GREEN GHOST AND THE MASTERS OF STONE (2022)

June 30, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Next up in this prime era for Superheroes comes “Green Ghost”, a struggling south Texas car dealer who moonlights as a Lucha Libre wrestler with untapped mystical powers linked to the Mayan Apocalypse! Does that sound preposterous? Sure it does. But really, is it any more ridiculous than Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet? With an overall budget that was likely less than that AVENGERS powerful glove prop, writer-director Michael D Olmos and co-writers Charlie Clark and Brian Douglas deliver their version of a gently comical, semi-serious genre film saturated with martial arts moments and finding meaning in life. While certainly no cinematic masterpiece, what’s obvious about the film is that it was a labor of love … a true passion project.

Charlie Clark stars as Charlie Clark, aka “Gringo”, aka “Green Ghost” (the latter two make for an easy to decipher play on words). The real Charlie Clark is a car dealer in Brownsville, Texas. He’s also the star, producer, and co-writer of this project, so obviously it is very personal to him. This movie is not meant to be compared to big budget productions. In fact, it feels more like a bucket list item for Mr. Clark, and he was fortunate enough and committed enough to fulfill his own wish of making a movie (very) loosely based on his life. In real life, Clark was raised in the Mexican culture by his Nana … photos are shown over the closing credits. This plays as a tribute to her and his upbringing.

In the film, Charlie’s dealership is floundering, mostly because he’s quick to shirk his duties and head to the latest underground wresting match for his adoptive brother, Marco (Kuno Becker). Charlie supports Marco by donning his Green Ghost spandex costume – one that the crowd loves to jeer, and that causes fellow wrestlers to cringe. At a very high level (and low bar), the story involves a plan by evil forces led by Drake (Marko Zarar), the son of Nana’s sister, to obtain the magical and mystical emerald and rule humanity. The defenders of humanity are the trio nicknamed, El Trio de la Luz, and it consists of Marco, his sister Karina (Sofia Pernas), and to his surprise, Charlie. The group’s leader is Nana (screen veteran Renee Victor, who voiced Abuelita in COCO). To prepare for battle, Nana arranges a training program featuring Master Kane (MMA fighter Cain Velasquez), Master Hung (renowned stunt coordinator Andy Chang, “Rush Hour” films), and, best of all, Master Gin, played by the always great Danny Trejo … who even gets a “Machete” punchline. A “Rocky” montage technique is utilized, replete with a Spanish version of “Eye of the Tiger” performed by (director) Robert Rodriguez’s band.

An inordinately high percentage of scenes involve martial arts fighting, and some of the stunt work is much better than we’d expect. And then there are the moments that are meant to ensure we understand the filmmakers are in on the joke … like the flinging of tortillas, and a protective force field negated by fancy eyewear. We are never really sure how all of the mystical powers fit together, but the issue of corruption by power is pretty obvious, even within a family. The film’s best line is, “Every family’s not perfect, Charlie. Sometimes, we just have to make our own.” While watching, a few other films came to mind. This includes Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, and Jack Black’s NACHO LIBRE. Perhaps that will help you find the right mindset for this one.


available VOD beginning June 28, 2022

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JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION (2022)

June 8, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been almost 30 years since Steve Spielberg captivated us, and John Hammond (the late Sir Richard Attenborough) “spared no expense” in stunning Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) with our first look at dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK (1993). Best-selling author Michael Crichton’s original characters and ideas have since spun off into THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997), JURASSIC PARK III (2001), JURASSIC WORLD (2015), and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018). We now have this latest franchise entry to cap off the second dinosaur trilogy, and it finds director Colin Trevorrow back at the helm. He also wrote the story and screenplay with Derek Connolly and Emily Carmichael.

The big news here (other than the dinosaurs) is the 4-doctor reunion of Dr. Alan Grant (Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong). It’s the first time all of these characters have reunited since the original, and those of us who hold a special place in our movie heart for the transformative 1993 film, are most appreciative of the nostalgic touch. However, the hopes for a magical finale to conclude the franchise are dashed in the film’s opening segment … a cringe-worthy “news” report designed to catch us up four years after the destruction of Isla Numbar, and set the stage for what’s to come.

You might assume that dinosaurs roaming our planet would be the headliner, but somehow locusts get the nod. Well, they are genetically modified locusts threatening the world’s non-Biosyn food supply. See, Biosyn is the evil corporation run by twitchy CEO Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) that is attempting to control dinosaurs, the food supply, and even human cloning via DNA manipulation. It’s that last part that brings Maisie Lockwood (an excellent Isabella Sermon) into the fold, and the DNA-mix also provides an easy punchline to Trevorrow’s approach to this final film (blending DNA from the two trilogies). Maisie has been living deep in the Sierra Nevada forest with Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). When poachers nab both the offspring of Owen’s favorite raptor and his quasi-offspring Maisie, the hunt is on. The only question remaining is how are they going to finesse this so that the old crew (Grant and Ellie) collides with the new crew (Owen and Claire)?

A stop in Malta to confront smuggler Santos (an impeccably dressed Dichen Lachman) results in the film’s most frenetic action sequence. As Owen eludes trained killer-raptors while zipping his motorcycle across streets, alleys, and stairwells, Claire is sprinting (not in high heels) across rooftops like she’s Jason Bourne or James Bond. While Owen and Claire deliver the heart-pounding action, Ellie has tracked down Grant on a dig in New Mexico, where he’s “educating” a group of teenagers who remain glued to their mobile devices. Ellie convinces Grant to help in her mission to expose Biosyn, but we get the feeling he’s making the trip for her, not to save humanity. With an assist from ice-cold pilot-for-hire Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), everyone ends in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains at Biosyn’s stunning headquarters. Slowly the connections become apparent, as it’s Malcolm (Goldblum) who is the resident philosopher (all evil corps need one), and the one who has been feeding intel to Ellie.

The rest of the movie exists so that all of these characters, along with Biosyn whistleblower Ramsay (Mamoudou Athie) can get in and out of trouble and dodge various stages of peril. The callbacks and nods to previous ‘Jurassic’ films are numerous. Some work and some don’t. Malcolm’s sardonic quips are mostly in tune, Grant’s grumping and knowledge are spot on, and Ellie has remarkably little to do for someone who is responsible for one of the two main plot lines. Owen and Claire spend the bulk of their non-Malta time consistently recreating the facial expressions that have become all too familiar, though of course, Owen does get to hold out his palm in an attempt at controlling dinosaurs. There is a well-timed small dose of John Williams’ iconic score from 1993, but it’s the musical work of composer Michael Giacchino who mostly guides us along the way.

Credit goes to director Trevorrow for the multiple location shoots around the globe, which helps minimize the set pieces … most of which disappoint. Especially surprising was the weak CGI effort in the mines as some of the characters end up where they shouldn’t be. DNA manipulation run amok is perhaps the underlying theme, but we have to ask why this is … all we really desire are cool dinosaurs and a story that makes sense. Despite the film’s best shot coming at the end – a Mosasaurus underwater – we do hope that, in regards to continuing the franchise, Hollywood doesn’t find a way.

Opens in theaters on June 10, 2022

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THERE ARE NO SAINTS (2022)

May 27, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if the often-great Paul Schrader wrote his version of the Liam Neeson action-revenge film, TAKEN (2008), well here is your answer. Okay, so it’s not the exact story line, but it’s close enough for conversation, and director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa seems happy to work with a script that is not Schrader’s best, yet clearly bears his stamp. The esteemed screenwriter has had recent success with THE CARD COUNTER (2021) and FIRST REFORMED (2017), both of which he also directed. And his track record of screenplays includes such remarkable work as TAXI DRIVER (1976), HARDCORE (1979), AMERICAN GIGGOLO (1980), RAGING BULL (1980), and AFFLICTION (1997).

Jose Maria Yazpik stars as Neto Niente, known on the street as “The Jesuit”. We first see him being released from prison in Huntsville, Texas after serving only four years as a convicted murderer. As Neto is leaving, the jailer says, “I’m sure I’ll see you again.” Neto’s sleazy attorney (played by Tim Roth) recommends he leave town and stay away. Of course, Neto says he first needs to see his young son. Julio (Keidrich Salladi, “The Americans” son Henry) is happy to see his beloved father, but Neto’s wife Nadia (Paz Vega, SEX AND LUCIA, 2019) is frightened for their safety because her boyfriend, Vincent (Neal McDonough, fun to watch in two of my favorites “Justified” and “Boomtown”), is a psychopath criminal kingpin, and his reaction to Neto’s visit is murder and kidnapping.

Before learning that his son has been kidnapped, Neto tries to calm the waters with those pursuing him. This includes the local police and the Mexican cartel that he once worked for. We see flashbacks of Neto’s work and it’s obvious the film’s title fits. During all of this, he meets Inez (Shannyn Sossamon) a capitalistic strip club worker. The two team up to track Julio to Mexico, but not until Neto has had a few brutally violent run-ins with the cartel and a gun dealer who goes by the name Jet Rink (James Dean’s character in GIANT was Jett Rink). The gun dealer is played by Tommy Flanagan (“Sons of Anarchy”), and their meeting is yet another brutally violent scene.

Neto is a tough, confident, man, who despite his particular set of skills, remains mostly quiet; however, he is consistently involved in brutally violent interactions, which is why I keep referring the film’s brutal violence. I’d like to say this is an exaggeration, but it’s not. And just in case some viewers need more, Act 3 ratchets things up a notch. Ron Perlman (a hardworking actor recently seen in last year’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY) shows up as Sans, some kind of crime lord who has a dungeon perfectly set up for torture and imprisonment, and director Ulloa takes full advantage.

The film’s opening quote, paraphrased from the book of Exodus, reads “The sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons.” This is a B-movie packed with thrills, adrenaline, energy, and yes … brutal violence. It’s a world of payback and retribution that never offers Neto the chance for the spiritual new beginning he hopes for. Schrader’s script lacks the character depth of his best work, and seems to be aimed at a group of viewers with a very particular set of tastes.

In theaters, On Digital, and On Demand beginning May 27, 2022

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TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022)

May 22, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Heavy on melodrama. Heavy on cockiness. Heavy on fighter jets. Heavy on nostalgia. Check. Everything that we want and expect in the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 film is present. It’s a movie spectacle featuring one of the few remaining bonafide movie stars front and center, as well as breathtaking action sequences that beg to be experienced on the largest screen possible and with the highest quality audio available. Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr are credited for the characters, while the new screenplay involved collaboration from Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Peter Craig, and Justin Marks. The original film’s director, Tony Scott, passed away in 2012 at age 68, and Joseph Kosinski (OBLIVION, 2013, also starring Tom Cruise) takes the helm.

Callbacks to the original are plentiful, and we get our first in the opening title card – the same one used in 1986 to explain the “Top Gun” training center. Of course, there is one reason we are here, and that’s Tom Cruise. He was only 24 years old in the original, and now lives and exudes the swagger of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. When the film opens, Maverick is an extreme test pilot pushing himself and an experimental aircraft to Mach 10, and yes, this goes against the wishes and order of the program’s Rear Admiral in charge played by a curmudgeonly Ed Harris. It’s a shame that Harris only has a couple of brief scenes, but he is the one that informs Maverick of his new orders to return to Top Gun immediately. His new commanding officer is Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm), who is none too happy about Maverick being back. However, the order came directly from Maverick’s old nemesis/friend, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), now a highly decorated Admiral in failing health.

Maverick is disappointed to learn that he has been brought in, not to fly, but to teach a group of Top Gun graduates how to execute an extraordinarily dangerous mission involving extended high speeds at a low altitude, dropping bombs on the uranium enhancement plant protected by a mountain range, and then immediately elevating to a nearly impossible level to avoid a crash – all while being targeted by the enemies radar and defense system. The enemy goes unnamed so that the movie can remain timeless and avoid any type of political backlash. Plus, this film is about thrills and action, not a political statement.

Being back means Maverick crosses paths with Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), who was mentioned briefly in the first film as an Admiral’s daughter. She now owns the local bar, has a daughter, races sailboats, and still carries a bit of a torch for Maverick, although she’s quick to bust his chops whenever possible. However, it’s the pilots he’s charged with training that cause the biggest issue for Maverick. One of them is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). Rooster is the son of “Goose” (played in the original by Anthony Edwards), who flew with Maverick as his Radio Intercept Officer (RIO) and died in an ejection mishap. Rooster holds Maverick responsible and Maverick is still haunted by his friend’s death. Goose is seen in photos and via flashbacks, and Rooster emulates his dad at the bar’s piano. The conflict between Rooster and Maverick adds complications to the mission – and a bit of melodrama to the entire film.

The newbies (and the Navy) consider Maverick a relic of a bygone era, so of course, ‘instructor’ Maverick takes to the sky to strut his pilot stuff. In addition to Rooster, the standouts in the new group include Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Bob (Lewis Pullman), and Hangman (Glen Powell), the latter of whom, along with Rooster, tries to recreate that symbiotic relationship we originally saw with Iceman vs Maverick. Teller and Powell are both solid, but this aspect never really clicks like the Rooster vs Maverick piece.

We can’t help but notice that the dramatic elements seem to be more of a focus this time around. The biggest impact comes from the scene where Mavericks visits Admiral Kazansky (Iceman) at his home. Despite his well-known physical limitations, Val Kilmer delivers a memorable performance, and the two actors seem to relish this opportunity. The situation is handled with grace, and we are appreciative of Cruise standing firm in his demand for Kilmer to appear in the film. As for the love story between Penny and Maverick, it had to be a bit frustrating for Ms. Connelly to work so hard on an underwritten role, while Jon Hamm’s constant furrowed brow and barking leaves him coming across as little more than jealous of Maverick.

Obviously it’s the fighter jets and aerial sequences that folks will come for, and spectacular and exhilarating are the best words I can find to describe what we see. I was fortunate to see his in IMAX, and if you have one near you, it’s certainly the preferred viewing format. Thanks to the Navy and the training and equipment received by the cast, there is an authentic feel that’s almost throwback in this day and age of CGI. We sense the speed and gravity pulls, even if we are never in peril. The aircraft carrier sequences are mind-boggling, though it’s jets in the air that provide the energy jolt.

Wise-cracking and heartstring-tugging moments fill the screen, and you can relax knowing Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” is back, while Berlin is thankfully not. Sand volleyball has been replaced by some semblance of shirtless and sweaty beach football as a team-builder, and yes, we get the patented Tom Cruise sprints – three times: on a treadmill, during beach football, and in a forest. The familiar sounds of Harold Faltermeyer’s original score are back, this time enhanced by Hans Zimmer and an ending song by Lady Gaga. Those from the original who are absent this time are the great Tom Skerritt, James Tolkan, Kelly McGillis, and Meg Ryan (whose character is mentioned as having passed away). Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is back, though his partner on the original, Don Simpson, died in 1996 at age 52. Deserving of kudos are cinematographer Claudio Miranda, film editor Eddie Hamilton, and those involved with sound, visual effects, and music. For those feeling the need for speed, this sequel delivers; just embrace the cliches and familiarity, and predictability.

Only in theaters (as it should be) Friday May 27, 2022

Here is my link to my 2013 article when I revisited the original TOP GUN

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THE NORTHMAN (2022)

April 21, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. After two incredible arthouse films that earned the label “visionary filmmaker” for Robert Eggers, some would not have been surprised to find him cashing in on a huge payday for the next colossal superhero movie. But for those of us who adore and respect him for THE WITCH (2015) and THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019), we knew Mr. Eggers was not the comic book type. Instead, he secured a hefty budget (still less than $100 million) and with his co-writer, Icelandic author Sjon (writer of last year’s mesmerizing LAMB), created the most epic Viking movie to date … while firmly maintaining his artsy stylings.

Every now and then a movie comes along and I must accept that my words will fall short; that I won’t be able to do justice to what I’ve experienced on screen. This is certainly one of those times. Based on the same Scandinavian folk tale that inspired Shakespeare to pen “Hamlet”, this Eggers film is not just meticulously researched, it also pulls us right in so that we slosh through the mud and muck. We shiver from the cold. We feel the wind and the brutality of the violence. We live the harsh elements of Viking life.

The film opens in the year 895 AD as young Prince Amleth welcomes home his battle-weary father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke). Not long after jester Heimer the Fool (Willem Dafoe) jokes about the Queen and the King’s brother, the boy witnesses his uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang, the excellent “Dracula” TV mini-series, 2020) strike dead the king. Amleth escapes, pledging to avenge his father’s murder and the kidnapping of his mother, Queen Gudrun (Oscar winner Nicole Kidman). Flash forward twenty years and Amleth has become a behemoth of a man played by Alexander Skarsgard (Eric Northman in “True Blood”), who lives, fights, and kills alongside violent 10th century Vikings. Amleth is a hulking beast unmatched in battle, yet one who never unnecessarily harms women or children.

His revenge plan leads him to the farming village where his mother and Uncle Fjolnir now live as wife and husband, an arrangement Amleth is certain she adheres to for her own safety and that of her new son. Bjork, in her first big screen role since DANCER IN THE DARK (2000), appears as the seeress who knows Amleth’s destiny. It’s here where Amleth meets Olga “of the Birch Forest” (Anya Taylor-Joy) and reveals his plan to her. Olga describes her supernatural abilities as breaking men’s minds in contrast to his breaking their bones. The two are quite the match.

Eggers stages a stunning final showdown with a naked sword fight atop a burning volcano to ensure we aren’t subjected to an ending that falls short. The visceral savagery on the screen is somehow both brutal and beautiful. This is epic cinematic brilliance from Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who treat us to numerous long takes in harsh weather and discomforting action. This is 136 minutes featuring some of cinemas best faces, while also proving that visionary is simply not a strong enough word to describe director Robert Eggers.

Opening in theaters on April 22, 2022

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THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT (2022)

April 21, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Calling all Nicolas Cage fans! Put the bunny back in the box and get ready for the most fun you’ll ever have with Nicolas or Nic or Nick or Nicky. And if one Cage isn’t enough for you, you’re in luck. This film has Nicolas Cage playing the (somewhat) fictional Nick Cage, and Nicolas Kim Coppola (Nicolas Cage’s birth name) playing imaginary alter-ego Nicky, a younger version of Nicolas Cage from the WILD AT HEART era who spends the movie constantly reminding Nick that he’s a movie star.

If you can’t make much sense out of all that, don’t worry, writer-director Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten have created a film that is sure to strike a chord with Nicolas Cage fans. What we see is a parody going meta in a surreal way. Very few get to star in the tribute to their own legend, but that’s what happens here. Nicolas Cage goes ‘inside baseball’ on the career of Nicolas Cage … only he does so as struggling actor Nick Cage, an actor so desperate for “the role of a lifetime” that he improvs a reading for director David Gordon Green (Cage’s director on JOE) in the parking lot of Chateau Marmont.

Having been kicked out of his rental after falling behind $600,000 in rent, Nick agrees to take a humiliating job pitched by his agent, Fink (Neil Patrick Harris). For one million dollars, he is to fly to Mallorca and hang out at the birthday party of rich super fan, Javi Gutierrez (a terrific Pedro Pascall, “The Mandalorian”). The twist here is that CIA agents played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz suspect Javi of being a notorious gun dealer who has kidnapped the young daughter of the Catalonia President. Spy-type shenanigans ensue as Nick and Javi develop a bromance that finds the two new buddies writing a film script together. And if that’s not quite enough subplots, you should know that Nick is at a breaking point in his relationship with his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and teenage daughter Abby (Lily Sheen, real life daughter of Michael Sheen and Kate Beckinsale).

The zaniness includes nods to more than a dozen Nicolas Cage movies, and much of the fun is derived from recognizing these. Easter eggs are everywhere for fans, and Nic expertly plays Nick (and Nicky) as a loving tribute to the characters we’ve seen in so many iconic films over the years. Additionally, on screen love is provided for the 1920 classic, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, as well as the more recent gem, PADDINGTON 2 (2017), making this a tribute to cinema lovers, Nicolas Cage fans, and comedies in general. I will admit to disliking director Gormican’s 2014 movie, THAT AWKWARD MOMENT, so much that I hoped he was done as a filmmaker. It turns out, he’s back (and much improved) … not that he ever went anywhere.

Opens in theaters on April 22, 2022

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EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (2022)

April 5, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s bonkers, I tell ya’! Co-writers and co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively (by their choice) as “Daniels”, follow up their ‘farting corpse movie’ SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) with one that is somehow more bizarre, more audacious, and more fun. It’s one of the most innovative films I’ve seen in a while, and although I can point out influences, I’ve yet to come up with a movie comparison that seems just or fair.

Every small business owner can relate to the stress Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is under as she attempts to organize her documents in preparation for an IRS audit of the laundromat she owns with her husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan). As if that’s not enough, her father is scheduled to arrive the same day. She knows Gong Gong (James Hong) is disappointed in his daughter for the husband and life she chose. And while being crushed with those two events, Evelyn’s strained relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) continues to fracture as Evelyn wants to keep Joy’s girlfriend status with Becky (Tallie Medel) a secret from dear old conservative dad/grandfather.

That’s just about the end of the “normal” part of the story, other than Waymond has had divorce papers prepared, not for the purpose of ending the marriage, but with the hope that the threat might force Evelyn to have a real conversation with him about their relationship. Things start to get weird even before they head to the IRS meeting with an agent played with gusto by Jamie Lee Curtis, but while there, we get our first real taste of the fantastical trip we (and Evelyn) are about to take. Of course, I can’t really offer any description of the action that occurs, but nothing is spoiled if I tell you that some characters cross multiple dimensions and universes in an attempt to ‘save the world’. While doing this, they mix in some acrobatic martial arts that would make Jackie Chan envious.

It’s the rare film where the frenetic pace of dialogue keeps pace with breakneck action sequences. A fanny pack, trophies with an unfortunate shape, and blue-tooth type devices all play unusual roles here, and this film challenges everyone from the actors to the directors to the editors to the fight coordinators. You’ll likely recognize Evelyn’s husband as the grown-up version of the child actor who played Short Round in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984), and daughter Joy is portrayed by Stephanie Hsu (a contributor to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), who gets to cover just about the widest range of character we’ve likely ever seen on screen. The estimable James Hong is a riot as Gong Gong. Mr. Hong is now 93 years old with an incredible canon of 450 credits in his 8 decades of work. His presence is quite crucial to the film. It should also be noted that, as we would expect, Jenny Slate shines in her brief role as “Big Nose”, a regular customer at the laundromat.

As terrific as the cast is, this is really a chance for Michelle Yeoh to bring her full arsenal to the role of Evelyn. She’s angry, frustrated, scared, courageous, and even adds her comic timing. Ms. Yeoh flashes her CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON fighting skills, while also brining a regal presence to a film that requires a strong core. It’s no mystery that family and love can solve many of the world’s issues, and Daniels have delivered a wild ride that defies simple description. It’s a long one at 139 minutes, but you’ll thank me later for not saying much more than … it’s bonkers!

Opens in select markets on March 25 and April 1, 2022 and nationwide on April 8, 2022

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MORBIUS (2022)

April 1, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Trust the science, they said. Dr. Michael Morbius is a brilliant doctor/scientist who has devoted his life to formulating a cure for the rare and crippling blood disease he and his friend Milo were born with. This is an origin story pulled from the Marvel comic book characters created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. The film is directed by Daniel Espinosa (LIFE 2017, SAFE HOUSE 2012) with a script adapted by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who previously collaborated on DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015) and GODS OF EGYPT (2016). Sometimes past work tells you what you need to know.

An opening sequence features the always cool shots of a helicopter zipping around the water and cliffs of Costa Rica, before landing at the mouth of a cave that houses zillions (I counted) of vampire bats. The brilliant Dr. Morbius (Jared Leto) plans to blend vampire at blood with human blood in his latest try at finding a cure. All of his work is funded by the ultra-rich and equally suffering Milo, both men desperate for relief from their deteriorating bodies. We flashback 25 years to a clinic in Greece where young Michael (Charlie Shotwell, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, 2016) and Milo (Joseph Esson) first meet as they are being treated with regular blood transfusions by Dr. Nikolis (Jared Harris, “Mad Men”).

Jared Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius, who is known in Marvel comics as “The Living Vampire”, so we kinda know where things are headed. It’s a surprisingly subdued performance by an actor renowned for his characterizations that are anything but. His grown-up friend Milo is played by the always entertaining Matt Smith, and Morbius’ love interest and research partner is Dr. Martine Bancroft (an excellent Adria Ariona). You’ve probably guessed that the blood blend works … right up until it turns Morbius into a blood thirsty killing machine. This puts FBI agents played by Tyrese Gibson and (master of wisecracks) Al Madrigal on his trail. And yes, we know this is headed to the high noon (or midnight) showdown between childhood blood buddies and it’s the do-the-right-thing Morbius versus the ‘hey, I like this superhuman power’ Milo.

The first segment of the film does a terrific job of setting the stage, but the story, the characters, and the execution let us down for the final two acts. The fight scenes feature some of the worst special effects I’ve seen in years. Sure, the film’s release has been delayed a couple of years, but that’s no excuse for what we see. On the bright side, some of the effects do work, and Matt Smith is fun to watch in a couple of his scenes. We do wish for more of Martine’s story, and for a better story overall (after the intro). The film is part of the SSU (Sony Spider-man Universe) and perhaps its best comparison is VENOM, sans the chuckles. It’s clear this film’s mission was to set the stage for a sequel, and that becomes even more obvious in the mid-credit scenes. Normally, I wouldn’t mention this, but since the director has already discussed, and an appearance was made in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, I believe it’s fair game. The great Michael Keaton pops in as Adrian Toomes (aka Vulture), giving us an indication where the sequel is headed.

Opening in theaters April 1, 2022

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THE LOST CITY (2022)

March 24, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s not billed as a remake of ROMANCING THE STONE (1984), and perhaps that’s because it borrows from many adventure romantic-comedies over the years. Brothers and co-directors Aaron Nee and Adam Nee (BAND OF ROBBERS, 2015) have proven they can deliver exactly what is promised from a script by co-writers Oren Uziel (MORTAL COMBAT, 2021) and Dana Fox (CRUELLA, 2021). Seth Gordon receives a story credit, which is a bit ironic considering he has been quoted with, “The best stories are rooted in reality.”

Oscar winner Sandra Bullock stars as grieving, reclusive and highly successful romance novelist Loretta Sage, and Channing Tatum co-stars as her long-time and extremely popular cover model, Adam (in what is obviously a ‘wink and a nod’ to Fabio). Loretta’s love of history, and the passing of her husband, have combined to make her despise the books she writes and the publicity tours she’s required to attend … especially when being forced to wear a skintight purple/fuchsia sequined onesie. On the other hand, vapid model Adam relishes giving the audience what they want – strutting, hair waving, and bare chest.

After their most recent event goes sideways, Loretta is kidnapped by the villainous rich guy with a so-called gender-neutral name of Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe). He’s read her latest book and needs her help in locating the ‘Crown of Fire’ hidden somewhere on a remote island he purchased for this reason. Things have to move quickly before the volcano erupts and buries the treasure. At this point, Adam is committed to rescuing Loretta and proving that he’s more than a pretty face. Loretta’s stressed out literary agent Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, 2019) is determined to save her writer-asset, while the newly hired social media director (Patti Harrison) acts goofy (and deserved better lines).

It’s regrettable, yet a sign of the times, that (2-time Oscar winner) Brad Pitt’s cameo is included in the trailer. This should have been a pleasant surprise for viewers, and instead is spoiled by the clip. He has fun with his role as former Navy Seal and meditation partner with Adam, as the two work towards Loretta’s rescue. The time on the island combines the adventure sequences with the slow-build of the romantic bond between Loretta and Adam, and both actors do their thing. It’s mostly Mr. Radcliffe who seems a bit out of place as he goes big in his role as villain, when some subtlety might have played better. Then again, there is nothing subtle about this production, including the scenes with Beth and an oddball pilot with a goat-fetish played by Oscar Nunez (“The Office”).

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum can play these characters in their sleep, and to their credit, they both seem engaged and willing to put forth the necessary effort. Tatum especially embraces the duality of a preening cover boy and the sensitive type out to prove he has substance. It’s an easy film to criticize, but why would you? It’s meant to be harmless fun and bring joy to movie lovers. It’s totally fine to make a silly formulaic movie when your objective is to make a silly formulaic movie.

Opening in theaters on March 25, 2022

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THE ADAM PROJECT (2022)

March 10, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. At a certain age, most of us have given some thought to what we might say to our younger self if we had the opportunity to go back in time. The familiar phrase goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”, but what if we had foresight? What if we knew the best choices to make, and the bad decisions to avoid? Director Shawn Levy (the “Night at the Museum” franchise) reunites with his FREE GUY (2021) actor, Ryan Reynolds, to bring us a crowd-pleasing time travel movie with a personal twist. The script was co-written by Jonathan Tropper (“Banshee” creator), TS Nowlin (“The Maze Runner” franchise), and Jennifer Flackett (“Big Mouth”).

Twelve-year-old Adam (Walker Scobell in his first film) is the kind of wisecracking kid that attracts bullies at school. He lives with his mother (Jennifer Garner), and they are both still mourning his dad who died in a car crash. Ms. Garner is saddled with the film’s most obvious line when she lectures young Adam, “… the future is coming sooner than you think.” When adolescent Adam stumbles on an injured astronaut in the garage, it takes a while before he figures out that it’s actually his own self from the future (2050 vs 2022). When you have a wisecracking 12-year-old, it’s only perfect casting to have wisecracking master Ryan Reynolds play the older version. Despite some early friction, or maybe because of it, the two enjoy playing off each other with snappy one-liners and comebacks.

As with most time travel stories, things get a bit complicated, and the only solution involves taking a bigger risk and adding more complications. Not to give anything away, but the two Adams are forced to make a joint time-jump to find dear old dad, Professor Louis Reed (Mark Ruffalo). The purpose is not to save dad’s life, but for other personal reasons that involve Zoe Saldana as Laura, and Catherine Keener (miscast as the villain) as Maya, Professor Reed’s not so ethical business partner. It’s this section that offers the most action and tension, although the film is best delivering for the audience when the wisecracks are flying between Reynolds, Ruffalo, and Scobell).

Director Levy has constructed a charming film that proves quite entertaining for mainstream audiences, and he adds little touches like a family dog named Hawking, and classic rock from Led Zeppelin, Spencer Davis Group, Boston, and Pete Townsend. He even avoids the temptation to add a line of dialogue, “Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?” Outside of one sequence, the special effects are minimal considering it’s a time travel movie, and at its heart, it’s a story about coming to grips with family and who you are as a person.

Available on Netflix beginning March 11, 2022

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