IR Film Review: BAD BOYS FOR LIFE [Sony]

The relevance of making a sequel revels in the notion of what it brings to the table and its identity. When Joe Carnahan was first thought to be doing the film as a director, there was a jump since, having talked and known Joe early in his career,  it was known he would bring a grittiness but also the texture of Michael Bay in a way as know in SMOKIN’ ACES for example but also NARC. He split with the project over creative differences which is interesting to perceive since he still has some story and screenplay credit on the final film. The themes he likes are there but the familial structure and drama is definitely his. The comedy seems to be more mainstream in the final product which is with two Morrocan co-directors. There is an interesting baseline of what this film is and what it could have been. I did the interviews for BAD BOYS II in 2003 with Bay at the height of his intentions which is great because BAD BOYS I and II were about that and that slickness which carried in a certain way to the darker MIAMI VICE a couple years later. While the aspect of growing older in this installment provides the background, it tends to jump all over the place without being as cinematic as it could have been. Granted all in all, it is still fun but it doesn’t feel like as much of a BAD BOYS movie but a very good TV version of it with some odes to what came before.

Granted, it is based in the fact of did a sequel need to be made. The last film adequately set up the cool, riding into the sunset element like to be very honest, LAST CRUSADE did for Indiana Jones which made CRYSTAL SKULL a let down. The laughs are still there, Smith and Lawrence do their jobs well but they do lumber more, especially Lawrence but that is the point of the story. Smith understands this and is smart about it. What is also glaring, but more of a nitpick, is that one can tell that much of the film is not shot in Miami. Certain spots are for sure but the taking advantage of Georgia tax credits definitely played into this, which is disappointing for a Miami native. The AMMO crew, which is the new addition to this play has its textures and actually does ode this a little more to MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, which is likely what Smith as a producer, saw.

The eventual build up and essence of reveal is alright but the logic, which wasn’t such a big thing back in the 90s but is now, makes certain leaps in logic and logistics glaring. BAD BOYS FOR LIFE may have more depth than its past two outings but it lost something along the way. Despite Michael Bay’s overreaching style it does create a certain texture and when the chemistry of the actors is focused (as it has been for the most part saved for TRANSFORMERS) it works as well. The spark is still here but it is not the same.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: STAR WARS – EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER [Lucasfilm/Disney]

Following any divergence such as was “The Last Jedi” there can be a sense of reckoning. In the first “Star Wars” trilogy not overseen by one person (i.e. Lucas) there is bound to be conflict of conception. Colin Trevorrow was originally supposed to do this segmentation and obvious a wisp of his story structure remains. But as Adam Driver alluded, this path was always the correct one and the point discussed from the beginning. The film here feels right. It is the best made of this trilogy of films mating some of the basic risks that Abrams might have avoided with “Force Awakens” which felt infinitely too safe but also keying into aspects of what fans would like to see.

“The Rise Of Skywalker” is dense and moving. And yet there are holes. Now granted in most movies of this scale, there is a certain level of disbelief allowed. But this is Star Wars. The reality is director JJ Abrams had a shorter time to make this, close up as many loose ends as he could and keep the release date Disney set. He did. And to make the film as entertaining as it is with some specific moments that needed to work while integrating Leia and giving a sense of closure, this one feels more steady.

Rian Johnson’s previous film which had a couple spots which were brilliant also drifted too much into the metaphors and politics, which of course is part of it but also what bogged down many elements of the prequel trilogy. There is no exact formula with these movies that make them work no matter what. These films are a huge undertaking. “Empire Strikes Back” didn’t look effortless. There are clunky elements in that too but time is the true test. The issue here is that you see the work but the bridges made to get there don’t have time to breathe and have a lack of connection. The dichotomy of what everybody feels and how they display it is very anachronistic almost making it seemed forced. Daisy Ridley as Rey is a perfect vessel but she always seems too pained though her voyage is not meant to be easy. When you see joy in her, it is mired in sadness which is part of the structure. The intention is there but it is all about plot. Rey wants to find balance. Every act she commits is towards this. But impulse is her enemy which is the entire progression. But balance is the key word.

In keeping the main three stars together most of the time in this installment, it creates a better dynamic considering how different all of them are. This is why the original film worked between Han, Luke & Leia. Chewie had a better part then. Here even that character is used more in the vein of nostalgia but Abrams uses that as much as he can. Poe as a character is still underdeveloped. He was never supposed to be a Han Solo and yet there is never a sense that he nor Finn is a general per se. They still have the same fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants mantra but their stakes never feel fully realized. “The Last Jedi” was better at doing this and for inherent iconic image. But again didn’t move like this. No Canto Bright to bog the trajectory down.

Adam Driver, comparatively as a character, is truly the only one that comes close to full realization as Kylo Ren but again his character needs to serve the plot as well. One scene in particular really makes it sing and it was inherent that it need to happen, despite it being more of a metaphor per se. But inherently that is what Star Wars is about. Without giving away spoilers, this scene offers the perspective which makes everything acceptable. Star Wars was and is about archetypes. The path could only truly be one way. The ideal it comes back to is that this is entertainment and the film thrills. Case closed.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: CATS [Universal]

Musicals are a bit of an odd cat. Initially perceived on a stage, perspective is the inherent necessary component in adapting for the screen. The best in this reviewer’s estimation is when it never diverges from song but to balance this you need both great actors and singers. This is why nearly 25 years later, “Evita” as an adaptation that still ranks among the best as well as something like “Oliver.” With the new addition of “Cats”, it continues a progression of adaptations like “Nine” which didn’t necessarily need to be made. Even with Universal’s “Mamma Mia” and its vastly superior sequel “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”, there was a balance of tone that needed to be found. That is not the case here but again, that was the essence of the musical as well.

“Cats” wants to be and about something but it just doesn’t know what. Like many of Universal’s films in the past it is a big swing that inherently doesn’t work save for some inspired moments. The music itself, unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom Of The Opera,” is more 70s synth inspired so it is not classical based but more a perspective of jazz and funk with an element of acid. Certain sequences that one would think would be more intense like Ian McKellan’s older Gus approach feels flat whereas the Skimbleshanks Tap Cat is absolute glee but with intensity, showmanship and barrel roll pace. It is the only scene where Hooper seems to take the film out of the main soundstage and makes it cinematic. That is what the film is missing most of the time but inherently that would be even more expensive. They were trying so hard to make sure the cats effects on the actors look good, they forgot that it is all about the feeling. The film instead is made for the die hard theater goer and not the broader audience base.

The one person beyond that who perhaps knows what the film needs is Judi Dench as Deuteronomy. As a point of contention, she is the most unlikely member of the cast one would think but she gives a sense of whimsy and weight, especially in the final moments. She has a wink in her eye but it is not as glaringly overplayed as say Minnie Driver in “Phantom Of The Opera”. Idris Elba as the villain Macavity per se has the intention but it plays more to a cartoonish representation slinking around with a sense of mischief. The tone, like with the play, can be all over the place as each cat is so different. Like Skimbleshanks, Jason Derulo doing “Rum Tum Tugger” is fantastic in its own way because it is funk personified. In an overall way, many of the bits as well as the slight off-kilter production design reminds this reviewer of “The Wiz”, another slightly misguided adaptation with whimsy and brilliance peppered in but missing something ultimately.

The one undeniable point which was apparent through and through from the trailer and is the most powerful point of the movie was Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella. Her painful and powerful rendition of “Memories” and its eventual progression is heart wrenching. But again, it is its own movie and a minute amount of screen time in the overall construct. It is the rock of the play but that is all that it is. James Corden and Rebel Wilson’s respective vignettes are their own ideals. “Cats” might have worked better as a music video episodic. It is so many things without being one. While the throughline is becoming a Jelicle Cat is very vague, the stream that is supposed to keep it together is Victoria (played by Franscesca Hayward). She is adequate but her performance shows she is overwhelmed by all around her. While this is part of her character make up, a stronger lead would have helped but again one does not want to overwhelm the main stars.

Taylor Swift, also joins the aspect on centerpiece scene involving catnip. She wants to be a vixen at the center of the showstopper but most of the time, she tries so hard that is never comes off as authentic. She is not that vixen and is not a dancer but almost doesn’t try (possibly for fear of looking awkward). She loves cats in general so her inclusion is completely understood and warranted. It also provides the film its new song “Beautiful Ghosts” which Swift wrote with Webber. A good marketing angle for sure.

“Cats” is its own monster in a sometimes off-putting but undeniably unique way. The blend of too much and too little. For example, the inherent way the cats interact with noses and rubbing their heads together is a creative choice as is much of the choreographing but it almost overbearing but not quite so. The musical scitzophrenia is part of the show’s undeniable draw but also the hardest aspect to adapt. In years to come “Cats” will likely gain a following. The talent is diversified and intensive. The direction shows a world but perhaps one racing too much towards the finish line. When it stops for a moment and breathes, it runs the risk of collapsing under its own intentions.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: IFFAM 2019 [Macao, China]

The aspect of a foreign film festival is to provide a perspective of what is both possible and perceivable throughout the world. Within the essence of the 4th iteration of the International Film Festival & Awards Macao (aka IFFAM), the idea is as much about the human experience and its psychological impact as it is about the final result. The films, in their own way, reflect that.

JoJo Rabbit The opening night film while an interesting diatribe in the States is an angled approach for Far Eastern audiences who can be primarily removed in many aspects of Western culture. The story inherently is one of tolerance but the tone is just a little bit off from satire. It believes it is funnier than it is which is to its detriment. If it was played a little more extreme (“Top Secret” [1984] despite its over the top tongue-in-cheek quality understood this much better) it would have much greater impact. The balance of the love story has possibility but never quite makes its connection. Waititi plays Hitler with an aloofness that is not altogether wrong but, at certain points where he could have made some metaphorical points that didn’t necessarily align with history, he misses the mark. The audience would have gone with him on the journey undeniably but it is a lost opportunity. Some of the greatest heart of film comes not from the lead JoJo but from his best friend [Yorki played by Archie Yates] who gets the inevitably of it all right. It is only through him and, in a very specific way, Sam Rockwell as a commander who both has a secret to keep but a brazen nihilistic feeling of his own existence that makes it work. They seem to get it. Granted Rockwell did “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” and he still hit that exactly right. At one point when Rockwell jumps out with his gun and winks at the camera during a battle scene, you get a sense of what the film could be. Scarlett Johansson tries but she should have been allowed to play the comedy much more broadly where she mostly sticks to a certain angle. She has a gift for it and that smile when she shows it belies the kind of heart that is sometimes missing from her roles since many of her characters are in misery.

Buoyancy Misery is a continuing structure in many of the Far East films integrated here. “Buoyancy” knows what it is: a tale of primality through and through. Hope in the lead character is an overrated commodity. The story follows a boy in Cambodia who believes he is made for bigger things. But his naiavte ends up placing him on a Thai fishing ship basically as identured labor where he needs to survive in learning by example. The example unfortunately is undeniably brutal.  One scene involving what is akin to drawn and quartered with boats shows the incessant darkness of the story. But in true form, the weak must become strong and lose a sense of right and wrong to exist in the gray.

Wisdom Tooth The aspect of a better life is sometimes wasted on the eyes of the beholder. Just getting by versus seeing how the better half lives can sometimes be a curse. A sister works at a hotel and is kept happy by the smaller things in a corner of China. Her brother, or the man she believes is her brother, cares for her and life continues in a sense of suspended animation. There are aspects of the underworld and corruption in play but it is portrayed simply in many ways a part of the fabric of life. The lead actress is replete in her details recording things she hears including that which might be against her own best interests. The interests dovetail which is a bit off kilter but undeniably conflictive. Her brother finally makes a connection with a romantic love bathed in a secret and yet the relationship doesn’t play with a sense of protection but jealousy. It is an interesting dynamic but yet played to an awkward level bouyed by a sense of loneliness which creates an interesting dichitomy of drama. The kind of pain she feels (in the scene shown in the photo above) is akin to a wisdom tooth. so close and yet so far away, something that can’t be removed except with excessive pain.

I’m Livin It Like “Wisdom Tooth” before it, the closing night film is replete with people suffering through their own ego but also their inherent situation. Aaron Kwok always tends to show an interest in people on the slight fringe of society who are a result of the circumstances. The title is a reflection of the 24-hour McDonalds-type establishment ability per se to act as a haven or oasis for homeless people, at least in Hong Kong. Kwok plays Bowen who used to be a financial maven until he was convicted of embezzlement. The film doesn’t really expand on the psychological reasoning of his character’s fall from grace but rather his incessant need to redeem himself while doing really nothing to improve his situation. Everyone in the film seemingly has a hang up which continually holds them back yet the story is one of perservance even as every character seems to fall further down the rabbit hole against their own best interests.  Ultimately the movie does pull at the heartstrings in concert with the viewer’s own best instincts. The fact is that the people try so hard and they have talent but life seemingly just is stacked against them. Times are tough and the film doesn’t bely that point but it has resolutes itself with a sense of integrity even in the face of certain tragedy.

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: ZOMBIELAND – DOUBLE TAP [Sony]

The essence of the sequel transition is taking the essence of the original, maintaining it and amping it up. But what most do not tend to understand is that finding that different cadence in between the lines is what truly can make a sequel sing. For the first 2/3rds of “Zombieland: Double Tap”, the film does exactly that. Picking up 10 years after the original, the perspective really works well since most of everyone is slightly different, with the exception of Tennessee played by Woody Harrelson who, at his age, is stuck in his ways. This of course is a running joke of perspective.

From the opening credits set to Metallica on the lawn of the now abandoned White House, the film gets in while understanding how much more seasoned director Ruben Fleischer is having directed “Venom” since then. Fleischer instills a sense of fun while not worrying about too much depth which is, for the most part, welcomed. The actors know these characters enough and they are riffs on their actual personas.

Where the original “Zombieland” keyed into the idea of a theme park, this is more a road movie…not quite in the style of “Mad Max” but more in an amped up version of say “Road Trip”. But as indicated it is just in the final moments, which are not bad, that it loses a bit of steam with the ending not being as bad ass as the second act.

This intention is mostly due to Rosario Dawson who always amps up the heart but also the coolness whenever she is on screen. She lifted “Clerks 2” as an example undeniably but what she does her is provide a much needed foil to Woody’s character who is too slick (and too seasoned) to really play in that sandbox. Not to say Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg are not very good, they just tend to play in their own playground as well. Neither element is necessarily better yet there is such an ease to the comedy and would-be romance between Dawson and Harrelson despite whatever happens. To be honest, there is more chemistry here than that upon first glance with Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in “Natural Born Killers”. Now granted this is a comedy per but NBK was a satire as well yet one that bathed more in its own style.

Eisenberg is, as always, a variation on the nerd/hero archetype but that is turned on its head a little but with the arrival of Luke Wilson and his sidekick which looks a little too similar to someone else. This gag works very well and leads into the best executed sequence both in tone and in action.

The unsung comedy gem on the piece is Zoey Deutch as Madison who plays a girl who survived the zombies in a mall by sleeping in a refrigerator. The irony of her could have been played up much more but as is played gives the elevation of pure insanity that the film revels in.

“Zombieland: Double Tap” progresses along with a sense of style under the nature of the smorgasboard progresses. It transforms perhaps in a sense of wantonness to satire in the essence of a place of sanctuary which almost necessarily needs to be turned inside out. The film is nothing if not egregiously cheeky but in its own special way, understands its reason for being, though slight and yet undeniably enjoyable. Although it ends slightly less edgy than it begins, “Double Tap” uses it strengths to push through.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: MALEFICENT – MISTRESS OF EVIL [Disney]

The essence of what evil complies to in modern times sometimes directly involves correlation to way of life but also what it means to rule and protect. While the sequel “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” addresses this idea, it does so almost in a superficial way, both to appeal to wide audiences, have a distinctive female empowerment theme but also to build the texture of the Maleficent myth without really changing. The weird irony bakes in the idea of conventional happiness. The idea here revolves around what Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) actually wants. She wants to fall in love but must understand as Queen Of The Moors, she has a responsibility to protect them. She seems concerned but there is never any dire loss on her part that feels at all real. At one point, the possibility could verge on a sort of genocide but it is glossed over in a way, albeit this has to be cohesive for all audiences from the Disney perspective.

Angelina Jolie is radiant as Maleficent but most of the time it is very hard for her to emote from behind the altered make up and the contact lenses. There is so much more possibility and as the film progresses her, as expected, through a sense of rage. You can see the sadness in the character but it is never inexplicably brought out, which is not Jolie’s fault, it is the nature of the character. Maleficent, as a character, is undeniably defensive and hot headed which may cause her to act out of terms of fear when she has all the power. Like Captain Marvel, it at times can be hard to root for a character who almost cannot lose. That is why part of the progression here works but doesn’t take it to the nth degree possible.

The other side of the coin is brought the Queen character as played by Michelle Pfieffer. This is the most brazen character she has played in years but despite some deliciousness that brings to mind “Batman Returns”, it is not nuanced enough or motivated with enough concrete factors. This is likely not Pfieffer’s fault but an overall problem in terms perhaps of direction and a light script built to showcase effects. Something like Endgame or even Alice In Wonderland can pull at the heartstrings. That effort is surprisingly empty here. There is no sense of loss or bewilderment. The CG actually takes away when the base story is solid enough but become periphery when it is trying to handle too much else. Pfieffer’s character says she acts the way she does for the good of the kingdom but many times it simply comes off as vengeful and not strategic. If the standard sets true to do an action for the love of family, her motivations simply becomes a selfish act, and it belies any important value is under it.

As the lead per se in Elle Fanning, the diversity that she showed in something like “The Neon Demon”( granted this movie is utterly different and 180 tone) is missing here. Again this might be more just a script or direction problem but the essence of a Disney princess in the modern times is to be reflective both of old and new. And while Aurora voices her displeasure at conforming to norms, she easily leaves her people which is something Maleficent also does so the progression of thought seems a bit skewed.

There is also a subplot about Maleficent’s kind and her place in their mythology. This plays nice and well but is more set up to be the flash point of a later plot specific device. Chiwetel Ejiofor in a sense is the only character both on the Moor and human side who relays the texture of what is being fought for. He, likely on purpose, tries to underplay it. Jolie, at times, tries to play back but it is hard within the make up. The most telling of all the scenes is when Maleficent is alone and vulnerable not knowing what she is without the regal robes. Jolie’s styled black hair looks more like a siren hanging off of Elfin ears and it really gives a distinct different impression and a different view into the character. However, this is short lived.

Ultimately, “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” is keying into a powerful IP but also trying to keep itself within a certain confine of plot structure, effects, pliability and other textures without either offending or going too dark in worry of losing the audience. What ends up happening is characters in a fantastical world who are not quite archetypal but are also not fully fleshed out to the potential of their possible luminosity and dimension.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: FRACTURED [Netflix]

The idea of what memory constitutes or the idea of trauma reflects in the psychology of a person and their experiences. This is the basis of “Fractured”. The beauty is some of the Netflix original films, whether acquired or not, is that they explore sometimes more character driven pieces that are based in a simple genre structures that don’t need a lot of set pieces but definitely reflect in production value and a proven actor. Sam Worthington, undeniably known as the lead in “Avatar” and its upcoming sequels, has leaned into these types of psychological genre thrillers on Netflix and found a nice niche in well written and well directed tomes that might have ended up with no distribution simply because they exist in the mid-range.

Directed by Brad Anderson, who made a more bleak but similar “Session 9” with David Caruso many years ago, the film “Fractured” exists in a realm of misperception where Worthington’s lead character arrives with his wife and daughter after an accident. However, after said wife and daughter are taken back for a CAT scan, they seemingly disappear. Worthington has always had a knack of playing paranoia as his film “Man On A Ledge” interpreted. “Fractured” at times plays more like a Hitchcock film or a “Twilight Zone” episode with a little less dread. The threads are fairly easy to follow and the violence not too overwhelming which makes for an interesting evening watch that is not too overcome by any ideals that it is trying to present.

The minimal locations and barrenness of the tundra that they are traveling across is completely reflective of the character’s mindset. The story is disjointed on purpose but the structural reflexivity does make the story move without bogging it down in too many mechanics. “Fractured” is a tight little genre thriller with understated performances but a steady idea of what it is and what it is trying to accomplish.

B

By Tim Wassberg