Category Archives: Half-assed

Films in this category have something to offer but also have one or more flaws that detract from the experience. Still, these movies are probably better than most of the shit on Netflix.

Glass

Glass tries to be a different type of superhero movie, it really does. M. Night Shyamalan’s concept of real-world heroes is a solid one. Unbreakable proves that. As far as I’m concerned, Unbreakable is Shyamalan’s best, one of only two very good (i.e., not quite great) movies he’s made. By making Glass an explicit sequel to Unbreakable, Shyamalan invites me to compare the two, and Glass doesn’t measure up. Call it a Glass that’s about a quarter empty. Of course, that’s still three-quarters full.

32ef47e0-1afb-11e9-b6e9-9c4bb39de67fMuch of Glass is an extended superhero therapy session for Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) along with Split’s Horde (James McAvoy), after the three are apprehended and institutionalized at the start of the film. These therapy scenes, led Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), are very slow. We know something is going to eventually happen, but the pace seemed wasteful because every minute in therapy is a minute less for the showdown between Dunn and the Horde that I’ve been waiting for since the last minute of Split. Even with their slow pace, the therapy scenes are still enjoyable, though, in large part because of McAvoy’s amazing performance as he gives us 24 distinct personalities without falling into ridiculousness.

When the showdown between Dunn and the Horde finally comes, it feels like an afterthought. I wish that Shamalan’s previous movies had been better, not only so less of my time had been wasted watching that trash, but also because it seemed a lot of the missing flash in the showdown was due to Glass’s limited budget. Since realism is an essential part of the film, I didn’t expect fireballs or eye lasers, but I did expect to see something special, even before Price expressed a desire to have the fight televised to show the world that superheroes were real. The YouTube footage of Spider-Man from Captain America: Civil War made me feel like I was watching something amazing. Glass’s footage just wasn’t up to that level and it needed to be for this movie to have a satisfying payoff.

The lack of a satisfying payoff is particularly disappointing once we see how the story plays out. Without getting too spoiler-y, I think it’s safe to say that Shyamalan’s ending pisses away any goodwill left over from Unbreakable. Which is a shame because Shyamalan clearly intended to leave room for more sequels, but in getting there he shattered my desire to see any of them.

 

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Uncle Drew

If anyone was going to love Uncle Drew, it would have been me. After all, in the early 90s my bedroom walls were covered with posters of Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller, among others (Michael Jordan’s posters covered the most real estate, of course). Also in the early 90s, I watched Chris Webber call a timeout he didn’t have (after travelling first) and cost his team a championship (which would have been lost either way since that team has been erased from the NCAA record books).

Many years later, I got to watch Kyrie Irving take on Russell Westbrook live in Oklahoma City, as Kyrie made everyone besides Russ look like they were standing still.

And like most basketball fans, I never sought out Nate Robertson or had any of his posters, though I am sure I saw him win a few dunk contests (somehow he won more of those than Jordan).

Kyrie Irving plays Uncle Drew, an old guy who’s still got game, and who gets recruited onto a streetball team by Get Out’s Lil Rey Howery in order to beat a team coached by Howery’s childhood nemesis, Nick Kroll. Uncle Drew has one condition: Howery has to help reunite Uncle Drew’s old team. Reluctant but out of options, Howery agrees and heads out on a road trip to search for a bunch of old guys made up to look slightly older (the three all-time greats I mentioned above, along with Robinson).

From L to R: Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Kyrie Irving on the set of UNCLE DREW. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Seeing Shaq, Reggie, and C-Webb team up with one of the most exciting players in today’s NBA should have been enough for me to somewhat enjoy this movie (with superdunker Aaron Gordon and WNBA/Team U.S.A. legend Lisa Leslie as added bonuses). But it wasn’t. The basketball scenes really weren’t exceptional, and with such a skilled roster, they should have been. They NEEDED to be, because as hard as Howery, Kroll and Tiffany Haddish try, the attempts at comedy in this movie fall flat. So all that’s left is the basketball, which is not even Blue Chips quality (at least Blue Chips features prime Shaq instead of Uncle Drew’s heart attack Shaq).

The Uncle Drew concept made for an entertaining Pepsi ad because Kyrie Irving made highlight-reel plays wearing several coats of old man makeup. Not surprisingly, that concept wears very, very thin when stretched to feature length. The old man gimmick and a bit of nostalgia are really all that Uncle Drew (the movie) has to offer, so it’s simply not strong enough for me to recommend, as much as I wish I could.

Venom

I did not want to expect too much of Venom, not after the debacle that was Spider-Man 3.  Thankfully, Tom Hardy is not Topher Grace, and because of him, Venom is not Spider-Man 3.  But Hardy can only do so much, so Venom is also no Spider-Man: Homecoming.  It falls somewhere in the middle, which is far more than I could have expected given Sony’s dismal Spider-Man output since 2004’s Spider-Man 2 (worth noting: the only credit I give Sony for Homecoming’s goodness is that they wisely let Marvel drive that bus).venom-4-700x350

Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a disgraced reporter who gets infected with an alien parasite (a “symbiote”) while investigating Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) and his evil Life Foundation.  As Brock learns how to use his new powers while linked to the symbiote, he has to work with his ex-fiancée (Michelle Williams) to save the human race from both the symbiote and Drake’s evil plan for world domination.

This film depicts the origin of Venom in a very peculiar way.  That is, Venom’s creation does not involve Peter Parker or Spider-Man in any way, which is completely opposite to the cVenom_0omic book roots of the character as a human and alien united by their hate of Spidey.

Do  I really care?  Only in that I missed the Spider-Man logo on Venom’s comic-book costume.  Otherwise, movie Venom, and especially movie Eddie Brock is far more interesting than his comic book counterpart (at least in his original form as I’m not going to get into discussing the other comic book versions of Venom, such as space-faring Flash Thompson who ended up a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy).  It’s a credit to Hardy and movie Venom’s clear inner conflict that this Venom can stand on his own as San Francisco’s vigilante protector rather than being a one-note Spider-Man wanna-be. He’s an interesting character trapped in a fairly generic comic-book movie.  Venom is a fun adventure because of the interplay between Hardy and the symbiote, and that elevates this film above Sony’s other recent Spider-Man efforts.

The problem Sony faces (again) is that they’ve planned a whole shared universe around a film before it came out (as they did with Amazing Spider-Man 2), and just like with ASM2, Venom isn’t a strong enough movie to support its own cinematic universe.  The silver lining this time is that since Tom Holland’s Spider-Man wasn’t involved in Venom, there’s no need to reboot his Spidey if Sony modifies their reported plans for a five-film series that (spoiler alert for a disappointing mid-credit scene) will include Woody Harrelson as Venom-offshoot Carnage.  All of which might be just as okay as Venom but shouldn’t I be more excited than just “okay” coming out of movie number one?

By the way, (another spoiler) even though the Carnage cameo is disappointing, it’s still worth sticking around to the very end as there’s a teaser for the upcoming animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and it looks fantastic.  Between that and 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man fans are still doing quite well, even if Venom isn’t the franchise-starter Sony was hoping for.

Five Nights in Maine

Sherwin is reeling with the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Fiona. Out of sorts and in excruciating pain, he somehow consents to visit his estranged mother-in-law in Maine. Lucinda is also grieving her daughter, but their estrangement layers loss with guilt – and suspicion.

MV5BMTA0NjI1NzI1MDFeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDc1NjY1NzYx._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,756_AL_Sherwin (David Oyelowo) and Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) knock about in her rural home with only her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez) between them. Lucinda is sick and in a lot of physical pain but she’s not too sick to still be kind of a bitch. The last time she saw her daughter they fought, as usual, and parted badly, both assuming for the last time, and of course it was, only it was daughter who died, and not the ailing mother.

Oyelowo and Wiest give great performances. Wiest is icily fantastic, full of venom and sharp edges. You kind of want to slap her across the face, even if she is a cancer-ridden old lady. But hiring a talented cast is about all this film gets right. I don’t mind some negative space but here the script is thin, the story plotless. It might have made an interesting character study if the dialogue wasn’t so sparse. We start out knowing very little but don’t attain a whole lot of clarity over the course of our Five Nights In Maine. I wish I had kinder words for a film that dares to tackle a dark subject, but this felt slow and sluggish and ultimately empty.

The Shack

Mack takes his 3 kids camping and only comes home with 2. While he was jumping into the lake to save his son from an overturned canoe, his youngest daughter disappears, presumably kidnapped and killed. The guilt and grief eat at him until a mysterious letter invites him back to the shack where her bloodstains and sundress were found. He goes out there alone, armed with a gun, and finds exactly what was promised but not what he expected. Are you ready to believe?

The Shack is a Christian movie. Sam Worthington plays Mack, the dad in mourning gallery-2who’d survived his own harrowing childhood and has his faith diluted along the way. Octavia Spencer plays ‘Papa’, the fond nickname Mack’s daughter had for God. Oooh, God is a black woman, how wonderfully liberal while still being completely conservative.

God’s son is there too (Avraham Aviv Alush), and also the “breath of wind” (Sumire Matsubara) and they’re all prepared to love him back to health and happiness. The question is whether you, potential viewer, are willing\able to swallow it.

I read the book because I read all the books. In it, Mack is described as “rather unremarkable,” “slightly overweight,” “a short white guy, balding, about to turn 56.” I bet Sam Worthington was over the moon when his agent sent him the script. It was a slightly uncomfortable read because its white author attempts ebonics, is kind of sexist despite the overt attempt to seem cool (but hello, black god is so 1997!), and constantly refers to “the trots” in the presence of god.

The shack is a literal place in the movie, but meant more as a metaphor for the house\prison you build out of your pain. As far as Christian movies go, well, this one doesn’t have Kirk Cameron, or, god forbid (ha! I made a funny) Nicolas Cage. It’s the kind of movie that, if you’re a believer, really makes you feel all warm and fuzzily validated, and if you’re not, well, you may smirk a few times, but it’s a fairly harmless work of fiction. I can see how people would find comfort in it. It’s humanizing, non-threatening, non-denominational, and embracing. But it’s not going to convert a single soul.

I don’t believe in god, and I take issue with religion, but my main problems with the film were ones like: how is god not a vegetarian? And how on earth do you let her do dishes? I can’t even let my Grandma do the dishes, and Mack’s allowing himself to be waited on BY GOD. And where did the holy spirit get those cute sandals?

Yes, some of the metaphors reach too far, and yes some of the sermonizing hits you over the head like a rubber mallet. But you know what? Octavia Spencer couldn’t be any better if she was a god. She’s sublime and note-perfect, in this and in everything. The Shack is still too heavy-handed for me to recommend it, but I will say that if you believe, and you struggle to reconcile belief with life’s tragedies, then maybe this film can shine a little light in your direction. I’m not especially fond of The Shack, but if you’re looking for some spiritual guidance, you could do worse.

 

 

Devil’s Bride

A new judge arrives in the small village of Åland, Finland to modernize it. The villagers are a superstitious people. They cast spells for love, search dreams for omens, use herbs to induce abortions when the priest rapes them, seek revenge through the evil eye, and ask the local beggar woman to “divine” the perpetrator of crimes. Judge Nils (Magnus Krepper) believes in higher things: judicial evidence, unbiased law, proper trials. But also, you know, witches. When his mother gets sick, someone must be blamed. And of maxresdefaultcourse his new and improved judicial system could use a steady stream of accused. Why not a good old-fashioned witch hunt (although to be fair, in 1600, it was simply just “the fashion”)?

Nils’ mother has a charming 16 year old chambermaid named Anna (Tuulia Eloranta) who’s in love with a married man. 16 year old girls who are in love for the first time are kind of jerks, but she’s at least kind and patient her charge. But she’s not oblivious when the mother’s stroke is blamed on the local healer, who is then banished as a result. Sure that’s kind of tragic, but Anna can see the benefits. After all, her lover does have a pesky wife, and it now seems that a few easy accusations do a pretty good job of getting rid of someone. And that is how a witch hunt starts.

Devil’s Bride is very atmospheric, playing up the tension and paranoia that ruled the day. Based on real historical events in Finland in the 1600s, the witch hunt snowballs as they always do, not just because of jealous young girls, but because of the church’s tacit encouragement. The film probably would have benefited from choosing either love triangle or witch drama. Instead if lets the two themes fight each other, and that weakens the overall effect. There’s not exactly a lot of new things to add to the witch hunt genre, but it’s fun enough to see Finnish pilgrim hats.

 

1 Night

Two couples, both alike in dignity. One is young, one is old. Or we’re supposed to think they’re old even though they’re only in their mid 30s.

The young woman (Isabelle Fuhrman, literally the orphan in Orphan) has just been broken up with at prom. The young man (Kyle Allen, looking a little like a young Heath Ledger) is there too, lusting after her, the girl next door who won’t give him the time of One Night, feature film set stillsday. But then a mysterious older guy gives him some advice, and a mysterious older woman gives her advice, and they spend the night together, pushing each other in pools and falling in love.

Meanwhile, the older couple appear to be falling out of love. Their current relationship is unclear though they’ve certainly been lovers at one point. But witnessing young love is messing with them, causing them to reminisce down a certain romantic path which can only be littered with truth bombs. He (Justin Chatwin, of Shameless) seems to be pushing for a reconciliation while she (Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp) seems resistant.

First time writer/director Minhal Baig has a good idea here but it fails to develop. I think it’s supposed to be a treatise on what it takes to make love last but doesn’t have enough to say about it. It’s character-driven (a kind way of saying plotless) but doesn’t very clearly define said characters. It ends up feeling a little ‘millennials vs hipsters’ and I just couldn’t love it, even if it blossoms from a promising seed. Thank goodness for mercifully short runtimes.