EMILY THE CRIMINAL (2022) – Aubrey Plaza Shines in Riveting New Thriller

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When the criminals treat you better than the employers, you know there’s something wrong.

I mean, if you’re going to work your fingers to the bone and get paid bare minimum, with no rights as an employee, why not work for the criminals who are paying you lots of money and are being more up front and honest with you than people in the workplace?

That’s the premise behind EMILY THE CRIMINAL (2022), a new thriller starring Aubrey Plaza about a young woman who is struggling to make ends meet who turns to crime when she is finally fed up with it all.

Emily (Aubrey Plaza) works long hours for a food delivery service and spends her days delivering and serving food to various clients. She is saddled with student debt that she cannot pay off… we witness one phone conversation where she learns that her recent payment only covered the accrued interest and not the principal of the loan…. and her efforts to find a better paying job continually fall short. She has a criminal record, for one incident of aggravated assault, and this hinders her job search. In one interview, the interviewer tells her he hasn’t read the record yet and asks her to explain it, and when she gives an alternate account, he reveals he has read it, which she sees, and rightly so, as an act of deception.

When she interviews for an upscale design position, she learns it’s actually an unpaid internship. And when her current boss changes her hours without warning, she complains, but he tells her there’s no union, no place to file grievances, so either work or leave.

All of this is why when a co-worker gives her a phone number and tells her to call it because it’s a gig that will pay her $200, she does it. After calling the number, she meets Youcef (Theo Rossi) who explains to her and the others who have also showed up that day that they will all make $200 cash, but that they will be doing something illegal. It turns out it’s a “dummy shopper” scheme where they use stolen credit card numbers to buy goods, in this case a flat screen TV, which they then turn over to Youcef who will then turn around and sell the TVs to make more money. Emily agrees, it goes well, and Youcef tells her there is another job if she’s interested, but the stakes are higher, but it will also pay $2,000.

After some soul searching, Emily decides to do the job, and even though it is more dangerous, she gets the money, and soon after decides to go all in with Youcef and continue this life of crime.

EMILY THE CRIMINAL is a well-made, smart and ultimately enjoyable thriller that I liked a lot. Its story works, like most good stories do, because it is based on truth. Employers often do treat workers terribly, prospective employers are sometimes less than honest in interviews, and there are lots of places that believe unpaid internships are real jobs. If you have spent time struggling to find work, especially work that pays well, you know this is the case. I certainly do.

Emily is an artist who loves to paint, but she can’t even think about doing what she loves because her life is a grind where she’s working only to pay bills and her student loans, and in spite of long hours, she’s failing at both. And so, it makes perfect sense for Emily when she discovers the illegal dummy shopper scheme, that she’s not going to say no. She’s desperate. And when she takes things to the next level, the audience understands her decision, because they understand her motives. She just wants to live her life. And capitalism just isn’t giving her a fair shake at the opportunities.

EMILY THE CRIMINAL features a terrific performance by Aubrey Plaza in the lead role. Plaza has been around for a while, and I have not seen a lot of her work, but she’s riveting here. She plays Emily as tough as nails, someone who is sick and tired of being pushed around, and when she decides to push back, it’s something to watch. Plaza of course played April on the TV show PARKS AND RECREATION (2009-2015) and she also starred in the TV show LEGION (2017-2019). She also starred in the remake CHILD’S PLAY (2019), which I liked, and she was in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) as well.

Theo Rossi, who has also been in a ton of stuff, plays Youcef, who in spite of seeming cold and detached at first, shows more honesty in his dealings with Emily than most of the traditional employers she has dealt with. He also has a soft side, and as the story goes along, he and Emily grow closer. Rossi nails the role, which was much more satisfying than his recent comedic turn in ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021). Rossi played the villain, Shades, in the Netflix Marvel TV show LUKE CAGE (2016-2018), and he was memorable as Juice on the TV show SONS OF ANARCHY (2008-2014).

Jonathan Avigdori makes for a nice villain, playing Youcef’s cousin Khalil, who is much more heavy-handed than Youcef, and who also doesn’t like Emily all that much.

EMILY THE CRIMINAL was written and directed by John Patton Ford, and it’s his first feature film credit. I loved the script, as it both tells a riveting story based on truth, and also creates a captivating character in Emily. You’ll root for Emily the same way you rooted for Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in BREAKING BAD (2008-2013).

There are some intense scenes here, like Emily’s attempt to steal an expensive car, and the sequence where a couple breaks into her apartment to turn the tables on her and rob her.

EMILY THE CRIMINAL is a satisfying small market movie that is more enjoyable and refreshing than many of the bigger budget movies in release today.

Definitely check this one out.

It would be a crime to miss it.

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BODIES BODIES BODIES (2022) – Horror Satire Defines Generation Z

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BODIES BODIES BODIES (2022) is a generation-defining horror movie.

Its story, about a group of 20 somethings or members of Generation Z, who get together for a hurricane party and find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery game gone wrong, works because the filmmakers here know their subject matter.

This group of friends are toxic, mean, emotionally unstable, and when things go wrong, they flip out and overreact in the most tragic of ways. This isn’t to say that this is what all Generation Z folks are like, but it is to say, that the characters in this movie are unique to 2022, and a story like this couldn’t have been written the same way even just ten years ago, let alone twenty or thirty. If Michael Myers had set his sights on this group for his first HALLOWEEN adventure, they might not even have noticed him because they would have been too preoccupied with themselves and each other.

BODIES BODIES BODIES is billed as a horror comedy, and it is, but this label needs to be clarified. The horror is not gimmicky or manipulative. Not one iota. This is not SCREAM (1996). All the horror elements in this film are based on the characters and what happens to them in the story. And while BODIES BODIES BODIES is funny, it is not a spoof of horror movies. It’s a social satire of Generation Z. The best part of this movie is that it all works, and the result is a frightening movie that is instantly one of the better horror movies of the year.

Twenty something Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) brings her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to meet her friends at the elegant mansion… all these folks, with the exception of Bee, are very, very wealthy… owned by the parents of Sophie’s one-time best friend, David (Pete Davidson) who has the social graces and warmth of a great white shark. David is dating Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) an actress who doesn’t seem to know the difference between real life and acting. Also at the party is the emotional Alice (Rachel Sennott) who is there with her new boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace), who she met a couple of weeks earlier on Tinder and who is much older than everyone else there, and Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) who once she meets Bee also seems attracted to her, and when she gets Bee alone warns her to be careful around Sophie.

It’s also clear that David, Emma, Alice, and Jordan are not happy with Sophie because of something that happened in the not-too-distant past. This is a hurricane party, meaning that a hurricane is bearing down upon them, and they plan to party hearty during the monster storm. To which they drink and do drugs and eventually decide to play the murder mystery game “bodies, bodies, bodies,” in which one person is secretly chosen to be the “murderer” and they have to “murder” people by tapping them on the shoulder, and once someone finds a body, the game stops, and the players have to figure out the identity of the murderer.

One thing they’re not doing is having sex. I don’t know if you have noticed, but sex is gradually disappearing from American movies. Not sure why. I’m just making an observation. Whether the film is rated PG-13 or R, it doesn’t matter. Sex scenes just are not being done, and since sex is a part of life, I can’t imagine that this recent movie trend is a healthy one.

During the game, tensions rise, and emotions boil over because in their drunken drugged state they say some pretty mean things to each other— or maybe they’re just mean to begin with? — and then the storm knocks the power out saturating the place in darkness. Not long afterwards, they discover a dead body for real.

And then with their cool heads they logically come up with a plan to defend themselves from the murderer and — no. There are no cool heads here. They flip out. And what goes on inside the house after the discovery of the dead body makes what’s going on outside the house— the hurricane— seem like a harmless drizzle in comparison.

BODIES BODIES BODIES is an excellent movie. I really liked this one. I haven’t been this intrigued by a horror movie since IT FOLLOWS (2014), which had a style all its own that was exceedingly fresh. In terms of style and tone, BODIES BODIES BODIES is nothing like IT FOLLOWS. What they do have in common however is a freshness and an edge that lift them above the standard horror movie trope. Plus BODIES BODIES BODIES has the whole social satire thing going which works exceedingly well.

The screenplay by Sarah DeLappe based on a story by Kristen Ropenian says all the right words and phrases, from “toxic” to “trigger” to “I can’t believe you’re making this about you!” It also does a great job creating unlikable characters who you still enjoy watching. I didn’t like most of the characters in this film, but yet that didn’t stop me from liking the movie. And the story is a good one, as is the mystery, and it’s not ruined by some dumb plot twist or an over-reaching agenda by a secretly demented character. It all plays out as real, from start to finish, which makes it scary.

And it is scary! I have to admit, I was on the edge of my seat for most of this movie.

I enjoyed the direction here by Halina Rejin. The camerawork is kinetic, up close, and most of the time in the dark. Like the characters, the audience isn’t able to see things clearly which only adds to the suspense. This is also not a gross-out horror movie with over-the-top killings. In fact, the murders keep this one grounded in reality. The killings are not sensationalistic. They are simply tragic.

The cast does a bang up job. Amanda Stenberg is potent as Sophie, a young woman with a troubled past, whose friends helped her with her drug addiction and then felt abandoned when she got healthy and walked out of their lives. But she’s just edgy enough to make audiences question her make up, and if she is capable of harming those she loves.

Maria Bakalova is just as good as Bee, seemingly the most innocent of the characters, as she’s not really part of this group of friends. She also doesn’t have their wealth, is Russian, and comes from a poor family. But later when she’s caught in a lie, the others turn on her since they know so little about her.

Pete Davidson stands out as David, the toxic no filter friend who is described as being a complete d*ck by the others, and he is. It’s a terrific performance by Davidson. I also really enjoyed Rachel Sennott as the uber emotional Alice. She gets some of the best lines in the movie, like “Did you just f*cking shoot me?”

Chase Sui Wonders is sufficiently weird as the offbeat actress Emma, and Myha’la Herrold is icy cold as Jordan. Then there’s Lee Pace as Greg, one of the few characters besides Bee who seems somewhat likeable. Pace is perfect as the older “outsider” who is much more comfortable with himself and as such makes quite the impression on everyone there, but when things go wrong, he’s the first one the friends suspect since they know so little about him, and as he demonstrated when he opened a bottle of champagne, he’s also quite handy with a sword!

BODIES BODIES BODIES ranks with the best horror movies I’ve seen this year in 2022, including THE BLACK PHONE, X, and MASTER. But BODIES BODIES BODIES is the only one of these that is also a social satire which gives it an added element that the other don’t have.

Speaking of social satire, I don’t take the characters in BODIES BODIES BODIES to be the embodiment of all members of Generation Z, and so I don’t interpret this movie as slamming that generation. Rather, it shows their unique traits and emotions and uses them to tell a story about murder that couldn’t be told the same way with characters from a different generation. And for that reason, this is a horror movie that defines a generation.

So much so, that it probably needs its own trigger warning.

—END—

BEAST (2022) – Idris Elba Anchors Solid African Adventure

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For an actor as talented and as popular as Idris Elba, he sure has made his share of bad movies.

And based on the trailers for his latest, BEAST (2022), a tale where he plays a dad protecting his two daughters from a menacing lion in the wilds of Africa, I expected this one to be added to that list. The good news is BEAST is not a bad movie.

Not at all.

BEAST opens in Africa, where we see a bunch of poachers killing a pride of lions, but the male lion gets away and moments later returns to attack and kill the poachers who had remained in search of him. So, right off the bat, we learn that this isn’t just some random hungry lion, but rather, an animal with an agenda. He’s out for revenge, against the poachers or any other human who gets in his way!

Cue Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and his two teenage daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) who arrive in Africa from the U.S. to reconnect after the death of Nate’s wife and the girls’ mother. Nate and his wife had been separated, and while separated, she had died from cancer. Meredith blames her dad for not being there for their mother while she was sick, and the guilt is something Nate carries with him deeply. He never intended not to be there for his wife, and he wants to make amends now by being there for his daughters. His wife was born in Africa, hence the trip, to reconnect with her roots.

They are greeted by Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), Nate’s good friend and uncle to his daughters. Martin is the man who introduced Nate to his wife, and so they all share a special connection. Martin spends his days helping the authorities keep the poachers away from the animals. When he takes Nate and his daughters out for a ride through the wilds of Africa, they unfortunately cross paths with the vengeful lion from the movie’s opening, an animal with only one goal in mind: kill every human it comes in contact with.

And that’s the set up for the rest of the movie, as it pits Elba’s Dr. Nate Samuels against the vicious lion, as Nate vows never again to let his daughters down.

As premises go, the one in BEAST isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. The reason it works however is the material is handled well by everyone involved.

The screenplay by Ryan Engle, based on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, rises above the material mostly because the dialogue is excellent, and it gets the dynamic between Nate and his daughters right. They act like real people, and when you put real people in danger, you have an exciting movie. There is just so much stress in the conversations between Nate and his daughters, and all of it comes off as real. It also helps that both Meredith and Norah have distinctive personalities. There’s one scene where Nate tells his daughters to stay behind while he goes up ahead to see what’s going on, and when Martin tells him to run, and he turns to say the same to the girls, he sees that Norah is missing, and he asks Meredith where she is, and she says she was there minute ago. As Nate desperately searches for his youngest daughter, he says to Meredith, “You had one job!” In this one moment, you have genuine father/daughter angst plus the suspense of the rogue lion closing in on them.

Engle co-wrote the screenplay to RAMPAGE (2018), a very different “attacking animal” movie, as that film, which told the story of a giant ape and some other giant monsters, was based on the popular video game and was high camp and was a perfect vehicle for Dwayne Johnson. Engle also wrote a pair of Liam Neeson action thrillers, THE COMMUTER (2018) and NON-STOP (2014), both of which were formulaic but ultimately worked because they were Liam Neeson action thrillers! I liked these movies, and BEAST is not only on par with them, but it’s probably the best of the lot for creating realistic believable characters.

Director Baltasar Kormakur also does a nice job here. First and foremost, the lion scenes are intense, better than I expected. Sure, it’s CGI, but it looks really good. The best part is the lion moves with a speed and a ferocity that is quite scary. There are these quick bursts of insane aggressive energy which jostle the audience. Even though the final outcome of this movie is never in question, the lion sequences where he constantly attacks Nate and his daughters are quite suspenseful.

And of course, the film takes place in the wilds of Africa, which is a plus. I believe it was movie critic Gene Siskel who once said when he was reviewing the Sidney Pollack film OUT OF AFRICA (1985), a love story starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford which took place in Africa, that any movie which was set in Africa would be improved just by the scenery and setting alone. He wasn’t wrong.

But I didn’t go to see BEAST because of its African scenery or its marauding lion. I went to see it because of Idris Elba. As I said, he’s a terrific actor, and I’m a big fan. And yes, he has made his share of bad movies…. NO GOOD DEED (2014) and THE DARK TOWER (2017) come to mind…. but the thing about Elba is, regardless of the movie, he always delivers a top performance and often lifts up lesser movies by his performance alone. And when he’s in a movie that really works, like THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) for example, the results are usually outstanding.

Elba is terrific here in the lead role as Dr. Nate Samuels, a man who is guilt-ridden over the death of his wife, since he wasn’t there for her, and who is hell-bent on protecting his daughters from the menacing lion. He’s also believable in the physical aspects of the role, having to go toe to toe— or is it claw to claw?— with the lion, even if towards the end some of the sequences do border on the far-fetched. The other neat thing about his character is at first his daughters seem to have lost a lot of respect for him, and later, when his skills as a doctor become so important to their survival, and they witness this, it makes for some noteworthy moments.

Of course, the gold standard for Elba fans remains his work on the superior TV show LUTHER (2010-2019). And for years now, Elba’s name has been floated as possibly being the next James Bond, and even though the producers of that series are supposedly seriously interested in him for the role, he’s on record this year as saying he’s not interested in Bond, so it sounds like that’s not going to happen. Which is too bad. He’d be really good.

Both Iyana Halley as Meredith and Leah Jeffries as Norah bring their characters to life, and they represent a complicated family dynamic that only ads to the tension in the film. They are both fiercely independent characters, and for example, at one point when Nate tells them to say inside the vehicle, Meredith believes otherwise and doesn’t listen to her father. What makes this moment and these characters work is that she’s not wrong, She sets out to do something she believes she can do, and she does it.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Sharlto Copley in a movie, and he’s fine here in a supporting role as family friend and guide Martin Battles. Back in his heyday, Copley was playing major roles in some pretty big science fiction movies, as the soft-spoken hero in DISTRICT 9 (2009) and as the violent and vicious villain in ELYSIUM (2013).

BEAST was better than I expected. It’s a well-written movie that creates believable characters and puts them in danger. For the most part, it keeps things realistic, although things do grow more far-fetched towards the end, and its ending does strain credibility. I think most people would be dead when put in similar predicaments. Elba’s Nate pretty much challenges the lion to a hand-to-hand combat battle. Yeah. That’s the one part of the movie that— yeah.

But the rest is all very good. You have an exciting story throughout, amazing African scenery, and yet another worthy performance by Idris Elba anchoring the whole thing.

BEAST is a genuine popcorn movie that provides solid summertime entertainment.

Give it a roar!

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942)

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This is a reprint from 2013:

 With apologies to Michael Myers, Kharis the Mummy just might be the scariest monster who can’t outrun a turtle ever to lumber across a movie screen!  And he’s never been more frightening than in today’s SPOOKLIGHT feature, THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942).

THE MUMMY’S TOMB has always been my favorite Kharis MUMMY movie.  The make-up here on Kharis by Jack Pierce, the man who created most of the iconic Universal monsters, including Boris Karloff’s Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), is by far the best MUMMY make-up of the Kharis series.  

It’s also my favorite due to nostalgic reasons, as I owned an 8mm Castle Films copy of it when I was a kid.  The film also boasts the most exciting ending of any MUMMY movie, period.

Kharis the Mummy was featured in four Universal Mummy movies, and in the Hammer Films remake THE MUMMY (1959) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as Kharis, but it was Lon Chaney Jr. who played the definitive Kharis, appearing in three Universal Mummy movies, the first being THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB opens with a comprehensive synopsis of the previous film in the series, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), so if you’ve missed this first movie, no need to worry!  The initial ten minutes of THE MUMMY’S TOMB brings you up to speed on previous events quite nicely.  You can almost hear the voice-over narration, “Previously on THE MUMMY’S HAND.”

Stephen Banning (Dick Foran) the main character from THE MUMMY’S HAND recounts his adventures in that first movie to his son John (John Hubbard) and his future daughter-in-law Isobel (Elyse Knox), and his story is shown via flashbacks.  Little does Stephen know that over in Egypt the high priest he thought he killed, Andoheb (George Zucco) still lives, albeit he’s now an old man, as thirty years have passed since the events of THE MUMMY’S HAND.  Hmm.  With this timeline, shouldn’t THE MUMMY’S TOMB be taking place in 1970?  Where are all the hippies?

Andoheb now turns over the Mummy-caring duties to his young protégé, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) because Kharis the Mummy didn’t die either.  Not only is Kharis still alive, but he’s put on some weight!   Has he been eating too many tanna leaves?  No, he’s just being played here by the husky Lon Chaney Jr. rather than Tom Tyler, who played him in THE MUMMY’S HAND.

Chaney has been criticized over the years for being too big and thick to look like an authentic Mummy, but I’ve always liked this look, as it made him scarier.  I mean, Chaney isn’t flabby and overweight.  He’s solid and huge, like he could crush a man with his fists.

Mehemet Bey brings Kharis to the United States, to Massachusetts to be exact, to hunt down and kill the members of the Banning family.  

And that’s pretty much it in terms of plot.  The screenplay by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher is pretty standard.

The strength of THE MUMMY’S TOMB is not its plot but its visuals.  The movie contains some really neat scenes, and Kharis has never looked creepier.  Shots of Kharis closing in on his victims still make me shudder, and some of the murder scenes in this one are downright brutal.  Director Harold Young, not known for his genre work, really deserves a lot of credit for making a very chilling monster movie.

Young also makes good use of shadows here.  Many times we see Kharis only through his shadow.  In fact, when Kharis creeps across the countryside at night, he is unseen except for his shadow which falls upon several unsuspecting townsfolk.  The shadow is used so frequently I’ve often wondered if the shooting script was entitled THE SHADOW OF THE MUMMY.

There’s a curious moment in the movie in the scene where Kharis attacks Babe (Wallace Ford), another character from THE MUMMY’S HAND.  After Babe shouts out Kharis’ name, Kharis’ lips move as if he’s saying something in response.  It looks almost as if a scene of dialogue has been cut from the film.  I’ve never read anything to support such a cut, and it wouldn’t make sense in terms of the story anyway, since Kharis had his tongue cut from his mouth in the previous film, and is mute.  But if you watch this scene, you definitely will see Kharis’ mouth move, and a cut does appear to have taken place right at this moment.  Interesting.

The ending is exceedingly memorable.  The torch-wielding villagers, in a chase scene reminiscent of the ending to FRANKENSTEIN (1931)- in fact, some of the footage from FRANKENSTEIN is used here— chase Kharis, who’s carrying an unconscious Isobel, and trap him inside a large house.  John Banning, the sheriff, and another man run inside the house to rescue Isobel.  The climactic battle on the second story porch between John, the sheriff and Kharis, while the villagers fling burning torches from below, is pretty exciting.  I can’t think of another MUMMY movie that has a better ending than this one.

The cast is standard, and other than Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis, no one really jumps out at you.  However the beautiful Elyse Knox who plays Isobel is notable because she’s Mark Harmon’s mother.  Ms. Knox only recently passed away, in 2012 at age 94.

Lon Chaney Jr. actually does a stand up job as Kharis the Mummy.  Chaney played all four main movie monsters:  The Wolf Man, the Mummy, Dracula, and the Frankenstein Monster.  While he’s most famous for his portrayal of Larry Talbot aka the Wolf Man, and rightly so, his three performances as Kharis the Mummy are more effective than his work as either Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.

He makes Kharis damned scary.  His look is such that when he enters a room, he almost paralyzes his victims with fear, which is a good thing for him, because with his limp, he’s not going to catch anybody.  You can outrun Kharis running backwards.  But Kharis always seems to corner his victims, and once he’s blocked the exit, his prey is as good as dead.

Very few of the old Universal monster movies are frightening.  I would argue that THE MUMMY’S TOMB featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis the Mummy is one of the scariest.  

I dare you to watch it alone this summer without having nightmares of Kharis the Mummy breaking into your bedroom in the middle of the night.  

Over there, by the wall!  Is that the Mummy’s shadow I see?  

—END—

DAY SHIFT (2022) – Horror/Action/Comedy at Its Worst

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The mindless action/comedy tour continues, and with DAY SHIFT (2022), you can throw horror into the mix.

In recent weeks, I’ve been writing about the plethora of mindless action comedies at the movies these days, films filled with clever rapid-fire banter between main characters but with stories so ridiculous and over-the-top that they possess no semblance of truth and are about as interesting as watching someone else play a video game. Yawn. These movies have become absolutely wearisome, but since they continue to make money, they aren’t going away anytime soon.

They run the gamut from generally entertaining and fairly well-written, like BULLET TRAIN (2022), to not-so-well written and too-ridiculous-to-be-believed-and-enjoyed, like THE GRAY MAN (2022), to the horribly dreadful and uber boring because not only is the action mindless but the characters as well, like UNCHARTED (2022).

DAY SHIFT, a new horror/action/comedy which premiered this weekend on Netflix, falls into the latter category. It’s pretty bad.

The movie opens with swimming pool cleaner Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) entering a home and immediately being attacked by an old lady who in reality is…. a deadly vampire! We learn everything we need to know about the rest of this movie in this opening action sequence. It goes on for a while, the stunts and action are impeccably polished, and it’s generally entertaining for an opening scene of an action movie, and when it’s done, Bud wins, and he makes a wisecrack.

And that’s what DAY SHIFT is all about. See, Bud’s not really a pool cleaner. He’s a vampire hunter! And in this movie, Los Angeles is crawling with vampires, and so Bud is plenty busy! The gimmick here is that Bud’s ex-wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) has threatened to move to Florida with their young daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) because they can no longer afford her private school which costs $5,000, or her need for braces, which will cost $6,000, so in order to keep his family in L.A. with him, he has to come up with $11,000 real fast! So, he has to get extra aggressive with the vampire hunter gig. However, this plot point is a head-scratcher. Moving to Florida isn’t going to remove Paige’s need for braces or the expense that goes with it, and private schools in Florida are just as expensive as private schools in California, so Bud, if he took two minutes to think about things, should have realized he has other options for keeping his daughter with him in California. But that would suggest some intelligence here, which is something that the script lacks.

Bud is paired up with the dorky Seth (Dave Franco) who has been tasked with making sure that Bud follows all the rules of the vampire hunting company, something that Seth isn’t interested in doing because he likes his desk job and isn’t interested in working in the field. And the main villain here, a female vampire named Audrey (Karla Souza) is intent on two things, populating the city with vampires, and exacting revenge on Bud since the old lady he killed in the film’s opening was her daughter. Don’t ask. The explanation doesn’t make sense. So, eventually Audrey goes after Jocelyn and Paige, and it’s up to daddy Bud to save the day.

As stories go, this one is very lame.

DAY SHIFT reminded me somewhat of another Netflix action/horror/comedy movie, ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021), only in that movie, which was directed by Zach Snyder and starred Dave Bautista, the good guys were battling zombies, not vampires. This similarity comes as no surprise as screenwriter Shay Hatten wrote both movies. Here, Hatten shares screenwriting credit with Tyler Tice.

It’s a pretty ineffective screenplay. The dialogue and banter is neither funny or clever, and there’s nary a laugh to be found. There is one amusing conversation between Bud and Seth about the TWILIGHT series, but that’s about it. It tries to be clever and creative with the vampires, as Seth offers an explanation into the different types of vampires, but the movie never makes an effort to make this part of the film’s lore, and so it’s quickly forgotten. The characters are shallow, and the plot forgettable. Vampire Audrey has the upper hand once she captures Bud’s ex-wife and daughter, and the only reason she doesn’t succeed is she went to the Dr. Evil School of Villainy and talks about all her plans but never acts on them. It’s pretty stupid. And finally, the story embraces one of the worst plot contrivances in the movies, where after the dust settles, mommy realizes that her ex-husband and daddy of their child really isn’t so bad after all since he’s a vampire hunter hero, and they decide to get back together. Gag! That simply is not how people act. This plot point is almost as bad as the “it was just a dream” shtick.

DAY SHIFT was directed by stunt man J.J. Perry, and the result is what you would expect. The action sequences are really well done and slick, and they are the best part of the movie, but that’s pretty much all DAY SHIFT has to offer. The horror and comedy are pretty nonexistent.

Jamie Foxx is pretty much hit or miss with me. Sometimes I enjoy his work, and other times I don’t. I really enjoyed him in DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and RAY (2004), but he did little for me in another recent Netlix actioner PROJECT POWER (2020), and he was rather ineffective in BABY DRIVER (2017). Here, he’s okay, but it’s a terribly written role.

But he fares much better than co-star Dave Franco who plays one of the most embarrassingly pathetic characters I’ve seen in a movie in years. Seth is a disaster. Let’s put it this way: the running gag in the movie is that every time Seth gets scared, he pees himself, and so after each action scene, we get to see Seth humiliate himself, and the other characters plus Seth himself make jokes about it. I can’t believe Franco would even play this role. It’s so bad. And then once you think he’s been put out of his misery, after he is turned into a vampire, and Bud beheads him, it turns out he can put his head back on to survive and become a “good” vampire.

Your guess is as good as mine.

One of the best performances in the movie belongs to Natasha Liu Bordizzo in a small role as Bud’s neighbor who also turns out to be a “good” vampire, and late in the film, she helps Bud and Seth. She’s fun to watch, and she makes for a better action hero than either Bud or Seth. We just saw Bordizzo play a very different character in the thriller THE VOYEURS (2021).

Also making an impact in a small role is Eric Lange, who plays a shady character who buys goods from Bud. It’s the kind of role Lange is good at, having played a similar shady type in the TV series NARCOS (2016-2017). He was also memorable in a dark role in the effective horror movie ANTEBELLUM (2020).

But Karla Souza is ineffective as the one-note vampire villain Audrey. She holds all the cards, yet she loses in pathetically stupid fashion.

Rapper Snoop Dogg is on hand as experienced vampire hunter Big John Elliott, but he, like everyone else in this movie, is let down by the script. He has nary a memorable line.

DAY SHIFT is not only the most recent example of the action/horror/comedy movie trope that is already passe and cliche, it’s also one of the worst examples.

If I were you, I’d request the night shift instead.

—END—

THIRTEEN LIVES (2022) – Ron Howard Expertly Chronicles True Story of Extraordinary Underwater Rescue

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THIRTEEN LIVES (2022), the latest movie from director Ron Howard, tells the extraordinary true story of the rescue of thirteen young soccer players from a flooded underground cave in Thailand in 2018, and it does so in a straightforward manner without fanfare or fuss.

This is both good and bad.

But since the story on its own is indeed so extraordinary, it’s mostly good.

In June 2018, a group of school-age boys on a soccer team decide to visit a cave before going to one of their teammate’s birthday parties, and they’re accompanied by their coach. Despite the fact that the cave has a history of flooding, it’s still before the monsoon season, so the boys feel they are safe. However, torrential rains hit shortly after they descend into the cave, flooding it and trapping them deep below. By the time their families arrive at the cave looking for them, it’s too submerged in water for them to go inside and search for the boys.

They call the local authorities, who quickly see they are in over their heads, both figuratively and literally. Soon, Navy Seals arrive, but they too cannot get far into the cave to reach the boys, as it’s all underwater in narrow passageways, and there is zero visibility. The call goes out worldwide for help, and two of the most skilled cave divers in the world, John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) heed the call and arrive in Thailand where they are looked down upon by the Thai Navy Seals for being too old, and while they certainly are older than the Seals, John points out that they train specifically for diving in and around caves.

John and Rick receive permission to dive into the cave, and after many trials and errors, they eventually, after a six hour plus dive, find the boys and their coach alive. They promise to return to the boys with help. When news breaks that the boys are alive, there is great joy and celebration, but Rick is not happy at all, and as he tells the authorities privately, the boys may be alive now, but there is no way they are getting out of the cave alive. For that to happen, each of them would have to be able to swim underwater with the divers for six to eight hours, and as Rick points out, even when earlier they helped an adult volunteer who had been trapped inside, he had panicked during a much shorter swim.

Faced with a no-win situation, the authorities go silent, frustrating the waiting families, but it’s Rick who suggests a very controversial plan, one that had never been tried before. Even though it is extremely risky, and he tells the authorities point blank that the boys may die, if they try nothing, they will die anyway.

Ron Howard directs this one without any frills, and it plays out like watching news footage or a documentary. It’s really well done. I’m not always the biggest fan of Howard’s movies, but he definitely taps into here the suspense of one of his best movies, APOLLO 13 (1995) starring Tom Hanks which chronicled the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission. I enjoyed THIRTEEN LIVES more than some of his recent movies, including SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) and IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015). Howard won an Oscar for Best Director for A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), which also won for Best Picture that year.

Here, the most amazing part of Howard’s work is the underwater photography. It’s breathtaking. The scenes of the divers submerged in the caves are claustrophobic, riveting, and heart pounding. And like I said, Howard doesn’t film these like a suspense movie. He simply lets the action unfold, and we are drawn in watching these volunteers risk their lives to save these boys. Just as astounding, the actors, including Mortensen and Farrell, did their own underwater stunts! Even though professional divers were there and available, Mortensen felt so strongly about the authenticity of the project that he and the others trained to dive in caves, and they convinced Howard to let them do it.

And while obviously it was filmed in a massive underwater set and not inside real caves, it was still a dangerous undertaking for all the actors. Their dedication pays off, because these scenes really work.

Viggo Mortensen is terrific in the lead role as diver Rick Stanton. His cool, aloof persona is perfect for a man who spends his time swimming in life-threatening, narrow underwater caves. And he’s not reckless. At one point, he says point blank that as much as he wants to save the boys, if he thinks they (the divers) can’t get out alive, he’s not going in.

Colin Farrell is also superb as fellow diver John Volanthen. He’s the more empathetic of the two, and as a divorced dad of a young son, his own child is always on his mind as he tries to rescue the trapped boys.

Equally as good in a supporting role is Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, another diver who John and Rick call in to join them, as they assemble a team of the best cave divers in the world. And they are particularly interested in Harry because of his expertise, which is part of Rick’s controversial plan to rescue the boys. And when they first tell Harry of this, he refuses, because he knows it could kill the boys, but later, when he sees there is no other alternative, he relents and changes his mind.

The screenplay by William Nicholson based on a story by Don MacPherson is comprehensive and thorough and goes beyond just the story of the divers. There’s a whole other story of other volunteers led by a water expert who understands that the cave is not flooding from below but from the rains above, and so he assembles a team to find and plug up all the sink holes in the area, an undertaking that is nearly as impossible as the underwater diving mission. In fact, the sacrifice among the locals is just as great, as plugging up the sink holes means diverting the water, which will destroy the local farmers’ crops. The farmers agree, knowing they are helping to rescue the boys.

There’s the story of the families, waiting anxiously over the course of seventeen excruciating days, and of the local leadership who have to navigate around the politics of the lives and possible deaths of thirteen children under their watch. It’s a really good screenplay, which comes as no surprise, because William Nicholson has a ton of writing credits, including EVEREST (2015), MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (2013) and LES MISERABLES (2012) to name just a few.

If there’s any knock against THIRTEEN LIVES it’s that it runs for two hours and twenty-seven minutes, and with its no frills style, sometimes it seems a bit long. When the divers are underwater, the film had me on edge. When the action returned to above ground, things could have been edited a bit more tightly.

THIRTEEN LIVES is an Amazon Original movie and premiered on Prime Video and in select movie theaters. It’s one you definitely want to see.

Sure, you may already know the ending, but the story of human ingenuity, camaraderie, and bravery it took to rescue these boys under pretty much impossible odds, is one you don’t want to miss.

Thirteen lives could very easily have been lost that day. But they weren’t.

The movie THIRTEEN LIVES successfully celebrates this fact by so expertly telling this amazing story.

—END–

BULLET TRAIN (2022) – Stylized Action Sequences and Silly Banter the New Norm in Hollywood

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Stylized action and banter.

That’s the new normal in Hollywood action movies these days. Sure, it worked for Marvel’s AVENGERS movies, and actually for most of their movies pre-AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), but for that level of success you need both nifty writing and characters you care about, which is not as easy as it sounds.

BULLET TRAIN (2022), a new action/comedy/thriller— why not throw in musical while we’re at it? — directed by David Leitch, the man who directed FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS AND SHAW (2019) and DEADPOOL 2 (2018), and starring Brad Pitt, is the high concept story of several assassins all on the same bullet train roaring through Japan, all interested in the same gray briefcase. Before I go any further, I have to give a shout out to Peter Bogdanovich’s classic comedy of yesteryear and one of my all-time favorites, WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972), one of the most underrated comedic films ever made, which featured Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal and used a similar plot point, but in that film, it was a bunch of cases that all looked the same. That was a funny movie. BULLET TRAIN has its moments, but it also has to split time between being a comedy and a thriller and an action movie. Maybe it should have just picked one and focused on that!

BULLET TRAIN reminded me a lot of a movie we just saw a couple weeks ago, THE GRAY MAN (2022) which starred Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. Same formula, action and banter, similar results. BULLET TRAIN has a couple of things going for it which makes it preferable to THE GRAY MAN. One, its action scenes aren’t as ridiculously over the top (although some come close), and two, it has Brad Pitt, who creates a character in this movie who is more fleshed out and enjoyable than either character played by Gosling or Evans in THE GRAY MAN.

Pitt plays an assassin whose codename is Ladybug, and as the movie opens, he’s in Japan enjoying some rest and relaxation, working on getting his head and mood together, so when he agrees to return to action and take another job, he’s feeling rested and terrific, even if he feels he’s always plagued by bad luck, which is a running gag throughout the movie. The job he receives from his handler (voiced by Sandra Bullock) is described as very simple: just board a bullet train, locate a gray briefcase, and take it off the train.

But the job is anything but simple because there are a bunch of other assassins on board, and they also want the briefcase. And that’s the plot folks, as pretty much the entire 126-minute running time is spent with assassins vying for the same case on a speeding train. I half expected Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and Wile E Coyote and friends to show up.

As I said, BULLET TRAIN was directed by David Leitch, and it plays like any number of movies he’s made already, although it reminded me the most of his HOBBS AND SHAW vehicle, which was more silly than fun, and I felt similarly about BULLET TRAIN. Leitch also directed ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) which was not a comedy and featured some of the best action fight scenes in a movie in a long time, and so that’s probably my favorite Leitch film.

BULLET TRAIN looks great with its colorful cinematography, and you can’t go wrong with its polished stylish action sequences. You just aren’t going to believe many of them, because they come off as cartoonish. Pitt’s Ladybug is like Bugs Bunny. Bombs explode and he walks away without a scratch. Always.

Zak Olkewicz wrote the amiable screenplay based on the book by Kotaro Isaka, and it’s filled with nonstop banter, so if you like that sort of thing, you’ll have fun here. It works for me up to a point. It’s certainly better than the dialogue in another action/comedy hit (which I did not like at all) from earlier this year, UNCHARTED (2022), a ridiculous movie that featured Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg exchanging barbs while travelling the world in search of treasure. Audiences ate this one up, though. I found it dumb and redundant.

Here, Brad Pitt is very funny as Ladybug, the assassin who can’t stop thinking and philosophizing on life. His character and his performance are the best parts of the movie. His laid-back attitude is the perfect foil for the high-octane action sequences. From his genuine disappointment upon being attacked— you stabbed me? Really?— to one point where he’s speaking to a woman during a fight sequence and catches himself, saying I’m mansplaining.

Pitt is very good, and the script does its best job with his character, but it’s not enough. The biggest knock against BULLET TRAIN is I’m just getting tired of this kind of movie. After a while, the action and banter get boring. Even with a whole host of assassins on board.

The two best, besides Pitt, are Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), “twins” who work together but who share nothing in common other than the fact that they treat each other like brothers. Tangerine is a proper speaking Englishman, while Lemon bases his entire life on the Thomas the Tank Engine children’s stories. Their banter is also funny, but as is the case with Pitt, they are simply not enough to carry this movie.

This is probably the most fun role I’ve seen Aaron Taylor-Johnson play since way back when he was much younger playing the lead in KICK-ASS (2010), and the most satisfying role I’ve seen him play since SAVAGES (2012). Bryan Tyree Henry is equally as good, and it’s probably the best performance I’ve seen him give. Henry has also appeared in GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021), JOKER (2019) and HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018) to name just a few.

Joey King as Prince was probably my least favorite character in the movie. She’s a young woman pretending to be a victim when in reality she’s a major villain. In spite of the duality of the part, it’s pretty much a one-note character and performance on King’s part.

The Japanese characters pretty much play it straight. Andrew Koji as Kimura and Hiroyuki Sanada as The Elder are serious throughout, and as such, kinda seem out of place because the rest of the movie takes nothing seriously.

Michael Shannon shows up late in the game and briefly as The White Death, but it’s both way too late and too short for him to make much of an impact. And when we finally see Sandra Bullock, she looks like she’s either been heavily airbrushed to look younger or they used CGI on her. She just doesn’t look natural. For such a brief appearance, it was weird.

BULLET TRAIN doesn’t really know what kind of a movie it’s supposed to be, yet it feels comfortable in this role, because that’s kind of a new genre today. Make a movie that’s equal parts action, comedy, and thriller, with lots of good-natured banter, and the audience will go home happy. In other words, show lots of stylized violence and bloody deaths, but if the main characters remain cool and make jokes about it, and survive, it’s all okay.

Sort of.

At times, BULLET TRAIN with its R rating seemed to be aiming for a Quentin Tarantino vibe, but it’s vastly inferior to Tarantino’s work. First, Tarantino isn’t above showing the gruesome realities of violence. His characters are still funny and still banter, but his worlds are less cartoonish and safe. Also, the editing here, especially early on, seemed off. It took me a while to really settle in with BULLET TRAIN, as its jumping-around early scenes were more jarring than introductory.

BULLET TRAIN had a lot of moments that I liked, and it featured performances by Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Brian Tyree Henry that I really enjoyed, but at the end of the day it simply wasn’t enough because it’s part of a new “genre” of films that likes to link action and comedy, and through amiable clever banter give the illusion that death and destruction is safe and harmless.

A la Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner. But they’re cartoons. And movies should be more than cartoons. I’m not arguing that you can’t make “safe” action comedies. You can.

But you can also make less safe action comedies that are even funnier and work better because the audience is on edge and feeling less safe.

BULLET TRAIN, in spite of its high body count, remains a safe passage for its audience for the entirety of its ride, even with its R rating.

Fans of nervous laughter might want to ride a different train.

—END—

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: NICHELLE NICHOLS – STAR TREK

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Welcome back to MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes from the movies. Today we’re doing something a little different. Rather than look at quotes from one movie, we’re going to look at quotes from one character, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, in the six original STAR TREK movies, in honor of the actor who played her, Nichelle Nichols, who passed away this past weekend on July 30, 2022.

Nichols played the character Lieutenant Uhura in the original STAR TREK TV series (1966-1969), and that’s really where she had her best moments. But she also played the character in the six STAR TREK movies which featured the original cast.

In honor of Nichelle Nichols, here’s a look now at some of her lines of dialogue from those movies;

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)

The first time the STAR TREK cast appeared on the big screen was in this thought-provoking special effects-laden film directed by Robert Wise which was considered somewhat of a misfire in 1979 but has stood the test of time and has only gotten better with age. Part of the fun during the first third of the movie was seeing all the show’s characters make their big screen debuts. This next conversation between Kirk (William Shatner) and Uhura was the set-up for Dr. McCoy’s (DeForest Kelley) first big screen appearance. Let’s listen:

UHURA: Captain, our final six replacements are ready to beam aboard, but one of them is refusing to step into the transporter.

KIRK: Oh! I’ll make sure he beams up!

And of course, Dr. McCoy would beam up shortly thereafter, complaining about having to have his molecules disassembled and reassembled.

When Kirk is given full command of the Enterprise again, it’s Uhura who puts it all in perspective:

SULU: He wanted her back. He got her.

ENSIGN: And Captain Decker? He’s been with this ship every minute of her refitting.

UHURA: Ensign, the possibilities of our returning from this mission in one piece may… have just doubled.

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)

Unlike STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, its sequel STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN was both a critical and commercial success, and more importantly, a huge hit with fans, who felt at the time that it retained the flavor the original show, something that had been lacking in the first movie. It certainly set the stage for the remaining films in the series, as they all borrowed heavily from the look and feel of this one, rather than the first film.

In STAR TREK II, it’s Uhura who brings Kirk the news of a pending reunion with a former love.

UHURA: Bridge to Admiral Kirk.

KIRK: Kirk here.

UHURA: Sir, there’s a message coming in for you from station Regula One. Doctor Carol Marcus.

KIRK: I’ll take it in my quarters, Uhura.

MCCOY: Never rains, but it pours.

One of the themes in STAR TREK II is aging, as getting older and feeling older are in the forefront of Kirk’s mind, as seen here in this scene in which Uhura gets to ponder the situation.

MCCOY: Admiral, wouldn’t it be easier to put an experienced crew back on the ship?

KIRK: Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor. (Exits)

UHURA: Now what is that supposed to mean?

STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1983)

Uhura gets to enjoy some of her finer STAR TREK movie moments here in STAR TREK III, like in this scene where she completely overwhelms a young Star Fleet officer as she helps Kirk, McCoy and Sulu (George Takei) escape to search for Spock.

OFFICER: Look at you. You’re a twenty-year space veteran, yet you pick the worst duty station in town. I mean, look at this place. This is the hind end of space.

UHURA: Peace and quiet appeals to me, Lieutenant.

OFFICER; Well, maybe that’s okay for someone like you, whose career is winding down. But me, I need some excitement, some adventure… maybe even just a surprise or two.

UHURA: Well, you know what they say, Lieutenant. Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.

(KIRK, MCCOY and SULU enter the transporter room)

KIRK: Uhura, is everything ready?

UHURA: Step into my parlor, gentlemen.

OFFICER: That’s Admiral Kirk, my God!

UHURA: Very good for you, Lieutenant.

OFFICER: But it’s damned irregular. No destination points, no encoded IDs.

UHURA: All true.

OFFICER: So what are we gonna do about it?

UHURA: I’m not gonna do anything about it. You’re gonna sit in the closet.

OFFICER: The closet? Have you lost your sense of reality?

UHURA: This isn’t reality. (Aims phaser at him) This is fantasy. You wanted adventure, how’s this? The old adrenaline going, huh? Good boy. Now get in the closet.

OFFICER: All right…

UHURA: Go on.

OFFICER: I’ll just get in the closet. All right! Damn! (Enters closet and shuts door)

MCCOY: I’m glad you’re on our side!

KIRK: (points to closet): Are you sure you can handle…?

UHURA: Oh, I’ll have “Mr. Adventure” eating out of my hand, sir. And I’ll see all of you at the rendezvous.

STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)

Clearly the most humorous of the STAR TREK movies, featuring a plot which saw the crew time travel back to 1986 San Francisco, STAR TREK IV featured comical bits with most of the characters, and Uhura was no exception, as in this scene when she, Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Sulu are on the streets of San Francisco trying to get directions to the Alameda naval base.

CHEKOV: Please, please – We’re looking for the naval base in Alameda. Can you tell us where the nuclear wessels are?

PASSERBY: Oh, I don’t know if I know the answer to that. I think it’s across the Bay. In Alameda!

CHEKOV: That’s what I said – Alameda, I know that.

UHURA (frustrated): But where is Alameda?

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)

The weakest of the STAR TREK movies tried to recapture the playful humor from the previous installment but largely failed. In this sequence, Sulu and Chekov embarrassingly pretend they can’t hear Uhura on their communicators.

UHURA: Is there a problem, gentlemen?

(Sulu and Chekov are lost in the woods)

SULU: Uh, yes. We’ve been caught in a… we’ve been caught in a blizzard.

(Chekov blows on the communicator, pretending that it’s wind)

CHEKOV: And we can’t see a thing. Request you direct us to the coordinates.

UHURA: My visual says sunny skies and seventy degrees.

CHEKOV: Sulu, look. The sun’s come out. It’s a miracle.

UHURA: Don’t worry, fellas. Your secret’s safe with me. I’ll send a shuttlecraft to pick you up.

Uhura also arrives in person to summon Kirk, Spock, and McCoy from shore leave back to the Enterprise.

UHURA: Captain, we’ve received important orders from Starfleet Command.

KIRK: Why didn’t you just beep my communicator?

UHURA: You “forgot” to take it with you.

KIRK: Oh… I wonder why I did that?

STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991)

The final film in the original film series is one of the better ones, as it’s exciting, humorous, and provides a poignant send-off for all the characters.

In a humorous moment, Uhura speaks with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) about the whereabouts of Kirk and McCoy.

UHURA: You understand, we have lost all contact with the Captain and Dr. McCoy.

SPOCK: Yes, at the moment, they are surrounded by a magnetic shield. However, if I know the Captain, by this time, he is deep into planning his escape.

(Cut to Kirk fighting and losing to an alien twice his size.)

Uhura also gets a key moment in the film’s conclusion, as the Enterprise crew is battling a cloaked Klingon vessel.

SPOCK: Gas. Gas, Captain. Under impulse power, she expends fuel like any other vessel. We call it plasma, but whatever the Klingon designation, it is merely ionized gas.

UHURA: Well, what about all that equipment we’re carrying to catalog gaseous anomalies? Well, the thing’s gotta have a tailpipe.

And Uhura is there on the bridge for the crew’s final ,moments on the big screen.

UHURA: Captain, I have orders from Starfleet Command. We’re to put back to space dock immediately to be decommissioned.

SPOCK: If I were human, I believe my response would be… “go to hell.” If I were human.

CHEKOV: Course heading, Captain?

KIRK: Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

I hope you enjoyed this MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES column where we looked at quotes spoken by Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura in the six STAR TREK movies, and I hope you will join me again next time when we look at more memorable quotes from another classic movie.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

Nichelle Nichols

December 28, 1932 – July 30, 2022

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NOPE (2022) – Jordan Peele’s Latest Labors as It Tries Too Hard to be Clever

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Sometimes movies try too hard to be clever.

NOPE (2022), the latest genre movie by Jordan Peele, the man who brought us GET OUT (2017) and US (2019), goes out of its way to be puzzling and thought-provoking, but this creative zeal often gets in the way of its storytelling, to the point where its narrative never really flows, instead laboring from start to finish as it works through an otherwise interesting story.

In NOPE, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) operate a ranch in California where they train horses to appear in movies and television, so right off the bat you have an interesting premise just with the main characters’ occupation, as this isn’t something we see in movies all that often. OJ hasn’t been right since the tragic death of his father Otis (Keith David), who was killed in a bizarre accident when he was struck by random debris which fell from a passing plane. But OJ was there that day, and he never saw a passing plane in the sky, although there was thick cloud cover and some strange noises overhead.

Soon OJ is hearing and seeing strange things through the clouds which seem to always permeate the sky above their farmhouse. When computer geek Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) arrives to help them set up surveillance cameras, he joins them on their quest to find out what is going on in the sky above their home. And when OJ gets a closer look at the phenomenon, he tells his sister that it didn’t move like a ship, implying that while it seems to be a UFO, it might be something different…

And that’s the premise of NOPE, as the main characters try to unravel the mystery in the skies above their home.

As stories go, I liked the one told in NOPE, but as I said, the way Jordan Peele tells it comes across as more labored than polished. Peele obviously chose to tell the story in this way to be more creative and innovative. Scenes often end in the middle, effectively teasing the audience, not letting them know answers and information needed to figure things out. The movie also opens bizarrely, with a scene from a cancelled sitcom after a tragedy struck.

We find out later that former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) who runs a western show not far from OJ’s ranch, was on the set of that sitcom when the tragedy ensued, something that scarred him greatly. Ricky’s story ties in directly with the main one in the movie because he too has seen the strange phenomenon in the sky, but his take on it is different from OJ’s, and a lot of his interpretation is based on his childhood trauma. So, it all connects. Eventually.

As does the plot point about OJ’s relationship with his horses. Everything that happens in this story is there for a reason. I don’t have a problem with that. But the convoluted way Peele goes about telling his story gets in the way of effective storytelling, and as a result, I had a difficult time warming up to this one.

It also gets in the way of the characterizations. No one in this movie really comes to life, in spite of some nifty acting performances.

Daniel Kaluuya, who won the Oscar last year for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021), and who was also nominated for Best Actor for his work in GET OUT, is a terrific actor, and his talents are on full display here in NOPE. He plays OJ as a brooding, grieving son who is not yet over the death of his father. He’s also the strong, silent type, and barely says much of anything throughout the movie. OJ’s personality reflects the feel of the entire movie: quiet, brooding, and not that exciting.

Keke Palmer as OJ’s sister Emerald is the opposite of her brother, as she is lively, outspoken, and anything but introspective.

I also enjoyed Steven Yeun’s performance as Ricky, the former child actor now running a family friendly western show in the middle of California nowhere. Yeun is very good in a role that at first seems tangent to everything else that is going on in the movie, but when the big reveal is made near the end, it makes sense at that moment how his story ties into the main one. Yeun, who played Glenn on THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2020) was also nominated for an Oscar last year for Best Actor in MINARI (2020).

It was fun to see Keith David for a couple of seconds (should have been more!) as OJ’s dad Otis. David has enjoyed a long career going all the way back to his performance as Childs in John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

Brandon Perea as geek Angel Torres primarily provides the comic relief throughout the movie, and Michael Wincott plays a dedicated cameraman who agrees to help them film what’s going on in the skies above their home to give them proof, in a role that should have been much more interesting than it ultimately was. While Wincott is fine, the writing is not.

Jordan Peele wrote the screenplay, and with the exception of OJ, the characters in this one do not come to life. Michael Wincott’s cameraman character, specifically, is left dangling in the wind. He comes in and does his thing, yet we know nothing about him. The other characters are shallow as well.

While the story is clever and creative, and the reveal is satisfying, the execution here is not. Peele seems to have decided that he wanted to make this movie feel like a puzzle, something for audiences to think on and figure out, and for the most part, that’s what NOPE is. But it gets in the way of the narrative, and it reminded me of a work in progress, where another draft of the screenplay was needed, one where things would be polished, to hammer points home and make sure the story works, because ultimately, it doesn’t work completely. Why not? The number one reason is there’s little or no emotional connection with the characters.

I liked NOPE better than Peele’s previous outing, US, which I didn’t like at all, but I still strongly prefer GET OUT to this latest outing by Peele.

It has its moments. Like one where OJ is terrified of something he’s seeing, and he turns away shaking his head muttering, “Nope!” which was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment, as well as a light bulb moment for the meaning of the title, and there are flashes of genuine suspense and intrigue, but more often than not, there are long periods of labored exposition and scenes that end before they should to keep audiences guessing, but when you do this too much, audiences lose interest in guessing.

I liked the reveal, but after this, the third act of the film continues to drudge through a long climax which strangely was the least exciting part of the movie, mostly because we were watching superficial characters deal with a somewhat interesting but never horrifying threat.

In its defense, NOPE has a worthwhile theme, and the story it tells is actually a good one, but the way it tells it doesn’t do it any favors. Simply put, it can’t get out of its own way.

I liked NOPE, but I didn’t love it.

It’s thought-provoking science fiction. It’s a fairly creepy horror tale. But is it an engrossing movie that I am going to want to watch over and over again?

In a word:

Nope.

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THE FORGIVEN (2022) – Compelling Drama Features Superior Acting and Script

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These days, when so many movies are shamelessly superficial, and emphasize action and CGI effects over story and characterizations, THE FORGIVEN (2022), a new drama now playing in theaters and available to rent on Prime Video, is like a breath of fresh air, even if that air blows from the arid hot Moroccan desert.

THE FORGIVEN opens with married couple David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo Henninger (Jessica Chastain) driving through the dark roads of Morocco on their way to one of David’s friend’s wedding. Lost, arguing with his wife, and heavily inebriated, David fails to see a young man in the road ahead of them, and he hits him and runs him over.

At the party in a ridiculously rich mansion in the middle of the desert, David’s friend Richard Galloway (Matt Smith) and his soon to be husband Dally Margolis (Caleb Landry Jones) entertain their guests and wonder why David and Jo are late. When they find out, they are none too happy, as they realize this will complicate their wedding. Even though they don’t trust the authorities, Richard makes the decision to call the police and report the accident and that they have a body on the premises, since David and Jo brought the body back with them from the desert road.

The police arrive, don’t ask for any bribes, and explain the body will have to remain until the boy’s family comes to claim it, which happens soon after, as the boy’s father Abdellah Taheri (Ismael Kanater) arrives and after seeing his son’s body, asks to meet David. The expectation is that Abdellah will demand money, but instead he requests that David return with him to pay his respects and bury his son’s body. David initially balks at the idea, fearing that Abdellah could be an ISIS terrorist, but he eventually changes his mind and agrees to go.

The remainder of the movie follows David as he journeys with Abdellah to bury his son and begins to learn about Abdellah’s Muslim culture and traditions, juxtaposed with scenes of the insanely lavish and ongoing wedding party with Richard and Dally and all their guests, including an American named Tom Day (Christopher Abbott) who grows close to Jo, as we learn that she is not happy being married to David, and this time away from him makes her ripe for a tryst with an interested young American.

THE FORGIVEN is a thoroughly captivating, intense movie that I really enjoyed from start to finish. It gets off to a riveting start with the car accident in the opening moments of the film, and it never looks back. Directed and written by John Michael McDonagh, based on a novel by Lawrence Osborne, THE FORGIVEN is both shot and written with great care and attention to detail, especially to its characters. The story is full of all kinds of different characters, and they all make their mark and are all written and acted to near perfection. McDonagh’s work here reminded me of the early work of Peter Weir, specifically THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (1982) and WITNESS (1985).

The screenplay, unlike so many screenplays these days, really hammers out its characters and brings them all to life. Earlier this week I saw THE GRAY MAN (2022), a new Netflix actioner starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. It has performed so well financially that Netflix has already announced a sequel. Yet, I found this movie terribly boring, as other than the action sequences, it had nothing to offer, with dull characterizations and a sterile plot. Yet, it’s making lots of money and is getting a sequel, which explains why movies like this continue to be made, while movies like THE FORGIVEN, which is superior in every way, will struggle to be recognized.

Which is too bad because it tells an intriguing story and features a whole host of fleshed out characters who could have walked off the pages of a modern-day F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Ralph Fiennes is excellent as David, the alcoholic husband who snubs his nose at those beneath him, who is full of confidence and is not afraid to stir the pot, and who at the outset is about as sympathetic and likable as a scorpion. When he hits and kills the boy, he shows no remorse, other than a shrug and a “these things happen” attitude. But if there’s one character who journeys to self-awareness in the film, it’s David, as his time with Abdellah opens his eyes, not from bonding with the father, but from a combination of fear— it’s uncertain if the boy’s father will kill him for revenge— and a closeness to the deceased boy’s spirit. Add this to the long list of superb performances by Ralph Fiennes, following upon the heels of his equally engrossing acting in THE DIG (2021).

Jessica Chastain plays David’s wife Jo as a woman who is unfulfilled and unhappy with her marriage, and ironically, just as she invites the young American into her life at the party, unknown to her, David undergoes a transformation of character. Like Fiennes, Chastain is a superior actor, and she is every bit as good here in THE FORGIVEN, as is the rest of the cast.

Matt Smith, who we just saw in LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2021), is memorable as Richard, the man who knows how to throw a wedding party. Smith, of course, is most famous for playing Doctor Who a few years back.

Caleb Landry-Jones makes for a lively young groom who is not above insulting his guests. It’s another in a long line of strong performances by Landry-Jones, who we’ve seen in such films as GET OUT (2017), THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), and THE OUTPOST (2019). The cast is really a strength here.

Likewise, Ismael Kanater is menacing and effective as the deceased boy’s grieving, probing, and uncertain father. While he brings David back with him as part of a tradition, he’s also trying to learn as much as he can about the man who killed his son and how it all happened. Kanater possesses the steely eyes of a Lee Van Cleef or Robert Shaw.

Said Taghmaoui is also very good as Anouar, the interpreter who accompanies David and Abdellah, and who actually becomes friends with David. Mourad Zaoui is superb as Hamid, Richard’s patient and dedicated head servant. And Christopher Abbott is amiable as Tom Day, the American who is attracted to Jo and makes no secret about it.

There are more characters as well, all of them equally as fleshed out and interesting.

The screenplay by John Michael McDonagh is really a strength of this movie.

In addition to the wealth of characters, there’s a captivating plot, and a theme worth exploring, of the wealthy and decadent Westerners who seem to have no further desire in life than to have fun, get high, and have sex, juxtaposed with the poor and traditional Muslims who simply want to survive. The contrast is unsettling.

It’s never said outright in the movie, but the plot drives home the reasons why Muslims in Morocco or elsewhere would hate Westerners. And the character who starts off as the most unlikeable of the lot, David, is the one who makes the journey of self-awareness learning just how shallow and uncaring he once was before finally embracing responsibility for the taking of another human being’s life.

THE FORGIVEN is a superior movie, a film that knows how to create characters and tell a story, and the story it has to tell, and the characters in it are both worthy of your time, even if the wealthy Westerners often represent the worst humanity has to offer.

That’s kinda the point.

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