres and tonal shifts well enough that most will find it at least watchable, if not quite entertaining.

Tyson Brown (his first feature film) stars as Mike, a meek teenager too shy to ask his kickboxing neighbor Kelsey (Shelby Duclos, also her first feature film) on a date. When Mike’s boisterous good friend Brett (Josh Fesler) forces his hand, Mike is surprised when Kelsey accepts … setting off a wild chain of events and comedy of errors featuring a whole host of looney characters. But first, Mike has to find a car to drive, or there will be no picking up Kelsey at 7pm.

Mike buys a $300 1965 Chrysler from a shady dude named Dennis (Scott Noble). Now, Dennis is a natural scammer, but there is another reason Mike’s newly purchased clunker is attracting the attention of drug dealers and corrupt cops. Mike and Kelsey’s first date gets delayed a bit due to all the chaos, and Kelsey briefly ends up in the front seat of the Porsche belonging to local stud Chet (Brandon Kraus). Two local cops played by Nicole Berry and Samuel Adamola have multiple run-ins with Mike, each with terrific comic flair courtesy of Ms. Berry. Walking the line between comedy and danger is the crime gang who spend less time chasing Mike’s car and more time on their book club – “Of Mice and Men” generating quite the debate. It’s like a bumbling character convention came to town.

Filmmakers Crosby and Knapp deliver a frenzied opening scene to try and prepare us for what’s coming. There are a few scenes that drag a bit, but for the most part, the pacing is pretty solid and the mixture of laughs and danger is well managed. Calling 8-tracks the vinyl of car radio is pure genius, and once things go awry, it’s no-holds-barred. The big shootout reminds of FREE FIRE (2016), while the zaniness recalls such films as ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING (1987), AFTER HOURS (1985), and TRUE ROMANCE (1993).

The supporting cast includes Jesse Janzen, Ryan Quinn Adams, Jake Howard, and Samantha Laurenti, and Nicole Berry is quite the scene stealer as Police Sgt Davis. Tyson Brown is spot on as the deadpan Mike whose only talents seem to be misplacing his phone and staying alive, while Shelby Duclos leaves us wishing her Kelsey had significantly more screen time. We can debate whether it’s best to get caught by drug dealers or corrupt cops, and the comedy of errors is sometimes less funny and more dangerous, but that pinch of teen romance keeps the film grounded and personal.

In theaters and On Demand beginning July 2, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE ICE ROAD (2021)

June 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Somehow, it’s already time for Liam Neeson’s semi-annual macho thriller. In this one, he gets to drive a big rig. Over a frozen river. He also gets to wear flannel, chew on a toothpick, and punch two guys (but no wolves) … all while doing the right thing in order to save some trapped miners. And it’s not about the money. Well, it starts out about the money, but in the end, it’s not about the money!

Neeson stars as Mike, a trucker whose spotty employment record is likely as much his own doing as it is that of his brother John/”Gurtie” (Marcus Thomas), who is not just a super mechanic, but also a war veteran with some mental challenges. The VA hospital quickly diagnoses Gurtie with PTSD and prescribes multiple pills for him. Mike tosses out accusations and the pills, as the two brothers head to Winnipeg for a rescue mission.

Jonathan Hensleigh also wrote and directed the 2011 film KILL THE IRISHMAN which I enjoyed. This time he serves up some nice opening shots that give us a real feel for the isolation and frozen tundra of the setting. When the mine collapses, trapping the workers, the oxygen clock starts, and Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) is charged with finding 2 other available and experienced truckers who can drive over the ice road and deliver the necessary equipment within 30 hours. Mike and Gurtie are chosen for one truck, and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder, “Legion”) is chosen for the other. She has extra incentive, as her brother Cody (Martin Sensmeier, WIND RIVER, 2017) is one of the trapped miners.

We do get brief segments with the miners, including Cody and Lampard (Holt McCallany, “Mindhunter”) who are focused on saving as many men as possible. Of course, all of this is the fault of yet another big, bad corporation led by a profit-oriented GM (Matt McCoy, known by “Seinfeld” fans as Lloyd Braun). Along for the ride with the truckers is Varnay (Benjamin Walker, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2016), introduced as an insurance actuarial. And yes, there’s more to his story.

If you’ve ever seen “Ice Road Truckers” on the History Channel, you have some idea what’s about to occur. Thrills, chills, and unforeseen obstacles come at a rapid-fire pace … as if driving 75,000 pounds on 30 inches of slowly melting ice-covered rivers wasn’t enough. This is a wild movie, so expect even more. The bobbleheads on the dash aren’t just good luck charms, and everyone isn’t who they seem. Big companies who cut corners and those who don’t treat vets properly are the targets here, but it’s to be enjoyed as a frigid and perilous rescue mission – and one more chance for Liam Neeson to prove he’s a man’s man.

Available on Netflix beginning June 25, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


INFINITE (2021)

June 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. At one time or another, we’ve all been awed by a cinematic special effect. Some remarkable work is being done by the specialists in the industry, adding previously unimaginable elements to movies. As with most good things, too much of it can be detrimental to a cause. The latest greatest example of this is with Antoine Fuqua’s (TRAINING DAY, 2001) current film, INFINITE. In a mind-bending science fiction thriller (think THE MATRIX), we expect special effects to play a role. What we get is a tidal wave of CGI that leaves us shaking our heads and wondering why no one recognized the extreme level of ridiculous reached here. The goal seems to have been to go above and beyond any “Fast and Furious” movie so that a comparison can’t be found.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Evan Michaels, a diagnosed schizophrenic with violent tendencies when he’s not on medication. Evan is haunted regularly with hallucinations and dreams that seem real, and he’s blessed with knowledge and skills that he’s never learned and memories of places he’s never been. As it turns out, Evan is part of a group called “Infinites”. This group is divided in half: the good guy “believers” and the let’s-end-the-world nihilists. These infinites are able to carry their memories from one life/body into the next as they are reincarnated. It’s a terrific concept based on the novel “The Reincarnationalist Papers” by D. Eric Maikranz. Responsible for adapting the story for the screen are Ian Shorr and Todd Stein.

One of the believers, played by Sophie Cookson (GREED, 2019), works with Evan in an attempt to access a specific memory for the location of a device (“the egg”) in hopes that they can save the world. Simultaneously, the nihilists and their powerful leader played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 YEARS A SLAVE, 2013) are trying to access that same memory in order to use the device to destroy the world. The story really boils down to good versus evil and trying to save the world instead of destroying it. Not overly complicated, which is a good thing in a Wahlberg film.

Mr. Wahlberg, who looks increasingly like John Cena’s little brother, does get to flash his biceps and abs multiple times, including a sequence as a blacksmith forging a samurai sword using ancient techniques. In addition to his typical physicality and always furrowed brow, Wahlberg’s interjected wisecracks – the ones that work in his simple comedies – are lame and simply out of place here. Mr. Ejiofor, a previous Oscar nominee, goes all out in his outlandish portrayal of the super villain – it’s quite a contrast to his more usual subdued dramatic performances and actually fun to watch.

The supporting cast is solid and includes Dylan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Wallis Day, Toby Jones, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, and Liz Carr. As you might expect, given that the memories cover multiple centuries, the film’s geographic locations are varied, and the characters bounce from Mexico to New York City to Scotland to Indonesia. Wahlberg and director Fuqua previously collaborated on SHOOTER (2007), but as mentioned previously, the special effects are just too far over the top here. The opening car chase scene is exhausting, and since we don’t know why it’s happening or who to pull for, it’s mostly just noise without reason. Later, there is a stunt (teased in the trailer) that ensures anyone trying to give the benefit of doubt to the film will instantly surrender. A few attempts are made to trick viewers into believing some deep philosophical thoughts are at work here, and that life is bigger than all of us, but mostly we are left wondering … why the absurdity?

Premieres on Paramount+ on June 10, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


SPIRIT UNTAMED (2021, animated)

June 1, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Any kids that watched Dreamworks’ original SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON (2002) are now at least in their mid-20s and many likely have kids of their own. That original film featured old school animation, and provides a nice comparison for today’s computerized “drawing”. However, from a story and character perspective this is less a sequel to that film, and more a spinoff of the original Netflix series, of which there have been more than 50 episodes.

Lucky Prescott (voiced by Isabela Merced, Dora in DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD, 2019) is a rambunctious youngster being attended to by her Aunt Cora (Oscar winner Julianne Moore) at the home of Lucky’s wealthy and now candidate-for-Governor grandfather. With no time for her shenanigans, grandpa ships off Lucky and Cora to be reunited with Lucky’s father, Jim Prescott (Jake Gyllenhaal). The two haven’t seen each other since Lucky’s mother died tragically ten years ago. On the train ride to Miradero, Lucky has a connection with a beautiful wild stallion she names Spirit. The two share a bond of wildness and independence, though soon enough Spirit is being held captive by mean-spirited horse wranglers.

Lucky and her father have an awkward reunion as he tries to keep her safe, unwilling to admit the free-spirited nature she shares with her mother, who once rode with the Los Caballeros, a local trick-riding team. Her mother’s clothes, boots, and posters open Lucky’s eyes to a world that feels like home. She befriends not just Spirit, but also a couple of local girls, Pru (Marsai Martin) and Abigail (Mckenna Grace), who are drawn to Lucky’s energy, but also recognize the danger she’s in going up against the evil wrangler (Walton Goggins).

What follows is an adventure with terrific visuals and enough action to keep the three and five year olds that I watched the film with glued to the screen. Heck Mountain and the Ridge of Regret seemed to be especially exciting for them, and I personally got a kick out of the importance of math (a word problem) in keeping Lucky on track. The film clocks in under 90 minutes, which is just right for most kids. The songs (Taylor Swift sings the trailer song) didn’t seem to make much impression, but the kid characters did. From a grown-up perspective, it’s hard to miss the fact that the adult males aren’t the best role models, and even Abigail’s young brother Snips (Lucian Perez) spends most of his time wreaking mischievous trouble. However, the lack of other political messages was a relief, and female empowerment in youngsters is always a welcome story line.

The film is co-directed by Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torreson. Writing credits go to John Fusco (the original Spirit film), Aury Wallington (the TV series) and Kristin Hahn and Katherine Nolfi. The all-star voice cast is a nice complement to the visuals (especially the mountains and clouds), and the message about independence and finding one’s own way in life. It should also be noted that the film is rated PG, not G.

Opens in theaters on Friday June 4, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


RIDERS OF JUSTICE (2021)

May 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe occurrences that appear related, yet lack a clear connection. Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen (Nicolaj Arcel is credited with the idea) starts us off with a slew of coincidences: Mathilde’s bike is stolen, her dad calls to say his military assignment has been extended, her mom decides they should take the train to town, a man surrenders his seat to Mathilde’s mom, a passenger throws away his sandwich while getting off the train, a bomb derails the train after that stop, a key witness in a criminal trial is killed, and the man who gave up his seat is a probability expert who begins assembling the pieces before going to Mathilde’s dad to present his case. Were these coincidences related or is it possible meaning is being found where none exists?

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Markus, who returns home from military service to care for his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after the train wreck killed his wife/her mother (Anna Birgitte Lind). The problem is that Markus is a no-nonsense man who deals with his grief by not dealing at all … except for guzzling beer and slapping Mathilde’s boyfriend. Markus is a different look than what we usually get with Mads. His tussled hair has been sheared and he sports a full beard. He’s a combustible man about to burst with pent-up aggression, which makes him especially accepting to the theory he’s about to hear.

Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kass) is the statistical analyst who gave up his seat on the train. His partner Lennart (Lars Brygmann) is a brilliant man, likely on the spectrum, while Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) is an obese loner and computer whiz. This trio reminds of The Lone Gunman from “The X-Files”, and add a dash of dark comedic flair to an otherwise weighty and somber affair. Soon joined by Bodashka (Gustav Lind), a victim a human trafficking, this is a team of flawed and damaged individuals, each dealing with their own personal baggage – while focused on Markus’ obsession with vengeance.

The titular Riders of Justice are a criminal gang whose leader was set to go on trial. The key witness died in the train wreck, kicking off the domino effect for Otto’s theory and Markus’ path of wrath. Can the series of coincidences be mathematically explained, and if so, can this group of overly intelligent, geeky misfits lead the vengeance-seeking husband down the path of vigilante justice?

Filmmaker Jensen nicely balances the moments of extreme violence with the Brainiac segments so that we can easily follow what Markus is doing, and why. The group therapy has us questioning if life can be mathematically predicted, or if coincidences are simply that. Other supporting work comes from Roland Moller and Albert Rudbeck Lindhart, but as you might expect, it’s Mikkelsen who captivates on screen. He’s not skilled as a cuddly parent, but his military training suits this mission. Were this to receive a U.S. remake (hopefully not), we could expect Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington as obvious choices for the lead.

NY & LA theaters May 14th, 2021 and everywhere May 21st, 2021.

WATCH THE TRAILER


WRATH OF MAN (2021)

May 6, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Cinematic Alert: Guy Ritchie has gone straight! That’s right, the filmmaker we’ve come to bank on for dynamic action, creative editing, and clever, rapid-fire dialogue laced with dark humor and outright hilarious, offbeat moments, has delivered a straightforward, by-the-book revenge-crime thriller. Of course, despite it being about as good as anything else in the genre, we just can’t help but feel a little (and maybe a lot) disappointed that Ritchie has shifted his approach and left us wondering why. After all, he’s the genius behind THE GENTLEMEN (2019), SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011), and SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), as well as his brilliant first two films: LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) and SNATCH (2000).

The film opens with an armored vehicle heist that ends in gunfire. This heist and the crew of criminals are the key to the story, and Ritchie utilizes his non-linear, multiple perspective story-telling technique to fill in the gaps for us and provide context to everything else that unfolds. Needless to say, there’s more to this heist than what we initially witness. Jumping ahead a few months, the next thing we see is Jason Statham as the mysterious “H” joining Fortico, the cash truck/armored vehicle company victimized in that early sequence. H is clearly wound tightly and not great at making friends … at least until his heroics thwart another attempted robbery and saves the lives of co-workers Bullet (Holt McCallany) and Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett).

H’s motivation is slowly revealed, as is the fact that he’s not such an outstanding citizen himself. However, it’s clear his mission of revenge is the most important thing in his life, and he’ll stop at nothing to get the person he’s after. His target is part of a criminal team of former military buddies that include Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan), Ian (Scott Eastwood), Brad (Deobia Oparei), and Sam (Raul Castillo), who want nothing more than one huge score so they can walk away and enjoy life. Other key members of Fortico’s staff are played by Niahm Algar, Eddie Marsan, and Rob Delaney. H’s contacts are played by Lyne Renee, Darrell D’Silva, and Andy Garcia, while singer Post Malone (billed as Austin Post) makes an appearance as a robber.

Filmmaker Ritchie is working with many of his regular collaborators. He co-wrote the screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson, and it’s based on the 2004 French movie, LE CONVOYEUR (“Cash Truck”) by Nicolas Boukhrief, Eric Besnard. Others from his usual team include cinematographer Alan Stewart, composer Christopher Benstead, and editor James Herbert. It’s not unusual to find Jason Statham bring his action expertise to a Guy Ritchie crime movie, but Statham really plays it straight here as he sets out to settle a score. The almost non-existent wise-cracking leaves us feeling a bit adrift due to expectations, but the result is a fine, action-packed movie with one excessively long shootout near the end. Ritchie has certainly earned the right to make the movies he wants, but in the words of main character H, “I do bear a grudge.”

Opens in theaters on Friday May 7, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


NOBODY (2021)

March 25, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Revenge movies have long been popular because they let us live out the fantasy of getting even … a chance real life rarely offers. Of course, few of us actually cross paths with Russian mobsters or have a secret life that requires our government personnel file be redacted. But all of the above is in play for director Ilya Naishuller’s first feature film since his debut, HARDCORE HENRY (2015), an innovate POV action/sci-fi movie.

While watching this, numerous other movies kept popping into my head, but front-and-center were the JOHN WICK movies. It wasn’t until afterwards that I discovered this film’s writer was Derek Kolstad, the creator and writer of the first three John Wick movies to date. Knowing that leads to the obvious comparison of leading men – Keanu Reeves versus Bob Odenkirk. Yep, the same Bob Odenkirk who owns the Saul Goodman role from “Breaking Bad” and its terrific spinoff, “Better Call Saul”. And nope, he’s not as cool as Keanu, but it’s the risk of casting against type that prevents this from being same old, same old.

Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a suburban husband and father, working as a bookkeeper at the shop owned by his father-in-law (Michael Ironside, TOTAL RECALL, 1990). A brilliantly edited opening sequence shows us the daily drudgery of Hutch’s life. The rapid cuts tell the story of a man whose existence involves taking the bus to a dead-end job, filling his coffee cup, receiving little respect or affection from family, and yelling at the backend of a garbage truck. Things only get worse when, one night, intruders break into his home. His teenage son (Gage Munroe) springs into action, but Hutch freezes, and is viewed as weak by just about everyone.

It’s at this point where Hutch awakens – his secret past coming back to life. Now you might chuckle a bit at the thought of Odenkirk playing a man who once was so dangerous, he was known as an “auditor” … the last person you want to see at your door. Well, that’s not likely to be your last chuckle, because the over-the-top moments are just getting started. Hutch fights a group of thugs on a city bus, and the one that dies just happens to be the little brother of Russian mobster kingpin Yulian, played with gusto by Aleksey Serebryakov (LEVIATHAN, 2014). Like us, Yulian underestimates Hutch, and most of the movie is spent with every living Russian gangster trying to end Hutch.

Hopefully by now you have intuited that Naishuller’s movie is cartoonish in nature, and has no sense of realism or logic. If you’re not quite sure yet, you should know that 82 year old Christopher Lloyd (as Hutch’s ex-FBI father) joins in on the action – and I mean, he actually joins in on the shootouts. Think of “Mayhem” from the Allstate commercials and you get some idea of the exaggerated shoot ‘em up/ blow ‘em up nature of the action. Connie Nielsen (GLADIATOR, 2000) plays Hutch’s wife and RZA plays Hutch’s equally talented brother.

If one squints and twists, there is some insight into today’s emasculated male – those more likely to bake lasagna than take down an intruder. But mostly it’s just exaggerated revenge action in a way that mirrors John Wick, rather than DEATH WISH (1974) or STRAW DOGS (1971). Director Naishuller gets extra credit for poking fun at the never-ending ammo issue in most action movies, and it might have benefitted from a bit more humor along the lines of the kitty cat bracelet. Fans of the John Wick movies will likely find enjoyment here, but probably “nobody” else … especially those looking for Saul Goodman cleverness.

This film opens March 26, 2021

WATCH THE (Red Band) TRAILER


WONDER WOMAN 1984

December 26, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Some of the key elements that make Wonder Woman appealing is that she’s smart, she’s nice, she’s dedicated to doing good, she’s grounded in her history, and her use of her powers makes sense (in a comic book kind of way). Most of that holds true in filmmaker Patty Jenkins’ sequel to her 2017 blockbuster WONDER WOMAN. So why did that one work so well, while this one falls short? It’s not an easy question to answer, though it could be as simple as having the wrong target.

Gal Gadot returns as Diana Prince, and this time she’s plopped into 1984 (the year, not the novel). This creates a cornucopia of opportunity for social commentary and satire from Ms. Jenkins and her co-writers Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham. After all, it was the era of atrocious popular music, outlandish fashion, and a relentless pursuit of greed by the “me” generation. The film pounces on each of these by using the return of Diana’s main squeeze, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), as a device for highlighting the absurdity of belly bags and pastel tank tops for men. In the first movie, the WWI pilot wakes up in Themyscira, and this time, he just kind of materializes in the year of GHOSTBUSTERS, shopping malls, and President Ronald Reagan. While this certainly qualifies as extreme culture shock, the parade of outfits and Steve’s wide-eyed tour through the city are over-the-top, even for their attempted comedic effect.

Over-the-top also describes the film’s two main villains. Pedro Pascal (“Game of Thrones”) plays TV hypester and con man Maxwell Lord. He’s a greedy, self-centered man willing to do anything to get “more”. Kristen Wiig is Barbara Minerva, a bumbling, forgettable klutz who works at the same museum as Diana. She simply wants to be cool like Diana and have people acknowledge her existence. Things shift quickly thanks to the Dreamstone sitting in Barbara’s in-box waiting for research. What follows is more than two hours of seeing the fallout of people having their wishes come true. If you’ve learned anything about human nature during this pandemic year, then you won’t be surprised at how people react to gaining power.

Maxwell Lord is not dissimilar to Lex Luthor in SUPERMAN (1978), as his goal is ultimate power and control – though to what end, he’s not sure. Barbara Minerva was never really power hungry, but a taste of it was much to her liking, and she transitions to The Cheetah for Wonder Woman’s biggest fight scene. There is also a message about what one sacrifices to have their wishes come true. This aspect of the film could be psychoanalyzed were one so inclined. Lord’s relationship with his son is convoluted, and the early Barbara is a mess … making their “sacrifices” a bit less obvious than that of Diana.

The opening sequence is the one this viewer most enjoyed. Spectacular camera work takes us to a competition on Themyscira, as a very young Diana (Lilly Aspell returns) goes against the grown warriors, while Antiope (Robin Wright) and Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) look on and teach hard life lessons. Not only do these actors return, but most of Ms. Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN crew is back, including cinematographer Matthew Jensen. The changes include Film Editor Richard Pearson and Hans Zimmer provides the new score. Some of the dialogue is tough to take. As an example, Diana says “I don’t know what to think, Steve. I only hope I’m wrong.” And later, Steve explains, “Flying is easy. It’s only wind and air.” Dialogue like this makes us want to renounce our own wishes. It may be one film later than it should have been, but Ms. Jenkins does deliver a much-appreciated cameo at film’s end, and if nothing else, it leaves us wondering, ‘what would you give up for a wish?’

watch the trailer

 


TORPEDO: U-235 (2020)

May 18, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Desperate times, desperate measures” is a phrase that dates back to ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (he of the Hippocratic Oath), and has been applied in many and varied situations since … war strategy being one of the most common. We hear the phrase a couple of times in the War Room during an early scene in the feature film directorial debut of writer-director Sven Huybrechts submarine movie. The term “submarine movie” is used with the utmost respect, as I’m a huge fan of the sub-genre.

Opening with a well-orchestrated attack on Nazi soldiers, we are soon in the midst of a group of resistance fighters – a rag tag bunch committed to wiping out as many Nazis as possible. In the War Room scene, this group is referred to as “The Bad Eggs”, and everyone from all sides seems to want them stopped. However, there is a problem – this group is made up of the only ones crazy enough to accept the current ‘suicide’ mission: delivering a Uranium filled submarine from the Belgian Congo to the United States, where the cargo will be used for the Manhattan Project.

The cast is excellent, led by the ongoing conflict between two outstanding and renowned leads: Belgian actor Koen De Bouw as Nazi-hater Stan, and German actor Thure Riefenstein as captured U-Boat Captain Franz Jager. Co-writers Huybrechts and Johan Horemans effectively use the dangers and claustrophobia of the submarine, and are truly expert in their pitting Stan against Jager. Stan’s beautiful (and sharpshooter) daughter Nadine (Ella-June Henrard) is also on the mission, but it’s Stan’s tragic backstory (which we see in tension-filled flashbacks) that have filled him with a lust for revenge and over-protectiveness.

Training for submarine crews typically lasts a year, and this group of misfits has only three weeks to prepare. Some of the early soundtrack reminds of the iconic Elmer Bernstein theme to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which comes across a bit misplaced, but that’s a minor quibble for a film that gets most everything else right – except for a too-good-to-be-true sequence near the end. Along the way, we see vivid images of the brutality and cruelty of Nazis, which helps us understand why all of these folks are so committed to the mission.

Working with a low budget, the film still manages to deliver the danger and tense situations we expect from a submarine during WWII. There is even a sub vs sub battle for some underwater action. The lineup of other worthy submarine movies over the years include: Jules Verne’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), THE ENEMY BELOW (1957) with Robert Mitchum, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP (1958) with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968)  based on the Alistair MacLean novel, the nerve-rattling DAS BOOT (1981) from Werner Herzog, THE ABYSS (1989) from James Cameron, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) from Tom Clancy’s novel starring Sean Connery, CRIMSON TIDE (1995) pitting Denzel Washington against Gene Hackman, U-571 (2000) with the great Thomas Kretschmann, and BLACK SEA (2014) with Jude Law. And let’s not forget the 1968 classic featuring The Beatles animated, YELLOW SUBMARIINE.

This latest begins in 1941 and the final scene takes place on August 6, 1945. Huybrechts’s film could be described as a cross between INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and DAS BOOT, and it includes plenty of material for conversation on race, religion, nationality, and duty.

Available VOD beginning May 19, 2020

watch the trailer: