IR Film Review: SHAZAM [Warner Brothers]

The texture of a movie like “Shazam” is to find the balance of tone that creates an interesting diametric and dynamic. Overall in actuality, the movie is a mixed bag with enough energy and might to make it entertaining but with not enough originality to make it transformative. There is a no awesome “ah-ha” moment and, in many points, it devolves into simple fanboy structure without a necessity for logic. Now granted when these are functioning as montages with 80s songs, it can connect. But in comparison to say “Guardians Of The Galaxy”, there is no heart. The intention at the focus of the story about family should feel more connected and meaningingful. The director and star Zachary Levi are certainly trying but you almost see too much of their effort on screen which means it wasn’t inherently natural. Levi is very earnest…maybe too much so though he does convey the awkwardness of Billy Batson very well. The construct of the conflict itself is basic…and perhaps it needs to be but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels at many points unfulfilling.

The actual introduction to the movie which introduces another character has much more breathe of thought but that too is wasted in that character’s development. Mark Strong’s role as an adversary comes off as hollow. It could have been a deep seated regret and texture of family that really would have given the film more texture. Many aspects in this regard seem unfinished. “Shazam” is not a bad film…it just seems very incomplete. And again the aspect of heart and tone within DC, even the standalone films which worked to a good degree in “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” doesn’t connect here. Sometimes, the film goes very dark in places without that balance…and, as a result, feels empty. Even the final sequences which should reflect a culmination seems almost haphazard. But as a takeback, it is great to see a superhero movie like this made since “Shazam” is the most likable superhero at times but seeing these flaws on screen instead of that perfect role model shows that we are all fallible.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

Advertisements

IR Film Review: CAPTAIN MARVEL [Marvel/Disney]

Considered the pinnacle of power in some ways in the Marvel universe, Captain Marvel’s perception reached a fever pitch after the ending of “Infinity War” because of the intention that Carol Danvers is the savior that will save the wiping off on the universe that Thanos did. After watching the progression but especially in the final minutes per se, one sees how the reversal of fortune could possibly work. The only issue is that, in all fairness, it is very hard to follow up the emotional and textural wallop that was “Infinity War” which worked very much on all levels. Captain Marvel seems at times almost cartoonish comparatively. Granted it is an origin story but throughout much of the film’s first half it feels esoteric in many ways and meandering in others. While the two directors (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck), who have made many indie films together, seem to handle the action quite well, it again feels at times too cartoonish and melding aspects of one corner of the Marvel Universe with “Guardians” and the other side with “Avengers” without really existing in most. The de-aging of Sam Jackson makes him almost the sidekick here which is interesting playing back to that mid-90s vibe allowing him for some great comic bits.

Brie Larson is trying her best and her workout regiment obviously shows that she is up for the task but the tone related (also because some of the dialogue is quite stilted) makes the staccato of the acting seem monotone in a way. It be seen very primarily in the scenes between her and Annette Bening which even in her brief elements, makes the acting look flawless and effortless. The tonality also of Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos, without giving anything away, has some balance but the focus is a bit off, which again might be directing. Little technical elements of 1990s Los Angeles also don’t fit but is a small detail in the bigger picture (i.e. the light rails as well as an underground tunnel in Union Station). Finally the aspect of Jude Law’s character although key to the story feels empty and again stilted at times compared to the effortlessness of Dumbledore in “Crimes Of Grindewald” just a few months ago. The resolution pushes the story forward of course and the texture of 90s songs both works and doesn’t because unlike the mix tape of “Guardians” it is not integral to the story as far as meaning. “Captain Marvel” bridges the gap but doesn’t necessarily do it fantastically, only adequately.

C

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON – THE HIDDEN WORLD [Dreamworks Animation/Universal]

The texture of a trilogy is always based in a texture of resolution and giving perspective on how the characters have grown. “How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” starts off a bit as what we have seen before which is the structure of saving the dragons with Toothless, a Night Fury being able to control his fellow reptiles. The transgression of the movie, without giving too much away, involves the essence of change and what method of acceptance allows all the characters to move forward. Hiccup, as the unlikely hero of his community of Vikings, suffers from the aspect that his identity is defined by Toothless and not what he possibly can become. Even though Astrid is by his side he doesn’t trust his instincts and unfortunately, at times, his would-be princess is used in a more conventional way to push forward the story. Like Hiccup, Toothless suffers in a similar way when a Light Fury under the guise of another agenda (not of her own doing) lures Toothless away. All this is done without malice which is a nice structure but leads back to the themes of identity and loyalty eventually as Hiccup and Astrid make their to the Hidden World. Without revealing the spoilers, the films relates this essence of existing and growing up in a sensible, emotional and literal way without creating too much of an overwrought scenario making it both palpable for the younger viewers (through the pratfalls and comedic awkwardness of both Hiccup and Toothless) while still maintaining a mythic story structure and progression to satisfy many adult expectations.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: ALITA – BATTLE ANGEL [20th Century Fox]

The mixture of James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez definitely has a great angle to it. “Alita: Battle Angel” was a title heard years ago and moved around as myth actually for a time. Harrison Ford was attached per se at one point. This story of stories that Cameron had developed for years actually was something Rodriguez told Inside Reel in a Fest Track interview at SxSW in March 2018. Reading the first 3 volumes before talking with producer Jon Landau as well as leads Rosa Salazar & Keaan Johnson in Austin (see their Fest Track interview here), gave a good perception of the structure but what is one to say between an anime/graphic novel that was written many years ago versus the ideals of the actual script (which having been co-written by James Cameron definitely should retain his story sense). What “Alita: Battle Angel” does very well is keep itself focused. The one true balance that stays pretty crisp and clear throughout the film is Rosa Salazar as Alita. Many may think that it is simply a computer performance but that could not put the sense of innocence, anger and breathe in what is seen here. Granted it is not Andy Serkis but who can compete on that level. What Rosa brings is a soul to this girl who was originally built as a killing machine. Salazar has been missing in part from many of the media rounds per se (in large part) but that might be better so the character simply exists on her own. Rodriguez’s touch is here for sure but it is sometimes lost in the bigger sequences. Oddly enough, this reviewer kept seeing “Speed Racer” in the race sequences per se. They are good but at a certain point are more video game oriented.

The character build even though it takes a while in the beginning does the film correctly but there is no “a-ha” moment. The scene though where Alita first tries her new body with fighting moves shows a path to identity and the sequence inside a bar (a very visceral scene in the graphic novel) definitely comes to life. The reason why is that all the characters in there are so unique. It makes one think of “From Dusk Till Dawn”. What seems to be missing is some of Robert’s camera tricks and stylistic touches although to be fair Rodriguez did mention in that same interview that this was not him doing a Robert Rodriguez film but instead doing a Jim Cameron film. So in that respect it does work, the script is tight, the visuals are fluid and it does its job. It is fun to watch but it is not spectacular. There is never quite a moment where Alita becomes the chosen one or that her love against her own life will ring out. One scene inside the apartment of Hugo (played by Johnson) comes close and really makes the CG of Rosa as a cyborg really key into the story. The climax, like most, has to serve a story point and that is understandable. Christoph Waltz does an admirable job as the Doc and Jennifer Connelly & Mahershala Ali do their part within the structure but Ed Skrein as a competitor is the only one who brings an edge to the proceedings. Here is hoping “Alita” connects to the audience because unlike many recent popcorn films, it understands the concept of a beginning, middle and end within a true story arc. But it is in the silent moments, when you can hear the acting, that make the most impact. One simple act of Alita laying her head on her father’s shoulder has almost more power than a large action sequence. But that said, one does not exist in the large scale, big budget film without the other.

B

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: SANTA BARBARA INTL FILM FESTIVAL [Santa Barbara, California]

The texture of Santa Barbara in terms of its film festival has transitioned over the years. The essence of genre and the programming has transitioned over the years but keying into the awards season fervor always remains the same but finding the right balance of films for the viewer’s taste is key.

Betrayal (Traición) This story of a woman searching for the texture of who her mother is begins very simply and allegorically before it becomes a metaphor for the essence of being. While the set up is structured more in an idea of action-based life vs. death, its eventual thrust unfolds too slowly. While the progression of what creates her life (out of a whorehouse tryst) almost carries a beholden wistfulness to it despite the surroundings, the inherent solution reveres itself in an idealism of the passing of the baton (maybe with an ode to “Queen Of The South”). However the resolution leaves the intentions and ultimately the struggle of power resolutely inert.

Outstanding Performer Of The Year: Rami Malek No performance has garnered as much respectability or indeed as much fervor as Malek’s turn as the legendary Queen frontman this year. Malek’s journey as indicated in his conversation on stage in nearly as frought in overcoming obstacles as Mercury himself. Though he was born and raised in Sherman Oaks, California, Malek himself is Egyptian, not far from Mercury’s Zanzibar in Tanzania. But it is taking that background and fighting against stereotypes that allowed Mercury to transcend in London and Malek thereby in Hollywood. The turning point, according to his conversation, seemingly happened with HBO’s “The Pacific” where at one point, Steven Spielberg was taping his scene audition across from Joseph Mazzello (who beyond playing John Deacon in “Bohemian Rhapsody” also played the grandson of John Hammond in the first “Jurassic Park”). That series led to other roles including “The Master” (which this reviewer totally forgot he was in). He pushed Paul Thomas Anderson in the audition with Joaquin [Phoenix] there saying “I want this”. His remembrance that there was an essence of acceptance from Phoenix he says spurred him on. “Mr. Robot” of course broke him through into the zeitgeist but it was because he says of show runner Sam Esmail’s prescience on the texture of the hacker. “Bohemian Rhapsody” came to him through that perception. He signed on with producer Graham King as soon as he was asked but then realized he had to deliver. He went to London and connected with a very specific movement coach. The one aspect not addressed was the aspect of Malek singing as Freddie which is one of the big questions since no one could really be able to do that. His texture of the man is undeniable although some story elements have been, to many, skewed a little bit to make the story more palpable for mainstream audiences. This seems to have worked as the film has performed admirably despite “the elephant in the room” as the moderator indicated which Malek finally addressed after being asked directly despite the apparent uncomfortability of the subject for him. This point was in regards to the aspect of ousted director Bryan Singer who has come under fire even more so in recent days for sexual harassment allegations despite the fact that it is his name still on the film and not Dexter Fletcher who completed the final two weeks of shooting. Malek finally did address this subject saying that working with Singer was “not pleasant…at all” and that Singer “was fired”.

Fly By Night This film, also part of the Crime Scenes sidebar (of which “Betrayal” is also part), focuses on small time crime on the outskirt of Kuala Lumpur. The tonal shifts in the scenes are both interesting and disjointed at times. The film starts off as a stylish character piece before moving into family drama before settling on an action hybrid/gangster film. While the strategy of the chess game between the police, the small time crooks and the local mafia interweaves nicely, the secondary plots including a jilted mistress seem to wash by the wayside. A particularly brutal end to a key ransom figurehead seems to simply occur and disappear. While the lead character per se: an egotistical young brother seemingly keeps falling down the same path, it is two adjacent characters. The first is that of the loyal combatant who takes a screwdriver into his own hands at one point. He has the most intensity and breathe of character. By comparison, the local head of the mafia is portrayed with such theatricality that it is hard to look away, even when he brutally goes off the rails. The resolution is finite and true to form but nonetheless solves none of the bigger problems of the plot.

Tell It To The Bees Anna Paquin always has the ability to inhabit and contextualize the aspect of the outsider while always inferring compassion in her performances. While Paquin balances this structure, she always at times can seem to be like she is acting per se thereby making it hard to see her disappear into her roles. Holliday Grainger (whom IR talked to for “Bonnie & Clyde” back in 2013) seems incessantly natural by comparison as the wife/woman scorned who falls into the arms of Paquin’s loving doctor. Granted this tome is set in the 1950s so the gist of the narrative focuses around the social and psychological tensions placed on the couple from the outside. Obviously the most biting satire or sense of understanding comes from the 10 year old child of Grainger’s character who is also dealing with an absentee father who is suffering after the war (but does his best to make everyone else miserable at the same time). The metaphor of the bees is keyed to listening and how to survive suffering. Ultimately the movie is a parable and a cautionary tale bathed with a sense of redemption and hope. Even though it tries a bit too hard, when it is carefree, it understands the balance of life is acceptance. Otherwise. it shows that darkness can consume even inside the impetus of family.

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: IFFAM 2018 [Macao, China]

The texture of a film festival is based on the aspect of identity. The location and breathe of Macao, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of Hong Kong and literally right next to Mainland China gives it an undeniable influence but diversity of ideas which is refreshing. Add into play the aspect of religious history keyed into Catholicism on the roughly 30km territory as well as the Vegas sized (and at times slightly bigger) breath of the casino properties, it creates a unique dynamic. The programming at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao [IFFAM] reflects this sense of dynamic quality in some of the films experienced as well as a masterclass by the undeniable Nicolas Cage.

Masterclass – Nicolas Cage Cage was designated the talent ambassador for the IFFAM this year which makes undeniable sense since he is interestingly poised with a great dynamic lure creatively to this part of the world. While he has not made a full fledged descent into the Asian cinema market (China included), that would seem the most logical next step. He cites “Face Off” as one of his favorite movies to make since he is always seeing how to push the boundaries of naturalism in acting and, by essence, surrealism which he counts director Hong Kong director John Woo as a pinnacle of. It would be great to see Cage and Woo collaborate again. Cage gave many interesting perceptions in his discussion. He talked about advice Martin Sheen gave him when he used to hang out with Charlie Sheen at the Sheen household in Malibu when they were kids. This makes total sense since the elder Sheen made “Apocalypse Now” with Cage’s uncle Francis Ford Coppola. Cage also instills that his approach to naturalism was instilled in him by his aunt Talia Shire (known for her roles in “The Godfather” and “Rocky”). There is also the aspect that he shared regarding that Cher really wanted him for the “Moonstruck” role but he didn’t want to do it interestingly. This was very interesting in its candor. Cage said his agent Ed Limato convinced him that he could do “Vampire’s Kiss” if he did “Moonstruck” and he admits it worked out well. He cites “Vampire” as one of his other favorite movies he has made as well as “Bad Lieutenant – Port Of Call – New Orleans”.

In an unusual approach, Cage spoke about making “Wild At Heart” and that he had found that snakeskin jacket at a thrift store before they filmed. His spot on David Lynch impression saying “Nikky” (also Cher’s nickname for him) really gave ideal credence to the storytelling. Cage spoke about going to the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles as a kid to see James Dean movies (Tarantino now owns and operates the New Beverly). That is where he said he fell in love with movies since he grew up in LA and not San Francisco. He also spoke to his new embrace of VOD where people can see many of his movies now. He says that rather than turn away from it, he has leaned into it since the films that he initially made at the beginning of his career were small independent films and this is the arena you can make those types films now. The studio movies offered him a way to experiment with character structure and development on a grand scale. These new films from “Mandy” to “Mom & Dad” to the upcoming “Prince Of Ghostland” which he says by far will be the most “out there” film he has made yet (he has yet to film it) allows him to push the style of film performance in an age where it is harder to do so in a large film. He credits Jerry Bruckheimer for giving him the ability to experiment but, on those types of films starting with “The Rock, he explained that Bruckheimer told him he could play between the lines as long as it didn’t impact the story beats that needed to be hit. And that is how the Beatles and vinyl loving Stanley Feelgood in that movie came to be. Cage, a long time resident of Las Vegas, did his master class in the grand ballroom at the Wynn Macau which more than nicely gave an undeniable nod to his roots.

Loro This loose biopic of the recent Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi is lurid at times in its approach but distinctly and delightfully schizophrenic in its texture. This festival cut was initially a two part film, the first being from the perspective of a pimp/business operator trying to get to Silvio and then the second from the breakdown of the leader himself and how the two worlds collided. Director Paolo Sorrentino is sometimes known for his visual excess and the first half of the film is like the “Boogie Nights” of the political bribery world. The excess is meant to show the irony but sometimes passes over into self-satire especially with a doctor coming on camera to explain a drug fueled party involving MDNA. When the film switches over to the political leader’s machinations as he moves back to office, it becomes a different film entirely…not a bad one mind you…but different. But when it tries to engage across the board it is interesting yet clanky. Silvio always wins yet always loses. It is as if he is lost in the essence of what power means in comparison with the act governance though there is an aspect of ambition as well as the dream. Riccardo Scarmarcio plays Sergio the pimp. He brings both a humanity and a darkness that was also present in last summer’s “Euphoria” (which played Cannes) for director Valeria Golino. His journey and star power is undeniable so it will be interesting to see the progression of his ongoing career. Toni Servillo plays Berlusconi as a twirling vision of masks to the point that the performance is a perception of how far down the leader could bury himself from himself.

Jesus In a place like Macao, this kind of movie has particular resonance because of the Portuguese and Christianity influence. Made in Japan, the story here follows a boy who, after the death of his grandfather, comes with his parents to a small town outside Tokyo to take care of his grandmother. He is enrolled in a Christian school and begins his journey within this new space with no friends. The story of Yura is an existential one as he questions the essence of God and specifically what religion adheres in him. Out of the blue, a thumb sized Jesus (who doesn’t speak) appears out of nowhere and seemingly begins to grant wishes, although in abstract way. After Yura has finally makes a friend at school, the essence of tragedy strikes which gives him the perspective of what prayer might really mean. The movie is shot starkly and quietly in the 1:33 format (like the recent “Cold War”). Using reflexive nature and parallel scenes structure, director Hiroshi Okuyama creates a simple and clear but also eccentric portrait of a boy trying to come to terms both with life and death.

Happy New Year Colin Burnstead This dysfunctional family diatribe from BBC Films brings to mind such elements of drama and comedy as the film “Peter’s Friends”, a small piece Kenneth Branagh made as a director between projects like “Dead Again” and “Hamlet”. The main gist of the story here reflects in Colin, the supposed alpha male of a British family who picks up the pieces of his clan after his father has dropped the ball financially. Colin faces off against his would be deadbeat brother David who, in his mind, defiled everything of what it means to be “family”. David ran off on his wife and child and did not come back to see his family (blood or not) for 5 years. While this might sound sort of like a downer, like the ensemble volleys on screen before in this genre, there are enough sub stories with all the other characters to keep the pace moving. While not slapstick or laugh out loud in its texture, the slights and jokes continue to jab until they reach a pinnacle. As with most protagonists in these stories, no one is inherently bad or good per se but actions speaks louder than words especially when characters don’t listen to each other. The ultimate resolution works because like with all self confident movies, it knows not to spell out to the audience exactly what will happen after the credits close.

IR Film Review: THE PREDATOR [20th Century Fox]

The essence of “The Predator” is edified within the sense of its relevance to pop culture tendencies versus creating a sense of fear and elation. While this inclination does improve and rank itself as the best in the past decades, it still pales to the original “Predator” and, in some senses, “Predator II”. The one aspect that definitely gives it the best structure since the original is the poppy dialogue which is obviously a Shane Black trademark. The irony is that those quips that were great in the 80s almost ride the line too much today causing readings at times to be more awkward than funny. In a way, this outing becomes more of a sardonic reflection of itself. The characters are big and the misfit dream team led by Boyd Holbrook does have its moments but there is never a sense of stake at all. There is some loss with some of the members but nothing as edgy as Carl Weathers or Bill Duke in the original.

Writer/Director Shane Black was in the original so he understands that texture of balance but John McTiernan had a sense of the real within the gallows. “The Hunt For Red October” ran in a similar vibe. This is not those films. The tone here is all over the place with certain moments playing better than others. Sequences like the initial one inside a medical lab or a face off on top of an RV have a playful sense to them but feel, almost in effect, like a TV movie version of “Predator” with the profanity setting turned on. In all shapes and sizes despite respect for trying to give a new audience a “Predator” for its time, this outing, while definitely fun at times, still feels remarkably flat. Even the resolution requires a plot suspension that doesn’t connect. While ending up creating a concept in essence that gives the story an interesting dilemma to behold for a continuation yet no reason for its actual intention, “The Predator”, despite its best attempt, does not fit the bill.

D

By Tim Wassberg