Monday, 02 May 2022 11:45

‘Memory’ lame

Few things give me movie critic déjà vu quite like reviewing a Liam Neeson geriaction movie. Most of the time, it feels like if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. Mostly because if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that I dislike these movies. Though I should be clear, I don’t exactly like them either. It’s more of a fascination, the idea that these movies, despite being the very definition of formulaic, somehow keep getting financed and distributed in movie theaters nationwide.

The latest in the seemingly unending line of movies where Liam Neeson seeks vengeance and/or justice is “Memory,” directed by Martin Campbell; the screenplay was adapted by Dario Scardapane from the 2003 Belgian film “The Memory of a Killer.” Neeson’s a bad guy this time, although in these circumstances, he’s on the right side ethically, if not necessarily legally.

He’s a guy with a certain set of skills who is thrust into a situation that spirals out of his control. He uses his talents to protect himself, yes, but also to do right by a powerless person who has suffered at the hands of someone at the elite levels of money and power.

(Seriously – how many times have you seen this movie?)

But while I’ll concede that this movie is superior to other recent entries on Neeson’s old-man CV (like “Blacklight,” which you’ll be shocked to be reminded came out less than three months ago – or at least, I was shocked), it’s still not anything like a good movie. There’s a basic competence at work here, both behind and in front of the camera, but the paint-by-numbers plotting and the unsavory subject matter make it tough to give this film anything more than a shoulder shrug.

Published in Movies
Monday, 11 April 2022 14:02

Emergency Bay – ‘Ambulance’

There’s a tendency to bemoan the dearth of original films coming out of Hollywood. The IP franchise model has largely taken over the industry, with relatively little room for material not explicitly designed as part of a larger, familiar whole. That desire for standalone offerings is certainly understandable.

What you might not have expected, however, is that Michael Bay would be the one to fulfill that desire for you.

Bay’s new film is “Ambulance,” a heist thriller based on a 2005 Danish film of the same name (although the director reportedly never saw the original nor read the screenplay). It’s the sort of movie we’ve come to expect from Bay, one packed to the brim with over-the-top action set pieces and overwrought interpersonal dynamics while also being somewhat lacking in the narrative cohesion department.

It’s the Michael Bay experience.

You’re not here for explorations of the complexity of the human condition. You’re not here for taut dialogue loaded with subtext. You are here to watch guns being fired, vehicles being crashed and a whole lot of explosions of various sizes and shapes. You know it. I know it. And Michael Bay definitely knows it.

Published in Movies

There was a certain flavor of film that we used to see fairly often back in the day, films that were part rom-com, part adventure. These movies brought together action elements with love stories and steeped the whole thing in quippy banter and moments of slapstick. Now, were these movies always good? Of course not. But they were almost always fun – and that was more than enough.

We don’t see as many of those films these days, what with the industry’s pivot to IP blockbusters and franchise development. But when they do turn up, it can be a reminder of how much fun these kinds of movie experiences can be.

“The Lost City,” directed by Aaron and Adam Nee from a screenplay they co-wrote with Dana Fox and Oren Uziel, is a throwback to those delightful mélanges of comedy, adventure and romance. Thanks to some engaging performances, headlined by Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, and a distinctly retro storytelling sensibility, the movie proves to be a lovely romp, a frothy, goofy trifle of a film that refuses to take itself too seriously.

Sure, it might not be great cinema, but I definitely had a great time … and I bet you will too.

Published in Movies

I have a complicated history with Ryan Reynolds.

For a good stretch of his career, I found him to be generally insufferable. He radiated smugness, smirking and quipping his way through a series of not-terribly-interesting comedies and franchise misfires. Long story short, I didn’t care for him.

And then, well … he wore me down.

Don’t get me wrong – the aforementioned qualities are still part of the package. And he’s still making plenty of questionable films. I just find myself enjoying them more, even if (when) they’re not necessarily that great.

Which brings us to “The Adam Project,” the new big-budget Netflix offering starring Reynolds as a time traveler who inadvertently winds up partnering with his younger self (played exceptionally by newcomer Walker Scobell) in an effort to save the world from the clutches of a power-mad billionaire.

I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous. And it is. But it’s better than it sounds. The notion of setting right what once went wrong is a staple of the time travel genre; adding the coming-of-age element gives the film a flavor that makes it palatable even when the logistics of the narrative break down and we see the seams a little.

Published in Movies
Monday, 21 February 2022 16:14

‘Uncharted’ can’t quite find itself

The history of movies derived from video games is … well, let’s just call it checkered. While there have been a handful that have proven successful from a financial standpoint, the overall quality of films within the genre hasn’t been great.

Meanwhile, the history of movies that have languished in development hell for a decade or more? Also checkered. It’s rare for a film to be stuck in limbo for that long to make its way out and prove a success. Not unprecedented, but rare.

“Uncharted” is both.

The new film – based on the wildly popular video game series of the same name – has been in development since 2008. That’s 14 years (though some of that time on this end was obviously lost to the pandemic) – so long that co-star Mark Wahlberg was actually attached to play the lead role occupied by Tom Holland at one point. So it finally made it to the screen after a long journey through the wilderness. And the final verdict?


While there’s some fun to be had here, the overall experience feels like less than the sum of its parts. I’ll concede a lack of familiarity with the games, but “Uncharted” feels like a CGI-heavy knockoff of much better movies. The plot meanders and the character arcs don’t make much sense and the entire third act is hot nonsense. That said, I didn’t have a terrible time. Not a great time, but not a terrible one. Your mileage may vary.

Published in Movies
Monday, 14 February 2022 15:48

‘Blacklight’ a dim bulb

The king of geriaction is back!

Liam Neeson, whose late-career pivot into action movies essentially invented a subgenre, has returned to the big screen once more to utilize his particular set of skills. Said skills may vary somewhat from film to film, but fundamentally, they remain forever the same.

His latest outing is “Blacklight,” directed by Mark Williams from a screenplay by Nick May. It’s the story of a veteran law enforcement agent who inadvertently gets wrapped up in a conspiracy that reaches high into the halls of power and if he’s to have any hope of saving himself and those close to him, he’s going to have to root out the corrupt evildoers himself – by any means necessary.

That might ring a bell, because Neeson has made half-a-dozen movies that could easily fit that description. We're deep into variations on a theme territory here; it’s a movie that is largely devoid of surprises because, again, you’ve seen it all before. Honestly, the biggest (only?) surprise about “Blacklight” is that it is somewhat inexplicably not a Netflix offering. Theatrical release all the way, baby – just as geriaction is meant to be seen!

Published in Movies

There’s something to be said for filmmakers who have a gift for creating a certain type of movie. Sure, these directors and writers can and do produce work outside that area of expertise, but even as they spread their wings, there’s no doubt that they have a space in which they can become the best versions of themselves.

Roland Emmerich is one of those filmmakers.

Seriously, is there anyone out there who can hang with Emmerich when it comes to big-budget movies revolving around ludicrous, over-the-top disasters? Is there anyone else even in the conversation? I’d say not. Sure, he can do other stuff and do it fairly well, but nothing tops Emmerich when he’s placing the world in existential peril.

And so, it’s always a hoot when we get a new entry into that particular canon. His latest is “Moonfall,” which he directed from a script he co-wrote with Spenser Cohen and Harald Kloser (who also did the score). It is as deliriously dumb as the very best of his movies have been in recent years, a sci-fi action film based on a ridiculous premise and made with a nine-figure budget.

Seriously – this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense. It is packed with questionable decisions and incoherent action. There are SO MANY PLOTLINES, and just when it seems like the narrative threads are coming together, more tendrils are sent spiraling outward. Just an absolute bonkers mess.

It is lunacy and I am here for it.

Published in Movies
Monday, 10 January 2022 15:51

Girl power outage – ‘The 355’

We’ve reached that time on the movie calendar where theatrical offerings tend to land in one of two categories:

  1.     Wider expansion of late-year award contenders, or
  2.     Movies that are various flavors of not good

You can probably guess into which category the new film “The 355” falls.

The latest project from director Simon Kinberg, working from a script he co-penned with Theresa Rebeck, “The 355” is an attempt to craft some sort of high-end spy franchise, one ostensibly intended to place women at the forefront. And while it does foreground female characters, it never really finds its way beyond that, resulting in slipshod plotting and vaguely inexplicable motivations that undermine what very well may have been a good faith effort.

While there are occasional flashes of something more – thanks in large part to the talented cast – the film ultimately fails to resonate – its action sequences are muddy and its twists are telegraphed. Thus viewers are left with nothing more than an empty and unengaging action movie, the sort of forgettable mediocrity that fits right into the chilly box office winter.

Published in Movies

I’ll be the first to admit that much of the current cinematic landscape leaves a lot to be desired. Formulaic blockbusters laden with CGI, too-similar stories being told again and again. And I assume it’s challenging for an actor who is serious about their craft to treat them, well … seriously.

That said, there’s nothing worse than watching a famous actor go through the motions in one of these films, clearly there for a check and trying their damnedest to appear above it all. You can’t always pick up the full “I’m too good for this” vibe, but when it’s there, it’s a downer.

But there’s a flip side. The flip side is when actors who are wildly talented and incredibly devoted to their work gleefully embrace the madness and go for it. That’s when you can see real joy, these performers who understand that what they do is about play and that every character, no matter how seemingly strange or nonsensical, can shine so long as that character is treated with respect.

Tom Hardy is an incredibly talented actor. He is also, by every indication, a strange dude. But one thing you can say for certain – no matter what the situation, Hardy is ready to give everything he has. And in his new movie “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” he has clearly been told to go big.

And he. Goes. Big.

The film – a sequel to 2018’s “Venom” – is directed by Andy Serkis from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel (it’s worth noting that Hardy has a story credit). It’s a glorious mess of a movie, a slapdash mélange of buddy comedy and superhero CGI and weird body horror that absolutely should not work … and yet it does. Well, kind of. It’s an uneven experience, one where the story sometimes gets lost in the noise. But hey – the noise is a hell of a lot of fun.

Published in Movies

We all have our pop cultural comfort foods, the movies and music and books in which we delight even as we tacitly understand that they are not necessarily what others would deem great art. There’s a lot of stuff out there that might not capture the imagination of the majority, yet has an indelibly major impact on a select population.

Of course, “great” is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

For instance, I’m not going to sit here and try and convince anyone that “Copshop,” the new film from grimy, crime-y writer/director Joe Carnahan, is great cinema. But I also can’t deny that I had a great time. It is a pulpy throwback of a movie, built on a foundation of ‘70s exploitation that will ring familiar to those who haunted certain aisles in their local video stores once upon a time.

And it is a hoot.

There’s something admirable about creative projects that are unabashedly themselves, and that’s the vibe you get from “Copshop.” The premise is ludicrous, the violence is over the top and characters are hard-boiled cartoons. But with everyone in on the joke, it stops being a joke – the people involved engage with just the right amount of seriousness, giving us a movie that is low-rent and ludicrous and legitimately entertaining.

Published in Movies
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