THE RHYTHM SECTION (2020)

January 30, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Kicking off a successful franchise that can sustain multiple sequels is the dream of most actors, writers, directors, and producers. When it clicks, a movie franchise can be a cash cow for many years. Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy to create characters that viewers will invest in, or story lines that will keep those viewers interested. Author Mark Burnell has already published four books in his Stephanie Patrick series, and director Reed Morano brings the first one to the big screen. By the time the end credits roll, we have little doubt that “franchise” was the goal.

An opening scene finds Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) pointing a gun at the head of a man who is unaware of her presence. A freeze frame shifts us to “8 months earlier.” Stephanie is a mess. She is supporting her heroin addiction through prostitution, all with the objective of numbing her pain. Three years earlier, her family was killed in a plane crash. It’s the kind of tragedy followed by a grief so devastating that Stephanie has basically given up on life.

Stephanie is jolted back to life when a journalist informs her that it was a bomb planted by a terrorist that brought down the plane her family was on. Now, Stephanie has a reason to exist … revenge. Clearly some suspension of disbelief is in order here. Actually everything about this story is a stretch from reality or even believability. Quick, name all of the heroin addicts who become world class assassins in 8 months. OK, that’s probably not a fair question since you likely don’t know many heroin addicts, and you hopefully don’t know many assassins. But you get the point.

The film plays like a brochure for a travel agent, as the story and Stephanie have stops in Tangier, England, Ireland, Madrid, New York, and Marseilles. Each stop is pretty brief – merely long enough for some killing. Of course most of the stops occur after former MI6 agent Ian Boyd (Jude Law) trains her on the finer points of being a contract killer. The training includes jogging uphill, a frigid lake swim, how to fight in the kitchen, how to get run off the road while driving, and the invaluable advice to shoot your victim twice (but your teacher only once). Oh yes, and she has to impersonate a presumed-dead assassin. Fortunately, Stephanie was top of her class at Oxford, so she is smart enough to make sense of all these things that make no sense to us.

And another thing … why do all these people have such perfect and complete files on their targets?  Photographs by Glamour Shots, map coordinates to hideouts, and an alphabetical list of known accomplices are all quite helpful when former MI6 and former CIA agents (Sterling K Brown) are trying to get a heroin addict to do their dirty work. Brown’s CIA agent turned ‘information broker’ is the oddest of many odd characters here. He lives in a stunning ultra-modern home and has no qualms about hitting on hot assassins that he knows only by reputation. Thanks to all those marvelously complete files, the only unknown here is the mysterious U17. Well, U17 seems to be mysterious to everyone except those watching the movie.

Blake Lively is a talented actress as evidenced by her work in THE TOWN, THE SHALLOWS, and A SIMPLE FAVOR. She is simply miscast here. Despite the “training” her Stephanie received from Ian, we never once believe she is ready to kill all the bad guys. This contributes heavily to the lack of believability presented by the film. It’s a serious story that is ultimately impossible to take seriously as a viewer.

There is a difference in believable and stylish, and director Reed Morano certainly serves up style. She is known mostly for her work as a cinematographer, though she did direct the first 3 episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Ms. Morano and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt hit us with some jarring camera work, and the musical inserts are just a tad too cutesy and obvious at their given time: “I’m Sorry”, “It’s Now or Never”, and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (a cover by Sleigh Bells).

Having author Mark Burnell adapt his own novel may have been a mistake, as there are far too many plot holes and ridiculous moments for this to work as any type of thriller. Here are three examples: we never know why Stephanie didn’t get on the flight with her family; it makes little sense that the journalist tracked her down; and is that supposed to be a twist or not? Given the inclusion of Bond producers (and half-siblings) Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson (stepson of Cubby Broccoli), we can safely assume that the vision was to turn Mr. Burnell’s books into a franchise along the lines of James Bond and Jason Bourne – right down to the fight scenes and international settings. This film certainly sets things up for round two, and if that happens, let’s hope more attention is paid to the script … a crucial element if viewers are expected to buy in.

watch the trailer:


ALL I SEE IS YOU (2017)

October 26, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Marc Forster has crafted a career of making movies that are readily watchable, though for the most part, not especially memorable. These include: FINDING NEVERLAND, STRANGER THAN FICTION, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, WORLD WAR Z, and his best film, MONSTER’S BALL (2001). His latest falls short of those, but thanks to Blake Lively and some creative visuals, we remain interested enough.

This is Ms. Lively’s follow up to last year’s surprise summer hit THE SHALLOWS, her nearly one-woman sea-based spectacle. This time out she does an admirable job of carrying the film in spite of script flaws. It’s co-written by Sean Conway and director Forster, and despite teasing some fascinating psychological aspects, we find ourselves constantly waiting for the movie to show us what we already know is about to happen. Predictability is rarely an asset for a film, and here it acts as a ball and chain to the pacing.

The first third of the film works to establish two things: what Gina’s (Lively) daily life is like as a blind person, and the type of relationship she and her husband (Jason Clarke) have. We get an abundance of distorted light flashes to simulate what she has lived with since the car accident that took away her parents and her vision during childhood. Her marriage finds her very dependent on her husband and Clarke’s character thrives on this … even giving brief glimpses of his demented personality that will eventually take over the film in the final act.

Gina’s doctor (Danny Huston) performs a transplant which successfully restores her vision. The bulk of the story revolves around the changes that vision brings to her life and how the marriage begins disintegrating. The best message here is what happens to a relationship as the individuals change and evolve. Specifically in this case, the wife gains an entirely new perspective, while the husband longs for the days where she was dependent on him.

At times it feels as if director Forster is working hard to create the look and feel of an experimental movie, rather than focusing on the story. There are some interesting visuals provided by locations and camera angles, although the moody atmosphere never really clicks. Ms. Lively singing “Double Dutch” provides an ending that is both odd and mesmerizing in a strange way. We are reminded that evil and self-centeredness can take on many forms, though this film never quite packs the dramatic punch it might have.

watch the trailer:


CAFE SOCIETY (2016)

July 21, 2016

cafe society Greetings again from the darkness. 80 year old Woody Allen continues to amaze with his proclivity to crank out a movie every year. With such movie abundance comes the inevitable hit and miss conversations. Of course, there are those who have never had a taste for his work and another group who have sworn off his films due to the headlines from his personal life. Still, as a filmmaker, his work is usually good for some analysis and debate.

This time out, Woody’s story is set in the 1930’s and it revolves around a young man from the Bronx who heads to Hollywood in hopes of making something of himself. Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is the typical on screen alter-ego for Mr. Allen and displays many of the physical and personality traits we have come to expect. It’s a perfect fit for Eisenberg. Bobby’s naivety takes a beating as he assumes a gofer job under his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a power broker agent to the stars. Things really get juicy when Phil directs his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) to show the local sites to Bobby. As the two youngsters grow closer, Vonnie must choose between the romantic idealism of Bobby, and the luxuries afforded by her older boyfriend (guess who??).

Allen revisits many (if not all) of his familiar themes: religion and the afterlife, misfit relationships, Los Angeles vs New York, jazz, older man/younger woman, and one of his favorites … “what’s the point?” This time he also throws in a nostalgic look at Hollywood by name-dropping some famous stars of the era, but he’s just as quick to flash his lack of respect for the movie industry and seems to compare it to the world of east coast gangsters (such as Bobby’s brother played by Corey Stoll).

This is Mr. Allen’s first digital movie, and it’s his first time to work with legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (3 time Oscar winner for Apocalypse Now, Reds, The Last Emperor). The golden hue and low-level lighting provide a nostalgic feel and warmth to the scenes – even when the characters themselves aren’t so cuddly. Excellent set design and costumes add to the beautiful and classy look of the movie. As always, Allen is working with a deep cast – this one includes Sheryl Lee, Anna Camp, Parker Posey, Paul Schneider, Blake Lively, Jeannine Berlin and Ken Stott.

Life is a comedy … written by a sadistic comedy writer.” It’s the perfect Woody Allen line and we get the feeling he actually believes it. Heard here as a somewhat emotionless narrator, Mr. Allen makes it clear that Bobby’s character (with no apparent skills) is a fish out of water in L.A, but thrives in nightclub management once he returns to the beloved NYC. Bobby’s adventure hardens the young man, while he maintains the mushy core of first love that Woody so adores. Toss in a love triangle and little respect for the women characters, and we end up with a movie that feels like a movie about Woody Allen movies.

watch the trailer:

 


SAVAGES (2012)

July 12, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. I guess this qualifies as director Oliver Stone returning to his dark side. Based on Don Winslow‘s novel, it certainly has the foundation to be a complex, down-and-dirty, twisted plot, double-crossing, love triangle, ultra-violent, drug-dealing smörgåsbord. And while it possesses all of those elements, it still manages to come across as some slick Michael Mann cable TV project.

The film begins with narration from O (Blake Lively) who tells us that just because she is telling us this story, doesn’t mean she is alive at the end. Huh?? She also tells us that she is love with two drug-dealing buddies. Yes, both of them. Chon (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter) is the ex-Seal and muscle in the business. Ben (Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass) is the gifted botanist who turns the magic Afghan seeds into the most potent pot in southern California. Oh, and Ben is also the ultimate philanthropist drug dealer. He builds schools in third world countries and invests in clean energy. After what felt like an eternity, the narration finally ended and I could stop yelling “Shut up, O” at the screen.

One day the boys receive a video via email. It’s an invitation to a business meeting with the Mexican Baja Drug cartel. Suffice to say that the video contained no balloons or party animals. It was more of a visual warning about what happens if you choose not to do business with them. The cartel front men are played by Demian Bichir (fresh off A Better Life) and Benecio Del Toro (MIA since The Wolfman). The queen of the cartel is Elena, played by Salma Hayek. Throw in a corrupt DEA agent, playing both sides against each other, portrayed by John Travolta, and all the pieces are in place for real fireworks once O is kidnapped (it’s in the trailer).

The rest of the movie is pretty much the war you would expect with some poor negotiation skills, torture and back-stabbing tossed in for fun. Overacting is the word of the day, especially from Travolta, Ms. Hayek and Emile Hirsch (money man). Still not sure what to make of Ms. Lively (The Town). The camera certainly loves her but it’s too early to tell if she has staying power as an actress. The only character that is really fun to watch is Lado, played by Del Toro. He is truly a frightening guy who also happens to have a deceptive mind on how to take over from the weak.

The whole good versus evil story line really only works if one side is good and one side is evil. If the good side (Ben) is a drug-dealer in a love triangle with his best friend, it’s much more difficult to muster empathy. Otherwise, when the necessary hostage/money exchanges occur, we really aren’t invested in the characters … and the action takes center stage. That’s the sign of a forgettable movie with no real heart.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see beautiful people playing drug dealers OR you want to see Benecio Del Toro at his sleazy best

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a gritty, down and dirty drug dealing drama with the political extremism we have come to expect from director Oliver Stone

watch the trailer:

 


GREEN LANTERN

June 18, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I have admitted many times that I am a sucker for Super Hero movies. There is just something really cool about an average guy falling bassackwards into super-human strength and being able to fly. With that said, I readily admit some Super Hero movies are better than others. While this one has some entertaining moments, it certainly isn’t one of the better entries in this genre.

It is difficult to know if a viewer is better off as a Green Lantern expert or novice for this adaptation. I can see both sides. The film beats us over the head with explanations, lectures and details but falls way short of the desired action sequences.

 Basic storyline has test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) chosen by “the ring” to become part of the Green Lantern Corps … an intergalactic peace-keeping patrol. Yes, he would be the first human Lantern and no, he is not readily accepted by the leader Sinestro (Mark Strong). By the way, who would choose a guy named SINESTRO to be the leader of your army of good guys?

There are roughly a half million sub-stories that get a blip and then are cast aside. That’s the film’s biggest problem, next to the shortage of action sequences.  I was surprised at the lack of imagination shown for Green Lantern‘s constructs.  They were a bit cartoonish and reminded of what we saw in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.  On the positive side, Parallax, the evil mass that threatens earth and Oa, looks like a tentacled tumbleweed with a scary face. 

 Some stellar supporting actors here (in addition to Mark Strong) include Tim Robbins, Peter Sarsgaard, Angela Bassett, Michael Clarke Duncan and Geoffrey Rush. Duncan and Rush are voice only, but definitely have an impact. Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris, the co-pilot and would-be girlfriend of Jordan. She is also involved with her Daddy’s defense contracting firm and just doesn’t work as a high-powered exec.

 The film is directed by Martin Campbell who also gave us the near awesome re-awakening of James Bond in Casino Royale (2006). He seems to have a feel for action, but gets to use very little of that talent in this film. It really seems to me that the writing was too scattered and just generally weak for a movie of this size. I kept thinking we were going to get some real mind games between Sarsgaard’s Elephant Man with psychic abilities and Reynold’s perfect body Lantern. Instead, we get just another tease and a disappointing action sequence to end the film.  I would say Marvel has a pretty clear lead over DC Comics on film … except, of course, for Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: Green is your favorite color OR you have any doubt that Ryan Reynolds has the physique of a super hero.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you never cared to see what would happen if The Elephant Man turned evil OR the recent exposure of Blake Lively has shown you enough

 


THE TOWN (2010)

September 20, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ben Affleck proved himself to be a talented director with Gone Baby Gone. Here, he once again shows he is best suited behind the camera. He has a real feel for setting, scenery, actors and camera angles. Unfortunately, this story based on the Chuck Hogan novel Prince of Thieves is just a bit too formulaic to stand out from the crowd.

We are told upfront that the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown has more bank robbers than any other … in fact, in some families it is a proud tradition, passed on to the next generation. Ben Affleck got the guide book from his dad – an incarcerated Chris Cooper who has only one scene, though it’s very dramatic. Affleck’s lifelong pal and crime partner is played by Jeremy Renner. Renner’s character, Jem, is downright psychotic next to the meticulous Affleck’s Mr. Sensitive. If after Hurt Locker you have a difficult time imagining Renner as a bad guy, you should check out North Country. That’s a very bad man.

As seen in the preview, Affleck’s merry band of bank robbers take a hostage played by Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona). Affleck, in the course of duty, falls for Hall. She is the light that shows him the way to a better life. The film’s best scene is at a sidewalk cafe where Renner suprises Affleck and Hall with a visit.  The scene dramatizes just how delicate the line is for Affleck between his old life and the new one he dreams of.  Unfortunately, that story line leads us right back to more crime … with FBI mad man Jon Hamm hot on the heals of the local bad boys.

The neighborhood crime lord, played superbly by Pete Postlethwaite, controls the every move of the gang and takes his “fair” share while leading through intimidation – all while trimming roses! Renner’s sister and Affleck’s previous squeeze is played alarmingly (and surprisingly) well by Blake Lively. She appears to have a nice little career ahead of her.

The frustrating thing with this film is that we have seen it all before, just without the heavy bean-town accents. Tons of automatic weaponry lead to very few actual injuries or deaths – always the sign of a cheesy shootout. The finale for Renner, Hall and Affleck are all advertised well in advance of the actual occurrence, which pretty much ends the suspense. On the bright side, the film is well made and entertaining enough. For a much better film on the culture of local/family crime check out this year’s Animal Kingdom.  Here is my review of that film: https://moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/animal-kingdom/

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you grew up in a rough neighborhood within a large city OR you want a peek at the bowels of Fenway Park.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you think everyone should speak with the flowery cadence of Cary Grant OR you believe automatic weaponry is actually dangerous