Category Archives: Todd’s Movie Reviews

Throwback Review: Poseidon

We’re gonna need a more interesting boat. That was basically the constant thought running through my mind while watching 2006’s Poseidon, the big-budget loose remake of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. I never saw it when it was released a dozen years ago. Neither did plenty of other moviegoers as this proved to be a costly flop for Warner Bros. I understand why.

The remake comes from Wolfgang Petersen, maker of far more successful action entries like Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, and Troy. With Storm and his 1981 acclaimed feature Das Boot, he’s a filmmaker who’s charted unstable waters before. Poseidon takes place on a luxury cruise liner on New Years Eve. The singing of “Auld Lang Syne” and midnight smooching is a short-lived celebration because a nasty wave capsizes the ship.

Sadly, there’s not many interesting characters around the disaster. Pro poker player Dylan (Josh Lucas) is a former Navy man who assumes the action hero role. He’s overshadowed by former New York City Mayor Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell). This is because Russell is a far more engaging performer and we’ve grown accustomed to seeing him in these precarious situations. He escapes relatively unscathed. Ramsey has his daughter (Emmy Rossum) and boyfriend (Mike Vogel) with him. They have a perfunctory subplot about getting engaged with Rossum essentially in the same role she played in The Day After Tomorrow. Jacinda Barrett is a single mom with a young son among the survivors. Kevin Dillon is a sleazy gambler whose fate seems certain upon meeting him. And there’s Richard Dreyfuss, whose character apparently has suicidal tendencies that are rapidly forgotten within the first fifteen minutes. His character is indicative of the script’s laziness. It begins to give him a back story and then develops amnesia.

None of this would matter as much if the special effects carried the day. And Poseidon has its moments of visual splendor, but not enough to lift its quality above water. Even the 98 minute running time suggests its team might’ve known they didn’t have much to work with. This is one hour of an uninteresting group trying to get off the sinking boat. You’re better off never boarding.

 

Creed II Movie Review

When a little underdog of a movie named Rocky came out 42 years ago, a litany of Roman numeral titled sequels wasn’t foreseeable. Fantastic box office returns and a surprising Best Picture Oscar win changed that dynamic. 1979’s Rocky II was eagerly awaited and served as nothing much more than a retread of its predecessor. It was a dull copy at that where the main difference was its hero Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) besting rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

Creed came out in 2015 and it had underdog status itself. The concept of shifting the focus to Apollo’s illegitimate son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) and his prowess in the ring seemed a little lame upon its announcement. However, like Rocky, the picture exceeded expectations with energetic direction from Ryan Coogler, fine work from Jordan, and an emotional storyline with Rocky’s cancer diagnosis. Stallone was even nominated again for an Academy Award.

Financial success has brought those Greek digits back. Creed II has a deeper well to drain from as far as plot compared to Rocky II because of the further follow-ups. Coogler isn’t behind the camera anymore as he took on the phenomenon that was Black Panther. Steven Caple Jr. takes over the reins while Stallone shares script credit (something he didn’t do three years ago).

1985’s Rocky IV is the entry that the second Creed taps for material. As you’ll recall, this was the saga where Balboa fought fierce Russian competitor Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) while seemingly punching out Communism too. Part four was cheesy, very much of its time, and highly enjoyable. It’s also the one where Drago delivered a fatal blow to Apollo after the energetic “Living in America” performance of James Brown.

Adonis gets an opportunity to avenge his father here. Drago’s son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) is an up-and-comer with his sights on the now heavyweight champion. His pops Ivan sees it as revenge after mother Russia shunned him following his loss to Balboa. The daddy issues don’t end there. Creed is now engaged to singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and she’s expecting. Rocky is estranged from his son as Adonis often fills that void.

The Italian Stallion isn’t thrilled with the prospect of Creed/Drago II, considering Apollo died in his arms. And we know that training montages will keep the drama unfolding. We don’t have a Xerox like situation with this sequel. It does follow the path of #4 in numerous ways, including a Soviet set main event.

Ivan Drago was a man of few words in ‘85 and he still is. His back story of abandonment from his wife (Brigitte Nielsen, who cameos) and countrymen has the potential to be compelling, but it’s given the short shrift. Jordan is still excellent in the title role, as is his chemistry with Thompson. Stallone’s character arch here is considerably less captivating than the last time around. This franchise is shifting away from him to Adonis and you feel it.

Like Creed, the ring action is more realistic than anything in the Rocky tales, where punches landed with a percentage of around 110%. Caple Jr. does decent work filming them, though not to the level of what Coogler accomplished.

Creed II is a superior direct sequel than Rocky II. The common thread is that neither are particularly memorable or necessary. To add to the clichés that permeate this series (sometimes in supreme guilty pleasure ways), it’s not a knockout. If you’re a true fan, though, it certainly won’t break you.

**1/2 (out of four)

Crazy Rich Asians Movie Review

Crazy Rich Asians is a vibrant and colorful romantic comedy that’s fairly conventional in its genre trappings at times. However, it isn’t so traditional with the world it explores or with the faces populating the love story. It serves as a lovely advertisement for visiting Singapore – albeit with some locales that might require deep pockets to see. This works best by having the most important ingredient in that there’s legit chemistry between the two leads.

That would be Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor in New York City and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). They seem to be living a nice life in the Big Apple when she accepts his invitation to accompany him to Singapore for a wedding. Rachel figures out soon that his family isn’t just wealthy, but they’re basically the Kennedy’s of their country. Or in some ways they’re the Kardashian’s, with plenty of Young’s living that kind of excessively lavish lifestyle.

This isn’t necessarily a Cinderella trajectory Rachel finds herself on. Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) quickly decides she isn’t good enough for her beloved son. And there’s plenty of other women around who are jealous of her nabbing the nation’s hottest bachelor, who’s expected to move back home and take over the family business.

Based on a bestseller from Kevin Kwan and directed with energy by Jon M. Chu, Asians shows us a culture rarely seen in an American produced studio effort. In that way, it’s fair to make comparisons with 2002’s unexpected smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This also takes some time to show the culinary delights of the land, as well as gorgeous visual ones.

Similar to plenty of complicated love stories, there are elements of classism at the forefront. One subplot involves a cousin (Gemma Chan), a kindly socialite who’s “married under” what her elders anticipated. Her marriage serves as a preview for the problems that may lie ahead for Rachel and Nick.

Crazy Rich Asians gets a lot of mileage out of its far off destination. Wu and Golding make it gel. I expect both to get their own mileage career wise from their solid performances here. Yeoh, who stateside audiences know best for 007 flick Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is strong in a tricky part. She’s a bit of a villain with genuine intentions. The screenplay and her performance make it work. Rapper Awkwafina gets the zany best friend role to Rachel and does have some amusing moments.

The dazzling sights of Singapore are joyous to behold, but this is worth watching for the reason many in this genre are. I liked Rachel and Nick a lot and wanted to see them make it through the time-tested rom com challenges that come their way.

*** (out of four)

The Meg Movie Review

There’s not a whole lot to add to the finned villain genre some 43 years after Jaws, but The Meg tries to do so in the form of size. The title refers to a megalodon. That’s a creature long thought to be extinct. It’s so big that it can eat normal sharks as a light snack. Size matters in this movie. We actually have two gargantuan megs that a crew must contend with. The human group of potential chum is led by Jason Statham, his massive biceps, and that voice that sounds as if he gargles gravel.

Statham plays Jonas and he’s still reeling from an incident five years ago in which he lost a group of sailors on a submarine. Jonas is convinced that an unknown and large ocean dweller caused that tragedy. As a side note, it’s interesting that the screenplay portrays him as despondent over that loss. Other characters later on seem to develop a process of rapid grieving for people they actually know.

Yet we don’t watch these pictures for lessons on dealing with death. We watch to see inventive ways for it to happen. Jonas is lured back into the water when his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) and her mates are trapped deep underwater with that big fish lurking. She’s an employee of Mana One, a cool looking research facility looking for new species. The corporation is headed by an eccentric (is there any other kind?) billionaire played by Rainn Wilson. Li Bingbing is an oceanographer with a precocious young daughter who also serves as Jonas’s immediate love interest. Recognizable faces like Cliff Curtis and Ruby Rose are also along for the ride.

The Meg never quite develops a satisfying identity. The PG-13 rating eliminates the opportunity for gory delights. There’s winking humor and even some of it lands. And there’s also dramatic moments that seem to want to be taken seriously. It spills its creative guts early on and essentially repeats itself. A third act that finally lets the monster expose himself to the beach going masses feels truncated.

Statham throws himself into the role and it’s admirable. We do see a couple of man vs. beast exchanges that I hadn’t seen before. However, this doesn’t rise to the level of genuine guilty pleasure or generate enough suspense, humor, or horror. They’re too infrequent to completely excuse the sizable gaps of mediocrity.

** (out of four)

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Review

Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody hits many familiar notes and plot points as it explores the great showman that was Freddie Mercury and his iconic band Queen. There’s strain in his family – his actual one and the one that consists of his band mates. There’s the rise to fame and corruption of it. We have relationships strained to the point of apparent breakdown before reconciliation. Truth be told, many of these story arcs are so well-worn that you may feel you already know the words to them in the screenplay before they’re spoken.

However, it manages to succeed in a couple of meaningful ways. More than most music biopics, Rhapsody often captures the sheer magic that was Mercury. In the performance of Rami Malek, we have more than a fine impersonation (with the assistance of fake teeth). His work here captures the magnetism that Queen’s front man had. Additionally, the film builds its tale around their music that culminates in a Live Aid set that plays like a phoenix rising through the ashes.

We first meet the awkward looking Freddie handling luggage at Heathrow in London. He’s shy to a point, but also brimming with confidence in his vocal abilities as he rightly should. Freddie takes advantage of a lead singer opening in the band Smile and dubs it Queen. The rest, as they say, is history.

Regarding that history, Rhapsody has taken its licks for alternating some of the band’s timeline and events. It’s fair criticism, but the aim here is more of a celebration of the tracks that Mercury, Brian Ferry (Gwilym Lee, who nails the guitarist’s look and stance), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) create. Segments are featured around the title track, “We Will Rock You”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. Freddie’s relationship with Mary (Lucy Boynton) is chronicled through the creation of “Love of My Life”. She’s his one-time fiancee who realizes his homosexuality perhaps before he does. Yet their bond is stronger than the physical.

The screenplay from Anthony McCarten also delves into the group’s business dealings. There’s a cheeky scene about the release of “Rhapsody” that allows Mike Myers (as a very 1970s looking record exec) to reference his famous head banging scene in Wayne’s World. We see the hangers-on that nearly deep six the band. Contrary to early reports, we do glimpse Freddie’s promiscuity and substance abuse and eventual AIDS diagnosis.

It’s not the movie’s nature to go too far down that rabbit hole. If you are expecting that, you may walk away disappointed. I walked away impressed by its achievement in capturing what made Freddie and his musical family so special. I didn’t walk away sensing any of the well-publicized behind the scenes drama that resulted in director Singer being replaced well into the shooting schedule by Dexter Fletcher. And I certainly left marveling at Malek’s commitment in bringing Freddie to the screen, with the loud and gorgeous sounds of his live performance in front of a billion plus people ringing in my ears.

*** (out of four)

You Were Never Really Here Movie Review

When You Were Never Really Here ends, you may think you just witnessed a lot more gory violence than you actually did. That’s because the character of Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) lives in a universe drenched in depravity. Lynne Ramsay’s latest feature wallows in that world in the same way some of Paul Schrader’s directorial and written works do. Like Taxi Driver, we witness a Big Apple underground that is rotten to the core. Joe even has a nagging dental issue like Nick Nolte did in Affliction. This is not to suggest Ramsay is a knock off artist. Far from it. She’s a talent that saturates this with sadistic style, even if it ultimately lacks in substance. I couldn’t quite escape a feeling that this is Taken for the art house crowd, but it’s well done.

Joe is a former solider who served in Iraq and in the FBI. Quick flashbacks reveal the horrors he’s seen not only there, but in a troubled childhood. He now works in the shadows as a blunt force for hire who rescues trafficked girls. When not on assignment, he cares for his sickly mother (Judith Richards). A state senator (Alex Manette) utilizes his services to track down his young teen daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov).

This latest job leads to some revelations about the individuals behind the abduction. However, the film’s plot is less of a focus than Joe’s mental state while keeping up with it. The traumas of what’s to come have to compete with his stress disorders of prior ones. In a career filled with fine performances, Phoenix impresses again. With his unkept beard and near Terminator like concentration on inflicting pain on some real bad guys, he’s hard to turn away from. That’s even when the cruelty (both seen and implied) is occurring.

The picture is lean (clocking in at an hour and a half) and filled with mean spirits. It’s a credit to the lead actor, Ramsey’s filmmaking abilities, and an ace score by Jonny Greenwood that we stay with it.

*** (out of four)

BlacKkKlansman Movie Review

Spike Lee mixes laughter with anger in the truth is stranger than fiction tale BlacKkKlansman. While it takes some liberties with historical accuracies (set seven years earlier than when its events actually transpired), there’s no mistaking Lee’s connecting of the then with the now. He’s not a subtle filmmaker and this finds him in his feisty and stylish element.

It’s 1972 and we know that from the strategically placed Nixon re-election signs. There’s also discussions on who’s a better movie hero – Superfly or Shaft? Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is a rookie cop hired as the first black officer in Colorado Springs. His superiors assign him to go undercover at a civil rights rally to monitor behavior. That leads Stallworth requesting a more unconventional operation, especially for the era. He wishes to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, a group whose actions are more worthy of keeping tabs on. The color of his skin obviously presents a challenge. So while he establishes a relationship with Klansmen over the phone, it’s fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who joins them.

The main characters of the local Klan organization are the untrusting Felix (Jasper Paakkonen), the too trusting Walter (Ryan Eggold), and trusted to be always drunk Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser). Stallworth’s telephone skills eventually put him in touch with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). It so happens that the Klan’s targets could involve Stallworth’s love interest Patrice (Laura Harrier), the president of the black student union.

BlacKkKlansman is a police procedural for much of its running time with numerous excursions in grander issues. There’s a wonderfully edited sequence going back and forth between two very different rallies discussing the same subject – D.W. Griffith’s incendiary 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation. While this is set 46 years ago, the screenplay explores that time over 100 years ago in riveting fashion. It also touches on the present day in Charlottesville with fierce urgency.

There are times when Lee is saying that little has really changed. Washington (whose voice in particular resembles his father Denzel’s) shows himself to be a promising performer. Some of the biggest laughs come from his phone banter with the clueless Duke. Driver’s character has perhaps the most interesting story arc. He’s a non-practicing Jew who’s at first ambivalent about his assignment. His disgust with the people he’s infiltrated with soon matches that of Stallworth. The romance with Patrice is a bit underwritten, but it’s a minor quibble.

Tonal shifts are abundant here. It serves less as a distraction than a message that humor can be found through the pain of racism and the characters who display it. The images of Charlottesville also show both rallies in that event and it’s a heart wrenching scene. BlacKkKlansman, through light and dark moments, is a stark reminder of our past and present that is Lee’s own rallying cry.

***1/2 (out of four)