21 Bridges (2019)

21 Bridges (2019)

Directed by: Brian Kirk. Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons. Runtime: 1h 39 min. Released: November 22, 2019.

An embattled NYPD detective, Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is thrust into leading a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers and uncovers a massive conspiracy. 21 Bridges is a movie that I expected to enjoy given the talent involved – Chadwick Boseman stars and Joe and Anthony Russo are on as producers, as well. Boseman plays his character well as someone who lives in the shadow of his father, a cop who died when Andre was a kid. Andre is characterized as having a happy trigger finger and being the one who shoots first and never asks questions because they’re already in a body bag.

Boseman is easily the best part of this, and it’s interesting for the story that the trigger-happy detective leads the charge against a pair of cop killers. Everyone is out for blood as the stress is high, as Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) puts Davis on the case. It’s interesting as Davis picks tonight to be a good cop and ask questions first as everyone else becomes trigger happy trying to catch Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephan James). Sienna Miller is also solid as Detective Frankie Burns who teams up with Davis.

21 Bridges, article
Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch in 21 Bridges. (IMDb)

Instead of really enjoying this, though, most of the film’s developments felt obvious to me and it all felt predictable. The action itself is fine and some of the manhunt scenes are thrilling. It’s just an old-fashioned cop movie, but it doesn’t do enough with its premise. The sound design isn’t good, either, as gunfire constantly drowns out dialogue. The score also misses in a lot of scenes because half the time the music just doesn’t fit the scene. It’s a big booming orchestra when Andre is just looking through the crime scene and then a similarly dramatic score during the big action scenes. It feels awkward.

The premise of the film works well and the fact that they shut down Brooklyn and all its 21 bridges is a good idea for a lockdown sort-of film, but they waste the premise on a standard story. The villains are okay, here. Basically, Ray and Michael learn about a shipment of cocaine and find way more than they thought there would be. They’re both trained military, and Michael has a strong backstory. As the film starts to tell its conspiracy, it’s all terribly predictable. I do think some of the action is good, but the writing showed its cards so often I couldn’t enjoy it.

Score: 40/100

Greta (2019)

Greta (2019)

Greta. Directed by: Neil Jordan. Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Maika Monroe. Runtime: 1h 38 min. Released: March 1, 2019.

Greta benefits most from very strong performances by stars Chloë Grace Moretz and French acting legend Isabelle Huppert. Frances McCullen (Moretz), a waitress in New York City, finds a purse on a subway train one day and returns it to the owner, a lonely piano teacher and widow, the titular Greta (Huppert). They start a friendship from there as Greta Hideg’s deadly agenda is slowly revealed.

I think the most interesting thing about Greta is that, while it’s a stalker story, it sets itself apart in a few ways. A large amount of stalker stories are sexual in nature. Here, it’s more of a mother-daughter obsession. Greta’s lost her daughter and Frances has lost her mom, so Greta gets it in her mind that it’s a natural fit. Frances also says at one point that “I’m like chewing gum, I tend to stick around.” It’s a defining piece of dialogue in their relationship because Greta takes it seriously.

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Isabelle Huppert in Greta. (IMDb)

The characters are also well-written, from Frances’ general naivety to Greta’s loneliness and manipulation. Frances also has a roommate, Erica Penn, played well by Maika Monroe. My main complaint with Greta is the pacing is slow, making it feel longer because of it and it’s only 98 minutes long. Frances trying to figure out what Greta wants with her is an intriguing road to follow.

I liked that this film also took a less traditional approach to the stalker story in structure, as well, as the film’s second half has a slower pace in limited settings. The writing by Neil Jordan and Ray Wright is strong enough, and it features good foreshadowing in some scenes. The last 20 minutes or so are rewarding, and the strong acting keeps things interesting. Moretz captures the anxiety of the situation well, as does Monroe, and Huppert looks like she’s having a blast playing this batshit crazy character.

Score: 63/100

The Movie Buff Reviews – “Ford v Ferrari,” “Last Christmas”

The Movie Buff Reviews – “Ford v Ferrari,” “Last Christmas”

Instead of a regular review today, I thought I’d compile a couple of different reviews that I’ve written for The Movie Buff, which has a new theme going which looks really awesome. The reviews include a pair of new releases – Ford v Ferrari and Last Christmas – as well as four reviews I did for the site’s Mob Movie March, which they run every year. Anyway, here are snippets from the reviews and links to where you can read them.

Ford v Ferrari – “The highs and lows of the film are amazing and this is my favourite sports film of the year, and one of my favourites of the year in general. It’s not a traditional sports movie, but I would classify it as one just because it’s so inspiring and the competition is so exciting. It has also has two key races where both have high stakes and feel rewarding in some way.” Read the review hereand I gave this one an A+

The Christmas film based on Wham!‘s song of the same name, Last Christmas – “I know sappy romance is predictable but I was frustrated with its mediocrity. The good scenes come at the wrong time, as Clarke’s rendition of “Last Christmas” should be a highlight, but I just wanted the film to end by that point. I also cry at every film, and this one never hooked me on an emotional level, which really tells that this doesn’t work for me.” You can read the review here. This review was also part of the site’s “Fall in Love February” marathon, which I also did as my 29 Days of Romance on my site. Thanks for the idea, Mark. 

Last Christmas
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke in Last Christmas. (IMDb)

The first review I submitted for the site’s Mob Movie March was Angels with Dirty Faces, the film that inspired the Angels with Filthy Souls film in Home Alone. “It’s [James] Cagney’s performance that brings a lot of the charm to this film. That’s especially the case in his scenes with the ‘Dead End’ Kids and how they look up to him… I like the film’s ideas that they idolize a gangster because he just looks so cool. Jerry says he can’t teach honesty when the gangsters show dishonesty is the better policy. “A hoodlum or a gangster is looked up to with the same respect as the successful businessman or popular hero,” Jerry tells Rocky.” You can read the review here

I reviewed the Joe Pesci “comedy” 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Here’s the excerpt: “At one point, I thought that the film could either be better or get even worse if the heads interacted with the characters. Late in the film, it opens that Pandora’s Box in a nightmare scenes where the heads, lined up on a motel dresser, sing a rendition of “Mr. Sandman” (just Mr. Hitman) at Tommy where their respective bodies crash through the walls and strangle Tommy. Suffice to say, the film answers my question by being a different breed of terrible.” You can read the review here.

Okay, two more reviews. I also reviewed the 2005 film The Ice Harvest with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, which has been on my watchlist for awhile. “It’s foremost a mob movie but also a Christmas film by default. It doesn’t have any of the traditional Christmas cheer, but has all the cynical cheer that embodies the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge or The Grinch. This film’s mantra is a line written in Sharpie on several bathroom walls: “As Wichita Falls, so falls Wichita Falls.” A sort-of “all that could go wrong will go wrong,” or The Grinch’s equivalent of wrestling with his own-self loathing.” You can read the review here.

My last review for Mob Movie March was for the 2015 film, Legend. “I’ll just talk about the best part of “Legend” straight away—and that’s Tom Hardy’s dual performance. Watching him make these two characters feel so distinct from each other is masterclass. He completely elevates this material, and without him this would have been straight-up bad for me.” Read the review here.

 

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

Directed by: Jim Mickle. Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Michael C. Hall. Runtime: 1h 55 min. Released: September 27, 2019.

This film contains spoilers. 

Netflix’s In the Shadow of the Moon is a film has ambition that threatens to knock it down, but its originality keeps it standing for the most part. Boyd Holbrook plays Thomas “Locke” Lockhart, a Philadelphia officer who develops a lifelong obsession to track down a mysterious serial killer (Cleopatra Coleman) whose crimes defy explanation as she resurfaces every nine years.

The character work in this film is strong, as Locke’s wife gives birth the same night a serial killer surfaces and multiple people in Philadelphia die mysteriously of brain hemorrhages and their necks are branded with a three-pronged mark. That night lives in Locke’s memory and then he becomes more obsessed nine years later when she returns for reasons that become clear later.

The film starts in 1988 and goes forward nine years each time, so this spans several decades. Boyd Holbrook gives a memorable turn as Locke. He shows the effect his obsession has on him over the years as it affects his life and career. It’s just interesting what one night can do to a man. He also tries to care for his daughter Amy (Quincy Kirkwood as a child; Sarah Dugdale as an adult) but is literally unable to as the years pass because this obsession is eating him alive. I thought Locke was fascinating.

Bokeem Woodbine is also good as Locke’s partner Maddox. He doesn’t have much to do because it’s Locke’s show, but they are a good pair. Cleopatra Coleman is memorable as the mysterious killer as we try to understand her motives. She’s in a hood for most of the film and shows acting chops when she’s given the chance. The other actor of note in this is Michael C. Hall (TV’s Dexter). The character’s fine, he’s Locke’s brother-in-law, Detective Holt, and he’s a bit of a dickhead who goes against Locke at every turn. His Southern accent is also a strange creative choice, as it’s set in Philadelphia (though, it’s really filmed in Toronto).

In the Shadow of the Moon, article
Cleopatra Coleman in In the Shadow of the Moon (IMDb).

The story is intriguing, too. I love the first 18 years of the film and its set-up when people start dying randomly. The detective work and police work in the first 30 minutes is also great as everything in this opening worked for me. I honestly thought it would be the next great detective film looking for a killer whose crimes make little sense. The crimes do make little sense but we get answers by the end of it all. The detective work is consistently there but it eventually becomes more about Locke’s obsession than detective work, but it’s still interesting watching this all unfold.

After the one-hour mark, the film starts to get into the high-concept part of its story. Writers Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock tip their hand too much in one of the years where it becomes clearer how she’s doing the crimes and coming back every so often but finding out the “why” is still enjoyable.

One reason I didn’t love the second half as much is it’s because it’s not as enjoyable watching his life unravel, because he’s likable. The ending is satisfying because of the different turns it takes as Locke learns her motives, and the voice-over narration wraps it up in a tidy bow. I like it because it feels unique and it blends strong detective work and enough science fiction to make it accessible for both genres.

Score: 70/100

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Directed by: James Bobin. Starring: Isabela Merced, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña. Runtime: 1h 42 min. Released: August 9, 2019.

Dora (Isabela Merced), a teenage explorer, is sent from the jungle to the city to try to fit in with others her own age. Soon, Dora leads her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), a family friend Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) and others on an adventure in the jungle to find her parents (Michael Peña, Eva Longoria).

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a delightful surprise and a creative live-action adaptation of the popular kid’s cartoon Dora the Explorer. Some of the references that the filmmakers put in to the show – like when Dora will talk to the camera and say “can you say backpack?” and then everyone exchanges glances because she’s literally talking to no one. These meta moments are hilarious and clever.

Isabela Merced is the perfect Dora as she captures her sense of adventure and energy very well. I’m impressed with Merced as an actress because she’s shown she can play to so many ranges, like in Instant Family when she was a moody teenager protective of her younger siblings and here she convincingly plays someone with an endless supply of positivity.

Dora
Isabela Merced in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. (IMDb)

That’s a flaw as the positivity becomes a bit much after awhile, but the writing addresses that and the discussion is refreshing. Merced has a lot of great moments here and a lot of good songs, too. Others in the cast are good, too, like Jeff Wahlberg as Diego and Eugenio Derbez as family friend Alejandro. Derbez shines in different ways in this film and his performance is entertaining.

The film very much feels like a teen movie with Dora’s fish-out-of-water humour getting used to high school, and the jokes never feel lazy. Sammy (Madeleine Madden) as a brainiac but kind-of mean girl works, and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) works for his awkward humour, too, as they’re the ones out of their element when they’re dragged into this jungle adventure.

The storyline and adventure are also well-written. It’s standard in a way as everyone is just trying to find the hidden Inca city Parapata, made solely of gold, but it’s an exciting adventure and one that has enough surprises and enough action to maintain interest. It also has a lot of laughs and one of the best scenes is a hallucination-inspired animated sequence that looks like the real Dora the Explorer show. The film feels like the real Dora, too, even though she’s a teenager, and creative scenes like this is why this is such a delightful surprise.

Score: 75/100

Contagion (2011), and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19

Contagion (2011), and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law. Runtime: 1h 46 min. Released: September 9, 2011.

Some spoilers follow.

During our Coronavirus pandemic, it seems like everyone is watching Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Last week I think this was at No. 35 on the Most Popular Movies IMDb chart and as of this writing (very early morning, March 21) it sits at No. 4 on that popular movie chart. This makes sense, because there’s no better way to make yourself more paranoid right now than watching Contagion.

The film itself is about a fast-spreading virus, the MEV-1, that escalates into a pandemic as the CDC works to find a cure. The spread of the disease is the most fascinating aspect in Contagion, originating in Hong Kong with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) and escalating quickly from there when she returns home to Minnesota.

The way the virus spreads feels realistic and it’s interesting as it’s established what the “basic reproduction number” is and how quickly it will spread. It’s engaging to watch because of Soderbergh’s apt direction and I love his aesthetic in his own cinematography, as well.

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Kate Winslet in Contagion taking us through the “basic reproduction number.” (IMDb)

I’ve always found this a realistic, engaging drama/thriller. I haven’t watched this since 2015, but watching this during a pandemic, the paranoia hits differently. The mortality rate depicted in the film is 25-30 per cent, where 1 in 4 people will die from it, and according to an article on Business Insider and, I’m copying and pasting this part, “according to Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, COVID-19’s mortality rate is probably around 1%, which is still about 10 times the flu’s.”

The pandemic depicted in Contagion is obviously more aggressive, but there are some eerie parallels to our real-life. It’s also impossible to watch this film and not spot the parallels to our life and this film. Even in the film’s tagline, “Don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone,” feels like our world right now with social distancing.

In the film, the disease starts in a populous place like Hong Kong (Wuhan for Coronavirus), where tourists fly home, infect people at the airport, and then infect people back home as they go about their everyday life. The other big thing is the looting of supermarkets and stores. We’re not at the “looting” stage yet, but I think that all relates back to the panic buying of toilet paper of all things, and the bulk-buying of essentials that others need, too. And I’m sure if someone in real-life suggested there were a cure like in the movie (“forsythia” in Contagion), it could get a little crazy out there with people trying to get it.

Personally, I haven’t seen any of the “looting” but I’ve seen a lot of pictures online about empty grocery store shelves and the lineups getting into COSTCO, or people fighting over toilet paper. I mean, when I went to the grocery store around March 10, there was still toilet paper but less than there usually would be. I also haven’t been outside since March 15, before my province of Ontario declared a state of emergency, so I’m not sure what my local grocery store would look like right now.

Contagion, Jude Law, hazmat
Jude Law wears a Hazmat suit going outside in Contagion. (IMDb)

As of this writing, Canada only has 1,087 cases, and I can only assume it will only get worse here. With some of what I’ve seen, especially the amount of new deaths everyday in Italy and the images of military trucks transporting coffins out of the area feels like it’s straight out of a horror movie. The aggressive way that’s spreading in Italy feels like Contagion, and the most unsettling scene in the film because of that is when a city runs out of body bags.

In our world right now, I think it’s the fear of the unknown of how long this virus will look a week from now or a month from now. When will be able to return to regular living? I go to the movie theatre once or twice a week, but how long will they be closed for? This is turning into a review of Contagion and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19, but this is therapeutic sharing my thoughts on it, and also relating it back to Contagion, since I see the world through film.

Contagion could easily be an exaggerated docudrama. There are things here that feel “apocalyptic” that I don’t think COVID-19 will lead us into, but the fact that NHL, NBA and MLB have suspended their seasons and Las Vegas is shut down for 30 days is crazy. It feels different than anything I’ve lived through during my lifetime, especially H1N1 in 2009/2010. I was in high school then and surely did not miss any school because of it. I don’t know if the media is blowing it out of proportion – but when I see tweets of people losing their loved ones to it yet others are still out on spring break, it feels like this should really be taken seriously to “flatten the curve.”

Okay. I just have bad anxiety, depression and I can be a hypochondriac at times, so it’s just a freaky time. I’ll just talk Contagion now. I think it is at its most fascinating when it shows the spread of the disease. There’s one especially great scene when Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, is trying to find out who Paltrow’s character has come in contact with and she calls someone who is sick on a city bus and tells him to get away from people. The shot of him touching everything is just effective.

The film is interesting when it brings Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) into play, a blogger/journalist and conspiracy theorist who thinks that the virus is manufactured as a profiting scheme for drug companies, using his large platform to stir this fear.

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Matt Damon in Contagion. (IMDb)

At times this isn’t the best with creating well-rounded characters, and some feel more-so identifiable by the actor playing them than the character themselves, and this is very much the case with Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever, who works for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). His development is the flattest of the ensemble. Other characters get sidelined, like Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes who is investigating how the disease started in Hong Kong and then totally gets sidelined for half the film for reasons that would spoil it.

Everyone plays their characters very well and the ensemble is impressive. The film is engaging throughout because it’s a fast-paced analysis of a viral outbreak, but for the human side it only shines in a couple moments. One such scene is between Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), who is one of the players working to find a cure, and her father in a very sweet moment. I also liked Matt Damon’s character here, who is the husband of Beth Emhoff, who might as well as be Patient Zero. I think the first time I saw this film (in April 2012), the most surprising thing was Gwyneth Paltrow dying by the 8-minute mark. Once we see how aggressively this virus spreads, it isn’t that surprising, but as an audience member I felt the same way Damon’s Mitch Emhoff feels when he’s told his wife is dead because of the virus. “Right. I mean, so can I go talk to her?” he asks.

I think this is one of the best scenes in the film to show just how quickly it escalates. The fact that he loses his wife and then his stepson in a matter of 24 hours from this virus is so traumatic. There are ways his character could be fit into the story more – since he is immune, I think using his blood as a base for the cure would have given him more purpose – but the way his character plays out is believable. This is especially the case of how protective of he is of his daughter, Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron), and not letting her interact with other people because she’s the only thing he has left. There’s a heartbreaking moment near the end of the film when Mitch processes what’s happened.

The film’s ending is anti-climactic as it shows the origins of the virus in a fascinating scene, to where it all started. It’s anti-climactic in the way that the virus shows up, it gets cured, and life gets back to normal. Hopefully, that will be the case sooner than later with our Coronavirus.

Score: 75/100

The Hummingbird Project (2019)

The Hummingbird Project (2019)

The Hummingbird ProjectDirected by: Kim Nyugen. Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek. Runtime: 1h 51 min. Released: March 22, 2019.

Two high-frequency traders and brothers, Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård), go up against their old boss, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek) as they try to make millions in a fiber-optic deal. The film shows us how a few milliseconds can be the difference between being a millionaire or being irrelevant as the brothers try to build a fibre tunnel that would give them information on the stock market milliseconds before the rest of Wall Street. “It’s like getting the winning lottery numbers at the stock market before they’re drawn,” says Vincent.

The Hummingbird Project shows an intriguing but uneventful battle as the pair try to stay ahead of the market that can change at any moment. Kim Nyugen directs the film with such a precise style, and the attention to detail in his writing makes this feel like a true story. It isn’t, but the characters feel like they could be. It’s more impressive this is a fictional because this seems to be a hard concept to comprehend and Nyugen makes it accessible. The brothers are somewhat interesting as they think they’re David and will be getting ahead of the Goliath company, run by Hayek’s Torres, who has a stranglehold on the stock market.

Eisenberg plays his smooth-talking character well, he seems like a weasel with ulterior motives, but he’s the idea man and his problem solving makes people want to work with him. It’s an intriguing race for a millisecond and I love the inspiration for the title. Anton explains the concept to a bartender to make the concept more accessible, and says a millisecond is “one flap of a hummingbird’s wing.” It’s a compelling race. Hayek plays Torres well, and is bitter they leave her company because Anton’s so brilliant.

Skarsgård plays Anton well, as he spends most of the film obsessively trying to find that millisecond. He looks like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder and does a dance like his in one of the film’s most exciting sequences. Watching Anton try and shave off the millisecond becomes uneventful after awhile, as the film doesn’t have enough substance to be a wholly compelling thriller. It works well as drama, so it’s weird it’s billed as a thriller on IMDb because it has many slow stretches.

The Hummingbird Project, article
Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Mando in The Hummingbird Project. (IMDb)

The story’s intriguing and I think Vincent’s desperation to get this done so he can know victory. The finale of the film is good, with some fun moments and it finally feels eventful enough for a thriller. The drama almost always works, like the ethics of putting a line under Amish land when they do not want it. Eisenberg is solid as the character, especially when the stress of the situation brings him to a boiling point where he literally wants to take Goliath down because of how many times she’s undermined him.

He becomes like Gollum in his anger, saying, “I’m stuffing your mattress with money, you’re going to help me up there to tear down that tower.” The zoom on the second half of this line is absolute gold, too. If you like good drama and a strong performance from Eisenberg and are patient enough to wait for the thrills, The Hummingbird Project works because of its strong writing.

Score: 60/100