THE KING’S DAUGHTER (2022)

January 21, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It happens sometimes where the most memorable part of a movie is its setting. Plenty of non-descript westerns (and also some really good ones) took place in Monument Valley. MAMMA MIA! was fine, but that Greek isle of Skopelos was dreamy. Even those who aren’t big fans of Wes Anderson movies would likely agree that his sets and filming locations are something to behold. Somehow, director Sean McNamara surpasses all of these by filming inside and on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, a truly gorgeous and historical setting.

As for the movie, the 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun” by Vonda N McIntire has been adapted for the screen by a list of screenwriters including Ronald Bass, Barry Berman, Laura Harrington, and James Schamus. Since it’s told in a storybook format, with narration from the great Julie Andrews, one must fight the urge to label this as ‘heavy-borrowing’ from the 1987 classic, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and instead view it as a historical-adventure-fantasy attempting to appeal to most everyone, while likely not satisfying any particular demographic … despite some worthy elements.

Pierce Brosnan stars as King Louis XIV (who became the longest ruling monarch between 1638-1715), known as The Sun King. He has just returned from a victorious battle when an assassin’s bullet reminds him of his own mortality, spurring a plan from the weirdo royal doctor, Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber). The plan involves sacrificing a mermaid during a lunar eclipse in order to capture the “light” from her heart and provide immortality to the King … for the good of France, of course. So the King sends dashing Captain Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE KILLER, 2012) to find the lost City of Atlantis and capture one of the famed mermaids.

At the same time, the King has sent for his illegitimate daughter Marie-Josephe (Kaya Scoderlario, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, 2017). She has lived her life in a nunnery, and now is to use her musical talent to takeover as the royal composer – whilst not knowing who her father is. Adding to the confusion is the King’s ulterior motive. The kingdom is in dire financial straits, and in addition to his own immortality, he also plans to have his daughter marry the son (Ben Lloyd Hughes, DIVERGENT, 2014) of the richest merchant in France. A dandy plan were it not for the independent-minded non-Princess falling hard for the swashbuckling Yves. Another complication arises when Marie-Josephe befriends the captive mermaid (Bingbing Fan), pitting the daughter against the father … a scenario many parents have experienced (only not typically with mermaids).

It’s only fair when discussing this movie to mention its own history. Filmed in 2014, the reasons for a delayed release are many and varied. No need to go into the studio and distributor issues, but you may have heard about Bingbing Fan’s (the mermaid) saga. She’s the biggest star in China, and in 2018 she disappeared for a few months after a tax evasion scandal. Fortunately, she’s back working. Another oddity, is that co-stars Kaya Scoderlario and Benjamin Walker met on this set, married a year later and now have two children. That’s how long ago this was filmed! Oscar winner William Hurt adds a touch of class as Father La Chaise, and the talented Rachel Griffiths makes a brief appearance as the Abbess. The film is plenty watchable, yet nothing really stands out as distinctive or memorable … of course, other than the breathtaking sights of the Palace of Versailles, including the stunning Hall of Mirrors.

Opening nationwide in theaters on January 21, 2022

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THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (2021)

December 21, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. One could view being number four in a trilogy as similar to being the ‘third wheel’ on a date. Or one could view it as a new beginning, with a familiar foundation. Your way of viewing will likely depend on whether you choose the red pill or the blue one. This time out, it’s only writer-director Lana Wachowski, without her sister Lilly. Their groundbreaking first film in the series hit screens in 1999, and it’s been 18 years since the last. Lana co-wrote this script with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon.

There is a stunning opening action sequence that is so well done, most will feel like it alone is worth the price of a ticket. But it’s another of the early scenes that really caught my attention and had me laugh out loud and applaud the audacity. Keanu Reeves stars (again) as Thomas Anderson, a renowned game developer best known for his award-winning games (actually a trilogy) ‘The Matrix’ from 20 years ago. His work on a new game called ‘Binary’ is interrupted when he’s summoned to the office of his boss played by Jonathan Groff. Anderson is informed that Warner Brothers, their corporate owner, is not interested in his new game, but instead demands another game in ‘The Matrix’ series. This is either self-parody or Lana’s passive-aggressive revenge, either of which is a bit humorous.

Anderson regularly battles the blurring lines of reality and sees a psychiatrist (Neil Patrick Harris) who prescribes blue (of course) pills to help the patient deal with daily life. There is no way I’m going into the story lines that are tossed around here, but there will be fans who are happy and fans who aren’t. In fact, this one teases with so many elements that are left hanging, we aren’t sure whether Lana is setting the stage for more to come or merely having fun stirring the pot.

What does matter is that Neo and Trinity get the shot at a legitimate relationship/romance. The return of Carrie-Ann Moss is treated with all due respect. She shows off her acting skills, which, let’s face it, are far superior to the lead actor here. Together they make an interesting couple and we pull for things to work out. Jada Pinkett Smith returns as Niobe, and some new characters are introduced as well. In addition to Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris, the most intriguing of these is Jessica Henwick as Bugs (like Bunny). The newly imagined Morpheus is played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas scores a couple of scenes as Sati. Oh, and the answer is a definitive yes – we do miss Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne (despite some of Lana’s creativity).

Neo and Trinity and special effects are the real draw for the series, and though this one is littered with self-parody, one of the most disappointing elements comes in the fight scenes which fall short of expectations. While I enjoyed the multiple story lines, even the partial bits, it’s the big finale action sequence that had me convinced the shark had officially been jumped. It’s drawn out far too long and repetitive at times, and with the 2 and a half hour run time, you have earned the right to question “The One”.

Opening in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021

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THE MITCHELLS VS THE MACHINES (2021, animated)

December 11, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. What would happen if human survival depended on the Griswolds (from the VACATION movies) battling the rogue robots programmed to take over the planet? Filmmakers Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe answer to that scenario is hyper-active, frenetic, overly-busy visual chaos that attempts to blend apocalyptic science fiction, extreme action sequences, and dysfunctional family comedy-drama. It’s a lot to tackle, and for the most part, it works.

Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is preparing to head to film school. Her nature-loving dad, Rick (Danny McBride) is concerned about how he and Katie have drifted apart over the years, and he’s also worried that her educational choice could lead to disappointment. Katie’s mom, Linda (Maya Rudolph) is mostly supportive and upbeat, and yet a bit saddened that the once close father-daughter duo no longer speak the same language. Youngest son Aaron (voiced by co-director Rianda) and family dog Monchi have their moments, and mostly this is a fairly typical dysfunctional family. In fact, dysfunctional family seems to be a misnomer since it describes most families, even the highly organized one that seemingly have their act together … represented here by the Poseys (Chrissy Teigen and John Legend).

Katie’s generation’s adoption and dependency on technology has widened the gap in connection with the previous generation … specifically the bond between father and daughter that was so strong when she was young, and now barely hangs on by thread. Dad is the generation of the supreme screwdriver, while Katie is all about creating memes and videos. He fixes things, while she creates things. Dad decides a family road trip to drop Katie at college is the solution to fixing the frayed relationship. This happens on the same day that mega-Tech guru Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) is introducing his next-gen PAL robot, which is smart technology on steroids. However, it turns out, software has feelings too, and the original PAL (Olivia Colman) seeks revenge for being replaced. An army of robots is sent to capture the entire human race.

A couple of quirky things leave the Mitchell family as our final hope against the robots, and as you might expect, saving the world can lead to reparations in the father-daughter relationship. Dad gains an appreciation for the creative skills of Katie, while she learns of his great personal sacrifice for family. It’s an unusual blend of two distinct stories, but mostly we are left exhausted after a nearly two hour run time. The screen is often cluttered and overloaded with distractions (including old school Furbys with a twist), and although there is a cool throwback look to some of the animation, it’s simply too much of a good thing. Younger kids may be mesmerized by the frantic action, but the story lines are not likely to be followed by most under 10 or so. This one has garnered a great deal of Oscar buzz, which makes sense as adults decide such things.

Streaming on Netflix

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DUNE (2021)

October 21, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been nearly 40 years since David Lynch directed DUNE (1984). The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound, and has since been a cult favorite, though not one I’m particularly drawn to. All these years later, Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel (there are 5 sequel novels) has been re-made by acclaimed writer-director Denis Villeneuve (ARRIVAL, 2016) and his co-writers Eric Roth (Oscar winner, FORREST GUMP, 1994) and Joe Spaihts (PROMETHEUS, 2012). The new version looks absolutely fantastic, even if the story is a bit convoluted and the characters don’t always make the best, or even logical, decisions.

The year is 10191, likely the most futuristic movie we’ve seen. Oscar Isaac is Duke Letto Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson is Lady Jessica Atreides, though the story mostly focuses on the son, Paul, played by Timothy Chalamet. The story revolves around the protection of spice, the most valuable resource in the universe/galaxy. However the real focus is on politics and power plays … so I guess not much really changes over the next 8170 years – except, of course, the colonization and travel between multiple planets (surprisingly, none of these planets is named Elon or Bezos). There is much talk of “the plan” with emphasis on whether young Paul is “the one” mentioned in their legends. Paul does have some special abilities, but Chalamet’s understated (and mostly monotone) portrayal makes everyone, even Lady Jessica, a bit unsure of whether he’s the leader they need.

The supporting cast is impressive and all do their part to drive the action and story forward. Jason Mamoa is Duncan Idaho, the warrior who humorously belittles Paul’s fragile physical frame. Josh Brolin is Gurney Halleck, the bodyguard to the noble family, and Charlotte Rampling plays the Reverend Mother (a creepy nun). Oscar winner Javier Bardem is under-utilized as Stilgar, while Zendaya shines as Chani, one who bonds with Paul. Of course the most outrageous role finds Stellan Skarsgard (with some heavy make-up and special effects) as the grand emperor of Harkonnen, with Dave Bautista as his brother, the Beast.

For me, the movie’s technical aspects are what stand out. It deserves awards consideration in multiple categories, especially Sound, Visual Effects, Cinematography, and Score. Oscar winner Hans Zimmer really delivers a score that compliments and enhances what we see on screen. Cinematographer Greig Fraser has been involved in numerous high profile projects, like ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) and the highly anticipated THE BATMAN (coming in 2022).  The effects are special and include the sandworms, as well as dragonfly choppers that are quite impressive. It was a bit annoying to see the desert sand blowing constantly, yet goggles and masks are hardly ever used. I guess these faces are too expensive to cover up!

Familiarity abounds as some bits recall MAD MAX, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, STAR WARS, and THE MATRIX. Director Villeneuve shot the film in Norway and Jordan, and to answer the question from fans of the original … no, Sting does not make a cameo appearance. The film looks stunning and will likely satisfy the target audience. Whether it’s enough to expand the audience is something we will know soon enough. The film ends with “This is only the beginning”, and Mr. Villeneuve has Dune Part Two in the planning stages.

The film will be released October 22, 2021 in theaters, on IMAX, and streaming on HBO Max

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NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

October 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Bond 25 is here, and it’s quite a curtain call for actor Daniel Craig. The film’s release has been postponed numerous times since September 2019, which has caused expectations and anxiety to build amongst Bond fans. It’s been almost six years since SPECTRE (2015), and this is Daniel Craig’s fifth and final turn as 007. This production faced challenges even before the pandemic hit. Cary Joji Fukunaga (best known for “True Detective” and BEASTS OF NO NATION, 2015) was hired to direct after Danny Boyle stepped down (or whatever happened), and Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to spice up the dialogue on the script from Fukunaga, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade (the latter two having been involved in writing all five Bond movies for Craig). Of course, it’s Ian Fleming to whom we stand eternally grateful for the original characters.

For those accustomed to the James Bond cinematic formula, you’ll notice quite a few differences – beginning with the opening scenes. Traditionally, breathtaking action kicks off the film; but this time a shift in tone and style serves up a tension-filled opening that occurs a few years prior to the rest of the story. It takes a few minutes before we get the first true action sequence. Of course, we must keep in mind that we are dealing with a “retired” James Bond (don’t worry, it’s not like “fat Thor”) … in fact, there’s already a replacement 007 and she (Lashana Lynch, CAPTAIN MARVEL, 2019) packs quite an attitude and skill set.

It’s his old CIA buddy, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who draws Bond back into the espionage game, and of course, the reason is to save the world (what else could it be?). This year’s world-domination-seeking villain is the cleverly named Lyutsifer Safin, and he’s played by Oscar winner Rami Malek (BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, 2018). Safin is a low-key baddie whose weapon is a DNA-altering chemical that’s probably a bit overly complex for a Bond movie, and it’s also a bit strange that Safin/Malek only has a few substantive scenes. For those who saw SPECTRE, you’ll recognize many of the faces, including Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Whishaw as Q, Rory Kinnear as Tanner, and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny. Also back for a terrific scene is Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as Blofield. The new faces include the aforementioned Lashana Lynch as Nomi, Billy Magnusson as Logan Ash, and Craig’s KNIVES OUT co-star Ana de Armas as Paloma. Ms. de Armas brings a jolt of energy and some smiles to the proceedings, and it’s a shame her appearance is so short.

It’s unusual for a Bond song to win its Grammy before the movie is ever released, but that’s exactly what happened for Billie Eilish’s achingly somber title song. Oscar winner Hans Zimmer (THE LION KIING) delivers a wonderful score in his first Bond outing (you’ll hear how he incorporates the Eilish song), and the cinematography from Oscar winner Linus Sandgren (LA LA LAND) is everything we could hope for in the action sequences (there is no shortage of bombs), as well as the quiet moments.

Speaking of the quiet moments, this is undoubtedly the most sentimental and emotional of all Bond films. Sure, we get the amazing set pieces, the crazy stunts, the awesome Aston Martin (until it isn’t), the cool gadgets, the wisecracks, and the shootouts – but we also get Bond at his most reflective and personal. There is a line in the film, “Letting go is hard.” And it is … both for Bond and for us. So welcome back and adieu, Mr. Bond. Craig. Daniel Craig.

The film opens in U.S. theaters on October 8, 2021

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CRIME STORY (2021)

August 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Thanks to (or maybe because of) Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Liam Neeson, we are rarely without a senior citizen action film. However, it’s a bit surprising for most of us to see Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss (THE GOODBYE GIRL, 1977) load up his gun and take to the streets for revenge. Writer-director Adam Lipsius scored a double Oscar coup by also casting Mira Sorvino (MIGHTY APHRODITE, 1995) as Dreyfuss’ detective-daughter.

“Based on actual events”, Mr. Lipsius bookends the film with the elderly Ben Myers (Dreyfuss) riding in the back of a limousine. He’s barely coherent, but in the opening we can make out, “If I wake up, I’ll choose different.” We then flashback 12 hours to re-live what is likely Ben Myers’ worst day ever. He’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and though he’s a former mobster, he says he went “legit” 12 years ago, and runs a local bar with his loyal-to-a-fault sidekick Tommy (the always interesting Pruitt Taylor Vince). Ben’s estranged daughter (Sorvino) hits him up for money she says is for the daughter and grandkids that Ben has never acknowledged. Next thing we know, Ben’s house has been robbed of all his cash (a quite substantial amount) and trashed by 3 men who take advantage of Ben’s beloved dementia-stricken wife Nan (Megan McFarland).

This kicks off Ben’s mission of revenge. Gun by Glock, body by Devito. His daughter is concerned he’s taking this on by himself, and there is the added complication of her working for a politician that Ben once helped out of what would have been a career-ending jam. In fact, there are so many sub-plots, sub-sub-plots and characters who come and go, that much of this makes little sense. It works best when focusing on an aging (former) mobster trying to even the score, and gets a bit shaky when it reverts to dysfunctional family stuff. I believe there are five crying scenes, which is entirely too many for any movie not named SOPHIE’S CHOICE.

For those of us who recall Dreyfuss from his early TV days, a brief appearance in THE GRADUATE (1967), and of course in AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) and JAWS (1975), there is some enjoyment to be had in watching ‘Mr. Holland’ take a violent approach to revenge … though he’s certainly no AARP reincarnation of John Wick. Overall, it’s a pretty generic take on geriatric anger, with bonus points for a spot on description of what it feels like when one’s spouse is ravaged by dementia.

Arrives August 13, 2021 in select theaters, On Demand, and on Digital

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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

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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

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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

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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

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