Love Wedding Repeat (2020)

Love Wedding Repeat (2020)

Directed by: Dean Craig. Starring: Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Freida Pinto. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: April 10, 2020.

Love Wedding Repeat is a meditation on how love revolves around chance and fate – described by occasional narration from The Oracle (Penny Ryder), but it’s realy just a standard and often annoying comedy with romance infused.

Jack (Sam Claflin) is aiming to help his sister Hayley’s (Eleanor Tomlinson) wedding day go on without a hitch, as Jack juggles an angry ex-girlfriend, Amanda (Freida Pinto), a misplaced sleep sedative and the girl that got away, Dina (Oliva Munn), as we see alternate versions of the same day.

The film’s based on the 2012 French film, Plan de table, so the alternate timelines always seemed to be the intention of this film, but the one alternate version feels like a cop-out to stretch this film to feature length. Basically, there are only alternate versions because of the sleeping pill in play because of an uninvited guest, Marc (Jack Farthing), trying to ruin the wedding. We see two main versions of the day play out when at the halfway point it goes into the alternate version.

It feels half-baked as the film tells most of its arc in the first hour and then realizes the character dynamics aren’t that deep and it runs out of ideas, and then gives us the, “Alright, what if someone else took the sedative?” The real shame about all this alternate timeline mumbo jumbo is that they switch to a different version of the day as soon as the film seems to be getting interesting. I was actually excited to see where the film would go, and then they reverse back.

I didn’t find this film well-written by Dean Craig (who also directs), as the scenarios, dialogue and character dynamics all felt weak. We do get a taste at several different outcomes but those possibilities are contained to a montage – making it feel like that multiple timelines episode of TV’s Community – but it all feels like an excuse to make a feature film out of a thin premise. That said, the second half is more tolerable than the first version of the day, as the characters aren’t as annoying. This is especially true for Sidney (Tim Key) who learns to listen in this half. He’s a quirky talkative type whose role seems tailored for James Corden or Ricky Gervais in their heydays.

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Joel Fry, Sam Claflin, Freida Pinto and Jack Farthing in Love Wedding Repeat. (IMDb)

I disliked everything about the first half, as the characters are boring and the comedy is just putting everyone in uncomfortable situations to see their boring reactions, and most of the comedy is played on their over-politeness to stay in these situations. That’s the case at the beginning of the film when Claflin’s Jack and Munn’s Dina have just spent a weekend together in Rome and he’s about to tell her he likes her when a guy from his past stops that from happening and he’s too polite to tell him to bugger off.

Now, the wedding’s three years later where Jack gets a second chance, but this is an annoying comedy where everything goes from fine to bad very quickly. A lot of the uncomfortable situations are born from who you sit beside at a wedding; like when Munn is sat beside Sidney and he barely let’s Jack talk to her. These situations are more uncomfortable for the audience because the scenarios aren’t funny. I did chuckle a couple times during the film, but the laughs are not memorable.

Some of the film’s characters are useless, like Jack’s ex-girlfriend Amanda. Freida Pinto is fine, but she’s just there as another obstacle between Jack and Dina. Worse yet is Amanda’s new boyfriend, Chaz (Allan Mustafa), who is so unfunny because the only thing he ever talks about is how he’s insecure about his penis size and that grows tired quickly.

There are so many character dynamics going on that it just disguises that there’s not much happening in this film. Most of the film is just Jack trying to get with Dina and it’s boring, though the brother-sister dynamic between Jack and Hayley works fine.

There are some aspects I liked in the second half of the film as the schmaltz is dialed up between every couple, and some of it hits. The first half just had so much humour that fell flat on its face, but there’s nothing in either half of the film that made me care about what happened with these characters.

Okay, I suppose I liked Hayley well enough that I cared to know if her wedding was ruined or not, but even she feels very one-note, but Eleanor Tomlinson did a good job in the role. Olivia Munn is also fine, and Sam Claflin does his best as a very dull character. Though, there is one very weak aspect of the film that is just the cherry on top. Out of everything that happens, we never even see the wedding itself. We only get Love Repeat. No wedding for you.

Score: 38/100

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker. Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David. Released: December 11, 2009. Runtime: 1h 37 min.

There are so many Disney films I still haven’t seen and 2009’s The Princess and the Frog was near the top of the list. The story follows a waitress named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) who dreams of opening a restaurant. A wrench is thrown in that plan Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) of Maldonia comes to visit and he crosses paths with the villainous Shadow Man, Dr. Facilier (Keith David) and gets turned into a frog. Mistaking Tiana for a princess, Prince Naveen kisses Tiana hoping to be turned back into a human – but Tiana herself gets turned into a frog and they take an adventure through the bayous of New Orleans.

My favourite aspect of The Princess of the Frog is just the culture of New Orleans and how filmmaking team Ron Clements and John Musker incorporate the popular elements of the city. The film takes place during Mardi Gras and the main dish of the restaurant Tiana wants to open – called Tiana’s Place – is gumbo. The main villain of the film, the Shadow Man, also uses voodoo and he is a great villain. Keith David’s performance is fantastic and his “Friends on the Other Side” song has to be one of my favourite villain songs. These friends from the underworld make for some creepy scenes, too, and look visually great.

Of course, jazz is heavily infused into the music throughout. This is especially the case with a friendly alligator Tiana and Prince Naveen meet called Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) whose dream is to play the trumpet with the boys, but everyone runs in fear because, well, he’s a giant alligator. Cajun music is also infused in the tune “Gonna Take You There” when our characters meet one of the main comic relief sidekicks, a firefly called Ray (Jim Cummings). As for the music itself, I don’t think it’s as memorable or catchy as some other songs of the last couple years – especially Frozen or even Clements and Musker’s 2016 film Moana – but they make great listening while watching the film. The only one in the actual film I think I’d ever hum is Tiana’s “Almost There” song. Though, I never realized Ne-Yo’s “Never Knew I Needed” was from this soundtrack and that was one song I would always listen to like 10 years ago.

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Keith David in The Princess and the Frog. (IMDb)

That main theme plays a huge part in the film as the film is all about following your dreams and thinking you know what you need, but finding what you actually need along the way. The film also has a strong message of working hard to get what you need throughout. This all happens organically through Tiana and Naveen’s relationship, and their chemistry is great. Anika Noni Rose has a really nice singing voice as Tiana, and her voice acting is great, too.

I liked their story, though I think I got more enjoyment throughout the film from the comedy from the sidekick animals Louis and Ray. As for the animation, I liked the classic look of the film and the character designs, especially the look of the villain Facilier. I think the story feels like standard Disney but it’s memorable because of all the visuals and the very New Orleans elements at play. There’s also a hopeless romantic vibe to this, too, especially as Ray – who is voiced so well by Jim Cummings – thinks his girlfriend is a star in the sky called Evangeline. It’s a bit silly at first, but it turns out quite lovely.

Score: 75/100

Altitude (2010)

Altitude (2010)

Directed by: Kaare Andrews. Starring: Jessica Lowndes, Landon Liboiron, Julianna Guill. Released: October 3, 2010. Runtime: 1h 30 min.

I’m spooked of heights – like roller coasters and the works – but I’m not too bad on airplanes. That is, commercial airplanes. I haven’t been on many plane rides in my life, but I don’t think you’d ever catch me dead in a helicopter or especially one of the small planes used in the film Altitude, a film that shows if you’re ever just making a short trip for a concert, just drive.

Sara (Jessica Lowndes) is a rookie pilot whose mom died in a plane crash when she was a kid. A week before she’s set to move 3,000 miles to Montreal for college, she and four of her friends are taking a trip to a concert. Enroute in the air, the plane’s wing has a malfunction on the wing and the plane starts spiralling out of control, and soon they enter dark storm clouds where they find themselves in a deadly showdown with unexplained supernatural forces.

The set-up for Altitude really isn’t that bad. We have a prologue to start the film and it’s Sara’s mom getting in a plane crash and there’s a little kid on the flight who is totally nervous about flying. In the present, we meet Sara’s new boyfriend Bruce (Landon Liboiron), who also seems really nervous about flying. His anxiety on the flight is definitely how I would be reacting, though at times it gets a bit annoying.

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Jessica Lowndes in Altitude. (IMDb)

The other three characters have a strange dynamic: There’s Mel (Julianna Guill) and her boyfriend Sal (Jake Weary). There’s also Cory (Ryan Donowho) who has super obviously had a fling with Mel either currently or in the past and is also Sara’s cousin. The character dynamics are fine for a horror flick, but as we get in the air and into the stressful situations, Sara is really the only likable one here, and Bruce is the only other one with any development.

Sal is horribly written, but is a perfect template for any new writers wondering how to write an extremely unlikable frat boy. He’s antagonizing to just about everyone, rips up Bruce’s comic book when gets scared flying the plane, and is always so quick to lay the blame on people. His character and dialogue just gets worse as soon as the stakes are raised. At one point after something crazy happens, Bruce says, “Oh no, it can’t be,” and Sal immediately jumps up to blame him and starts beating him up asking what he did and just assuming everything is his fault.

None of the characters are interesting and the acting isn’t anything to write home about, either. Some scenes are pretty intense, though, like when they have to take risks to save their own asses and one of the characters goes out on the plane’s tail to try to fix the malfunction, but the horror is not very scary. Sure, it’s an intense premise as their plane just flies blindly through pitch black clouds, but it’s not very scary. The supposed-to-be-scares comes from a mysterious presence inside the clouds that, up to a point, only Sal has claimed to have seen. We hear it at various points, though, as a screech. Then, when we see it, all hell breaks loose and it feels too quick. Like, we’ve been teased about there being something but then they just open that can of worms and it just feels rushed. The monster is a Chthulu looking octopus thing in the sky, unexplained for most of the film as to how it got there. About the effects, the actual effects of flying through the sky look passable. However, the creature FX are weak.

The film’s main fault is just being boring for the most part, and then it just dips its toe into stupidity. Well, it doesn’t really dip, it cannon balls in. And that stupidity is the explanation of the monster and I like the idea of it a lot as to what they were going for, but how it unfolds on screen feels awkward and under-explained. The twist really just comes out of left-field and the ending to the film feels easy and the way it’s wrapped up is unrewarding. At one point, Mel theorizes that they’re just in a government experiment to test how people react to stress and it honestly feels more plausible.

Score: 38/100

Money Plane (2020)

Money Plane (2020)

Directed by: Andrew Lawrence. Starring: Adam Copeland, Kelsey Grammer, Thomas Jane. Released: July 10, 2020. Runtime: 1h 22 min.

I love heist films so when I heard about Money Plane, I thought it would be some stupid B-movie fun. It is surely dumb, but it’s not fun. The story follows Jack Reese (retired wrestler Adam Copeland, a.k.a. Edge), a thief who’s $40 million in debt and is hired by Darius Grouch the Third, a.k.a. The Rumble (Kelsey Grammer) – which, frankly, sounds like a better wrestler’s name than Edge – to rob the titular Money Plane, a futuristic airborne casino with millions on board in cash and cryptocurrency, filled with “some of the baddest motherfuckers on the planet” on the plane, as Rumble explains it and tells Jack some of the betting that happens. “You wanna bet on a dude fucking an alligator? Money plane.”

The film’s weak attempts at comedy have more life than the film’s action scenes (strange for an action film), but everything here is boring. With its small budget, there’s nothing really high-concept about this film; and first hearing about it, its concept reminded me of the 2012 film Lockout, the one on the space prison. However, that film had a budget of $20 million which allowed it to feel authentic, and here, I think the entire budget was spent on Kelsey Grammer and Adam Copeland.

About its “high-concept,” there’s nothing futuristic about the Money Plane other than it’s an exclusive casino in the sky. It just looks like a normal casino on a plane. The sets here are awful and they have the same production value as a 70’s adult film, complete with the similar lighting. At no point is it convincing that this is actually filmed on an actual airplane, especially when Jack and his heist crew members Isabella (Katrina Norman) and Trey (Patrick Lamont Jr.) exit the plane and the plane door’s open to just darkness and there’s a wind machine going. This film would be equally awful if it were set on the ground, and the only reason it’s a casino in the sky is to make the premise more ridiculous and so it could have this title.

The title is why I wasted my time on this and got my attention. The fact that it’s directed and co-written by Andrew Lawrence is why it got my curiosity. He was on on the 90’s sitcom Brotherly Love with his brothers Matthew Lawrence (Boy Meets World, The Hot Chick) and Joey Lawrence (TV’s Blossom) who also have supporting roles in this film. Andrew Lawrence acts as one of the heist crew members, Iggy, who’s the tech guy on the ground during the operation, but he gets little to do. His acting is stronger than his writing and directing here, though. The action scenes are sloppily shot and choreographed and so awkwardly directed – especially an awkward fight scene in the cockpit with Jack and the co-pilot – and the writing is terrible, from the dialogue to execution of the concept. The blame isn’t solely on him, there, co-writing this with Tim Schaaf, but you can tell where Lawrence wrote his own voice in, like when he comments on his own premise when Jack explains the Money Plane plan and Iggy says, “It’s insane, I love it.”

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Kelsey Grammer in Money Plane. (IMDb)

The concept really is insane, and this film could be watchable with a larger budget and someone who could legitimately direct action. As it is, the project feels amateurish. The writing hurts the film the most as none of the characters are interesting and the heist itself is one of the most boring heists I’ve seen, devoid of any tension as the script mostly just wastes time with the betting games and the heist is basically just Isabella, disguised as a flight attendant, searching for the vault room. There are also a couple fights but it feels so uneventful. It’s such a wasted opportunity, especially when it’s pitched as a casino filled with very dangerous criminals and the criminals are more annoying than threatening and barely feel like legitimate threats to the characters. They’re barely involved in the story as villains except for one boring fight – and most of the criminals are just there to play the casino’s stupid games. The plot tries to add in some double crosses during the storyline but you can see everything coming a mile away.

Some of the writing is so stupid it’s kind-of funny. I enjoy the fact that Jack is a former poker player who has accumulated $40 million in debt playing high-stakes poker and now he’s robbing an airborne casino where he does, for one scene, play poker. We learn all this in an exposition-y scene with Jack and his best friend Harry (Thomas Jane in a bit role) and there’s this whole thing about Jack trusting his instincts. “Ever since I lost that hand, I don’t know if I can,” says Jack. About Adam Copeland, he seems like he’d be fine in other things like TV’s Vikings, but here his character is just so boring, defined solely as a family man trying to do right by them. Kelsey Grammer at least puts more into his performance because he’s just totally chewing the scenery in every scene he’s in, but the dialogue is so awful.

Anyway, Andrew Lawrence’s direction of just about everything from the action to basic conversations feels awkward, and as a poker enthusiast I found it sloppy when he actually showed us Jack playing a hand on the Money Plane. Remember, Jack is established as a strong poker player, but when he semi-bluff shoves against two opponents, it’s no wonder $40 million in debt. Still, on the plane it could just be an expensive punt so we can stop playing cards and get into the heist of the film, but I’m still undecided.

Jack’s bluff – he has a pair of fours on a dry board – gets called by a cowboy named JR Crockett (Matthew Lawrence who looks like Yosemite Sam here) and it’s the one somewhat funny thing in this film as he slams his hand on the poker table and says, “God damn it, thanks for making me feel alive, I call.” The drama in the hand is made more boring because the dealer doesn’t make them show their hands until showdown for ultimate drama even though they’re all-in.

The Money Plane is established as a legitimate casino that has an emphasis on rules – where The Concierge (Joey Lawrence) shoots a man in the back of head when he catches him cheating – and when I’m a viewer who knows how poker tables work, it’s annoying because that feels inaccurate to not show hands as soon as everyone’s all-in. I know I’m being nitpicky of a dumb B-movie called Money Plane that’s ridiculous through and through. To quote Andrew Lawrence’s own character T.J. Detweiler from Disney’s Recess, this film “whomps.”

Score: 25/100

7500 (2020)

7500 (2020)

Directed by: Paul Vollrath. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel.  Runtime: 1h 33 min. Released: June 18, 2020.

Paul Vollrath’s 7500 starts with soundless footage from an airport’s security camera at the Berlin Tegel Airport – showing people going about their days. There’s a disconnect watching these people and that disconnect lingered throughout the film. This is because we are confined to the cockpit of a Berlin to Paris flight for the entirety of the film with co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the plane is hijacked.

Thrillers set on airplanes are one of my favourite sub-genres – like Red Eye, Flightplan or Snakes on a Plane, I love those kinds of films. 7500 is more in the speed of something like true story United 93, where there are only some bursts of action. Of course, the lack of consistent action is expected in 93. In 7500, I was expecting more action and was just bored throughout the film.

The film’s innovative in concept as a hijacking told in real-time from the point-of-view of the co-pilot told from the cockpit, and that’s fine if you want a film that looks like it’s filmed in a flight simulator. The sense of claustrophobia is strong here as is the anxiety – especially as the hijackers consistently pound on the cockpit door – and Vollrath’s script would be strong as a stage play, but as a film there are so many boring stretches. Still, there are some pros. The intensity of the terrorists’ first charge at the cockpit is excellently staged, as leading up to it the curtain between the cockpit and the plane’s cabin shifts as the terrorists listen for the cockpit door opening to let a flight attendant inside.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has some powerful moments as Tobias, especially when the hijackers try to get into the cockpit by taking hostages and threatening to kill them. The only way they survive is if Tobias opens the door. Tobias is helpless because opening the door would break protocol, and all he can do is watch on a small TV attached to a surveillance camera that shows the action in the cabin. This is how we watch most of the action unfold. He can’t really do much to help the passengers, other than suggesting they charge the terrorists because their weapons are just knives made from glass.

Tobias is our only connection to any other character, and honestly, he’s just boring as a father trying to survive the situation. If we’re going to be confined to a cockpit (that word gets funnier every time I write it) with him for 90 minutes, it shouldn’t be too big of an ask that he be a compelling character.

The only other characters besides the terrorists that we interact with are the captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger), as well as Tobias’ flight attendant girlfriend, Gökce (Aylin Tezel). The terrorists themselves don’t seem to have a lot of motivation. One of them, Kenan (Murathan Muslu), gives a monologue of their intentions but this feels basic and vague. The youngest hijacker, Vedat (Omid Memar), seems pressured into this whole situation by his brothers. He also forges a connection with Tobias, but it’s still very boring.

There’s also such a disconnect from the passengers as we only see them being greeted by the flight attendants as they get on the plane. This disconnect is what hurts the film greatly. We don’t know their names or stories, and we are told there are 85 souls on board, but these passengers and crew might as well just be a number or names on a ledger. That could be director/writer Patrick Vollrath’s intention, as Tobias trying to save them isn’t a personal thing, it’s a duty because they’ve trusted him to fly the plane. Regardless, not knowing any of the passengers just made this feel cold.

I’m simple and I guess I like to explore the plane before the action and see the hijacking unfold among the passengers, feeling the panic that way. Instead of knowing the passengers during take-off, we actually see the plane take-off. That’s kind-of interesting – and there is a lot of technical dialogue about flying a plane and the procedures, so the research that went into this screenplay is there. The concept of this film is interesting, as it’s different being put in the shoes of a co-pilot as in so many of these films the captain and co-pilot is dead by the mid-way point.

This film feels more like a human drama, but I expected way more action. It’s not like I was expecting JGL to kick ass like Liam Neeson in Non-Stop or say one-liners like Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a Plane, but memorable action still could have happened. This just isn’t that type of film. I also just didn’t feel the stakes of the film consistently, as since I didn’t know the passengers or care much for Tobias, I simply wasn’t invested throughout or interested in the final outcome.

Score: 50/100

Can You Keep a Secret? (2019)

Can You Keep a Secret? (2019)

Directed by: Elise Duran. Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Tyler Hoechlin, Kimiko Glenn. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: September 13, 2019.

This will be a spoiler review so I talk about many plot points. I don’t think it’s worth watching anyway, but consider yourselves warned.

Apparently someone had been keeping Can You Keep a Secret? a secret from me as I had never heard of the film or the New York Times bestselling novel of the same name by Sophia Kinsella. Truthfully, I wish this film had just stayed a secret.

Emma Corrigan (Alexandra Daddario) is a junior marketing executive working for an organic food company called Panda. She meets Jack Harper (Tyler Hoechlin) on an airplane and when the plane hits turbulence, she spills all her personal secrets. The “comedy” ensues when Jack shows up at her work the next day because he’s the CEO of the company.

I’ll start with the somewhat good, and that’s Daddario. She’s fine, but if you put Daddario in a trash can of a film, it’s still a trash can. Okay, I guess there’s not really anything good here if I’m starting with that. Still, I smiled a couple times because I like her as an actress, and Tyler Hoechlin is okay, just boring because of the character.

The film just begins as an unfunny comedy with bad scenarios and switches into a rom-com with bad scenarios. The consistent set-up for jokes is Jack hanging around the workplace, asking Emma a question he already knows the answer to because of her secrets, and smiling as she squirms and tells a lie in front of others.

It’s not as malicious as I’m making it sound, but it isn’t funny. This rinses and repeats until she breaks up with her dull boyfriend Connor (David Ebert) – and then the romance between Daddario and Hoechlin really begins. Connor is a worthless presence here to simply postpone the romantic aspect of the film.

The most unbelievable thing about this film is how long Daddario stays with Connor. She’s unhappy but feels so average that she settles. For the film to believably sell Emma as an average girl, it was a mistake casting Daddario. Average? Not with those eyes. The film also puts Jack on a pedestal of perfection. Soon, we learn that Jack isn’t perfect because he has webbed feet. Really? That’s literally the same thing they do in the 2010 Jay Baruchel comedy She’s Out of My League when Baruchel has Alice Eve on a pedestal and learns she has webbed feet. Are we… Are we really saying Alexandra Daddario is the Jay Baruchel of this scenario?

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Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin in Can You Keep a Secret?

The inferiority feels more like a sub-plot here when it’s the entire premise of League – it’s just not handled well here. We’re just led to believe that Emma is average as Jack goes on a live television interview and the interviewer asks him why he’s going into women’s health and Jack says they want to appeal to the average girl on the street, meaning Emma.

This is where the big conflict happens. We know the entire time Jack, at some point, would share her secrets – I honestly thought he was an author on the plane and would leak her secrets in a book – but the way it all happens feels so unnatural.

I’ll warn again, this is a spoiler review… Anyway, Jack is so in love with Emma that he starts to talk about all the things he loves about her and gets carried away and spills all her darkest secrets. This all happens as everyone at Emma’s workplace watches the interview on TV. He spills the fact that she “loves ABBA but hates jazz” (a big one because Connor loves jazz), “she scans the backs of classics and pretends that she’s read them” (a huge one because she was supposed to read Great Expectations), and the biggest one: “She cries every time she hears Demons by Imagine Dragons.”

The secrets feel mundane, a little embarrassing, sure, but since the secrets feel so small it takes away and stakes from the film. It’s also just convoluted how he goes on this tangent on live TV. Making matters worse is Emma’s workplace is the absolute worst. Everyone’s toxic, even Connor, but the only compassionate people are her friend Omar (Sam Asghari) and her boss Cybil (Laverne Cox), who’s mean for most of the film and then has a change of heart.

A co-worker named Artemis (Kate Easton) is the worst, the ringleader of the random cruelty as after the interview is over, she leads the office in a rendition of Demons by Imagine Dragons so Emma runs out crying. It’s all just terrible writing because it’s hard to believe a workplace would ever be this cruel, and the response is such a strange overreaction to make her feel awful.

I already hated this film for most of it, but romantic comedies get so much worse for me if I don’t buy into the conflict. And boy, the conflict here feels convoluted in every way. When Emma confronts Jack about the secrets spilling, Jack responds, “They asked me that question and it caught me off guard and I panicked.” The question he’s referring to? “Who’s your target market?” Yes, if someone asked me that on live television, I too would panic and spill someone’s every last secret.

I just don’t buy it. The writing’s just consistently awful as nothing really happens in the first hour and then 30 minutes of half-baked conflict is jammed in at the film’s end.

Score: 25/100

The High Note (2020)

The High Note (2020)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: May 29, 2020.

In Los Angeles, a personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), working for music superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), follows her dreams of being a producer when she meets singer David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and gives him the impression she’s an established producer with connections.

That’s the best I could come up with as far as a synopsis for this film goes, as for much of it felt kind-of plotless until Maggie met David. A lot of it is a personal assistant working for a superstar who’s struggling with her age, and then it leans into romantic drama when Maggie meets David.

Their relationship felt like the heart of the film as Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s chemistry was strong. Johnson plays the role as well as she usually does, and there’s nothing really new in her performance, but Johnson is why this worked for me at times. Harrison Jr. is good, too, there’s just nothing special about his performance, except the fact that his singing is solid and enjoyable.

About Tracee Ellis Ross, I haven’t seen enough of her to really create an opinion yet, but I wasn’t a big fan of this performance and that was mostly because I didn’t like the character – she’s a prima donna that’s too often unlikable, but her singing is fine. I liked her once we got to know her more, and a main plot point of her manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) pressuring her to take a Las Vegas residency was fine. It was interesting because Maggie wants her to take risks and encourage her not to play it safe, and safe would be the residency doing the same thing every night.

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Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube in The High Note.

I did like the dynamic occasionally between Maggie and Grace, and I really liked the sub-plot of Maggie working on one of Grace’s old albums to make it have a new sound. That was the most interesting part about Maggie’s character to me – her music knowledge. She’s like an encyclopedia, as Grace calls her, and her knowledge of music and her passion for it is inspiring and Johnson plays that side well. She’s a dreamer and she’s following her ambitions; but it still feels one-note and isn’t enough to create a truly great character.

About Grace’s old music: Everyone loves her music, but they don’t want anything new. It’s explained that her last album sold poorly and that’s why her manager Jack – Ice Cube is fine but has so little to do – is adamant about the residency. The logic of no one wanting new music just doesn’t make sense to me, here. Grace Davis is still doing tours and has her billboards up all over, she still seems like a big deal, still selling out venues. Why wouldn’t these fans buy a new album? Part of the story is finding that passion to want to release new music again, but I couldn’t buy that her album wouldn’t sell well when we’re shown that she is such a big deal.

It’s interesting learning a bit more about the role of a music producer, and I enjoyed all the musical aspects of this. The drama of this is just so flat and just lifeless at times, as this just goes through the motions and never really gets going, and I couldn’t really even tell where the story was going for much of the film. That’s not to say that this is due to an unpredictably to the film – more so that it just felt so unfocused and was trying to do a lot of things at once, while also feeling like nothing of substance was happening. This is made worse by the fact that this feels overlong at 113 minutes, and if this were 90 minutes and more focused, it would be much more enjoyable.

I say that because after the classic break-up conflict, the film finally hits its stride in the last 25-30 minutes. It felt lively as it hit the emotional heart of its story, and finally found its voice. The message of fixing regrets and showing that risks are integral to following your dreams was fine. The third act finally had a couple (predictable) surprises up its sleeve and the film felt like it finally clicked. I just wasn’t emotionally invested at that point, and it’s a shame it couldn’t find its stride or voice like 45 minutes sooner, because it all felt too little too late.

Score: 50/100

Force of Nature (2020)

Force of Nature (2020)

Directed by: Michael Polish. Starring: Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson. Runtime: 1h 31 min. Released: June 30, 2020.

Force of Nature feels like the writer of the film, Cory M. Miller, watched 2018’s The Hurricane Heist and said, “Yeah, I’d like to write something like that, but worse.” At least in The Hurricane Heist there’s an aspect of it where it doesn’t take itself seriously at all and it could be fun to mock with friends, but Force of Nature is much too boring for those purposes.

The basic premise makes sense but the story feels haphazardly put together. During a hurricane in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a gang of thieves – led by John the Baptist (David Zayas) – target a building for a heist. They encounter trouble, however, when Officer Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) and his new partner Jess (Stephanie Cayo) are on evacuation duty and try to get a disgruntled ex-cop, Ray (Mel Gibson), his daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth), an elderly recluse called Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos) and Griffin (William Catlett) to leave the building and go to the storm shelter. Then, when John the Baptist and his crew come in, all hell breaks loose.

There are a lot of working parts about Force of Nature that try to come together but never mesh, and that’s with all the attempts at actually creating characters with backstories. It also makes the film feel like it takes itself way too seriously at times. Cardillo is developed as a character with a dark-ish past that everyone knows and Ray immediately doesn’t trust him because of Cardillo’s history. Cardillo has a lot of demons and we meet him sitting on the shower floor with a gun in his mouth. This type of characterization is fine in a drama, but the writing’s not strong enough to create a believable person. I get it, he has demons, but he’s a bit of a boring dickhead.

Ray is also just angry because his health is bad and Mel Gibson is just on one level the entire film – pissed off. The other attempt at serious character development is with Griffin, and his development feels relevant politically as he’s a black man who has problem with police because of run-ins with the past. He also has a killer lion or jaguar – I couldn’t tell, we only see it in a split second shot of it – whom he’s trained to attack cops in uniform. There’s also a layer with Bergkamp who’s a German who must learn to be tolerate others. This all just feels out-of-place for a dumb action movie with a hurricane and a heist. It is a dumb action movie and the attempt at characterization is fine, but the writing is so flat they don’t really ever come alive. It also just feels too serious, and the dialogue is wooden and any attempts at emotional scenes come off as laughable.

The heist is boring as hell, too, and the twist for it is dumb. Major spoilers, but basically John the Baptist is a criminal but also an art enthusiast who has caught wind of an art collection in the building owned by Bergkamp, whose father was a Nazi so he has a bunch of paintings from his Nazi days. This film really feels like if The Hurricane Heist, any action movie with an apartment building as the main setting (it’s too bad to compare this specifically to The Raid: Redemption) and The Monuments Men had a weird baby and this is the product that no one wants. And, while John is an art enthusiast and knows the value of these paintings, he doesn’t mind shooting someone in the back of the head so their brains fly all over a priceless painting. End spoilers.

He gets very little characterization – other than that these people are big into heists in Puerto Rico – and he’s supposed to be threatening just because he doesn’t mind killing his own men if they’re expendable, half the time for no reason. Seriously, I’m pretty sure he killed as many of his own guys as our heroes killed.

The hurricane itself feels inconsequential to the story, really just a framing device designed to get the cops to the same building where the gang is stealing from, and the hurricane also cuts off communication between Cardillo and Jess and their precinct. The hurricane also looks super ugly, and not much of a factor other than some flooding and filming in the pouring rain. In The Hurricane Heist the hurricane was because it was just a stupidly fun mix and at least there were action scenes in the hurricane, and in Crawl at least the hurricane served a purpose in getting the gators to the house. I mean, I guess the hurricane does get the cops to the building, but it never feels like an important factor. The same bad film could be made without the presence of a hurricane, and that could allow more action with more tenants in the building.

Score: 25/100