“Hobbs & Shaw” Review: Zero to 60 in a fair amount of laughs

“We decide what’s impossible,” Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw growls in “Hobbs & Shaw,” the offshoot of the gazillion-dollar “Fast and Furious” franchise that packs enough testosterone to make John Rambo look like Ned Flanders. He’s referring to himself and Luke Hobbs, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s lawman who packs punches, natural charisma and often both at the same time.

I have no doubt they do. Cinema has thrown all the impossible it can muster at Statham and Johnson in recent years – from towering infernos in “Skyscraper” to the “Speed”-influenced if-your-heart-rate-drops-you-will-die insanity of “Crank.” In other words: Just enough so that it wouldn’t be unusual if “Hobbs & Shaw” – which feels like an excess of set piece concepts initially drawn up for the mainline “Fast and Furious” series before being excised – took its leading duo to space.

It doesn’t. Viewed alongside against recent peak “Mission: Impossible” entries, the stunt-tastic “John Wick” series and even the increasingly fast, increasingly furious mainline movies themselves, the action in “Hobbs & Shaw” seemed fairly tame to me. But while two of our biggest action stars throwing punches is the drawing card to “Hobbs & Shaw,” the comedy born of their hilariously interplay are what make the movie’s best bits. Continue reading →

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Review: Spidey is “Far From Home,” in a movie that is far from memorable

Spider-Man’s movies, more than any other superhero this side of the DC/Marvel divide, are identified by their villains—how memorable they are, and often the tangible connection they have to the movie’s most memorable scenes.

The one with a tentacled Alfred Molina, and the train battle.

The one with a winged Michael Keaton, and the twist that bares its teeth en route to a high school dance.

The one with a cackling Willem Defoe, and that stupendously horrific metal mask.

In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” the big bad is the big bowl-headed Mysterio—a fascinatingly zany, stoicly formulaic amalgam played by the consistently zany, never-formulaic Jake Gyllenhaal, who fills his armored suit with the unkillable ambition of a smartass whose plans seemingly depend on being little more than a smartass. Gyllenhaal’s presence is the movie’s cheeky wink in A-list actor form, never less than incredulous and never more than high-concept gag, Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Shazam!,’ a teen becomes Superman and DC gets Amblin-ified

Superhero movies weren’t supposed to be like this anymore.

The current stage in the life of the superhero genre, with all its strengths and flaws, has been its most prosperous. Caped crusaders and steel-hearted heroines have made a ho-hum achievement of the billion-dollar box office threshold, and have done so by way of ever-maximizing spectacle and a collection of perennial Hottest Celebrity of the Year candidates. The genre feels increasingly beholden to larger narratives that span more than just trilogies, their capital-C Characters sacrificed at the altar of commerciality to become just another character.

TL;DR, you already know what you’re going to get when you buy a ticket to superhero movies these days. And we’ve been conditioned to believe that what we’re going to get is how the genre will remain for as long as the general moviegoing populace justifies it with their wallets.

Continue reading →

Top 10 movies of 2018

2018 was a gnarly f*cking year.

I think no matter what your political affiliation, how much time you spend on Twitter or whether you stan DC or Marvel films, we can all agree that that is fact now that it’s over.

Thankfully, we still had new cinema to turn to. To provide us solace, to help us make sense of it all, to provide context for changing times and to make us wish that we had a bucket hat-wearing, marmalade sandwich-munching expatriate helping us to get along with each other.

But perhaps even Paddington was too good for this world.

Continue reading →

Review: Cinema’s iconic alien hunter deserves better. Maybe that means putting him to rest.

Something was always going to give.

The space-time continuum splintered when it was announced, seemingly a decade ago, that Shane Black would helm the next installment of the unquenchable “Predator” franchise.

On one hand, you have a nostalgia-fueled auteur responsible for two of the smarter comedy-mysteries of the 2000s. On the other, he’s taking on a sci-fi property in freefall correlating with an insistence to stay bound by shackles of self-seriousness. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Last Jedi’ is an epic in the best and worst of ways

The “Star Wars” franchise, by its very nature, demands that high expectations be asked of it.

While writer-director Rian Johnson’s first offering to the world’s biggest entertainment vehicle is undoubtedly the popcorn flick of the year many have been looking forward to, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the episodic Skywalker saga is in danger of going into cruise control.

In terms of blockbuster action, it’s an oversaturated blast to witness. Narratively, though, it struggles to make the jump into lightspeed.

Johnson takes the reins from J.J. Abrams, cutting down on the nostalgia factor in the process. While Abrams’s story created new conflicts and heroes to root for, Johnson focuses on the introspective journeys of three in particular – Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Justice League’ gets a gold star for trying

Hello, darkness, my old friend…”

Well. Here we are.

After three-and-a-halfish years of this iteration of the DC Extended Universe, a span of time which has seen film quality – and level of consumer confidence – fluctuate from acceptable (“Man of Steel”) to bad (“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”) to worse (“Suicide Squad”) to rebirth (“Wonder Woman”), we have finally arrived at what, we assume, should be a benchmark for this iteration of DC superherodom.

Instead, “Justice League” feels more like a litmus test, a way to test the loyalty of its fanboys while providing a predictable story whose flashiest moments still lack any really intrigue to stand out in a saturated genre. While easier to swallow than “Dawn of Justice,” you know you have a problem when there’s more charm in your 60-second mid-credits scene than everything that has preceded it. Continue reading →

Review: Marvel pokes fun at itself with ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ and has a blast doing it

It’s about time we got something like “Thor: Ragnarok.”

After nearly a dozen years of spinning an increasingly complex web of Marvel stories and characters, the studio realized a need for giving audiences something new and invigorating; something to keep the spark alive, if you will. And they picked the perfect franchise to do it.

With “Ragnarok,” one of the MCU’s least consequential (and – let’s face it – one of its least interesting) franchises doesn’t just get a facelift; it’s infused with a new energy. With the third solo entry for Thor – “solo” becoming more and more ambiguous the further along the MCU machine churns –  he’s officially the ugly girl you initially passed up on who went on to become a runway model. Continue reading →

Review: “The Accountant” too much movie for one film

 

(An edited version of this review originally appeared in the ABQ Free Press, and can be viewed here.) 

There haven’t been very many Hollywood heroes like the one that “The Accountant” offers. Then again, Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Christian Wolff – an autistic bookkeeper-Terminator figure – could hardly be called a hero.

Nonetheless, the film displays the disorder as a strength, not just in Wolff, but in others. Our differences should be celebrated and embraced, “The Accountant” argues. Individuals with autism have as much to offer the world as anyone else.

It’s an appropriate message, one not explored in contemporary film as much as it should, let alone in action thrillers like the one brought to us by director Gavin O’Connor.

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Unfortunately, the film turns what could have been an in-depth exploration of a misunderstood disorder into a gimmick, one of a myriad over narratives that are part of an overstuffed, overambitious plot that is as varied in tone as it is tough to follow.

“The Accountant” has enough material for three movies, or even a short season of binge watch-worhty TV. There are so many moving parts involved that are easy to forget about, even though they are all interconnected in a complex web of…stuff that happens on-screen. It feels like a first cut of a film rather than a finished product, resulting in a two-hour affair that feels more like four.

At its core is Christian, whose affinity for being thorough leads him to success as someone who helps clean up finances. At least, that’s all he seems to do on the surface.

The film is its most engaging when it focuses on Christian in the first half hour of the film – his routine at work, his subdued nature (in an interesting, decidedly non-Affleck performance by Affleck), his daily dose of curated self-therapy he utilizes to live with autism.

It all works to a point, especially in tandem with the film’s start that covers a young Christian’s relationship with his parents and brother. It’s when Wolff is hired to help find the financial holes in the books of a robotics company that deals in the millions of dollars instead of hundreds that the film’s narrative begins to get muddled.

Over its runtime, “The Accountant” leaves the audience in the dark at so many frustrating points, not the least of which in the way it tries to connect every piece of its ensemble of characters to each other.

The Accountant

There’s an admirable attempt to create a deeply layered story, and even glimpses of what could have been a very memorable work had much of its excess been stripped away. Most narratives are a means to an end, many of them laughably disposable.

The film almost knows it too, utilizing sound and fury at some of the most opportune moments to break up the lifeless, obfuscated hodge-podge of plotlines.

Affleck and most of the supporting cast is acceptable enough, though Anna Kendrick looks out of her element here, to the point that “The Accountant” seems like a totally different movie when she’s on-screen. This could be the darkest fare she’s been involved with in her career, and she does what she can for the role, but she’s simply miscast.

There’s a good film somewhere in “The Accountant,” perhaps even a great one that touches on the impact of autism on families over a number of years. But the audience shouldn’t be asked to seek out and fit those pieces together, in a piece so thematically and stylistically jumbled.

 

“The Accountant” is rated R for strong violence and language throughout 

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal

Directed by Gavin O’Connor

2016

Movie Review: Dead on arrival? Suicide Squad is barely on life support to begin with.

This could make a fantastic start to a TV show.

That’s what I kept thinking in the first few minutes of Suicide Squad, throughout Suicide Squad and as the credits of Suicide Squad were rolling. This isn’t so much a movie worth paying to see as it is a two hour mess that pleads the audience to see that it is pushing the boundaries of what a comic book movie could be.

Instead, it falls short on the promise that DC made, not even living up to the potential of its trailers, but rather a forgettable work that on multiple occasions almost blatantly references its inability to live up to the hype.

This could be a fantastic start to a TV show, I thought. And the first 40 minutes could be considered the pilot.

Suicide Squad‘s first act is, at best, a mixed bag of neon-infused cut scenes that someone forgot to edit into the right order. It’s non sequitur after non sequitur, teasing some characters more than others in a way that doesn’t let the audience breathe, like a broken rollercoaster that lurches and stops, lurches and stops at the start. It’s exposition overload disguised as flashbacks, 40 minutes worth of it. Not all of it is fleshed out later, but at least the audience gets an idea for how tonally epileptic the rest of the movie will be.

We get intros to Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, explicitly the stars of the show, and at least the whole thing is bearable when they’re on screen. We get determined Viola Davis who seems bored out of her mind, and we get scenes that feel like climaxes ripped out of other films, including one meant to be darkly dramatic but ends up eliciting an uncomfortable, unintentional laugh instead.

At the end of it all – the characters introductions (literally about two dozen the movie expects us to be interested in), the choppy pacing and editing, the booming soundtrack seemingly meant to cover up the nonsensical writing – you truly have the right amount of material for the pilot of a series that one can expect will flesh out these characters, their different powers, their backstories and eventual arcs.

Joker's scenes have some interesting imagery, but it's usually without explanation or connection to the main plot.

Joker’s scenes have some interesting imagery, but it’s usually without explanation or connection to the main plot.

But this isn’t a pilot. That is the end of what might be the worst first act in comic book movie history, at which point it’s painfully, obviously clear that David Ayer (Fury, Sabotage, End of Watch) has not delivered on the promise of a potentially groundbreaking yarn – not stylistically, not aesthetically, not even in its attempt to imitate the formula of, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, to similar success.

Even when the movie does a stab at really grasping its themes of whether evil can be redeemed or not feels tragically forced and underwhelming.

Squad is like an angsty teenager who continually threatens to run away from home but never does. It’s gilded; self-indulgent and patting itself on the back without really being bold or giving us some shocks and “Wow” moments. If you want that, read up on Jared Leto’s apparent experiments behind the scenes while grasping his Joker character…

…who, by the way, has almost zero point being in this movie. It’s hard enough to follow up Heath Ledger’s award-winning turn as the villain, sure, but it’s almost impossible to begin when Ayer gives us zero sense of motivation behind Leto’s maniacal deviant or his actions. He’s all flash, bringing no tension to a movie that sorely needs it.

Unfortunately, the majority of the titular squad isn’t very interesting either. You get a sense of their villainous natures at the start, but when embarking on their mission don’t get equal treatment as Deadshot and Quinn. Nothing really sets them apart from standard comic book fare. The film even explicitly reminds viewers that they’re “the bad guys,” in what like a tongue-in-cheek attempt by Ayer to say, “Hey, these guys will do something truly vile and dark, this is essential to the story, just you wait.”

It’s an empty promise. The plot is confusing and not a very intriguing one anyway, much like many of its core characters. Killer Croc is expendable, barely understandable, a grunt. You forget Boomerang is in the film at all. Diablo is the most interesting at first, but it’s an attempt at humanity and pathos that misses the mark rather badly.

And Enchantress? She’s the most cringeworthy movie character to grace haunt big screens this year, perhaps even years. Hers is a combination of Maleficent and the Grudge brought to life in abundant CGI fashion influenced by Lost‘s smoke monster. All of Squad‘s supposedly extraordinary and fascinating character cases are reminiscent of a box of high-tech toys that Ayer opened and doesn’t know how to play with.

As much as Robbie's Harley Quinn steals the show, not even she seems to reach her full potential.

As much as Robbie’s Harley Quinn steals the show, not even she seems to reach her full potential.

The villain isn’t enough to save this movie either, a monstrously ancient, boring being who wants to destroy the world via the light beam trope and after that…who knows? And who cares. The movie certainly doesn’t do anything to try and make us understand his cause, let alone sympathize with it.

Suicide Squad‘s action scenes are also surprisingly few and far between, but it could only seem that way because there’s not one memorable sequence to be seen. No real threats are ever posed to the team, and their unique traits aren’t given due justice. It isn’t a good sign when you find yourself wishing that Zach Snyder was behind the camera in these bits, but the movie lacks in anything that makes its thrills unique, leading to a severe lack thereof.

Logic is also something apparently non-existant in the script. For a movie universe in which Superman – the iconic pinnacle of goodness – is seen as an apocalyptic figure, Squad‘s side characters are wholeheartedly prepared do trust these villains with named like Killer Croc and Diablo. Simply put, they’re about as dumb as can be, totally non-believable almost to the point that you want to see them lose.

Instead, the paying audience does. This movie is one deserving of being downloaded and watched at home via a shaky camera, and perhaps not even that. It’s devoid of character, soul, uniqueness and about as memorable as what you had for breakfast this morning.

If only this was a TV pilot.

In a Nutshell

Suicide Squad is consistent in one manner: its cringeworthiness. And if these moments are what DC hopes translates as “edgy” to a modern audience, they’ve got it all wrong. This makes Watchmen seem like an all-time high for the company.

3.5 / 10

 

 

Suicide Squad is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie

Directed by David Ayer

2016