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

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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?’

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