Movie Review ~ Bullet Train (2022)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A trained killer wants to give up the life but is pulled back in by his handler to collect a briefcase on a bullet train heading from Tokyo to Kyoto. Onboard the train, he and other competing assassins discover their objectives are all connected.
Stars: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Karen Fukuhara, Masi Oka, Sandra Bullock
Director: David Leitch
Rated: R
Running Length: 126 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review:  Hard to believe it, but I’m writing this in the last few hours on the first day of August. The summer days are already starting to creep to a close, and soon so will our ferocious summer movie season, the first full-throttle one in a post-pandemic climate. It’s been a wild journey of ups (The Black Phone) and downs (Thor: Love and Thunder), unexpected surprises (Marcel the Shell with Shoes On), and confirmed bullseyes (Top Gun: Maverick), and you can’t say the stars haven’t come out to play. We have an entire season of fall movies and awards hopefuls getting their party attire on, but until then, Summer 2022 still has a few tricks left up its sleeve. Thankfully, August starts at breakneck speed with the rowdy fun of Bullet Train

Based on Kôtarô Isaka’s 2010 Japanese novel, Bullet Train might look on the surface as a star vehicle for Oscar winner Brad Pitt, but fans of the novel know there’s more to the story than we have been led to believe. Screenwriter Zak Olkewicz has maintained much of Isaka’s source material, keeping the multiple story threads in place and allowing director David Leitch to tug on them when needed. There’s a shared spotlight often throughout the film, encompassing Pitt and an eclectic mix of characters on board a high-speed commuter train bound for danger. Once you get on Bullet Train, two hours of non-stop action don’t give you much time to breathe or think about the number of implausibilities on the trip.

A skilled hitman (Pitt, Ad Astra) has rejoined the ranks after taking time away to work on finding inner peace. Newly Zen and working the steps his therapy has given him, he’s more conflicted and cerebral than shoot first and asks questions later. His handler, Maria Beetle (an Oscar-winning actress whose identity isn’t a secret if you’ve seen the trailer but might be if you haven’t), has lined him up for a quick job to fill in for a sick agent. Armed with the codename Ladybug and a handful of innocuous carry-on pocket items, he hops on the train as directed.

This setup isn’t actually how the film opens. We’ve already met another set of characters (each person is identified through onscreen title cards), and while their initial involvement with the story may not make sense, the voyage will eventually plot out exactly how they figure into the curveball-friendly plot. It’s another reason why avoiding the trailer at all costs would be worth your while. With its Agatha Christie on Red Bull fondness for pulling the rug out from under you, one has to wonder why the marketing for Bullet Train has given so much away. Images, characters, and sequences in the preview have spoiled some developments (and nearly all of one actor’s scenes), and I would want to know how much more of a guessing-game experience this could have been, having known less going in.

Ladybug has been asked to retrieve a simple silver briefcase. It isn’t that hard to locate…but it turns out that getting off the train is the difficult part of this mission. Every time Ladybug tries to exit, something blocks him in one way or another. As we meet the other interested parties, we also learn their backstories of how they wound up on the train. There’s a pair of ‘twin’ killers, Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry, Eternals) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, The King’s Man), who bicker like brothers but take different approaches to suss out who might be sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong. 

They have their work cut out for them because there’s no shortage of killers of the elusive and out-in-the-open variety. The Prince (Joey King, The Conjuring) is a UK schoolgirl dressed head-to-toe in pink who, spoiler alert, isn’t as innocent as she looks. Mexican assassin The Wolf (Bad Bunny, F9: The Fast Saga) and Japanese father Kimura (Andrew Koji, Fast & Furious 6) bought a ticket seeking revenge above all else. At the same time, The White Death (Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water) gradually becomes a presence that haunts the entire lot the closer the train inches to his compound. And there’s a snake too. Plus a few more secrets I can’t tell you about (though the trailer has! I won’t!)

As Pitt’s former stunt double, Leitch knows his leading man quite well and stages blistering action sequences in which Pitt and others can engage. As he did with Atomic Blonde, Leitch choreographs some terrific blazingly brutal fights performed so rapidly that the eye-bulging violence tends not to land as harshly. Things get overly CGI-y anytime the actors move outside the train (the film was shot on a studio lot, old-school Hollywood style, and looks like it), but the production design, on the whole, is pleasing. How all of this mayhem can occur with no one else noticing is beyond my imagination, as is one superhuman stunt that doesn’t feel remotely plausible. When the movie stretches into sheer lunacy, this Train gets away from everyone involved.

It’s good that this cast is so eager to play, then. Pitt is lively and engaged, perfectly cast (despite protestations over his character from the novel being changed from Japanese to American) as a man with a past comically trying to stay alive while coming to grips with his involvement in the violent extermination of life. His stunt work is spot-on, and nothing seems out of his range. The second MVP has to be awarded to Henry, delivering once again as half of a dastardly duo that is just as willing to kill as his brother but prefers to be sure before he does. Olkewicz (Fear Street: Part Two – 1978) gives Henry room to explore his character, maybe more than others riding the same transport speeding along the railway.   Taylor-Johnson feels like he’s stepped out of Bullet Train 1974…and that’s not a bad thing. It’s always nice to see Hiroyuki Sanada (Army of the Dead), and fans shouldn’t be worried if he seems underused early on.

The brakes get yanked right off in the last twenty minutes when the filmmakers choose a spectacle finale instead of one that follows through with the layered storytelling they had been using. As fun as the editing was (and Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir, Contraband, should be commended), it started to feel like everyone involved just lost control of the movie. The effects become unwieldy, the performances grow stale, and the comedy feels forced. Even the last few shots of the film don’t ring quite true, a disappointing final destination to what had been a jet-fueled ride on a Bullet Train.

Movie Review ~ The Unforgivable 

The Facts:  

Synopsis: Released from prison into a society that won’t forgive her past, a woman seeks redemption by searching for the sister she left behind. 

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond, Aisling Franciosi, Tom Guiry, Rob Morgan, W. Earl Brown 

Director: Nora Fingscheidt 

Rated: R 

Running Length: 112 minutes 

TMMM Score: (7/10) 

Review: Once you find out that Sandra Bullock’s newest film for Netflix is based on Unforgiven, a 2009 three-episode limited series originally shown on British airwaves, it starts to make sense why this feature film feels like it’s missing something that would make it feel complete.  It’s not that Bullock’s presence back on screen, her first since 2018’s massive hit Bird Box, isn’t welcome because it most definitely is, but it’s that The Unforgivable doesn’t seem up to the standard we have for the Oscar winner.  The meatiness that must have been present in the lengthier version explored in the miniseries would have made this feel less of your standard presentation of redemption and given all the actors, not just Bullock, additional layers to uncover. 

Released from prison for good behavior after serving part of her time after being convicted for the shooting death of a small-town cop twenty years earlier, Ruth (Bullock, Gravity) is assigned to a parole officer (Rob Morgan, Don’t Look Up) who isn’t about to go easy on her.  Not that she’s a barrel of laughs, either.  The weight of the years in prison have clearly taken their toll on the parolee and her solid stance, rough edges, and clipped response to questions speak to a woman that didn’t just make it through prison, she survived.  Unsurprisingly, cop killers have a difficult time behind bars and while it’s not discussed you wonder how much abuse Ruth suffered from those in power while she was locked away.  Through flashbacks, we see the circumstances by which the crime occurred and there’s little doubt of her involvement in the officer’s slaying, having acted in the spur of the moment to avoid eviction for her and a much younger sister from her family farm.

Unable on her own to contact her now young adult sister (Aisling Franciosi) who lives with adoptive parents (Richard Thomas and Linda Emond, Gemini Man) that have shielded from her true identity for decades, Ruth engages a lawyer (Vincent D’Onofrio, The Magnificent Seven) that she happens across when she visits her old home…he lives there now with his wife (Viola Davis, Widows) and sons.  Shielding them from her truth but not totally hiding it either, she finds a sympathetic ally in the legal nature of the husband but not the moral core of the wife.  While she is befriended by a co-worker (Jon Bernthal, The Accountant) at the fish factory job her parole office finds for her, she also secures her own employment putting her carpentry skill to use building a shelter for the homeless.  The past hasn’t forgotten about her or the people in her life though, and the sons of the slain cop have kept an eye on the woman they feel has gotten off too easy. 

The multiple storylines and character arcs scream miniseries, and you can imagine how each episode would have dealt with juggling all of these in a much tidier way.  As it is, screenwriters Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles never successfully bring anything to the forefront and so nothing has the desired impact necessary for us to grab onto.  Not that they haven’t given us one or two characters we wish we had more time with.  Why cast the dynamic Davis in a role that is largely dormant for the run time and further, why would she take this low impact part?  Davis and Bullock work so well together in their short amount of screen time you wish the movie were more about them.  I’d have taken less of the revenge storyline featuring Tom Guiry (Wonder Wheel) and Will Pullen (Goat) as two sons so enraged at the injustice of someone leaving jail early that they’re willing to commit a crime that would send them to jail in return.  These types of plot developments make little sense even to a casual observer, how does it not make sense to two people?  I also liked the relationship formed between Bullock and Bernthal, a highly underrated actor that gets a nice chance to shine with a character that’s not big on words but grand on making efforts to connect.

The time has long since passed when Bullock has had to prove herself a strong dramatic actress, so the range shown her is no big surprise.  The performance is perhaps oversold just a teeny bit but there’s little care for artifice in her acting and she works nicely with director Nora Fingscheidt to not turn every intense passage into an Oscar-clip ready moment.  Overly strong production values and an ever-present Hans Zimmer & David Fleming (Dune) score add to the sophistication of The Unforgivable, so even if it’s lacking in a feeling that it’s the whole package because it’s been trimmed for the overseas remake, there is still a sense of an above average narrative that’s worth a look.

The Silver Bullet ~ Our Brand is Crisis

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Synopsis: A feature film based on the documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis”, which focuses on the use of American political campaign strategies in South America.

Release Date: October 30, 2015

Thoughts: Since winning her Oscar for The Blind Side in 2009, Sandra Bullock has chosen her projects cautiously.  Many a Best Actress winner followed up their wins with one or more (coughcoughHalle Berrycoughcough) disappointing outings and Bullock wisely steered clear of making any hasty decisions. She took a supporting role in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, tried playing the straight man in The Heat, and found herself in the Best Actress race again with Gravity. In 2015 she voiced a villain in the animated Minions and she’s closing out the year in an adaptation of the 2005 political documentary Our Brand is Crisis. I have faith in Bullock and producer George Clooney, even if our first look at their collaboration leaves much to be desired.  Maybe it’s because we can’t tell if it’s a high stakes drama or a goofball comedy and it certainly doesn’t help my interest at all that Billy Bob Thornton (Entourage) shows up (teeth first, cueball head second).  Director David Gordon Green has an iffy record in my book but Bullock and good buzz sell it for me…still it’s not at the top of my fall movie list.

Movie Review ~ Minions

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Minions Stuart, Kevin and Bob are recruited by Scarlet Overkill, a super-villain who, alongside her inventor husband Herb, hatches a plot to take over the world.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Allison Janney, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Saunders, Pierre Coffin, Steve Carell

Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin

Rated: PG

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  In my review of 2013’s Despicable Me 2, I mentioned that the filmmakers succeeded in making an enjoyable sequel because of their understanding of exactly what the audience wanted…more Minions.  After Despicable Me 2 broke big at the box office, a third film was set for release in 2017 but in the interim a spin-off animated adventure has been created that focuses solely on how the Minions came to serve their not-quite-so evil master Gru.  You’d think that the most enjoyable elements from the first two films would be a slam-dunk when given their own film…but it turns out that sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.

Look, I loved the Minions in the first two films and laughed at their gibberish language and love of bananas as much as the next easily pleased adult in the audience.  Heck, I even waited in line for a considerable time in a light drizzle for a spot on the Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios in Florida.  It’s clear, though, that these were characters that worked better in their featured supporting roles and aren’t quite ready for headlining their own film.

The opening credits show the genesis of the Minions as they emerge from a prehistoric ocean and start their quest to serve the baddest of bad guys throughout time.  Their bumbling winds up offing their masters throughout history, though, from a T-Rex to Dracula to Napoleon and eventually they find themselves exiled into a cave frozen over with ice where they languish without a villainous boss to serve.  Not content with just lying around any longer, during the ‘60s the resourceful Kevin recruits two of his compatriots (Stuart and Bob) to venture out in search of an evil genius they can attend to.

Starting out in New York before heading to Florida and then England, the film follows the three pals as they become involved with the first female supervillain, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock, Gravity) as she plots to overthrow the British monarchy.  Owing a little bit of its plot to King Ralph, the final half of film has the Minions first trying to help Overkill steal The Crown Jewels and then staving her off as she goes mad with newfound power.

Like the previous two entries in the Despicable Me universe, Minions feels too long even at the relatively short 91 minutes.  I was checking my watch before it was half over, a bad omen for a film not lacking in color or 3D distraction. (Like its predecessors, this one is worth the 3D upcharge…but make sure to stay until the final credits have passed for some impressive 3D effects.)  Directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin (who also voices every last Minion…totaling almost 1,000!) seem to know they don’t have enough material for a full-length feature so there are more than a few pit stops along the way, such as Stuart leading some Royal Guards in a sing-a-long to, randomly, a selection from the musical Hair.

The voice talent also is disappointingly underwhelming.  I was looking forward to Bullock’s performance but didn’t get much from her.  Like Frozen, the voices never seemed to really match their animated counterparts so you have the voices of talented actors like Bullock, Michael Keaton (RoboCop), Allison Janney (The Way Way Back), Jon Hamm (Million Dollar Arm), and Steve Coogan (Philomena) coming awkwardly out of designs that don’t sound totally correct.

It’s in the final five minutes where the movie shows some signs of life, not surprisingly it’s the part that acts as a bridge between Minions and Despicable Me, by that time I was just ready to get up and go so it’s a credit to the film that it finished up strong.  Still, in a summer that’s shown that there’s a case to be made for successful sequels, Minions is an example of how a spin-off (even one with good intentions) isn’t always the wisest route to take.  I’m sure the film will rake in a buttload of cash, though, so I hope that Despicable Me 3 puts the Minions back to work at what they do best…support the action rather than lead it.

Oscar Predictions 2014

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Hello!

Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing  potential favorites, I’m taking part in The 2014 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂

This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting.  I don’t necessarily think there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture but ultimately I couldn’t make up my mind on which ones to remove from my list…

I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂

Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Spike Jonze, Her
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

BEST ACTOR
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All is Lost

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

BEST EDITING
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, American Hustle
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger, Gravity
Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen, Her

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Philomena
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Hunt, Denmark
The Grandmaster, Hong Kong
The Great Beauty, Italy
The Notebook, Hungary

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska
Roger Deakins, Prisoners

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Adam Stochausen & Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave
Judy Becker & Heather Loeffler, American Hustle
Catherine Martin & Beverly Dunn, The Great Gatsby
Jess Gonchor & Susan Bode, Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael Corenblith & Susan Benjamin, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SOUND MIXING
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST SOUND EDITING
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave
Daniel Orlandi, Saving Mr. Banks
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Mary Zophres, Inside Llewyn Davis

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alex Ebert, All is Lost
Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Crash Reel
Stories We Tell

The Square

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Croods
Despicable Me 2

Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: Into Darkness

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Lone Ranger


BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Amen”, All is Lost
“Let It Go”, Frozen
“The Moon Song”, Her
“Ordinary Love”, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Young & Beautiful”, The Great Gatsby

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 ~ The Heat

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Uptight FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn is paired with testy Boston cop Shannon Mullins in order to take down a ruthless drug lord. The hitch: neither woman has ever had a partner — or a friend for that matter

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demián Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport

Director: Paul Feig

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: I recall the first time I saw the trailer for The Heat and marveled at how two and a half minutes could go back without a single laugh for a film that was supposedly a comedy.  Then positive early buzz had Twentieth Century Fox move it from an early spring opening to a prime June release date, so I was curious to see if the buddy cop film with two proven comedic stars (albeit adept at very different styles of comedy) partnering with the director of the wildly successful Bridesmaids may have just made a bad first impression.

Turns out it pays to trust your gut because The Heat is a barely lukewarm summer bummer, a movie that probably started out with potential but is unfortunately sacked by copious amounts of overstuffing an ungainly turkey of a film.  Don’t be fooled by the cleverly cut TV spots and trailers that suggest a laugh a minute comedy awaits all those that shell out their dough because the film itself is a chore to get through.

Perhaps knowing that the movie was rushed into production to accommodate Melissa McCarthy’s other commitments provides some context to why the film feels only half thought out.  I’m wondering if the script from television writer Kate Dippold (Parks and Recreation) didn’t start out as something more interesting because the movie seems to have been tailored to cater to McCarthy’s gruff comedic instincts and tweaked to make room for Bullock’s star wattage.

The film wants to have it both ways – it so desperately wants to be a hilarious genre re-defining buddy/cop picture while retaining a gritty edge with bloody violence.  The trouble is that it’s not funny enough to stand on its own and not gritty enough to be salvageable as a hybrid comedy-thriller.  Instead it’s a middle of the road affair with Bullock and McCarthy lost among the chaos.  All the cinematic chefs in the world couldn’t make this oil and water concoction palatable even though the recipe is right in front of them.

Though McCarthy has shown up in several movies where her improv skills have been a highlight, (The Hangover Part III, This is 40) in The Heat she lets her ad-libs get the better of her and the result is akin to the feeling of being at a bad sketch comedy show where the performer can’t right her sinking, laughless ship.  Her early scenes are so achingly bad and long that I half wondered if Judd Apatow didn’t direct the film instead of Paul Feig.

Worse is Bullock, so out of her element that she’d need a map to find her way into a joke and a compass to get herself out of it.  I like Bullock and probably appreciate her dramatic turns more than anything lately (I’m very much looking forward to Gravity, arriving later this year) but she does herself no favors here, resisting the wise idea to simply play her Special Agent as the straight (wo)man to McCarthy’s foul-mouthed Boston cop.

That’s another thing that bothered me about the film and only goes to show you how many opportunities were missed in the quick shooting schedule.  Though McCarthy is supposedly a dyed-in-the-wool Bostonian with a comically stereotypically family, there’s not a hint of an accent on her.  So at a dinner scene where her family (including the woefully underused Jane Curtain) is laying the accent on thick, when McCarthy chimes in she sounds like a visitor from Idaho.

The less said about the supporting cast, the better with not one person coming close to anything resembling a committed performance.  That’s largely due to the bi-polar script that feels as if it was either entirely made up or written scene-by-scene by different local comedians.  Did no one read, really read, this script?  It’s so formulaic and obvious that you could watch the first five minutes of the film and probably write verbatim the denouement of the bad guy and also the final scene between McCarthy and Bullock.

The few bright spots in the movie come from McCarthy…because even firing blanks she occasionally hits her target when the movie allows her to infuse the character with a little sensitivity and heart.  That’s where McCarthy really gets to shine and come alive…when she’s shown as vulnerable and layered.  Bridesmaids was smart in that it allowed this element to come out naturally but in The Heat it’s forced out in a way that’s no lasting fun for anyone.

There’s talk of The Heat 2 being fast tracked by the studio and if that’s the case, I fear what may await us.  I can only hope that any further adventures involving McCarthy and Bullock are better crafted than the cheap looking mess masquerading as a summer blockbuster.  Both actresses are better than this…you know it, I know it, and (worst of all) they know it.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gravity

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gravity

Synopsis: Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting alone in space.

Release Date:  October 4, 2013

Thoughts: As is proven by my enthusiastic reviews for Prometheus and Oblivion, I love a good space flick so I’ve had Gravity on my radar for some time.  Originally meant to star Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr., director Alfonso Cuarón’s 3D space thriller signed Oscar winners Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and George Clooney (The Descendants) to suit up in their place.  Though this type of film is arguably outside Bullock’s comfort zone, I’m anticipating good things from her when paired with Clooney.  This will be a curious film for most people with only the two leads on screen for the entire film – but this trailer is an impressive whetting of our whistle until we can see the finished product in October.