Same Old Story (Long Shot, 2019)

Long_Shot_PosterHave you heard about this movie where the schlubby guy hooks up with a hot chick out of his league? You know…the plot of, like, 77% of rom-coms? I mean…Seth Rogan? He is a type…

Rogan is Fred Flarsky, a lefty journalist who finds himself out of a job when his paper is bought by Parker Wembly (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis as a Rupert Murdoch type media mogul). At a party, he runs into his old baby sitter Charlotte Field, about to enter the ring as a presidential candidate.

Charlotte hires him to punch up her speeches and slowly, the pair find themselves falling for each other, in spite of the fact that her staff think this is a very bad idea, mainly because… well, Fred is a potential liability. He is a casual drug user, he has no filter and well…there is more.

And really? In the hands of less talented a less talented creative team and cast?  This might have been an embarrassment of cliches.  I mean, this film certainly follows all the tropes, right to the end.  And yet, I never found myself caring.  The film is funny, the characters endearing…I rooted for them to succeed. Theron and Rogan are great and I did not find myself questioning what she could see in him.

Long Shot is a terrific comedy that shows that you can actually follow the Rom Com template and make a very entertaining film.

Hot News (Bombshell, 2019)

Bombshell_PosterBombshell is the dramatic recounting of the harassment scandal surrounding Fox News top guy Roger Ailes in 2016. Focusing on a wide eyed new Fox News employee Kayla Pospisil. An ambitious Conservative Christian, she finds her reality challenged as she starts to rise through the ranks, eventually becoming a victim of Ailes.

Robbie’s Popsisil is a composite character invented for the film. Robbie manages to be sympathetic in spite of her aspirations. Theron and Kidman do a good job disappearing into their famous roles, as does Lithgow.

The real MVP of Bombshell is the make-up, which made many actors near unrecognizable.

This being your standard “inspired by a True Story” fare, there is a lot of embellishment (outside of actual Fox News personalities, the central people Kayla interacts with the most are fictional, including Kate McKinnon’s Jess Carr).

The story playing out is pretty engaging, but the film seems unsure of what it wants to be. Is it a drama that indicts a sick corporate culture? Is it a satire of a sick corporate culture? Is it just the facts?

The main story is bookended by two very different set pieces.  It opens with Megyn Kelly (Theron) giving us a tour of the Fox News offices. It closes with a Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) speech about sexual harassment in the work place.

Bombshell is largely well made, bolstered by excellent make up and good performances.  But it’s lack of focus on what type of film it is trying to be definitely is a detriment.

The Children of the Corny Part 1

Children_Of_The_Corn_1984_PosterSo, originally, I was going to review each of the Children of the Corn Films. But frankly, I did not feel like writing detailed reviews of all ten films…because…well…

The Franchise is pretty awful. Please note, I will not be avoiding spoilers and am just going to express thoughts about each film very briefly.

Taking place pretty much in 1984, the first film opens with an absurd narration from a kid explaining how one day, the child prophet Isaac led his child followers to slaughter the adults in town per the command of “He Who walks Behind the Rows”.

As I noted, the opening slaughter contains a child narration that really undermines the film. It could have been a horrifying moment if they had simply stepped back and let it all play out silently. A few years later, because somehow nobody noticed a town went and killed all the adults, Burt and Vicky are traveling across the country. They find themselves in Gatlin where they run afoul of Isaac and his cult. They plan to sacrifice the couple to He Who Walks Behind the Rows, but they manage to escape and not be killed by the a red storm cloud.

Children_Of_The_Corn_2_PosterAnd then, about eight years later, just in time for cheap CGI, the first sequel arrived. John and his son Danny are driving cross country and get stuck in Gatlin, apparently right after the first film.  The remaining kids are being taken to the next town over and reporters and police are everywhere, since everyone now knows the kids all killed their parents, they let them wander around town.

John is a reporter and decides to stay in town for the story.  And I am pretty sure for the owner of the bed and breakfast they are staying at. He and Danny do not get along.  And so, Danny resents this whole “stay in town” thing…until he meets Lacey.

Children_Of_The_Corn_2_Still

Danny also starts hanging out with the creepy Micah, who, unknown to everyone else has become possessed by He Who Walks Behind the Rows. In a super early 90’s CGI sequence.  This begins a trend of terrible CGI in the franchise.

One of the weirder aspects of the film is that while it is clearly supernatural, the film provides a naturalistic explanation.  Why? We all know that HWWBtR is real and some sort of monster. What is the point in suggesting it is all due to some hallucinogenic fungus? I mean, there is a setup that the infected corn is going to be shipped all over the country and that adults were in on it…for reasons?

Anyways, In the end, Micah gets shredded and the heroes get away.  Another weird thing with the film? It takes place a day or two after the first film. Which was 1984.  Yet there is no attempt to tie them together, both films behave as if the story takes place in that present. And while the first film played the mayhem more seriously, this film goes for comedic deaths. One woman is crushed under her house with a Wizard of Oz moments before her death.

Children_Of_The_Corn_3_PosterThree years later, we get Urban Harvest. Shortly after the events of the second film, Eli and his older brother Joshua are adopted by a couple and move to the big city.  There, Eli starts to convert kids to his cult and plant s a corn field in backlot of their apartment building…because that would not look weird.

Joshua is a bit less into the whole HWWBtR deal. People die crazy supernatural deaths anytime they start to interfere with Eli and HWWBTR.  Eli’s corn is super tasty and so  his step dad plans to try and get it sold all over the country.

Eventually, all the kids gather in the corn field to pledge themselves to HWWBtR, apparently after several killed their parents.

This is the first film to show us HWWBtR and it is…uh…it is…how do I put it?

Absolutely awful.

hhwbtr

Probably the only notable thing in this film is an early appearance by Charlize Theron.

corn_theron

Apparently, it was successful enough that we got Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering a year later.  A film starring a Pre-Respectable Horror Naomi Watts.

Children_Of_The_Corn_4_PosterIn the film, she returns to her small town home to help with her agoraphobic mother (Karen Black). She works for the local doctor and the town finds themselves under siege by Creepy Kids.  This film tries to reign back the comedy, aiming more for creepy kid killings. But it is also just not much of a stand out.

That is the hard part. While they try and go in a more serious direction, it ends up being kind of boring.

I don’t know if Mirimax was pulling the same idea as their Hellraiser approach and just making sequels to hold on to the IP, but two years passed and we got Children of the Corn V:  Fields of Terror.

Children_Of_The_Corn_5_PosterThis one has an early role for Eva Mendez, as well as a pre-transition Alexis Arquette. Again, creepy kids abound, but this time, an inexplicable trend is introduced.  An adult who seems to be leading the cult. It does not make any real sense with the mythology, but each film kind of does whatever it wants.

And frankly, part of the problem is that there really is just not much to do with the idea of a cult of killer kids in rural America. I don’t mean, you could not tell a totally scary story based around creepy kids. But as a franchise, it really has its limitations. How big can the cult be? How does HWWBtR find new kids? By the fifth film, we are already seeing a tired cycle and honestly, we have yet to have a good film in the whole lot. Maybe that is yet to come?

The Devil You Know (The Devil’s Advocate, 1997)

The_Devils_Advocate_PosterKevin Lomax is a hotshot lawyer in a small Florida town. He has never lost a cost, until it seems, he finds himself unable to defend a school teacher accused of molesting young girls. He manages to undermine and humiliate the accuser and win the case after all. This brings him to the attention of a large New York firm.

Skeptical at first, Kevin and Mary Ann Lomax are soon swept away by the lavish lifestyle afforded them. But the more time passes, the more Kevin’s ambition starts causing him to turn a blind eye to the darker aspects of this world.

At the same time, Mary Ann is drowning in this new world, her confidence constantly being undermined by supposed friend Jackie.

It all leads to the discovery that…well, the head of the law firm is Satan. And Satan has big plans for Kevin.

The film is not a metaphor, I mean, Al Pacino’s John Milton (subtle) is definitely the devil, there is all sorts of supernatural moments…Kevin is the young man tempted by his own lusts for achievement.  At one point, when Mary Ann is seemingly lost, Milton offers Kevin an opportunity to step back, devote time to helping his wife work back to health. But Kevin justifies not doing so out of “concern” that if she got better, he would resent her for it.

I have always had a soft spot for this film. I think Pacino has a lot of fun, and some great over the top dialog.  It has a really solid cast (Craig T. Nelson plays an obvious trump analog).

It can, however, be a bit ham-fisted, and it can be really hard to want Kevin to succeed in the film watching him constantly make the most awful choices. And what is really annoying? The cheat of the end of the film. It makes almost the entire story feel like there were no lessons to be learned. There is also some really terrible digital compositing…in scenes where there should not have been that big of a challenge (the cityscape behind Reeves and Connie Nielsen in one scene where they are on a balcony is just…embarrassingly bad, especially post Jurassic Park).

But, again, Pacino is fun to watch (his massive speech at the end is a pretty fair indictment of humanity, all done with that Pacino flair) and this is one of those Keanu roles where he is kind of clueless, which seems to allow him to deliver some of his best performances. Charlize Theron is sweet and sympathetic pretty much all through the film, and her descent into the mouth of madness is heartbreaking.  The Devil’s Advocate is a mostly fun watch with even a few moments of insight.

Bombshells (Atomic Blonde, 2017)

Atomic_Blonde_PosterBased on the graphic novel the Coldest City is a spy thriller set days before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Lorraine Broughton is a highly skilled British spy on a mission to collect a dossier that could expose countless deep undercover spies.  The problem is, determining who she can trust.  Her contact in East Berlin, David Percival, has “gone native” in the punk scene.  He is working to get a Russian nicknamed Spyglass to freedom in exchange for the information.

Told in a flashback format, we have Lorraine presenting her story to her MI6 boss and a CIA Representative (John Goodman).  The film gives you a warning of the fight ahead of Lorraine by introducing us to her after her mission is over…she is severely bruised and covered in cuts.  And this is an important thing to understand…

The promotional material would have you think this is just a kick ass action hero type of film.  There have been comparisons to James Bond, but this is a very surface comparison.  Atomic Blonde is far grittier and the action much more brutal.  This is an action packed espionage film, not an action movie.

This is not a criticism of the film, it is quite a good espionage film with plenty of uncertainty as to how certain aspects will play out.  Theron’s Broughton is tough and blunt, refusing to quit.  Along with the cast, the film’s 80’s soundtrack is very much a character in this film.  Chase and fight sequences are set to the likes of Bowie, New Order and Siouxsie & the Banshees with great effectiveness.

Atomic Blonde is a strong and dark thriller full of twists and turns.

Speed Racers Pt 8 (The Fate of the Furious, 2017)

fast_and_furious_008_posterIf prizes were awarded for the most inconsistently named franchise?  Pretty sure this franchise would own that.  If George Lucas was involved, they would all get renamed something like Dom Toretto and the  Fast and The Furious (Who care if Vin is in every film or not).

By this time, our heroes have gone from criminals to underdogs to helping the authorities.  But after saving the world last time around, Dom has apparently switched sides and is helping Charlize Theron take on the world.  She is an evil hacker with big plans…and so Mr. Nobody calls in The Fast and Furious team and a surprise guest…the last film’s villain (Jason Statham).  Has Dom truly gone bad?  Is he really turning his back on his family?

This is the first film in the franchise not directed by Justin Lin, and it definitely loses some of that cohesiveness.  It feels less like a continuation and more like a flat out sequel from the…uh…sequel factory.  F. Gary Gray is a strong director and has some definite “action/Car movie” cred with the 2003 remake of the Italian Job.  But the story itself feels like it was conceived months after the last film was released and worked to fit their latest idea together.  The previous films felt more “organic” with Lin at the helm.

I cannot pinpoint exactly why this is, as the guy who wrote this film (Chris Morgan) wrote every film since Tokyo Drift.  Maybe Gray connects with the characters differently.  But one thing that stands out is that there is a big plot point that comes pretty much out of nowhere as Dom’s motivations.  There is no point in a prior film to see it coming. It feels purely invented for the film, like a last minute idea to solve a problem they were having.

Fate is certainly not lacking for action, though they may finally be hitting that point where it is hard to top the big set piece of the previous film.  The massive race across the ice and attempts to outrun a massive submarine feel more like they cobbled together ideas from the previous film, so instead of giving us an impressive and new sequence it highlights cooler moments of past films.

While Fate of the Furious is not terrible (and not by the standards of the franchise itself, it has its moments), it does feel like the franchise is finding it harder and harder to sustain itself.

The Hunter or the Hunted? Pt 5 (Prometheus, 2012)

Prometheus_PosterResurrection seemed to kill the franchise.  But after two Alien vs Predator films, Ridley Scott became very annoyed and wanted to right the ship.  Kind of.  The vaguely titled Prometheus would be set before Alien, but it was not a direct prequel.  Rather, it would be Alien Adjacent.  This certainly made for an intriguing idea, and trailers showed a lot of hints of the unfamiliar future with brief glimpses of familiar sites.

The final product is an imperfect attempt at an epic tale.  Borrowing heavily from Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, Prometheus opens with a gorgeous and vast shot of lakes and mountains.  We travel along this landscape until we come upon a “man”.  He is tall and muscular, with marble like skin.  A large spaceship (which is the same type of ship from the first Alien where the eggs are discovered) is leaving him behind.  He drinks a strange black drink and instantly his body starts to break down and he falls into the water, his DNA dispersing.

If you are not sure what Chariots of the Gods is, it was a book in the 70’s that claimed that all religion and technology we know today was the result of guidance from extra-terrestrials who were revered as Gods.  Prometheus takes this a step further, positing that mankind was created by these aliens.  They become known as “the Engineers” in the film.  Considering that Scott completely ignores the Alien vs Predator films, I am surprised he pretty much steals this concept from them.

The film leaps to the future, where we meet Elizabeth Shaw and her fellow archeologist (and boyfriend) Charlie.  They have been traversing the globe comparing various ancient sites, specifically the artwork of cultures from all over the world that share common themes.  They believe they have assembled the coordinates to a home world of “The Engineers”.  A crew is assembled by dying Peter Weyland to visit the planet.  They are told he will be dead by the time they arrive.

Once on the planet, the crew discovers an ancient ship with bodies of the engineers and holograms of them running from some threat.  Many poor choices are made and everything goes wrong.

The film gives us all sorts of “almosts”.  Almost a facehugger.  Almost an Alien. Almost the planet from Alien.  The film has grand attempts to explore themes of faith, diety, humanity and creation.  A lot of this focus is on Shaw and the Synthetic David.  David is one of the more interesting characters…he is also both sympathetic and disturbing.

The ending is a massive storm of confusion and destruction, in which Shaw becomes determined to discover why the Engineers have chosen the course they chose in relation to humanity.

Prometheus is gorgeous to watch, which breath taking visuals.  It is a stunning and spectacular feats with a strong cast, including Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender.  Fassbender especially shines as synthetic David.

But the story seems only half cooked.  They have ideas at play that never meet fruition.  The unanswered questions seem allowable, as the film was clearly left open for a follow-up.  With Prometheus, we have a film that is not terrible but not quite great.  And if it was part one, it might even be a great start and set up.  But, that was not not meant to be.  Instead we are left with an incomplete story.

Drive Mad (Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015)

poster_fury_road_mad_max_by_cesaria_yohannThe Mad Max franchise went quiet after 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  That film fell a bit short of the Road Warrior, the film that we tend to mostly recall when we think of the Mad Max franchise.  Talk began as far back 2003, back then it was set to star original Max Mel Gibson.

The film struggled through development, eventually announcing Tom Hardy taking over the role.  I was not all that interested, to be honest.  It seems like it was a sequel nobody was interested in getting and that we were all happy to to see it be a remnant of 80’s franchises.

Turns out we were all wrong.  This film is the shot in the arm action franchises needed.  Fury Road is an adrenaline rush.  Director George Miller intended the film to be a massive chase film.  And he achieves that successfully.  The film pushes down the pedal almost right away, and rarely takes a break.

The plot is simple, Max is being a loner and gets dragged into a battle against Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne who was Toe Cutter in the original Mad Max) who is pursuing Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron in a terrific performance).  She has stolen precious cargo from him, and he wants it back.  The cargo is his harem.  These young women do not want to bear children to be fodder for his Warboy Army.

So much stands out, the editing (the film was edited by Miller’s wife Margaret Sixel, who has never edited an action movie before…this was a wise call, as she did a bang up job), the fact that there is almost no digital work with stunts, the grim humor…this is an adrenaline rush of a film.

As with the previous incarnation’s Max inhabits a dark world.  Immortan Joe rules from the citidel, where he keeps all the best for himself, throwing scraps to the people below.  He rules cruelly, while his Warboys live for nothing other than to die for his glory.  He has used a weird viking style religion promising glory to those he smiles upon.

Furiosa wants to rescue the young women Joe keeps to bear him children from this oppressive life.  Furiosa is tough and powerful.  She is a striking character who stands up to the gruff Max, and in turn winning his respect and help.

While the heroes often rely on violence to achieve their ends of getting away from the forces of Immortan Joe, what stands out to me if there is also room for the power of mercy and gentleness to bring about change on an individual level.

Mad Max Fury Road is the best action film I saw all year.  It spends little time on exposition (who are the ghosts that haunt Max?  How long after Thunderdome is this taking place, etc).  The visuals are insanely engaging…I mean…look at this:

doof_guitarYou either think that is the dumbest thing ever, or you love it.  The world is just…, well, bonkers.  Characters have names like Nux, Toast the Knowing and the Splendid Angharad.  I find myself excited for the blu-ray so I can watch it again.  I am curious to see the next film that they give us in Max’s story (Hardy is on for three more films).

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