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Saturday, September 26, 2020

MOVIE REVIEW: AVA


 






















An assassin becomes marked for death by her own black ops organization after questioning orders and breaking protocol.

Director: Tate Taylor

Cast: Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common, Geena Davis, Colin Farrell, Ioan Gruffudd, Joan Chen

Release Date: September 25, 2020

Action, Crime, Drama

Rated R for violence and language throughout, and brief sexual material

Runtime: 1h 36m

Review:

Ava has all the hallmarks of Luc Besson’s late career films, a betrayed assassin fighting for survival with extreme prejudice and a bass heavy techno beat playing the background.  Throw in a nonsensical plot and this is the type of movie you probably end up watching during a sleepless night on Showtime simply due to a lack of options.  The oddity here is that this isn’t a Besson film, Tate Taylor directs this overly busy femme fatale cliché minefield, led by some model turned actress instead it stars Jessica Chastain.  Chastain also produced the film which leads me to believe it might be a bit of a vanity project where she could try her hand as an action hero.  As usual, Chastain is the most interesting person on screen and she handles herself well in the action portions of the film, making for a believable killer.  The supporting cast is also filled with name stars all making what’s onscreen far more interesting than it should be.  The main problem is the film’s script is so hackneyed that once you get past Chastain killing 30 armed guards with her bare hands in a spaghetti strapped cocktail dress you start to notice the film and characters are all kind of ridiculous.  Chastain’s character for example doesn’t just have one thing haunting her instead she’s got a bevy of them, she’s an alcoholic, a terrible sister with daddy issues.  The fact that Chastain makes this all passable is a testament of her strength as an actress but by the point you have John Malkovick karate fighting Colin Farrell it’s a bit tough to overlook the issues with the script.  I can’t say Ava isn’t fun in a trashy sort of way because it is in its own way especially watching all the grade A talent slumming it because of a overcooked script.

C+

Friday, September 25, 2020

MOVIE REVIEW: ENOLA HOLMES























While searching for her missing mother, intrepid teen Enola Holmes uses her sleuthing skills to outsmart big brother Sherlock and help a runaway lord.

Director: Harry Bradbeer

Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw, Frances de la Tour, Louis Partridge, Susie Wokoma, Helena Bonham Carter

Release Date: September 23, 2020

Adventure, Crime, Drama

Rated PG-13 for some violence

Runtime: 2h 3m

Review:

Enola Holmes has all the trappings of a young adult franchise starter.  It’s based off a popular series of books which introduces us to Sherlock Holmes sister.  The film is a fun ride that focuses more on the titular character than the central mystery.  Harry Bradbeer directs the film with a slightly kinetic energy which borrows some elements from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes modern reinvention.  The action is fast and fun, filled with quick cuts coupled with fourth wall breaking addresses to the audience.  It all could have been rather forgettable and inconsequential if it weren’t for a game cast.  Millie Bobby Brown carries the film with a star turn that’s even more engaging than her breakout role in Stranger Things.  Here she’s allowed to let loose and she takes full advantage of it, proving to be an effervescent performer whose charisma shines through the entire film.  It helps that she's surrounded by a stellar supporting cast with the likes of Henry Cavill, the burliest Holmes ever, Sam Claflin and Helena Bonham Carter peppered throughout.  Each of them has their moment to shine throughout the film but it’s clearly Brown’s film.  Sadly, the central mystery is more of an afterthought as it’s never as engaging or interesting as the characters.  Still it’s a flaw that could be corrected in future installment that are sure to come.

B

Monday, September 21, 2020

Cindy Prascik's Reviews of The Way Back & Gordon Lightfoot If You Could Read My Mind

 

















With no interesting new releases at the cinema this past weekend, I took the opportunity to catch up on a couple reasonably fresh offerings for home viewing. On the docket: The Way Back and Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind.

Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers.

First up: The Way Back.

A former high-school basketball star fights personal demons while attempting to lead his alma mater's current squad out of a lengthy slump.

The Way Back is a paint-by-numbers redemption tale that holds few surprises. Ben Affleck is solid in the lead, but the movie doesn't have much else to recommend it. The supporting cast is neither good nor bad enough to be noteworthy, much like the film itself. It was one of the movies that opened at my cinema just as the world shut down in March, then became one of the first pandemic pictures to turn up as a twenty-dollar rental for home viewing. I'm super glad I didn't drop twenty dollars on it, even if it did teach me the mysteries of shower beers.

The Way Back runs 108 minutes and is rated R for "language throughout, including some sexual references."

So...everybody knows about Batfleck, but how about BEARfleck, am I right?? Of a possible nine Weasleys, the Way Back gets five.

The Way Back is now playing on HBO and streaming on HBO Go.

Next up, the documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind.

The life and times of legendary Canadian singer, songwriter, and guitarist Gordon Lightfoot.

If You Could Read My Mind skims the surface  of Gordon Lightfoot's life and career, hitting the high points and wasting very little time on the low. The film features old and new interviews with Lightfoot, his contemporaries and collaborators, and plenty of artists he's influenced. The movie touches on issues with drinking and women, but doesn't dig too deep, barely mentioning the 2002 health scare that kept him hospitalized for more than a month. While it's moving to hear from the many and varied artists who have been inspired by this icon, and interesting to learn the mysteries behind the music, it is Lightfoot's extraordinary songs that make If You Could Read My Mind such a delightful watch. I wished it would have gone on forever.

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind clocks in at a quick 91 minutes and is unrated.

As documentaries go, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind might be brushed off as superficial, but it's easily forgiven thanks to Lightfoot's exceptional music. Of a possible nine Weasleys, If You Could Read My Mind gets eight.

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Until next time...



Friday, September 18, 2020

MOVIE REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME

 























A young man is devoted to protecting his loved ones in a town full of corruption and sinister characters.

Director:  Antonio Campos

Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson

Release Date: September 16, 2019

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Rated R for violence, bloody/disturbing images, sexual content, graphic nudity, and language throughout

Runtime: 2h 18m

Review:

The Devil All the Time is the type of film that leaves you feeling strange but not for the reasons you should.  Antonio Campos, who directed the criminally underseen 2016 film Christine, has a venerable buffet of young stars to work with on this sprawling Southern Gothic which feels like a tour of terrors and despair.  The characters who populate this multi-generational drama seem to fall into two categories, people being abused and tortured and those doing the abusing and torturing.  It is a grimy cavalcade of unlikable characters with Tom Holland’s Arvin Russell fairing the best even though he is thoroughly damaged as well.  The intertwining stories might read better on the page but on screen all the characters feel shortchanged. As such, each is only given scant time for audience to connect with their stories with varying effectiveness.  The cast elevates the story’s failing by making the most of their limited screen time.  Tom Holland does well with a subtle turn playing against type for those who only know him as his comic superhero it takes a minute to adjust to this performance, but he plays it well.  Robert Pattinson’s role is limited but the showiest of the entire film, he and Sebastian Stan apparently decided to grow some girth for their roles, and he chews through his scenery with great aplomb.  Bill Skarsgård also leave a solid impression even though he only appears in the 1st act.  The remaining cast suffers a similar fate as they are given precious little time to shine, which many do, but the film never lets any of the characters breathe.  This is the rare film where the 2 hour plus runtime seems woefully inadequate to service the story and characters.  As a result, the audience is left with an oppressively cynical tone with all the characters kept at arm’s length for the better part of the film’s runtime.

C+

Sunday, September 13, 2020

MOVIE REVIEW: THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLEY

 























Dumped by her boyfriend, a New York art gallery assistant creates an exhibit for souvenirs from past relationships.

Director: Natalie Krinsky

Cast: Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo, Bernadette Peters

Release Date: September 11, 2019

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Rated PG-13 for sexual content throughout and some crude references, strong language and drug references

Runtime: 1 h 48 min

Review:

The Broken Hearts Gallery doesn’t reinvent the rom-com, in fact you won’t find many surprises here, but it’s successful because of endlessly charming star.  Natalie Krinsky doesn’t miss any rom-com tropes or turns but she’s smart enough to give her film a light breezy feel that makes it easy to like.  Her biggest weapon though is Geraldine Viswanathan and she makes great uses of her. Viswanathan has incredible screen presence and comedic timing; anyone who saw her in 2018’s Blocker shouldn’t be surprised.  Here she’s given the spotlight and she nails it from start to finish, making the film pop for the majority of the film’s runtime.  Her supporting cast is equally strong with the film really perking up when she is paired with her droll roommates/best friends played by Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo.  Still a rom-com won’t work if the two leads don’t have chemistry.  Thankfully Geraldine Viswanathan and Dacre Montgomery, who set his dreamy meter to 11, have a playful but believable chemistry.  The cast makes the film worlds better than it deserves to be.  Personally I’ve never been the biggest fan of this genre because of how predictable they are, something that holds true here, but it’s a testament to how good this cast is that it’s easy to overlook most of the genres failings on display. 

B+

Monday, September 7, 2020

MOVIE REVIEW: MULAN







































To save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China.

Director: Niki Caro

Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, Jet Li

Release Date: September 4, 2019

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence

Runtime: 1 h 55 min

Review:

The live action remake of Mulan is visually impressive in spots but ultimately it suffers from the same issue that has plagued the other Disney remakes, it feels perfunctory and soulless.  Niki Caro does fare better with this film than some of the other directors tasked with these cash grabs.  Caro has a clear eye for sweeping visual and she takes full advantage of their filming locations.  I’d assume that’s where the majority of the film’s massive budget was spent.  The strange thing is that sequences vary from realistically epic to overly artificial with an over reliance on CGI, so much so that some scenes are jarringly choppy.  Caro can’t seem to decide if she wants to keep the film grounded or go full on fantasy, so she straddles the line between both leaving the film with an uneven tone.  The script doesn’t help matters since it keeps everything overly self serious with no tangible sense of fun.  The cast is consistently wooden and emotionally detached from their characters with only Gong Liz and Tzi Ma leaving any sort of impact.  Liu Yifei does what she can in the lead role but she’s never engaging enough to make the audience care about the character’s journey.  This might be a bit easier to forgive if you just ignore the fact that there is a superior version of the same story available.  Only a few moments really land the way they were intended, which is a shame because you get the feeling that there was a better version of this film in there somewhere. 

C
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