Dark Light (2019)

Dark Light (2019)

Directed by: Padraig Reynolds. Starring: Jessica Madsen, Opal Littleton, Ed Brody. Released: December 6, 2019. Runtime: 1h 30 min.

This review contains mild spoilers.

In Dark Light, Annie Knox (Jessica Madsen) and her daughter Emily (Opal Littleton) move into Annie’s childhood home and learn that it’s inhabited by monsters.

The interesting thing about Padraig Reynolds’ Dark Light is it feels like it could go in so many different directions. The film starts like a haunted house story because of the things that go bump in the night and the secluded American farmhouse setting, complete with the cornfield in the backyard (and the film’s actually filmed in Tbilisi, Georgia, which subs in for Mississippi). I really liked the look of scenes at night, too, especially when we see establishing shots of the house with fog surrounding it.

The cornfield is used for a great sequence as Annie investigates lights in the cornfield and looks back at the house and sees a “man” with a headlamp fixed on his head in her room, and watches him cross the hallway towards her daughter’s room. Reynolds builds the tension here expertly and it’s one of the film’s creepiest scenes. When Annie goes inside, the man is gone. A scene like this is what cements a possibility that these occurrences are all in Annie’s head.

Annie has a history of nervous breakdowns as we learn from Annie’s ex-husband Paul (Ed Brody). She knows something is stalking them but no one else has seen them, so it feels like she’s the Girl Who Cried Monster. It sounds like the film is balancing a lot of things, but it never feels crowded. Jessica Madsen turns in a strong performance as Annie, a character whose main drive is fighting for her daughter and protecting her. These nervous breakdowns bring a layer to Annie as a character, though I wanted to know more about her.

About the pacing in the film’s first 40 minutes, the storytelling is occasionally non-linear because we’re dropped directly into the action around the mid-point. It opens with Annie, shotgun cocked, looking through her house for her daughter Emily. The scene results in Annie being put in the back of a police cruiser.

After this scene, Annie and Emily first arrive at the house and then after the first night of haunting, Annie’s being interrogated by Sheriff Dickerson (a good Kristina Clifford) about Emily’s whereabouts. There’s a helpful audio cue when it skips forward in time to scenes like these – but I found this initially jarring and the placement of these scenes affected the flow of the first half. The pacing feels much smoother once we catch up with this first scene.

There was also one scene that I wanted more from. This is when Annie and Emily play flashlight tag in the cornfield and after some creepiness, Emily ends up on the roof of the home and Annie rushes to her and the scene ends. I liked the set-up of this scene and her being on the roof brought so much tension that I wanted to see what would happen.

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Jessica Madsen in Dark Light. (IMDb)

Since we don’t see what happens, there aren’t any consequences to Emily for being on the roof. That’s the thing with the first half, there’s great atmosphere, creepiness and effective build-up, but there are few consequences for these characters. That all changes in the second half when all the consequences come as it dives into the creature feature. Dark Light had my curiosity from the beginning but as soon as I saw the creature it had my attention and I was hooked. It made the first portion worth the wait as it went into the “action” side of the film where Annie tries to find her daughter and faces the nightmare head-on.

Some horror films thrive on the audience not seeing the monster and the monster being scariest in their imaginations. Here, both aspects are done well as the atmosphere and creepiness of the first half is good, but as soon as Reynolds shows the monster, Dark Light shines.

The monster looks great and it’s designed by Aaron Sims (known for creating the monster on Stranger Things). I appreciated that it’s a man in a suit with practical effects and not a CGI creation. The monster’s screeches are nightmarish, too, and these creatures who also like cornfields make the aliens in Signs look friendly (keep in mind that these villains are “humanoids” and not aliens, by the way).

Learning the background of these humanoids was fascinating as we’re told this information by the film’s conspiracy theorist character Walter Simms (Gerald Tyler). I won’t spoil what makes these creatures tick and how they survive, but I wanted to know more about them and how long they’ve been at Annie’s house. I was curious how she and them had never crossed paths before, because the Flashlight Monster’s “home” looks like it’s been there for centuries. If we ever see these monsters again, I’m curious to see where Reynolds can take the mythology.

When it comes to the horror, the second half is more focused on the action but there are still solid scares in the third act, including a great scene with a toy chest. I counted three effective jump scares within 3-minute span, as Reynolds knows when to scare us when we’re relaxed and it’s an effective tactic. The kills are fun in general but there’s one memorable one that looks so great with the effects used. (I won’t spoil it in this review, but I talk to Reynolds about it in my interview with him, which can be found here.) This film’s more about the thrills, especially in the show-stopping third act where Annie finds where the creatures live. It’s creepy and it’s a great set, and this finale is worth the wait.

Score: 63/100

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

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

Justice League Dark (2017)

Justice League Dark (2017)

Directed by: Jay Oliva. Starring: Matt Ryan, Camilla Luddington, Jason O’Mara. Runtime: 1h 15 min. Released: February 7, 2017.

Beings with supernatural powers join together to fight supernatural villains. This supernatural team includes John Constantine (Matt Ryan), Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), and Jason Blood, also known as the demon Etrigan (Ray Chase).

The film opens with average people committing acts of violence because they see other people as demons, starting with a woman who runs over a bunch of them in the middle of a street, and my main question was why so many people were in the middle of the street. The Justice League don’t know what to make of it and Batman (Jason O’Mara), who is the only original JL member prominent throughout the film, is led to Constantine because whatever villainous plot is afoot deals with dark magic.

I don’t really love these DC Animated Movies (this film is a part of the DC Animated Movie Universe), but I think they’re always fine for their fans. I liked the premise of this one, though, because I think it gives something different than just the standard Justice League bit with the introduction of demons, but it still never got going for me.

Constantine’s introduction at a poker game in Vegas was a high point as Etrigan came out to save the day when Constantine forced Jason to summon him, as the situation escalated. Constantine never really left much of an impression after that because I didn’t think he ever did anything that interesting, but I like the character in the live-action film Constantine. I was way more interested in the world this film created, with the mythical House of Mystery and all that.

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Constantine, Boston Brand, Zatanna and Batman in Justice League Dark. (IMDb)

I found the side characters more interesting, too, like Zatanna who is a powerful magician and has something they call true magic (which Constantine also has), as well as Jason Blood and the backstory of how he got tethered to Etrigan and how that comes into the story. I also liked the ghost character Boston Brand (Nicholas Turturro), and the background of his death, though he’s described as a womanizer but we don’t get much of that when he’s actually dead. Also, I thought Boston’s “background” scene felt was too heavy-handed for an exposition scene and Jason Blood’s exposition scene for his background was handled way better.

Swamp Thing (Roger Cross) was also fun for a performance that was too brief for my liking. I liked this world because of the dark magic, and it’s well-animated, but I never had that much fun with it because it all still feels so standard even if it’s more unique than the regular Justice League. The villain, however, when (s)he was actually revealed was pretty good. I did like the whole premise about why average citizens are randomly seeing demons everywhere, too.

However, there’s just nothing memorable about this action and one scene in particular just feels like filler for the sake of it, but it’s needed because this is only 75 minutes long. I thought the finale was best when some of the other actual Justice League members came into play, like Superman (Jerry O’Connell) and Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson). The writing’s fine, it’s not remarkable in any way but there are some good one-liners (“your ass is grass Constantine, and we’re the mower”).

The only memorable thing about any of the action is when someone anonymously summons a demon in a bathroom and all the toilets explode and a huge shit demon comes out. “Shit really hits the fan, eh?” asks Boston when he sees it, and this is Boston’s only good zinger. The demon’s gross, but the visual and idea of it won’t leave my mind anytime soon.

Score: 50/100

Scarecrows (1988)

Scarecrows (1988)

Directed by: William Wesley. Starring: Ted Vernon, Michael David Simms, Richard Vidan. Runtime: 1h 23 min. Released: August 28, 1988.

I reviewed this film as part of the May Scavenger Hunt on Letterboxd, and you can find the original list here if you want to play along. The prompt for this film was No. 24, to “watch a film reference in The Cabin in the Woods. This review contains some spoilers.

I like B-horror movies as much as the next horror fan, so long as it has a point. Scarecrows isn’t one of those films with a point. A group of mercenary type criminals hijack a plane from a military base, kidnapping a pilot (David Campbell) and his daughter (Victoria Christian), forcing them to fly Mexico. En route, there’s a double cross where one of the thieves, Bert (B.J. Turner), takes the $3.5 million in cash, jumps out of the plane, and parachutes into a graveyard surrounded by a lone house and scarecrows.

Bert’s action doesn’t make sense as it’s poorly planned out, but as a concept to get these characters into the path of these scarecrows, it is not bad in set-up. Scarecrows are genuinely creepy – I would never be caught dead in a cornfield with one or even three scarecrows in the middle of the night – but this film makes scarecrows boring. The kills are simplistic and gory enough; but most of the gore comes from what these scarecrows do after the fact. Mild spoilers, but the people these scarecrows bring back from the dead are sort-of creepy. The scarecrows themselves? Hard meh. This isn’t that eventful when the mercenaries are being hunted and when they figure out how to kill these scarecrows, they’re not threatening because it’s such an easy defeat.

The rules for the scarecrows are also not well-established and how they hunt these characters. The scarecrows can imitate voices to lure these mercenaries into traps. They can also bring things back to life. They also magically disperse the money over the property so they are in little “follow the trail of money” piles. They can do so many supernatural things that it seems that director William Wesley just adds a new power when it’s interesting for the story. There’s a lack of planning that feels evident, especially when main mercenary, Curry (Michael David Simms), learns that the scarecrows are murderous. Curry jumps to the conclusion – a gigantic leap that literally can’t be measured – to the fact that these three scarecrows are actually the Fowler brothers, the owners of the home, reincarnated as scarecrows. Up to that point, we had not heard a single thing about them (unless I nodded off, which, sure, is possible) and it feels like a lazy, almost throwaway explanation for the scarecrows. It doesn’t go to any other lengths in explaining powers or Curry’s throwaway theory that maybe they’re meant to be here. There’s no rhyme or reason to this world and it’s annoying. I know I’m taking a stupid scarecrow movie a little seriously, but if the world is this small, I’d appreciate some attention to detail for it. 

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Victoria Christian, Kristina Sanborn and David Campbell in Scarecrows. (IMDb)

Other than this film being boring, the dialogue is weak. Most of the dialogue and action has the mercenaries being separated and shouting at each other over their radios and asking where everyone is. About to be killed by a scarecrow? “Where are ya, man? Where are ya? I can’t find you!” This is always to someone on the other end not answering. There’s also a weird choice made with Bert when he’s alone on the ground. His lips never move so they either filmed his action with the idea in mind that they’d just put a voice-over inner monologue later where he takes us through his thought process, or they just realized the action was so boring that it needed voice-over to tell us what he was doing. Either way, it’s strange and awkward. The dialogue elsewhere is just bad, too, as Jack (Richard Vidan) theorizes that “this place is possessed by demonic demons.” It’s not evident why they brought on three writers credited with additional dialogue, because they did not do their jobs well.

There’s little effort given to these people and they are not that likable. The dynamics of the group feel basic at best, and it’s not that exciting watching them try to recoup their money. The premise sounds like Predator but with scarecrows, and it brings the mercenaries and the large, jungle-esque property, but it only shows the scarecrows occasionally, and the sense of foreboding when we see the crosses without their scarecrow companions is creepier than when we see the scarecrows attack. The only merciless thing about this is the actual movie clocks in at about 75 minutes. We’re in and out quickly; but the trip still feels too long.

Score: 38/100

Harriet (2019)

Harriet (2019)

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons. Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn. Runtime: 2h 5 min. Released: November 1, 2019.

Harriet tells the story of Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo), who escapes slavery and becomes an American hero, freeing slaves and changing history. One thing the film gets right is in the depiction of Harriet as an American hero, an important figure who inspired and is integral to America’s history. That is felt throughout the film. However, she deserves so much better.

The best part of the film is easily Cynthia Erivo’s performance as Tubman. Her brief singing scenes are lovely and there’s power in her performance, especially in the first hour of the film as she walks 100 miles to freedom to Philadelphia. Tubman freeing herself is the most compelling part of the film; but what she does after is more important, starting with arriving in Philadelphia and meeting William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.), who gives Harriet her freedom. Harriet then stays with Marie Buchanan (Janelle Monáe). When Harriet arrives, Marie (kindly) suggests Harriet take a bath because she’s “stinking like a barnyard animal.” This is one of the film’s better moments as Harriet uses it as a teaching moment, as Marie was born free. “I guess you never had the stink of fear, of running for your life.”

This is one of the only memorable lines about slavery that holds power. It’s a glossy, action movie look at slavery that, had I not seen the Universal logo before the film, I’d have assumed this was a Disney depiction of it. That’s how safe the screenplay, written by Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons who does a solid job directing, feels at times. It feels Disney in every way except for its use of racial slurs. I don’t think Tubman deserves a by-the-numbers biopic like this. Erivo’s performance makes the character transcend the generic screenplay, as she makes it worth the watch, and as a film that teaches about Harriet Tubman, it does its job.

I didn’t know much about Tubman before this – I think the most I knew about her was that she was part of the Underground Railroad because of that Black History Month episode of That’s So Raven. Speaking of a show where the main character has visions, Harriet Tubman had visions where she’d zone out (or even have fits of narcolepsy) where she’d receive messages from God of what the proper path was. I wish I had known this about Tubman before watching because it distracted at times, as some aspects of it felt a bit unbelievable in a biopic. Still, it seems like an accurate portrayal so I couldn’t really knock that.

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Cynthia Erivo in Harriet. (IMDb)

The villains of the film are where this is so weak for me. They just feel like very safe caricatures that are easy to hate, including the main one Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn), who grew up with Harriet but becomes the master of the plantation when his father dies. By the way, Gideon wants to sell Harriet which puts the film into motion because Harriet prays for Gideon’s father’s death and that night he dies. He’s such a goofy caricature of racism, and it’s more annoying to learn he’s a fictional character because he’s just awful.

The film then introduces slave catchers with Walter (Henry Hunter Hall) and the big bad named Abraham (Willie Raysor). Gideon hires them to bring Harriet back when she’s spotted on her first trip back to the plantation trying to bring people back to Philadelphia.

The scenes where Harriet tries to bring people back to Philadelphia to freedom has some thrills. For my enjoyment, though, this started to fall apart for me when Harriet is inducted into the Underground Railroad to free the slaves in an official capacity. Besides Harriet’s own walk to freedom, this is the most interesting part of her as a person but it feels dumbed down into an action movie. Right after she’s inducted it goes into a montage of her freeing slaves (“the bravest conductors steal slaves directly from the plantation right under the overseer’s nose,” explains William Still) to the tune of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” This is a fun scene because of the song – it’s such a banger and I loved hearing it in another film other than Cellular – but I would have liked more about the Railroad than just that when it’s such an integral part to her history.

I legitimately liked the first hour but tonally it feels different after “Sinnerman” plays. It inserts a last bit of energy into the film before it just becomes too goofy for the rest of it. The story still seems accurate to Harriet, but the dialogue just feels so rough, where Harriet has a vision of someone’s death and then someone narrates in a letter that they’ve “gone to meet that good friend of the slave, the Angel of Death.” I won’t rant about this line, but Walter says that “we’re gonna need a bigger cart” when there are too many slaves and they don’t have a big enough cart. A character can’t say that without it being a reference to Jaws, and the fact that this line is in a serious film about Harriet Tubman 100-plus years before Spielberg’s Jaws is something I very much dislike. Sure, it’s a harmless line, but when the first half of the film feels like a serious, but filtered, depiction of slavery and then it starts to feel more like an action movie and there’s a line like this, it starts to feel like the film just gives up and that’s disappointing.

Score: 50/100

Stuber (2019)

Stuber (2019)

Directed by: Michael Dowse. Starring: Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Mia Sorvino. Runtime: 1h 33 min. Released: July 12, 2019.

Six months after detective Vic Manning’s (Dave Bautista) partner Sara Morris (Karen Gillan) dies in the field of duty at the hands of a drug lord named Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais), he finally gets his chance at payback because of a shipment coming in that involves Tedjo.

The only problem is that Manning’s just had laser eye surgery and he can’t see. He has to enlist the help of Uber driver Stu (Kumaill Nanjiani, naturally nicknamed Stuber) to drive him around, which puts Stu into crazy situations. The premise is fine as Vic essentially kidnaps an Uber driver even though all he wants to do is go see his best friend Becca (Betty Gilpin) to tell her how he feels.

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Kumail Nanjiani in Stuber. (IMDb)

The chemistry between Nanjiani and Dave Bautista is the charming part about this film. They’re trapped in this co-dependent relationship for a day since Vic can’t see and Stu is willing to do just about anything for a five-star rating since he’s just been getting bad review after bad review. It’s believable when they fight and it’s somewhat amusing. I also like that the excuse for Vic needing an Uber driver is because of the vision. I thought it just might be simply because he gets his licence suspended – but the type of character Vic is, he wouldn’t let a suspended licence stop him from driving if it means getting Tedjo.

Some action scenes are good in Stuber and some scenes are funny, too, but there is just nothing memorable about this film. The only thing that’s memorably amusing is a male stripper, Felix (Steve Howey) tells Stu that he needs to tell Becca how he feels. The film is just disappointing because it’s only fine and it’s terribly predictable. There’s not a lot you’ll regret watching here, but nothing will wow you, either. Iko Uwais is a highlight because of his fighting skills and his parkour (utilized mostly at the beginning) but the star of The Raid: Redemption is wasted in yet another mediocre American film.

Score: 50/100

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.

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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

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Directed by: Tim Miller. Starring: Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Runtime: 2h 8 min. Released: November 1, 2019.

In Terminator: Dark Fate, an augmented human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) must stop an advanced liquid Terminator – a REV-9 (Gabriel Luna) – from hunting down a young girl, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), whose fate is critical to the human race.

It seems that the best way to breathe some life into a franchise is just to go back to the well and do the same thing over again. That’s what this does as it has a lot of similarities to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. They do a lot of the same things, especially with the REV-9 villain, who is basically just the T-1000, who’s made of liquid metal. The REV-9 is just regular liquid and this one’s new trick is turning into two separate Terminator’s.

Linda Hamilton works well here as Sarah Connor as for the past 20 or so years, she’s been answering anonymous texts that lead her to where Terminators will be. And she kills them, at least most of the time. That’s how she crosses paths with Grace protecting Dani Ramos. Dani is a fine John Connor substitute in this film and learning about her future is interesting. Mackenzie Davis is great as Grace, and she shows some true action star potential. I’ve only seen her in a couple mediocre comedies, but she’s impressive here.

Terminator, Dark Fate, articke
Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes in Terminator: Dark Fate. (IMDb)

What they do with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character is interesting, too. He’s still the T-800 but named Carl as he’s adapted to human life after accomplishing his mission and staying in our time. The dynamic between the T-800 and Sarah Connor is fiery and tense. Schwarzenegger’s performance is most enjoyable if you don’t try to make sense of the Terminator timeline, because it really doesn’t make sense.

The action in the film is also exciting and there are some good action set pieces. There’s a point where there’s a fatigue with the action, because the film feels long at 128 minutes, but it’s still worthwhile for the most part. The film doesn’t do a lot of anything new but considering Terminator: Salvation isn’t that great and Terminator: Genisys is just a mess, this is a welcome treat.

A little rinse and repeat goes a long way for this sequel that would be an appropriate send-off for the franchise because, while it’s set up for a sequel, I don’t think we necessarily need anything further from this story. We arguably didn’t need this one but I’m glad we got it – it’s just a bit of a shame this story couldn’t have been the fourth film in the franchise in the mid-2000’s when people still kind-of cared about Terminator.

Score: 70/100

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.

Contagion, Winslet, math
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.

Contagion, Damon
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