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

29 Days of Romance, Review #9: The Artist (2011)

29 Days of Romance, Review #9: The Artist (2011)
The Artist poster
IMDb

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius. Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: November 25, 2011.

When I sat down to watch The Artist, I wasn’t sure if I’d love it based on the first scene, as our main character George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), an egomaniacal silent movie star in 1927, stands behind the screen and watches a packed theatre experience his newest film. With it being a silent film, I thought to myself, “I don’t know if this will work for me for the whole movie.” But it really did work for me as a throwback and celebration of classic Hollywood.

George meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and the film is about their relationship as George battles his own ego, as a silent star dealing with the future of “talkies” where he believes no one wants to hear him speak in a film and is hesitant to the change.

By 20 minutes into The Artist after I had gotten used to the silence of it, it had completely won me over. That had a lot to do with Ludovic Bource’s outstanding score (the “George Valentin” track is a favourite of mine here). I’ve been trying to focus more on score in films and this is the film for me to do that with because, of course, it’s a silent film and it’s the easiest thing to focus on. It swept me away and without such a strong score, I don’t think this film would work. It made it an experience, even if I was just watching it on a 40-inch screen.

Another scene that just hooked me was the scene where George is in his dressing room and objects around him start to have exaggerated sound but no one could hear him talk. I thought that was so effective, especially how it leads into the Kinograph Studios boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) telling him that talking pictures are the future and he’ll be left behind. Also, that one scene where Peppy is being interviewed and George’s back is towards her, as a parallel for him being the past in the silent era and her being the future for “talkies” is my favourite shot in the film and one that will stick with me.

The most impressive thing about this is how great Michel Hazanavicius’ writing is here (he also directs and co-edits the film). He tells the story so damn well with just music, maybe 15-20 inter-titles throughout and all character action. Some modern films have trouble competently telling its story with a lot of dialogue. The Artist’s story is simple enough, but it’s creative and charming. The characters also feel very real. It’s also made possible by the phenomenal physical performances.

The Artist featured1
Jean Dujardin in The Artist (IMDb).

Before the human actors, I’d also be remiss not to mention George’s scene-stealing Parson Russell Terrier, who brings a lot of comedy to the film. Jean Dujardin is charming as hell as George, smiling his way through the film, and is more than effective in the dramatic scenes, too. Bérénice Bejo is also charming as Peppy as she embraces her stardom. Her performance is still physical but her character is the one in the “talkies” so she spends a lot of the time talking where we can’t hear her. Their chemistry is what makes this shine and they’re both individually great. Bejo hasn’t done any English films yet, so if I must watch more French films to see her act, I’ll happily do it. I’ll do the same for Dujardin, too, though he appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Monuments Men but has gone back to French films since then.

This is a French film that is just about as American as a film can get, celebrating the silent era of Hollywood and convincingly recreating it. It feels like it could have been made in the 20’s, because of two stars who feel like they were born in the wrong generation, especially how well they do their dances and that Fred Astaire-esque dance scene. John Goodman’s physical acting also makes him feel like he could have been an actor in the 1920’s – he plays the cigar-chomping studio head persona so well it would have been a disservice to audiences not to cast him in this role.

My only vague complaint here is that some scenes could have used some talking, especially a scene with Bill Fagerbakke (Patrick Star on Spongebob) as a police officer. I didn’t get what he was saying because I can’t read lips very well, but after looking up the meaning of this scene it works well. Still, if they talk in these moments it defeats the purpose of a silent picture and there are inter-titles at moments where you need to really understand the story.

They don’t make films like this anymore and what Hazanavicius does with this is just special and it’s made me want to seek out more silent films (maybe even watch some of the Charlie Chaplin ones I’ve always been intending to). I think that’s what he just intended to do, to make a great film that feels like Old Hollywood so you’d seek out films you may not typically watch. And surely, The Artist isn’t something I’d typically watch but I totally fell for it. It’s a refreshing (silent) film in a world that doesn’t stop talking.

Score: 90/100

Box Office Predictions: March 7-9

While “The Lego Movie” is still going strong, this weekend is seeing a release of some straight competition for it: “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” It’s an animated time travel family comedy that looks like fun. Similar films open at $38.1 million, and I think this has potential to hit around there, probably not pass $40 million because of the competition from “LEGO” (now at about $213 million domestically), but hit around there nonetheless. My prediction is $35.3 million.

The other new release this weekend is “300: Rise of an Empire,” the sequel to 2007’s smash hit that opened on the same weekend to the sound of $70 million. People love their war movies, but I wonder if people won’t dig this as much without the direction of Zack Snyder. This was supposed to be released in August of last year but was postponed to this weekend, so hopefully it’s worth the wait. (I really hope it’s good because I love the poster and it’d look awesome on my wall.) Similar films open at $32 million, a little less than half of 300‘s opening weekend. With the difference of seven years between this and the first film, it’s been able to muster quite the fanbase (it stands at a 7.8 on IMDb from over 450 thousand ratings), but this won’t have nearly as great as an opening weekend. An opening of $44.7 million sounds more likely.

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. 300: Rise of an Empire$44.7 million
2. Mr. Peabody and Sherman$35.3 million
3. Non-Stop$15.68 million
4. The Lego Movie$15.621 million
5. Son of God$14.081 million (review coming in the a.m.)
6. The Monuments Men$3.211 million
7. Frozen$3.094 million
8. RoboCop $2.254 million
9. 3 Days to Kill$2.252 million
10. Pompeii $2.001 million

The Monuments Men (2014)

the monuments menReleased: February 7, 2014. Directed by: George Clooney. Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray. Runtime: 118 min.

“The Monuments Men” follows a platoon of unlikely heroes at the end of the Second World War who are tasked with retrieving art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It’s a story about not letting culture die, because if all of this art is to be destroyed, that’s one less piece of history to state that the culture that made it existed.

I think this raises cool cultural ideas because history is an interesting thing, especially seeing and knowing how a culture evolves over time. I’m sure that’s what inspired the real life characters to be a part of this platoon. It’s an educational feature because I hadn’t realized that the Nazi’s stole so much art. The lengths these generically developed characters went through to try to get the art back makes for an okay film.

It’s billed as an action-drama but there’s a limited amount of action throughout, and only a few brief exchanges of artillery, which I find to be a defining trait for any war film. Since that is the case, any action fans out there who are looking for a good war movie with lots of action should seek entertainment elsewhere with the gritty “Lone Survivor.” That one at least has good characters, too. The drama’s okay when it’s happening, but there’s a lot of comedy so its sometimes goofy tone and sometimes serious tone is what makes this have a poor tonal balance.

Director George Clooney is just too eager to please with this one, because he adds so much funny banter it makes many scenes feel quite goofy. I’m one for comic relief in dramas, but the comedy takes too much precedence here for a film billed as a wartime drama, and there are even a few scenes that don’t complement the story, and could just be seen as mere opportunities for the actors to remind us that they can be funny every once in awhile. The scenes are funny, but it leaves me thinking “Well, it might have been funny, but how pointless was that?” There is also one scene that’s pointless, but not that funny, it just feels hollow. Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), who seems to be Viktor Stahl’s secretary. Stahl is one of the Nazis responsible for hiding the art, and when Claire spots him moving the art to another location via a train, she says “I see you Stahl!” He looks at her, hops on the train and starts shooting at her as it’s going along. Well, he’s not going to hit her at the distance they are from each other; so is he trying to be menacing, or is he just trying to lighten his gun for no apparent reason?

At least the humour hits when it isn’t too predictable, and they have to spice up a plot so simplistic somehow, if there’s not much action going on and if the characters aren’t the best overall. It’s difficult to remember what exactly their role is within the platoon, but they are introduced at the beginning of the film at their work – in one of those early-on recruiting sequences. Clooney is simply the leader of the platoon, the Lieutenant. Hugh Bonneville portrays a man named Donald Jeffries, who gets the most character development as a recovering alcoholic. Matt Damon portrays a painter who is best characterized as a man who cannot speak French to save his life, as the French person he speaks to tells him to speak in English after two sentences.

As previously mentioned, Cate Blanchett’s Claire is Stahl’s secretary, and also a valuable intelligence source. Bill Murray portrays an architect but really only gets depicted as a guy who likes to tease Bob Balaban, who looked like he was directing a stage play in his recruiting scene where George Clooney just sits behind him smiling. John Goodman portrays Walter Garfield, a sculptor who might as well just be the Funny Guy. Jean Dujardin plays a character I’d just refer to as The Guy Who Can Actually Speak French. The cast does their best because they all do get a few laughs in, and it’s quite an ensemble; but when their characters are generic like this, it’s hard not to think that a certain few (Clooney and Damon in particular) are surprisingly phoning in their performances.

To me, this feels like a film with a clear A to B plot. Only a few surprises, a few brief action scenes, but enough humour to keep viewers mildly entertained throughout. The tonal choice to be serious at times, and often too goofy, is fatal. I don’t know if Clooney intended to make this part caper part wartime drama feel as goofy with its humour as “National Treasure” (a fun movie) at times, but that’s the result. Compared to his [Clooney’s] other works as a director, this is disappointingly sub-par.

Score55/100