Movie Review ~ The Adam Project

The Facts:

Synopsis: A time-traveling pilot teams up with his younger self and his late father to come to terms with his past while saving the future.
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldaña, Catherine Keener, Alex Mallari Jr.
Director: Shawn Levy
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: We’ll lay it out on the table right away.  The last Netflix movie we saw Ryan Reynolds in was Red Notice in November 2021, and it was a bona fide stinker.  Reynolds, Gal Gadot, and Dwayne Johnson showed up and collected enormous paydays for a tired script about a trio of double-crossing criminals.  They looked bored…but not as bored as most audiences.  So seeing Reynolds with a new movie, The Adam Project, so quickly in 2022, you can see why I was understandably a little wary of getting too excited about its prospects.  Reteamed with his Free Guy director Shawn Levy, Reynolds stars alongside Jennifer Garner and Marc Ruffalo, another pair reunited almost two decades since they appeared in 13 Going on 30.

In the film, Reynolds (Deadpool) is Adam Reed, who travels from 2050 back to 2018 to try and stop his father from figuring out the key to time travel, a concept that has dire consequences for the future.  Problems arise when Adam instead lands in 2022 and meets his younger self when his life as a friendless high schooler is also in serious tumult.  There’s also the small matter of his mother (Garner, Love, Simon) being recently widowed after his father (Ruffalo, Thanks for Sharing) was killed in a car crash.  Still unable to talk about their grief, mother and son haven’t dealt entirely with this loss, and the wedge between them is growing.  When 2050 Adam meets 2022 Adam (newcomer Walker Scobell), the convincing is easy but stopping him from asking questions is another thing. 

When 2050 Adam is followed from the future by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener Captain Phillips), his father’s former partner, the two Adams must stick together to make sure the other is protected.  With help from a mysterious ally (Zoe Saldaña, Out of the Furnace) and over additional time jumps, each will learn valuable lessons from the other about remembering the past and valuing the present. 

I’m going to take a big swing at a guess and say that when reviews from critics and audiences alike for The Adam Project come out, many are going to compare it to the kind of mid-summer entertainment we anticipated in the early ‘90s.  A glance at the space-age gadgets, time-travel plot devices, family emotional elements, conniving but relatively benign villains, smart-aleck dialogue, and fast-paced action sequences are the chief reasons why. After all, they were present for 98% of all movies released during those blistering dog days of the year.  In that way, The Adam Project will slip right into a sweet spot for adults of a certain age watching with their kids or want to screen it again for them after. 

The more I think about The Adam Project, all that flash can’t hold a candle to the scenes screenwriters Jonathan Tropper (This Is Where I Leave You), T.S. Nowlin (The Maze Runner), & Jennifer Flackett (Wimbledon) include that strip away all of those safety blankets and let the actors feel their feelings.  The best special effect is watching Reynolds let down his phony-baloney goofball veneer and be a real person.  We hardly ever get that anymore, and that’s disappointing, not that you can blame him because when he did try for more dramatic endeavors, many detractors told him to stick to comedy.  Those same detractors now think he plays it safe resting on his funny bones.  It’s a good mixture of both the wry and dry, with Reynolds leaving enough space for Scobell to shine as his younger counterpart.    

Levy (The Internship) has had enough practice with these major movies to juggle a lot all at once, and while at times this can make the film feel just a tad workmanlike and hollow, it’s a polished piece of machinery that flies by in an instant.  I could easily have believed The Adam Project was orchestrated for release on an IMAX screen, and it would likely have been just as impressive a presentation.  Anything that deals with the loss of a parent, especially a dad, will go right for my jugular, and as expected, the right chords were plucked/manipulated, and I shed some happy-sad tears.  There’s no enduring legacy this film will leave behind, but for the solid two-hour entertainment it provides, complete with several needle drop music cues, you can hardly miss this project.

Movie Review ~ Turning Red

The Facts:

Synopsis: A 13-year-old girl named Mei Lee turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets too excited.
Stars: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Tristan Allerick Chen, Tyler, Addie Chandler, Jordan Fisher, Grayson Villanueva, Josh Levi, Topher Ngo, Finneas O’Connell, James Hong, Lori Tan Chinn, Lillian Lim, Mia Tagano, Sherry Cola, Sasha Roiz, Lily Sanfelippo
Director: Domee Shi
Rated: PG
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review:  Out of necessity in understanding the needs of their target audience during a national health crisis, Walt Disney Studios made a significant change to their release plans for their summer 2021 release Luca by offering it on their streaming service Disney+ instead of in theaters. This strategy allowed families to enjoy the film together at home rather than risk it at the cinema at a time when COVID was still holding the world in a tenuous position. While Disney was no stranger to releasing on this platform, having sent the live-action Mulan and Black Widow straight to streaming, both of those films carried a hefty price tag for the privilege. Luca would be free to subscribers; naturally, the film became a popular title when it came out, at least commercially.

Will anyone be talking about Luca a decade from now, ranking it the same way they do PIXAR’s roster of titles over the years? The pioneering animation studio’s releases used to be somewhat of an event, but with technology advancing, they’re able to turn over their projects much faster than ever. The result is still-gorgeous-looking movies that always retain that particular PIXAR taste but don’t maintain their flavor or shelf-life as long as the older products do. An early January announcement that PIXAR’s March release of Turning Red would also go straight to streaming raised a few eyebrows. Not the least of which because theaters mainly were open and welcoming better box office returns and also because this was one of the company’s first female-centered films in quite a while. And also one of their best.

California-made but Canadian at heart, Turning Red is PIXAR’s most lovingly genuine, funniest film in ages. Sure to hit home big time with mothers and daughters, there’s a timely message for all about being your own person. Directed by Academy Award winner Domee Shi (her short, Bao, won in 2018), who sets the film quite charmingly in 2002 Canada, it’s the story of teenager Mei (Rosalie Chiang) right on the edge of angst as she struggles to find her voice. A dutiful daughter to a quiet father (Orion Lee, Skyfall) and hover mother (Sandra Oh, Tammy), she largely lives to please both of them and stay out of trouble. Yet there’s this well of emotion inside her that seems to keep boiling up and over she frustratingly can’t control.

Adults watching Turning Red can instantly spot what this pre-pubescent teen is heading toward rapidly. We’ve all been there, and recent parents of these teenagers will recognize the signs of puberty rearing their ugly (white)heads before any of us do. Turning Red also acknowledges this fact of life, and while the PG-rated film doesn’t seek to educate wholly on the subject, parents may want to be prepared to answer some questions about a few words/phrases their kids may not be aware of yet. It’s gently delivered by Shi’s writing, so deft in the way it talks about it without actually talking about it that the message is received and understood for those who need it and could be missed for the rest that aren’t quite at that stage. Besides, before you know it, Mei’s feverish emotions have brought on the early appearance of the red panda that lives inside all of the women in her family.

Yes, when Mei cannot control her emotions, she turns into a towering red panda. While we could talk endlessly about the metaphors this signifies, Shi doesn’t linger too long in the symbolism and instead opts to have fun with colorful scenes featuring Mei as the panda finding newfound popularity with her classmates after discovering her secret. The crux of the plot involves Mei and her close friends (an excellent array of personalities) raising money off of Mei as the red panda to see their favorite boy band (4*Town, with five members) coming to the local arena. When the concert coincides with a ritual that could rid the red panda from Mei, she’ll need to choose if she wants to adhere to the expected formality from her family or embrace the duality in which she’s found a balance.

What keeps reinforcing the energy throughout Turning Red is Shi’s commitment to the perspective of this Chinese-Canadian 13-year-old and the feeling that the story is being told from her angle. It’s not overly simplified, nor is it outwardly so twee that it is cutesy. That’s saying a lot for a movie featuring a very smooshable red panda as a central character. The dynamic between Mei and her mom is richly developed, with both Chiang and especially Oh adding significantly to that success in helping audiences understand beyond the animated expressions why the mother may want the daughter to get the panda under control sooner than later. Finally, the three songs for 4*Town, written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell (Oscar-nominated this year for the theme song to No Time to Die), are more substantial than your average musical contributions. The melodies and winking lyrics fit nicely with Ludwig Göransson’s (Venom) first score for an animated feature.

I’m glad the immediate streaming release will get Turning Red in front of more people right away, but I honestly wish I had seen this one in theaters. Its overarching message of understanding the importance of individuality and finding satisfaction with yourself is so rich that delivery through a bigger medium would have been lovely to witness. Though I have heard it will get a theatrical release in a few locations, I can see why the studio felt like it might make sense for the more emotionally resonant movie to debut on Disney+. Big screen, tiny screen, computer screen, etc., whatever, Turning Red is one of the studio’s most consistently engaging movies.

Movie Review ~ Ultrasound

The Facts:

Synopsis: After his car breaks down, Glen spends one hell of an odd night with a married couple, setting into motion a chain of events that alter their lives plus those of several random strangers.
Stars: Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool, Tunde Adebimpe, Rainey Qualley, Chris Gartin, Bob Stephenson
Director: Rob Schroeder
Rated: NR
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  It takes all of five minutes for Ultrasound to get weird.  Like, the kind of weird where you put your hands over your eyes in awkward embarrassment and glance over your shoulder to see if anyone else is listening even though you know you’re the only one in the room weird.  Right about the time Glen (Vincent Kartheiser, Untamed Heart), a stranded motorist who knocks on the door of Art (Bob Stephenson, Lady Bird) and his wife Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez, Novitiate) in the hope of calling for assistance realizes he should have waited in his car is when you also understand how director Rob Schroeder and screenwriter Conor Stechschulte have ensnared you just as tightly in their prickly trap of a film.

While it ultimately means something different here, have you ever been shown an ultrasound by expectant parents who excitedly think you’re able to see the same clear picture of their growing child?   I have, and I’ve learned to fess up and say “Show me”; otherwise, I’m complimenting how perfect their nose is when it’s not a nose at all.  Schroeder and Stechschulte’s film is similar in the way that what you see is often not what is there, and it takes time as the film progresses for the two to outline the shape and size of what’s taking place for Glen, Art, and Cyndi in the days that follow their meeting.

After leaving their home, Glen returns to his life without much thought, and the film pivots.  Sidestepping swiftly, we are introduced to a pregnant woman (Rainey Qualley, another daughter of Andie MacDowell) and her married politician boyfriend (Chris Gartin, Flightplan), as well as medical therapist Shannon (Breeda Wool, Mass) working alongside Dr. Connors (Tunde Adebimpe, She Dies Tomorrow) on a classified project.  They are seemingly unrelated, but, of course, they all are connected and not in the most pleasant ways. 

I wouldn’t dare give away what happens after Art knocks on Glen’s door with a video camera in one hand and critical information to share with him.  It moves Ultrasound in a direction I wasn’t expecting, and then right about the time you were getting comfortable peeling back its multiple onion layers of secrets, another twist is thrown, and you realize you were handling an apple all along.  Don’t be surprised if that apple becomes an orange or another object before the movie is over because the filmmakers seem to revel in reveals (even minute ones) that make you question what truths it’s telling and what might be trickery.  The nicest thing about it is that it does all this without becoming a frustrating exercise in being too clever for its own good. 

Based on Stechschulte’s four-volume comic, you can see the vision was there from the start (it had to be), and that’s why by the time the end credits are rolling, you’re able to go back and see how all the pieces fit together.  The cast adds a great deal to the success of it all, too.  Known mostly for his work on TV’s Mad Men, Kartheiser (a MN native!) does well with this rankled, rumpled average guy caught up in a messy situation.  Stephenson’s just pleasant enough to temper his occasional menace with a softer edge, yielding another character that may not set out to be a villain take on villainous tendencies.  The leading women in the film fare best, with Lopez solid playing the confused pawn moved around for the advantage of others and Wool especially excellent giving her character a significant backstory that feels complete enough while still serving the main plot. 

I’ll be looking for more features like this from Schroeder as a director and Stechschulte as a content creator.  If it loses points in any place, it’s for some generic happenings in the final act that feel like expected caps, oft-used to put a blunt period at the end of what had been a creative, nicely worded sentence.  Up until those final minutes, Ultrasound was echoing through my brain and firing on all cylinders. 

Movie Review ~ Offseason

The Facts:

Synopsis: After receiving a mysterious letter, a woman travels to a desolate island town and soon becomes trapped in a nightmare.
Stars: Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg, Richard Brake, Melora Walters, Jeremy Gardner
Director: Mickey Keating
Rated: NR
Running Length: 83 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: As you grow into adulthood, you begin to describe your feelings about specific experiences better. That’s how I got to pinpoint what I liked about riding a rollercoaster and what I’d rather avoid. It turns out that I’m one of those people that doesn’t thrive on that sensation of a drawn-out build-up to the main drop. It’s the worst part for me. That creaky chug-chug-chug, your shoulders and neck jostling, jangling, and angling back further the higher up you went. I’d much prefer those new rides that practically shoot you sky-high like a slingshot and get right to the star thrill. In many ways, horror movies are the same way for me. I can appreciate one with a slick design, skilled layout, and efficient method to deliver you to the frights. When you’re stuck endlessly heading toward a payoff that never arrives, though, you wind up resenting the entire experience.

My latest ride to nowhere was Offseason, a film with such promise and a premise any indie horror film should find to be smooth sailing. A woman who fled from a secluded island community the moment she could get out of town receives a letter relaying the news that her mother’s grave has been desecrated and she needs to return as soon as possible. Arriving with her husband right as a storm cuts them off from the mainland, she starts to unravel as memories from the past mix with terrifying visions from the present. Unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, the woman is caught in a vortex of creatures lurking around corners and a townies that wants her to stay permanently.

What I’m laying out sounds like a movie any genre fan would leap toward, right? Right. The marketing will trap many unlucky souls, with the poster and various images giving just the right feel for the film without totally falsifying its substance. In all honesty, writer/director Mickey Keating gets in several freakishly chilling moments. Still, they’re infrequent amidst a lot of endless shots of star Jocelin Donahue (Doctor Sleep) walking around the town either lost or pursuing someone that vanishes as quickly as they’ve popped up. Donahue is so good and has been for a while now. You crave for the actress to land the role that sends her into the mainstream once and for all. 

Donahue doesn’t have much to work with or work off of cast members who have all been better in other projects. I’m not even going to name them here because I consider Offseason a rare occurrence of fouling out for batters that usually at least get base hits. Some may appreciate the slow and steady hand Keating employs with Offseason, and perhaps this is the pace of scare to which they prefer to respond. I think there was more potential to tighten up the piece and even ask if it was really worthy of being feature-length in the first place, or could it have worked better as short in a chapter of a longer anthology?