Movie Review ~ Get Away If You Can

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Hopeful that an open-ocean sail might relight the spark of their passion, a troubled married couple hits a breaking point when one’s refusal to explore a foreboding deserted island sends them on a deep internal journey that will require drastic decisions to survive.
Stars: Terrence Martin, Dominique Braun, Ed Harris, Riley Smith, Martina Gusman
Directors: Terrence Martin & Dominique Braun
Rated: NR
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: There’s been a good news/bad news situation concerning the movie industry and the pandemic that took over filmmaking for the last two years. The good news is that it forced many directors, producers, writers, and actors to think outside the box and develop smaller-scale features that could be made with the smallest crew possible. This approach limited exposure and the chance for those involved to catch the coronavirus. More good news is that it elevated independent features and production crews already used to this all-hands-on-deck style from niche status to an elite one. Now, big-time Hollywood studios were taking notes on how to make a movie in two weeks from directors with the experience of having done it.

The flip side is that the market was flooded with novice filmmakers pushing their projects forward once they had the financing. The resulting films, like Get Away if You Can, can come off as rough sits, glorified vanity projects that do less to showcase the talents of anyone onscreen but instead shine a glaring spotlight on the inexperience. Add a multiple Oscar nominee to your cast like Ed Harris’s small cameo, and you’re only asking for another layer of scrutiny to be applied. I don’t often give a final opinion this early into a review but Get Away if You Can says it all right in the title.

Told in a dizzying mishmash of timelines that likely only made sense to writers/directors/stars Dominique Braun & Terrence Martin, Get Away if You Can concerns a married couple attempting to reconcile their marriage on their sailing vessel, only to find troubled waters. An argument divides them and further slices the narrative into smaller pieces, with Braun flashing back to a time before she met her husband up until their first encounter and Martin flipping between conversations with his father (Harris, The Abyss) and brother (Riley Smith). 

It’s not that the story cooked up by Braun and Martin isn’t intriguing or that the marital woes played out in the beauty of nature aren’t a wonder of contradictory ideas. The issue is that all the characters are wretchedly unlikeable people, save for Martina Gusman as Braun’s caring sister. Braun is vacant and uninteresting, opting to appear nude more often than necessary and let Martin’s camera linger over her slightly longer than an audience needs. Then there’s Martin, suffering over a performance that comes across as foolishly hammy thanks to the dialogue he constructed from either Braun’s name (shortened to ‘Domi’) or expletives. Neither comes off as severely as Harris or Smith, playing unreserved misogyny like champs.

Culminating in what will either be considered the most laughable or saddest excuses for gratuitous nudity in a film this year, Get Away if You Can isn’t poorly made or constructed. It’s just pointless. Martin and Braun are married in real life, and there’s a feeling this movie exists so they have a document of their union and a completed film as a calling card. Finding marital bliss should be enough for them because outside of their circle, I can’t imagine anyone being happy with taking this voyage to nowhere.

Cool poster, though.

Movie Review ~ Top Gun: Maverick

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When he finds himself training a detachment of Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell faces an uncertain future while confronting the ghosts of his past, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Danny Ramirez, Monica Barbaro, Manny Jacinto, Val Kilmer
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 131 minutes
TMMM Score: (10/10)
Review:  I think it’s safe to say that we’ve had our share of star movies over the past several years. You know what I’m talking about, too. Films that are the real draw more than any living, breathing actor or actress appearing in the picture. It’s like a long-running Broadway show in that, at a certain point, it doesn’t matter who is playing the leading role; it all depends on if the audience is willing to pay out money to see the machine at work. A seemingly endless stream of Marvel, DC Comics, franchise, and known content have clogged up theaters even before the pandemic, and now that’s all audiences want to spend their money on. It takes a bold movie with hot word of mouth (like the ongoing box office smash Everything Everywhere All at Once) to break through the noise. And it takes a movie star.

If anyone could bust through that wall of sound, it’s going to be an actor that’s been literally trying to break the sound barrier for years. Superstar Tom Cruise has had his fair share of bad press during his career and especially over the past half-decade, but what he continues to deliver is a breathlessly impressive supply of limit-pushing adventures that put the capital “C” in Cinema and remind you why you pay that extra fee to watch movies on the most giant screen you can find. His Mission: Impossible films have morphed from the kitschy fun of the original to mind-boggling action epics. Last onscreen in 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, with a two-part capper to his Ethan Hunt character from that series starting in 2023, Cruise is sliding back into theaters with a film that has been finished for a few years but has been delayed due to the pandemic. 

For a while, it felt like a sequel to the bombastic classic 1986 film Top Gun would never see a theatrical release. Already coming off to some like a stretch project thirty years too late, Cruise made it a point to let detractors know he’d been approached for a follow-up on multiple occasions, but it wasn’t until now that a script came together that felt right. With better technology and the opportunity to have actors trained to fly the jets (and film themselves as well!), Cruise could give fans a second chapter that would be worth waiting for. No one could have expected how long the wait would be, though. Intended for release in July 2019 (yes, 2019), it was bumped back for a myriad of reasons along the way. The important thing is that Cruise held out to keep Top Gun: Maverick from being a victim of the studio’s wave of pandemic straight-to-streaming offloads…and we should be forever grateful.

Thirty years into his career in the U.S. Navy, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise, Rock of Ages) has remained a test pilot, passing up promotions to stay airborne and avoid the dreaded desk job of senior officers. Currently working on a hypersonic test jet at the film’s start, when he breaks protocol and is targeted by a commanding officer for permanent grounding, he’s called back to familiar territory at San Diego’s Top Gun training program. His skills are needed to oversee a new mission carried out by an elite group of the best recent graduates, many of whom weren’t even born when he was in their shoes. One of the pilots, Rooster (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now), isn’t thrilled to see Maverick onsite due to their complicated family history. Fans of the original will make the connection (and it’s no spoiler), but I’ll let screenwriters Ehren Kruger (Dumbo), Erin Warren Singer (Only the Brave), and frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) connect the dots while you watch.

Rekindling a romance with old flame Penny (a barely-there character from the original and the substitute for Kelly McGillis, who, like Meg Ryan, sadly doesn’t return for the sequel, though other familiar faces do), Maverick balances questioning the need for stability at his age with, well, feeling the need for speed. You can guess what wins most of the time, but credit Cruise and Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel) as Penny for creating a mature, age-appropriate relationship that is allowed to take center stage believably and often without a lot of dialogue. Connelly is so good (and eternally, impossibly beautiful) at conveying whole paragraphs with just an eye movement, that she makes one of the best Cruise love interests I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s the kind of non-mushy romantic involvement that even audiences coming for full-throttle action won’t mind pausing for.

Not that the film doesn’t have the pulse-pounding, nail-biting action to keep you alternately on the edge of your seat or pushed back gripping your armrests. Making good use of the IMAX cameras it was filmed on and incredible cinematography seamlessly blending the actual flying from any green screen, it’s as realistic an action-adventure as you’ll see this side of a documentary or Navy-approved training video. Credit to Cruise and the actors for going the distance and putting in the work to make it look accurate. Working with a mission more in-depth than the first film could have brought more complex challenges to keeping engagement, but it’s an easy-to-follow film with easy-to-root for high stakes.

Like an authentic ’80s summer sweltering blockbuster, it has a power anthem from Lady Gaga with a needle drop at a perfect position. It was a fantastic move to have its theme weaved into the score throughout. I still like the Oscar-winning Giorgio Moroder/Berlin song from the first film best, but I am glad Gaga and Hans Zimmer didn’t simply remake that classic. Gaga has a serious chance to win another songwriting Oscar for her fist-raising barn burner that rounds out one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at the movies in my recent memory. If you’ve been waiting weeks, months, or years (?) to head back to the theater…Top Gun: Maverick is the film to break your fast. See it on an IMAX screen as big as you can find with a great sound system and you’ll get the full impact. Waiting until streaming will not do at all. Top Gun: Maverick is a must-see in general, but you can’t miss it in the movie theater.

Welcome to Summer 2022.

Movie Review ~ The Lost Daughter

The Facts:

Synopsis: A professor’s seaside vacation takes a dark turn when her obsession with a young mother forces her to confront secrets from her past.

Stars: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Domińczyk, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Rated: R

Running Length: 122 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: There’s something to be said for investing in a two-hour movie with a central character that’s hard to like.  We’ve had to root for anti-heroes in a number of films in theaters and television over the years and it takes a certain type of character (and actor) to be able to pull of that fine tight-rope act of leaning into the unlikability of a persona but not overstep so far that you lose the audience.  It’s the ultimate trust-fall test to bet the house that viewers will turn up to be attentive to (and even eventually root for) an individual that we might otherwise recoil from.  Oscar-winner Olivia Colman has played brittle before and her success as Queen Elizabeth on The Crown has largely come from her ability to “staunch” like the best of them…so we already know she can win us over.  What do you do when the movie as a whole is hard to like, though?

While I haven’t read the source novel on which The Lost Daughter was adapted from, it’s not very hard to see the literary bones and stumbling blocks in the structure of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s version.  The actress, making her feature film directing debut as well as logging her first screenplay, takes Elena Ferrante’s 2008 novel (which was translated from its original 2006 Italian version) and brings the psychological drama off the page with a fine cast of actors who struggle through a serpentine plot that gets more turned around on itself the longer it plays.  Each time you feel momentum is gaining on plot or performance, a new element is introduced to distract and take you out of the energy the film was building.  It creates a strong discord over time, eventually alienating the viewer almost entirely, giving a full pardon to us to let our minds wander.  It’s a pity too, because the movie is chock full of dynamic actors dutifully delivering in their assigned roles.

Gyllenhaal (Batman Begins) opens The Lost Daughter with one of my least favorite plot devices: the flash forward/backward. (Ugh!) We see a brief glimpse of a time other than when most of the action takes place.  Maybe it’s before, maybe it’s after but we’re soon with Leda (Colman, The Mitchells vs. The Machines) as she arrives at a Greek seaside village for a quiet holiday on her own.  Single and with two adult children, she’s free to do as she pleases and at first it looks like that will be keeping her own schedule on the tranquil beach and flirting (badly) with the sea-salty landlord (Ed Harris, The Abyss) she meets on her first night.

The serenity doesn’t last long.  Another family joins her at the beach, a large group that boisterously descends, or rather invades, the space and overtakes the area.  Determined to keep her holiday on her terms and able to tune them out for the most part, it’s only when she refuses to relinquish her space to them that their orbits truly collide.  It’s also when she notices Nina (Dakota Johnson, Our Friend), a young mother of a toddler that never gives her a moment of peace.  Seeing this woman struggle to find some second to gather her thoughts acts as a trigger for Leda, drudging up memories of her own past when she was young (played by Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose) and hoping to balance motherhood and her own dreams of status in the educated world.

It’s here that Gyllenhaal creates a fork in the road for viewers as well as a gap that continues to widen for the rest of the film.  On the left is the older Leda who is there when Nina’s young daughter disappears briefly only to discover something else has been taken when she returns.  A greater mystery is then uncovered, creating a creeping sense of dread that Leda’s safety is at risk from Nina, her shady husband (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Haunting of Bly Manor), and their extended family…or is it the other way around and does Leda harbor a dark side that’s ready to swallow all of them up? 

The second and, sadly, far less interesting fork is the one we’re continually pulled back to…that of the younger Leda’s life with her children who need their mother but are so clingy they begin to drive her away.  Her need for attention turns into desire for validation and, not finding that at home, she looks to a more mature colleague (Peter Sarsgaard, The Guilty) who provides that outlet for her.  This section is meant to show why the older Leda acts the way she does but never fleshes out the history enough for us to have that full picture etched for us, or even halfway shaded in.  Brief conversations in both timelines hint at Leda’s mother playing a part in her feeling unwanted and that transference easily passing through her to her children. Gyllenhaal never explores that, and it feels like a missed opportunity…for us and for the actresses who are more than capable of taking on those tricky corners of the heart.

While a beautiful name, those with knowledge of Greek mythology will pick up on the scholarly burden that comes with the name Leda who was the wife of a King when a most famous God took a liking to her.  An unwilling bedmate (i.e. by force) to Zeus who masqueraded as a swan, the story goes that she wound up laying two eggs that hatched into children.  It’s a thinly veiled metaphor for what the older Leda goes through, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to find she gave herself that name – she often acts like such a martyr it would feel in line with the character. 

Of course, it’s not Colman’s doing that she’s tasked with a most difficult through line to play and if anything works best about the movie, it’s her.  Displaying her usual bravado in making risky choices that pay off, she isn’t afraid to go to awkward places in her acting or let uncomfortable silences linger longer than they have to.  The scenes with Colman and Johnson are first rate, as is one scene early on between Colman and Dagmara Domińczyk (The Assistant), Nina’s cousin who has the initial run-in with Leda and attempts to make peace. 

There’s a lot of buzz around Gyllenhaal’s screenplay and it’s a bit of a puzzlement for me.  Any juggling of timelines is always looked on with favor but aside from a few admittedly knock-out scenes that appear to be building to something but amount to little more than a puff of smoke, there isn’t anything remarkable about the assemblage of The Lost Daughter.  It’s the performances that stand out far more than the script or the direction, both of which are serviceable.  This includes everything right up to the ending which could have been punctuated better to close out Gyllenhaal’s debut by finally finding its footing.  Instead, it literally trips and falls without much fanfare. 

The Silver Bullet ~ Top Gun: Maverick

Synopsis: A follow-up to the 1986 hit brings back Naval Aviator Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and will deal with the rise of unmanned drones and pilots becoming a thing of the past.

Release Date: June 26, 2020

Thoughts: Has it really been 33 years since Tom Cruise cemented his rising superstar status with the blockbuster release of Top Gun?  Inspiring countless imitators (including Cruise himself) and launching a million slow dances to the Oscar-winning theme song, the movie is firmly in our cultural lexicon and holds up quite nicely.  So you could hear some groans across the U.S. of A. when it was announced Cruise would be returning in the long rumored sequel.  For someone with as good as track record as Cruise has with starring in successful non-franchise fare, why occupy his time between Mission: Impossible sequels with another sequel to a previous role?  Teaming with his Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski and looping in an excellent roster of supporting players, from the looks of this first trailer for Top Gun: Maverick Cruise clearly knew what he was doing and I’m sorry I doubted him in the first place.  This sneak peak at the high-flying action film releasing almost 12 months from now stirs the kind of nostalgic summer excitement within me that doesn’t get a jolt that often.  Fingers crossed it’s more than just a retread of the original.

Movie Review ~ mother!


The Facts
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Synopsis: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I truly wanted to like mother!…I did.  In the weeks leading up to the screening I literally counted the days until it arrived, and if I’m honest it was more for the chance to see Michelle Pfeiffer up on the big screen again.  Still…maybe I set a bar so high that no final product that Darren Aronofsky (Noah) could have delivered would have made the grade.  Then again, the movie winds up being so vile, so grossly arrogant, and with its head so far up its own backside that it’s hard to believe anyone could leave a showing of mother! better off than when they arrived.

No sooner do the lights go down than the image of a woman bathed in flames appears.  A single tear rolls down her cheek and by the end we’ll want to cry too as Aronofsky lays everything on thick for Act 1 of this nightmare.  Not much can be revealed about mother! without leaking several key twists but if you’ve seen the trailer for the movie you’ll get a pretty good taste for what the first half of the movie has to offer.

A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence, Joy) is fixing up her older husband’s childhood home years after it was gutted by a fire.  Without asking her, the husband (Javier Bardem, Skyfall), a famous poet with writers block, welcomes a stranger (Ed Harris, The Abyss) and his wife (Pfeiffer, Dark Shadows) into their house and that opens the door for a bevy of visitors with their own inexplicable agendas.  Even before Harris arrives, the relationship between Lawrence and Bardem is so awkward you’re already curious what kind of power he has over her.  She allows him to make all the decisions, rarely challenges him, and barely raises an eyebrow when he doesn’t seem to notice that the visitors are odd with a capital O.

For a while, mother! hums along with a decent amount of atmosphere and head scratching developments that Aronofsky somehow manages to stay one step ahead of.  Lawrence plays the role with such wide-eyed growing dread that I half wonder if she was fed her scenes one at a time and didn’t know where it was all heading.  Bardem sure seems to know, though, and he starts to gnaw on the scenery in no time flat which puts him in a plum position as the film reaches its zenith about 75 minutes in.  From there it quickly descends into a delirious mess and while it gets advanced brownie points for its boldness it loses them in the same breath for going to such an abysmally rank place in its finale.  I was a bit appalled to tell you the truth, not so much for one seriously gory stomach churning curveball but for extended scenes of violence toward Lawrence that just felt so wrong.

Aronofksy and Lawrence are a well-publicized power couple in Hollywood and if this is the kind of movie Aronofsky writes and directs for someone he loves, I can’t even imagine what he’d do for someone he can’t stand.  A snuff film, maybe?  His previous works are just as divisive as mother! is sure to be but, save for Requiem for a Dream which even he couldn’t top for sheer Grand Guignol chutzpah, at the end of the day the final message he’s delivering doesn’t seem wholly original or meaningful.  In past movies, he’s tackled drug abuse, man’s inhumanity to man, and paralyzing ambition…here he’s trying to speak to everyone on the planet and the reach is too much.

Like Natalie Portman in Aronofksy’s brilliant Black Swan, Lawrence is in nearly every frame of the movie and she’s well cast in a terrible role.  Why she doesn’t just pack her bag and head out the door each time her husband does something looney tunes is maybe the biggest mystery of the entire film.  When she does decide to head for the hills, she’s pregnant and her house is being invaded by hordes of people (including Kristin Wiig, The Martian, who pops up in the briefest and strangest of cameos billed as ‘the herald’) who are there for her husband.

You’ll be surprised to find out just how little Harris and Pfeiffer are in the movie…and more’s the pity because what the final half of the movie needed is the spark Pfeiffer brings to each of her scenes that are front-loaded into the first hour of the film.  Always a favorite of mine, Pfeiffer is gleefully loosey-goosey as a gin-soaked annoyance who pushes Lawrence’s buttons with delight.  She’s rarely been this relaxed in the last decade of her career and while it isn’t the Oscar-winning performance the studio is gunning for, she’s the best thing about the movie by a longshot.

With dizzying camerawork by Iron Man’s Matthew Libatique (seriously, bring a barf bag) and a purposefully irritating sound design, the technical elements are sharp as a tack in true Aronofsky style.  The sound is so specific by making sure you hear each floorboard creak and droplet of water falling in a copper sink that there are times when I swear you can hear the actors blink.  A little of that goes a long way and by the finale when all hell is breaking loose (literally) it becomes an overwhelming cacophony of visuals and sound that you’ll be desperate to break free of.

While I just can’t bring myself in good faith to endorse this one, if anything, mother! will be a fun movie to dissect over drinks after…but take my advice and steer clear of food before, during, and after.  While there was potential for something interesting to take shape with the strong elements Aronofsky has assembled, at the end of it all I just wanted my mother…to give the director a good whack upside the head.

The Silver Bullet ~ mother!

Synopsis: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Release Date: September 15, 2017

Thoughts: Oh let’s just face facts, they had me at Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s always a special joy to see Pfeiffer (Grease 2) onscreen at any time and we’re fortunate that she’s popping up in so many places in 2017.  Before she boards Murder on the Orient Express in November, she’s going to be seen in Darren Aronofsky’s strange little thriller mother! (no capital letters for this guy!) this September.  This looks like it’s either going to be a nasty little nightmare that Aronofsky is so good at or a total mess which would be pretty unfortunate considering the stellar cast assembled.  I wince a bit at 27 year old Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) married to 48 year old Javier Bardem (Skyfall) but let’s hope Aronofsky offers an explanation within the first reel.  Ed Harris (The Abyss) also stars but it’s Pfeiffer looking snazzy and sinister that seals this deal for me.

The Silver Bullet ~ Snowpiercer

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Synopsis: In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on the planet except for a lucky few that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system evolves.

Release Date: June 27, 2014

Thoughts: Gosh, hard to believe this film is finally seeing the light of day.  I’ve been hearing about Snowpiercer for the last several years and though its popped up on foreign soil it has yet to make its debut in US theaters.  While I’m glad this apocalyptic action film is pulling into the station soon, I can’t help but be nervous for the delay, especially with a cast of in demand players populating the train carrying the last remnants of mankind.  Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Solider), Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left AliveThe Grand Budapest Hotel), Jamie Bell (Man on a Ledge), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station),  and Ed Harris (The Abyss) are just a few of the high profile stars director Bong Joon Ho got on board.  Let’s see if the wait was worth it.

Movie Review ~ Gravity

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  I remember reading the plot summary for Gravity nearly two years ago and having no clue how director Alfonso Cuarón was going to pull it all off.  Essentially a two person film, you’d have to cast the right actors and keep their fight for survival moving at the correct pace to retain the attention of the audience.  Adding greater difficulty for a film set in space, the bar has been raised so high in the visual effects realm in recent years that you just can’t deliver anything less than astonishing to make us believe that this situation is real and happening in front of your eyes.

It’s probably an understatement to say that Gravity gets everything right.

What we have here is maybe the visually impressive film ever made; its craftsmanship is so subtle, so under the radar that you start to actually believe Cuarón and his actors filmed this mesmerizing opus miles outside of our atmosphere.

The film begins with a nearly deafening simple title sequence with just white letters on a black screen.  Maybe it was just the Dolby Atmos sound system in the theater I caught a screening in, but my ears were throbbing within the first thirty seconds.  It’s all part of keeping you off-kilter, though, as that blasting soon gives way to absolute silence as the film shows a space shuttle coming closer and closer.  As the camera pans nearer to it we start to hear the blips of radio transmissions between the astronauts working on the Hubble telescope and Houston back on earth.

In a seamless tracking shot that lasts nearly fifteen minutes, the camera floats up, down and around the action where Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Heat, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) works away and retiring space veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, The Descendants) goofs around trying to beat a record time for longest space walk.  The tranquility of these early moments is not long-lasting, though, as Houston alerts the crew that debris from a Russian satellite is heading their way.  With no time to escape, Stone and Kowalski can only brace for impact as the wreckage destroys their ship and transport back home.

That’s pretty much exactly what the numerous trailers for Gravity have shown you so far and those that think they’ve seen it all have only skimmed the surface because this happens in the first fifteen minutes of the 91 minute film.  What follows is primarily Stone’s story of survival as she works with Kowalski (at one point the two are tethered together) to find a way to safety.  It makes no sense to reveal any more, it’s not that the film is dependent on keeping a review spoiler-free but I can’t imagining seeing the film knowing how it was all going to turn out because at several points I wasn’t sure where it was headed.

Though the central set-up and a few late in the day personal elements are thrown in are somewhat contrived, it doesn’t lessen the overall impact the film will have on you.  On the other hand, while the film is a visual marvel it doesn’t fall back on its effects to cover up any weak points in the script.  There’s a justified nature to almost everything that happens here and it’s completely involving, and endlessly engaging.

Originally slated to star Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey, Jr., Cuarón wound up with Bullock and Clooney and Gravity is all the better for it.  Clooney brings his usual charisma front and center for his role and even if it’s a part the actor could play in his sleep, the way he supports Bullock shows what a true movie star he is.  .

Many people still can’t get over the Bullock bested Meryl Streep for the Best Actress Oscar for her work in The Blind Side but I still say that Julie and Julia was not a movie that Streep was destined to win for.  Bullock’s award was well earned and she hasn’t been touched by the Best Actress Curse (hello, Halle Berry!) in her selective roles since.  Her performance here is surely going to earn another trip to the Oscars and she’s a considerable contender for the award (though as of now I still believe it’s going to go to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine) and there’s no question she deserves the nomination.  It’s a inspired flesh and blood performance with a lot of guts – the actress has a breathtaking sequence where she sheds her space suit and just floats silently spinning.  Cuarón isn’t afraid to let this sequence play on and for Bullock’s vulnerability to be seen at its maximum potential.  Bravo to both for some seriously incredible work.

Count on this film to nab every single technical Oscar this year because the cinematography, visual effects, and sound design are jaw-dropping.  The views of space of flawless and seamless with not a shoddy cell on display.  I also appreciated the understated but powerful score by Steven Price.  Cuarón and his son Jonas created the screenplay for this and minor quibbles aside, it’s a lean story that’s merely a set-up for the performances and visuals to thrive.  A truly landmark achievement.

Gravity is one of those movies that you simply must see in the theater.  I saw it in 3D and would recommend it for Cuarón’s restrained use of the technology coupled with a brilliant sound design.  It’s worth the upgrade, without question.

Though it’s been several weeks since I’ve seen the film, multiple moments/sequences still are running around in my brain and I can’t wait to see it again.  It took my breath away the first time I saw it and I hope you have the same experience when you take it in as well.  One of the best films of the year and one of the best movies from a technical standpoint ever made.

Movie Review ~ Pain & Gain

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Tony Shalhoub, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong, Yolanthe Cabau

Director: Michael Bay

Rated: R

Running Length: 129 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  If Pain & Gain demonstrates anything, it’s that director Michael Bay can do an awful lot with a tiny budget…if you consider 25 million dollars a tiny budget.  Unfortunately, even with a budget that’s about ¼ of the last Transformers movie, Bay shows himself again as a director that’s full of sound and fury but truly signifying nothing by delivering a rather unpleasant film that’s doesn’t shortchange the audience on flash, flesh, and felons.

Based on a true story, Pain & Gain is told in flashback by multiple narrators who pop in whenever the film deems it necessary to tell the tale of three Miami muscled gym rats that find themselves in a whole mess of trouble thanks to their own buffoonery and poor planning.  Their efforts to swindle a greasy client (Shaloub) out of his money and property is so out of this world crazy that the film has to keep telling us it’s a true story when it takes some fairly incredible turns. 

Directed with the reckless commercial sleaze that Bay is famous for, the film does look great with vibrant colors and slo-mo work that delivers several humorous sight gags.  The movie hums with adrenaline but has a strange hollowness to it, never really making it up the hill of better black comedies that didn’t need to resort to gross out gore/humor to keep the attention of its audience. 

Wahlberg (Ted, Contraband) is more jacked up and cracked out than ever before and it’s plain to see that he put in some extra time in the gym to prepare himself for the trainer turned criminal that’s the ringleader of this strange mix of people.  Wahlberg plays this guy so wound up that when he has some freak outs of rage they’re more funny than threatening – which is, I believe, what he’s going for. 

His two compatriots are Mackie (Man on a Ledge, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Johnson (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) as fellow bodybuilders that have more going on in their right bicep than they do between their ears.  Mackie has a strange and extraneous side romance with Wilson (Pitch Perfect) who doesn’t have much to do but play on her dependable foul-mouthed shtick. 

It’s clear that Johnson is a box office favorite but he tries to go the extra mile here in the acting department and comes up short, never really getting to the heart of the dim-witted tool that writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were going for.  Plus Johnson is at this point just one big muscle with eyes so it’s hard to take him seriously. 

When Harris (The Abyss, looking like a white raisin) shows up, he adds the kind of laid-back delivery that helps to balance the ADD-addled film and the characters within.  A retired private detectice, Harris gets looped into the mix by a patsy targeted by the men and tries in van to stop the eventually downfall he sees coming.  It’s the most level performance in the film and is a valued contribution.  Not a valued contribution is Jeong, once again turning in an awful “comedic” performance – how is this guy considered funny?

After a engaging but seedy first hour, the film takes on a darker tone and that’s when it transitioned from buzzy black comedy to an unhappy trek through tough territory as murder comes into play.  Blood is spilled, body parts are BBQ’d, and a few other appendages are damaged along the way as Bay steers his film into some unapologetically foul territory. 

Far from Bay’s best work (I’d still say that The Island is the most satisfying film he’s made), Pain & Gain suffers from an excess of style without any real support of substance.  Not a bad film if I’m being really honest, just one that didn’t need to be a brashly bold as it is.  Though it does have two sinewy legs to stand on, it starts to weaken as the time ticks by to the end of a very long 129 minutes.

The Silver Bullet ~ Pain & Gain

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Synopsis: A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong

Release Date:  April 26, 2013

Thoughts: First and foremost, this film is notable for being action picture director Michael Bay’s least expensive film since Bad Boys.  Aside from that, I’m not sure if this is going to convince any of his naysayers to jump on board after producing some fairly brain-dead entertainment courtesy of the Transformers franchise.  Also, though I have enjoyed Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect and What To Expect When You’re Expecting, I feel like she’s playing the same character time and time again.  Dwayne Johnson isn’t a bad actor…but I continue to question his choice of roles as he seems to go wherever the paycheck is.  While this could be a nice departure film for Bay, I’m not holding my breath he’s seen the error of his obnoxious directorial ways.