Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Pop Culture Archive

Thursday

8

July 2021

0

COMMENTS

F9 showcases a franchise running on empty

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The metamorphosis of the Fast & Furious franchise over the past twenty years is one of the weirdest success stories in Hollywood history. From its humble origins ripping off Point Break, to its more modest ambitions adopting the tone of The Italian Job, to its late-stage embrace of full Mission: Impossible absurdity, Dominic Toretto and co. have put together quite an impressive run in spite of their unambitious, derivative narratives. At this point, a Jurassic Park-crossover feels more inevitable, and natural, than it should. Where else can they go?

As the films get louder and more outlandish, Fast & Furious would have you believe that family is its lodestar. At best, family fulfills the narrative obligations of a James Bond-style mission briefing that explains why the film is happening in the first place. Family has always been a distant, secondary concern to the explosion machine that keeps this whole show going.

With a bloated run-time of 145 minutes, F9 spends way too much time on family. To make matters worse, the series deploys the “long-lost brother” trope, introducing John Cena’s Jakob Toretto into the mix. For a franchise that places such a heavy emphasis on family ties, it’s more than a little weird that the main character would suddenly possess a never-mentioned brother this late in the game.

The plot is pretty boilerplate fare. Dragged out of retirement after the disappearance of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Dom and his team need to find a device that could hack into any computer-controlled system in the world. Only trouble is that Jakob is also after the device, leading to plenty of predictable family drama, too often expressed through excessively long flashback sequences from when the Toretto boys were teenagers, played by actors who hardly look like convincing younger versions of Diesel and Cena.

As Jakob, Cena does a passable job playing the part of scorned brother. Trouble is that Vin Diesel has never had a ton of range as a performer, working best opposite an actor capable of elevating his talents, such as Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, or Charlize Theron. Cena isn’t a better actor than Diesel.

While previous Fast movies staved off franchise fatigue by injecting either A-list action stars or Academy Award winners into the mix, F9 leaves Diesel too exposed with only Cena to help carry the load. Theron and franchise veteran Helen Mirren make cameo appearances that do little but remind the viewer that the experience would almost certainly benefit from their added involvement.

Director Justin Lin makes a welcome return to the franchise after a two-film absence, having been a major force in transforming the series from its street racing origins to its world-saving ambitions. Lin’s debut entry, the under-loved Tokyo Drift, is well-represented, featuring the returns of many of its principal cast, including Lucas Black, Jason Tobin, and Shad “Bow Wow” Moss.

Of course, the marquee returning player is Han Lue (Sung Kang), who appeared in all four of Lin’s Fast films despite dying in Tokyo Drift, rendering Fasts 4-6 “prequels” to the third entry. The series is no stranger to retconning deaths, having previously brought back deceased Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) under dubious circumstances. Han’s return is no less absurd, but Kang isn’t given much to do, squandering one of the series’ best characters.

The supporting trio of Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel make the most of their limited runtime, at times scraping up against the fourth wall. The return of Lin, Sang, and series original Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto) gave the series a great chance to reunite the family dynamic that made the fifth and sixth films so much fun, but F9 is too all over the place to bring this all together.

The action pieces are predictably solid, though the franchise struggles to overcome the natural diminishing returns of having seen these characters defy death on so many occasions. Lin’s big problem is the atrocious script and poor pacing. The third act sees totally unnecessary additional flashbacks that step all over the climax. Johnson and Statham look like geniuses for sitting this one out in favor of the much lighter Hobbes & Shaw, amidst some reported tension between Diesel and The Rock.

F9’s narrative shortcomings might have been more forgivable if it wasn’t such a bloated slog. The action sequences can’t cover up how badly this franchise is showing its age. Silly is one thing. Fast & Furious has generally done a good job selling the absurd. F9 is boring, a crime that’s hard to forgive.

Share Button

Friday

18

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

Classic Film: Yojimbo

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Akira Kurosawa possessed an uncanny ability to make intimate settings feel like they carried the weight of the world. At its core, 1961’s Yojimbo is a small town political struggle, with two rival factions warring over the local gambling industry. Such a dispute hardly requires a substantive moral quandary to produce compelling drama, but Kurosawa keeps his eyes on the bigger picture, using his narrative to explore the rot of man.

The film follows an anonymous rōnin (Toshiro Mifune) who adopts the pseudonym “Kuwabatake Sanjuro” as he stops in a small town for a drink of water and a rest. Discovering the messy political scene between Seibei (Seizaburo Kawazu) and Ushitora (Kyū Sazanka), Sanjuro quickly proves his value in the conflict by killing several of Ushitora’s henchmen. Not content to be a mere hired gun, Sanjuro pits the factions against each other in an attempt to maximize his earnings.

Mifune’s broad range beautifully illustrates the complex morality Kurosawa spends his narrative grappling with, a moving exploration of society’s worst inclinations. Sanjuro has a certain charm to him, but both Kurosawa and Mifune are careful to ensure that the audience doesn’t become too enamored by his often amusing antics. Mifune is skilled at playing the opportunistic mercenary with a degree of depth that lets the trials of his tortured soul unfold in real-time.

Kurosawa crafts a wonderful aesthetic in his town, an eeriness enhanced by the chilling score. A once quiet village buckles under the weight of greed, the gambling industry serving as an apex predator disrupting its ecosystem. The town carries the intimacy of a stage play while exuding the strength of an epic, a generation of conflict coming to a head as a result of one wandering rōnin entering the fray.

Yojimbo is the kind of narrative designed to stick with its audience for a lifetime. Both Kurosawa and Mifune put Sanjuro through the ringer, an emotional whirlwind that few could expect throughout the first act. There are points in the third act where it feels like the film is finally buckling under its exorbitant weight, and rather long 110-minute runtime, but the payoff hits its mark in a way that makes you want to rewind and start the whole thing over again.

To American viewers, Yojimbo may best be remembered as the inspiration for Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, an unofficial remake that resulted in a successful lawsuit by Yojimbo’s production company, Toho. Both Leone and Clint Eastwood see their fine work pale in comparison to Kurosawa and Mifune’s grasp of the material, including their dark comedic take on the messy morality at hand. Yojimbo carries great appeal for fans of Westerns to see firsthand how much Kurosawa directly influenced the entire genre.

For those who think of the “man with no name” as a kind of stock character, Mifune offers strong contradicting evidence. Though we never learn Sanjuro’s real name, Mifune gives the audience a deeper sense of intimacy through his performance. Kurosawa puts forth some of his best work in this fascinating samurai narrative.

Share Button

Monday

7

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

Strong performances buoy Physical through its narrative shortcomings

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

The 1980s carry a certain mystique that only grows as time moves further and further on from the era. Beyond the sheer absurdity of the aerobics craze, where ridiculously slim people jazzercised in unison while decked out in thong leotards and neon leggings, lies a natural sense of intrigue to understand the zeitgeist of it all. “What the hell were they thinking,” exists not as a rhetorical question, but a legitimate point of entry for aerobics scholarship.

Apple TV+’s new series Physical follows the rise of Shelia (Rose Byrne), from misanthropic housewife to aerobics star. Stuck in a dead-end marriage with a burnout college professor Danny (Rory Scovel), Shelia initially copes with her monotonous existence by blowing off steam at ballet class, typically followed by a binge-eating & purge session of fast-food burgers in a hotel room.

It’s not until Danny decides to run for state assembly, no easy task for a socialist hippie in the Reagan-loving San Diego suburbs, that Shelia’s hotel bills start putting a strain on their already-shaky finances. Seeking a workout outlet following the closure of her ballet studio, Shelia discovers the aerobics studio run by Bunny (Della Saba) and her surfer bum boyfriend, Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci). Needing money, Shelia quickly dominates Bunny’s orbit, occasionally also taking advantage of Greta (Dierde Friel), whose children attend the same preschool.

Byrne is mesmerizing in the lead role, her performance adding a much-needed layer of depth to Shelia’s fairly superficial personality. The first few episodes focus almost solely on Shelia, a dynamic that Byrne sells well with her cool approach to her character’s toxic home life. What works best about the early episodes is the way the show makes no apologies for its anti-hero who is severely lacking in the empathy department. Shelia is rotten in the way few women leads are ever allowed to be, making excellent television along the way.

The show does struggle with where to focus its attentions. The aerobics narrative often plays second fiddle to Danny’s campaign, an unfortunate allotment of screentime for the show’s worst character. Danny grows increasingly insufferable with the early-season addition of Jerry (Geoffrey Arend), a college buddy turned campaign manager. Though Shelia refers to Danny as the most brilliant man she’s ever met, Byrne puts no effort into selling the idea that her character ever looked at him with any degree of serious affection.

Likewise, the show hardly puts any effort into making Danny into anything resembling a sympathetic character. Shelia hides her aerobics interest from Danny, as well as the state of their dire finances, but the secrecy doesn’t really build toward any substantive narrative payoff. The show commits early on to Danny being an airheaded deadbeat, which sucks most of the air out of their slowly deteriorating relationship.

Pacing is a big problem for the second half of the ten-episode season. While the first few episodes are framed almost exclusively from Shelia’s point of view, the show gradually gives more focus to the supporting cast. Bunny and Greta see compelling storylines shortchanged at the expense of Danny. Working with limited screen time, Pucci quickly endears the audience to Tyler, an airhead with a heart of gold who works well opposite Shelia and Bunny.

More puzzling is the sudden emphasis midseason on John Breem (Paul Sparks), a real-estate developer/Republican mainstay who mostly acts as the face of Reagan conservatism in opposition to Danny’s dirtbag left aspirations. Sparks gives a predictably strong performance that’s essentially a riff on other prestige TV characters he’s played on shows like House of Cards and The Girlfriend Experience. Breem is much more compelling than Danny, but the show never really justifies why the character needed his own scenes with so much else going on.

Show creator Annie Weisman seems to struggle with how to frame Shelia’s attitude toward her family. Shelia goes from hardcore apathetic toward her husband and daughter early on, only to shift gears later on with little explanation. The show’s efforts to explore Shelia’s backstory fall a bit flat, coupled with the broader pacing problems of the second half of the season.

As a period piece, Physical is only mildly interested in exploring the politics and culture of the 1980s. There’s an early gaffe in the pilot where Danny remarks that Reagan had “just” been elected president, though the 1986 settings place the narrative 75% through his time in office. There is occasionally some interesting commentary on the nature of consumerism, but one might expect a bit more insight from a show that chose to place its political plotline at the center of the narrative.

Most disappointing is the show’s middling interest in what’s presented as its premise. Physical doesn’t have much to say about aerobics or what it is that drew people to such a seemingly absurd form of exercise. Weisman does highlight how the exercise could cater to body-obsessed people like Shelia, but the layers of spandex are hardly peeled back by the conclusion of the first season.

Byrne’s electric performance carries the show through its uneven pacing and sloppy narrative that spends way too much time highlighting the show’s worst character. Physical has the pieces of a great show. It’s beautifully shot and wonderfully acted for the most part. It is hard to shake the reality that the show that highlights a woman’s meteoric rise to aerobics fame was ill-advised to place such a heavy emphasis on the loser husband she was trying to get away from.

Share Button

Tuesday

25

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

Classic Film: Death in Venice

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Film does not require one to separate sinner from saint in order to follow a narrative. The Gustav von Aschenbach in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice is a washed-up pedophile who takes a vacation to stave off the rapid decay of his pathetic existence. Instead of basking in the luscious scenery that the magnificent city has to offer, Aschenbach instead squarely focuses his attentions on a young Polish boy named Tadzio.

One might think to call Visconti’s work a game of cat and mouse between Aschenbach and Tadzio. The iconic director essentially sets up that sort of dynamic with his lead actors, the veteran Dirk Bogarde, and the young Björn Andresen, in a career defining-role. The trouble with the narrative is that it doesn’t really exist as anything more than set-up, a runtime of 130 minutes that never seems all that interested in moving the ball forward.

The gorgeous cinematography gives the eyes plenty to gaze at throughout the narrative. To some extent, Visconti doesn’t deserve that much credit for being able to eloquently paint visual portraits of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, hardly the most challenging task. 1971 Venice is an easy marvel, almost enough to keep the mind occupied during Visconti’s anemic story.

Visconti reduces Aschenbach to a shell of the character brought to life in Thomas Mann’s source material. Bogarde does an admirable job in a lead role that gives him practically nothing to do besides stalk the boy over and over for two hours. While Mann sent Aschenbach to Venice to revitalize his career, Visconti essentially sends him there to die, a failed conductor licking the wounds of a disastrous performance.

The real crime of Death in Venice is the way Visconti abandons any sense of drive for Aschenbach beyond his base-level perversions. Though Aschenbach and Tadzio never speak to each other, Andresen responds to Bogarde’s infatuations more than enough times to qualify as communication. Visconti takes the narrative to an uncomfortable sexual level while never being terribly interested in dealing with the ramifications.

On some level, Death in Venice plays like an inside joke for Visconti to fool around with homosexual themes at a time when doing so more blatantly would have crossed obscenity lines in plenty of countries. The director takes a beautiful city and well-respected source material, only to reduce everything to the same single note that he hammers home again and again. The audience is left on its own to bend the fragments of narrative into something resembling meaning.

Visconti understands the beauty of Venice. His inability, or unwillingness, to engage with Mann’s work is a barrier that sinks Death in Venice. The legacy of the film is largely defined by Visconti’s exploitation of Andresen’s body in service to nothing in particular. It’s hard to look at the result as anything other than a tragic, beautiful, mess. There’s not enough here to sustain a two-hour narrative, a bizarre misfire considering the substantive source material.

Share Button

Tuesday

11

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

Classic Film: The Las Vegas Story

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Many have seen Las Vegas as a place of opportunity, only to leave town feeling like a loser. Vegas isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain kind of person to thrive in such a high-stakes, cut-throat environment. 1952’s The Las Vegas Story explores the kinds of characters who would try their luck there and the unfortunate suckers who would be better off steering clear of Sin City.

Linda Rollins (Jane Russell) used to thrive as a singer in Vegas before leaving town, much to the chagrin of her old performing partner, Happy (Hoagy Carmichael), who plays piano at the Last Chance Casino. Linda returns to town at the behest of her husband, Lloyd (Vincent Price), desperate to make a quick buck. While in town, Linda reconnects with her old fling Dave Andrews (Victor Mature), a local police lieutenant, sparking memories of what might have been if she’d settled down with a better man.

Director Robert Stevenson sends his narrative in about a million different directions. The drama of Lloyd’s money troubles becomes exacerbated by a murder about halfway through the narrative, an audible that shifts the film’s focus from character drama to a rather conventional whodunit. The story’s bread and butter is the relationship between Linda and Dave, enhanced by the great chemistry between Russell and Mature.

The film’s unfocused narrative is buoyed by a deep bench of compelling characters, led by Russell’s commanding lead performance. Linda didn’t want to return to Vegas, but quickly rekindles the magic in the place where she used to thrive. The film often offers meditations on the passing of time, refreshingly upbeat despite its noir genre trappings.

While the pulpier murder mystery intrigue cuts some of the character drama short, the tonal shift gives way to one of the earliest helicopter/car chases in film, a highly impressive feat of cinematography. Russell is unmatched by her male counterparts, but Mature brings a great deal of depth to Dave, refusing to let the character be put into a box as a jealous ex-boyfriend.

Linda possesses a level of complexity rarely afforded to female characters in the time period. Her relationships with her husband and former lover aren’t pitted against each other in the way the audience might expect, instead reflecting the intricate complexity of human emotion that isn’t easily boxed into a love triangle. Russell is given so much space to explore Linda’s motivations, quite impressive given everything else going on in the film.

What works best about The Las Vegas Story is the way this world feels lived in. The characters carry their decades of baggage while striving toward a better future. Vegas’ unforgiving atmosphere isn’t for everyone, but few films so eloquently depict the appeal of the city for those tough enough to thrive there. If you can make it in Vegas, could you be happy anywhere else?

Stevenson’s final credited RKO picture may not exactly be a triumph of filmmaking beyond its groundbreaking helicopter chase, but The Las Vegas Story is the kind of narrative that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled. A mid-movie musical number from Carmichael’s Happy perhaps illustrates this dynamic best, an out-of-place sequence that hits home through its sheer delight. Like the jazz Carmichael so excelled at, the film knows how to sequence itself in a way that feels both spontaneous and carefully choreographed in its delivery.

The various pieces of the film don’t necessarily connect in a way that crafts the most cohesive experience, but there’s so much to enjoy along the way. Fine art is rarely produced by throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. The Las Vegas Story feels like Stevenson managed to stick most of what he’d thrown, a real treat of a B movie well worth the ninety-minute runtime.

Share Button

Friday

7

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t know where to focus its narrative

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

We’re in a bit of a transitional era for television. Shows that used to aspire for a six or seven season run are now lucky to get three or four. The longer-running scripted series can be found almost exclusively on network television. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, giving creators a clearer picture of the trajectory of their material.

This shift does put a stricter burden on shows to get going right off the bat. In hindsight, spending a full season of Daredevil waiting for Matt Murdock to put on the costume or waiting until the first season finale to have the Runaways run away falls a bit flat, with both shows only running for three seasons. There’s setting up a story and then there’s dragging one’s feet. Unfortunately, Jupiter’s Legacy more often than not fits the latter bill.

Adapted from Mark Millar’s hit Image Comics series of the same name, the show follows an older guard of superheroes as they start to pass the torch to the younger generation. Sheldon Sampson, The Utopian (Josh Duhamel), has spent decades keeping the world safe, and his fellow heroes out of politics, but his team, The Union, faces an existential identity crisis for what its future might look like. Sheldon struggles to relinquish control, not trusting his son, Brandon (Andrew Horton), with the responsibility of protecting the planet, at times also at odds with his brother, Walter (Ben Daniels), and wife, Grace (Leslie Bibb).

Like its title character, Jupiter’s Legacy as a show struggles to let go of the past. At least half of the show’s first season is spent on flashbacks showing the original 1930s expedition that gave The Union their powers. This heavy screen time allotment marks a significant departure from the comics, which only tended to give a couple of pages an issue to the origin narrative.

A great strength of Millar’s source material was the way he communicated a sense of awe and wonder with regard to the island that Sheldon is drawn toward in his dreams. As a series, Jupiter’s Legacy dedicates far too much time to mundane flashbacks, drowning out the far more interesting present day narrative. The period sets are well-constructed, but the story is so lifeless that it makes you wonder why the resources weren’t dedicated elsewhere. The superhero sequences are few and far between.

The heavy emphasis on flashbacks also creates an awkward dynamic for the series’ leads to play characters at drastically different ages. The makeup used to make Daniels look like an old man is absolutely comical, stripping his character of any level of seriousness. Duhamel and Bibb don’t fare much better, hardly adequate for a series attempting to depict heroes looking to retire.

The series starts off on a great note. The first episode hones in on the aspect of the comics that’s aged best since its 2013 debut. The Union struggles internally with how involved they want to be in politics, noting the endless Washington gridlock that only gets worse with each passing year. There’s a great moral dilemma to explore with regard to the military-industrial complex, but the show seems weirdly averse to anything that might sound too political.

There’s also the issue of simply not having enough time to dedicate to its storylines set in the present. The first season is comprised of eight episodes, two of which barely run over half an hour. The broader supporting cast has to play second fiddle to storylines for the leads split across two separate timelines. The dynamic is confusing, thinly plotted, and simply not very good.

Fans of the comic are certainly aware of a certain massive spoiler heading into the series. The show barely touches the conflict that sets up this whole situation, clearly intending to save the bulk of that conflict for a future season. That’s not necessarily the worst strategy in the world, but the result creates a narrative vacuum that the show tries to fill with excessive time spent in the past.

An early triumph for the season is the way that Jupiter’s Legacy crafts an aesthetic that feels unique amidst the crowded superhero genre. That unfortunately doesn’t really extend to the worldbuilding, which never firmly establishes what exactly is going on in the present. There are too many characters, but not enough for them to do.

Too often, Jupiter’s Legacy feels like its top concern is to set up future seasons, while not giving its audience enough to care about. The current trajectory of television suggests this time allotment won’t be well-served, an uneven ratio of buildup to execution. A season spent in service to future seasons doesn’t work that well when the season itself doesn’t have much to enjoy.

 

Share Button

Thursday

6

May 2021

1

COMMENTS

What Lies West is a charming, confident indie coming of story

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The lines between child and adult have blurred quite a bit over the decades. “Growing up” possesses a fundamentally different meaning in a country where practically college students graduate into a job market that hardly offers salaries one can buy a house and raise a family on. A twenty-two year old is not exactly an adult anymore.

What Lies West follows a summer in the life of two young women searching for their place in the world. Nicolette (Nicolette Ellis) is a recent college graduate who takes a summer job looking after Chloe (Chloe Moore), a sixteen-year-old with an overbearing mother. Nicolette wants to be an actress, but doesn’t feel the pull to move to LA, instead finding comfort in her native Sonoma County. A tedious ex-boyfriend Alex (Jack Vicenty) dangles the prospects of a job in front of her, a familiar tune to anyone who’s tried to get a job after graduation.

The bulk of the narrative is fueled by Chloe’s desire to hike forty miles to the beach, an adventure certain to earn the wrath of her mother, endangering Nicolette’s employment in the process. Director/screenwriter Jessica Ellis frames the film like a meditation, more concerned with the nature of asking questions than any answers they might provide. Nicolette Ellis and Moore develop strong chemistry over the course of the film, a natural sense of pacing that lets them slowly lower their guards and trust each other.

Ellis’ greatest success with the film is her ability to challenge the conclusions of the coming of age genre. As a medium, film offers brief snapshots into a person’s life. 80 minutes with a character cannot possibly encapsulate their entire existence, lives that cannot be tied up with a bow in the form of a “happily ever after.”

There’s no great “aha” moment that a young millennial can take to coast through the rest of their life. The real world doesn’t have climaxes set to indie music where one can scream on a trash pile in the rain until everything makes sense. Nothing is ever going to make sense.

The film features plenty of beautiful shots of Sonoma County. A small-scale indie production, Ellis mostly relies on her script and her leads to make the magic happen, aided by the awe-inspiring scenery. The confidence that the film exudes allows its modest narrative ambitions to really nail their mark.

What Lies West carries the most appeal for those of us who remember how awful it felt to graduate without any clear sense of what the future might bring. That relatable plight can be harder for a film to nail, a medium that aims for resolutions that don’t always reflect the twists and turns of the real world. Ellis understands that today doesn’t have to be about tomorrow, taking comfort in the small steps that add up along the way.

Share Button

Tuesday

20

April 2021

1

COMMENTS

The Last Right is a touching meditation on grief with plenty of laughs

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Grief has an odd way of bringing people together, strangers who may not otherwise offer much more than a simple hello. The Last Right centers its narrative around this dynamic, starting off with two strangers seated next to each other on a plane to Ireland to bury separate loved ones. As the pandemic has halted the world around us, the idea of a chance conversation offering a glimmer of comfort almost feels like a luxury in today’s age.

The film follows Daniel (Michiel Huisman), an American lawyer on his way to Ireland to bury his mother and to take custody of his brother, Louis (Samuel Bottomley), with the intention of sending him to a boarding school for autistic students. A plane ride conversation with Padraig (Jim Norton), on his way to his estranged brother’s funeral, changes Daniel’s trip when Padraig suddenly dies himself, naming Daniel as his next-of-kin despite their brief affiliation.

Most of the narratives follows Daniel, Louis, and funeral home employee Mary (Niamh Algar), as they drive across Ireland to deliver Padraig’s body to Northern Ireland, where he can be buried next to his father. Director Aoife Crehan crafts a road movie that simultaneously serves as a mediation of grief mixed in with a comedy of errors.

Huisman, Bottomley, and Algar develop fast chemistry, an unlikely trio all united by a common understated sense of loneliness in the wake of circumstances beyond their control. Crehan’s script has a keen understanding of the innate human desire to heal. One cannot always control what happens in life, but nor should one resign themselves to a fate dictated by one’s past. The future always offers its alternatives.

The narrative is a bit formulaic at times. Crehan may not be too terribly interested in reinventing the wheel, instead putting together a touching film that hits all of its notes in a very satisfying manner. Supporting performances by Michael McElhatton, Colm Meaney, and Brian Cox bolster the primary trio on their adventure, at times doubling as a broader love letter to Ireland itself.

What’s most impressive about The Last Right is Crehan’s ability to maximize the scope of his story, set over the course of a single weekend. The 106-minute runtime gives the audience a firm grasp of the characters, without reaching too far toward an undeserved outcome. Periods of mourning are difficult times to get through. Crehan’s film is unafraid to be funny at times, understanding the immense power of human connection in times of mourning.

Share Button

Friday

2

April 2021

0

COMMENTS

Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t have enough of a punch to make up for its awful human characters

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Fans have waited close to sixty years for a follow-up clash between titans Godzilla and King Kong. Godzilla vs. Kong is one of those titles that explains everything the film is supposed to be, a narrative that pretty much solely hinges on its ability to deliver plenty of fight scenes between the two famous kaiju. Unfortunately, there is the pesky matter of humans that the screenplay never quite figures out.

There have been a dozen King Kong films and three dozen entries to the Godzilla franchise. Godzilla vs. Kong is a direct sequel to 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, itself a follow-up to 2014’s Godzilla, and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. There was some solid worldbuilding in this “MonsterVerse” to get us to this point, establishing the hierarchy of the titans and why Godzilla and Kong are on a natural collision course as alpha predators.

Sadly this dynamic hardly applies to the human characters held over from King of the Monsters. Returning actors Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler add next to nothing to the narrative. Brown’s Addison Russell is at least involved in some hijinks to discover the motive of Godzilla’s attack on Pensacola, Florida, along with her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a conspiracy theorist/podcast host dedicated to bringing down Apex Cybernetics.

Brown, Dennison, and Henry have solid chemistry that would’ve worked a lot better if the screenplay cared at all about them as characters. Instead, we see them periodically throughout the narrative, with only the vague understanding that they’re there as filler for the film’s 113-minute runtime. Chandler’s presence is non-existent to the point where it essentially becomes a distraction. Ceding the role of male lead to Alexander Skarsgård, the audience is left wondering why Chandler bothered to show up for a sequel that clearly has no use for his character.

The film could be forgiven for all of this if it was laser-focused on its main objective, but the fights are too few and far between to justify the utter absence of anything resembling compelling drama from the human characters. Director Adam Wingard proves his talent in the action genre. The first battle, in particular, is a triumph of special effects, a dazzling spectacle in the middle of the ocean.

The two subsequent battles fail to adequately raise the bar. The action shots are too fast-paced, often laser-focused on the titans to the point where you can’t really see the carnage around them. The CGI is top-notch, but the experience feels weirdly small at times, with the cinematography limiting the audience’s ability to get a firm grasp of what’s going on at times. This isn’t always the case, but it happens enough to make one long for the days of watching two guys in rubber suits stomping on cardboard buildings while low-budget pyrotechnics go off in the background.

Herein lies the problem with Godzilla vs. Kong. The human scenes are such a dud that they drag everything else down, a woefully pathetic screenplay that practically insults its audience with its apathy. The fights range from excellent to solid, which is not enough to carry the deadweight from this otherwise awful experience.

There are some great sequences here. The Toho Godzilla films rarely produce drama that aspires to be on the level of Citizen Kane, but those narratives at least try to entertain their audiences when the monsters aren’t fighting. There is far too little effort in Godzilla vs. Kong, an easily avoidable misfire. These titans of the kaiju genre deserve so much better than this mess.

Share Button

Monday

29

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Superman & Lois brings a breath of fresh air to the Arrowverse

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The future of the Arrowverse is a bit up in the air. Supergirl & Black Lightning are ending this year, and The Flash & Legends of Tomorrow are not far behind them. It’s fair to wonder if the unprecedented “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover was not just the high point for the small-screen shared universe, but also its final big moment of triumph. With Batwoman still figuring itself out after the departure of its anemic lead actress and Stargirl doing its own thing on Earth-2, Superman & Lois enters a broader franchise in need of a standard-bearer, lest viewers turn to HBO Max as the sole provider of DC-related television.

It is oddly fitting that the Arrowverse would turn to Clark Kent, DC’s favorite son, to inject a bit of life into The CW’s offerings. Smallville was a staple of The CW in its early days, one of the most popular holdovers from The WB. Small-screen superhero storytelling has changed quite a bit since Tom Welling’s “no flights/no tights” Kal-El blended comic book lore with WB-era soap opera antics.

While Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark certainly does don the cape, part of what makes Superman & Lois work so well is the show’s ability to ground itself in the lore of everything that’s come before. Set in Smallvillle, the series is just as concerned with the Kent family life as the broader world that Superman is supposed to protect. The narrative weaves both the traditional teenage angst that fueled so many WB/CW shows before it and the action pieces that have made the Arrowverse such a smashing success, coupled with a cinematic aspect ratio and production values uncommon for broadcast television.

Superman & Lois eschews the more formulaic tropes of its Arrowverse predecessors, giving each episode a more relaxed sense of urgency. For all its sillier arcs, Arrow consistently delivered top-notch stunt choreography in practically every episode. That kind of episodic pacing doesn’t really suit Clark Kent in quite the same way as Oliver Queen, hardly the proper superhero to go busting into warehouses late at night.

Nor is Clark Kent the primary focus. As good as a Superman as Tyler Hoechlin is, Elizabeth Tulloch often captivates the most attention. Leaving Metropolis for the sake of her family, Lois Lane gave up a career-defining position as the star reporter for a major newspaper, the kind of stature that would grant her instant celebrity status in the real world. Both Lois & Clark are personalities far bigger than Smallville, yet they feel at home in this environment as they teach their boys how to be men.

The constant juggle of responsibility between their own family and the world at large makes for quite compelling television. Through its early episodes, Superman & Lois has fared quite well at satisfying its audience’s natural urge for superhero action as well as the bread and butter CW family storytelling. This isn’t the kind of show that makes for a marquee offering for a streaming service, but it’s the kind of series one can look forward to each week, a sense of familiarity desperately needed in this pandemic landscape.

Such a balance works well with its broader storyline involving Morgan Edge (Adam Rayner), a clash of a capitalist mogul and small town values. A real estate developer is hardly on the same level as Damian Dahrk or Eobard Thawne. Superman & Lois so far has shown that it doesn’t necessarily need a menacing “big bad.”

The Arrowverse won’t be around forever. HBO Max’s own slate of DC content will naturally diminish the broader importance of The CW to deliver weekly superhero narratives for television audiences. Whatever the future holds for broadcast TV, Superman & Lois captures one’s attention with its great storytelling.

Share Button