Category Archives: Half-assed

After The Murder of Albert Lima

Albert Lima travelled back and forth to Honduras many times, but the last time, he never returned. He was abducted and murdered, and though his murderer was tried and convicted, he remained free.

Albert’s grown son Paul Lima has spent over a decade seeking justice for his father; some would even say he was obsessed. Unable to move on, failed by the legal system (or as he would say: “dicked around”), Paul has the very bad idea to take things into his own hands. he hires two bounty hunters to follow him to Honduras to track and capture the killer, who has since become virtually untouchable after ascending the ranks of drug kingpin. I’m not sure what could go wrong! Some possibilities though: the bounty hunters are inept, murderers are murdery, Honduras is corrupt, the weapons are cheap and borrowed, the law is not on their side, planning is not their strong suit, and Paul is often too busy looking tough for the camera to realize he’s in deep shit.

I didn’t think too highly of the bounty hunters, but I can hardly believe they stuck around even after Paul wonders if this is “kidnapping, per se” (it is). Then again, I also can’t believe the camera operators stuck around after the first gun was accidentally fired in an enclosed space. No one involved in this film is very smart and it’s astonishing that anyone survived to tell the story. What happened to Albert Lima is a tragedy, but a bunch of amateurs pursuing his killer is only going to result in a higher body count and I don’t for one second believe that’s what he would have wanted for his son.

Some movies you have to see to believe. After The Murder of Albert Lima will be available to stream on CRACKLE in the US on March 18 2021.

Cherry

Apparently the man’s name is Cherry. Let’s just deal with that and move on.

Cherry (Tom Holland) is a bit of a drifter. Too heartbroken for college, he joins the army instead, and predictably hates it pretty thoroughly. As a medic, he sees all the worst stuff, so even when he returns home to true love/new wife Emily (Ciaro Bravo), life isn’t exactly perfect. Riddled with PTSD, life unravels, and pretty soon both Cherry and Emily are coping with heroine. As you may be aware, nothing good has ever happened on heroine. Nothing. Best case scenario, you end up robbing banks to support your habit. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what happens to Cherry.

One bad decision after the next, it’s hard to watch Cherry spiral down a hole you know he won’t come out of. Worse, he takes Emily down with him.

Cherry is a great showcase for Tom Holland, who gets to stretch and show range as a once bright and promising kid who gets swallowed up by the convergence of two of the 21st Century’s greatest epidemics. Unfortunately, it’s a less impressive effort from Holland’s frequent MCU directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. Is Cherry over-directed? It may be the case; it definitely feels a bit style over substance. The cinematography is great and movie lovers will have no problem picking out references to other movies, but the truth is, Cherry doesn’t offer a lot that’s new. Sean felt he was watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, minus the humour. I felt like they were aiming for something more intimate, but after years of success in the Marvel universe, the Russos are perhaps a little rusty at delivering a more character-centric film. They drive the film with constant momentum but never pause long enough to drum up pathos or empathy. It’s at least 3 different movies stuffed into the bloated corpse of just one, with a run time to prove it.

This movie has some merit, but not enough to justify itself.

Crisis

Three interconnected stories:

A successful architect and single mother (Evangeline Lilly) recovering from her own opioid addiction investigates her teenage son’s mysterious death.

A professor (Gary Oldman) grapples with a pharmaceutical company when his lab’s results conflict with their claims of a “non-addictive” pain killer.

An undercover agent (Armie Hammer) posing as a drug trafficker arranges a really big buy/sting of fentanyl between the American and Canadian border.

The crisis in questions is of course opioids and we definitely need to be looking at it from all angles with a very critical eye. I’m just not sure Crisis is the movie to do it. It acknowledges many of the problems (which can be boiled down to: money corrupts, and opioids are worth a LOT of money to a LOT of people), but because this isn’t gonzo journalism but a thriller, it attempts to solve these problems with guns.

Crisis may occasionally be entertaining as a dramatic thriller, but since we’re very familiar with the topic, we’re also very familiar with its consequences, meaning there aren’t a lot of actual thrills to be had, the endings are predictable and some might say inevitable. Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki doesn’t have a lot of flash or distinguishing personal style, so the vignettes must speak for themselves. Unfortunately, it’s a little too much story for just the one movies, which ends up feeling chaotic and lacking focus. It’s hard to pick out the good guys, and Big Pharma as the baddie is both too big and too vague to really root against. You know it always wins. But neither the villain nor the heroes, if there are any, give us the kind of emotional connection we need in a movie like this, a movie that’s attempting to be more than just your standard shoot-em up thriller. We needed deeper connections, a more probing eye, a reason to rally. Crisis ends up not really living up to its own name.

Berlinale 2021: Albatros (Drift Away)

Laurent is a good cop in a small town in Normandy, where little ever happens. The police work may be on the dull side but his recent engagement to Marie means his personal life makes up for it. Laurent (Jérémie Renier) and Marie (Marie-Julie Maille) have already been together long enough to share a home and a daughter, Poulette (Madeleine Beauvois), who was excited to be part of the low-key proposal. But then things take a turn for the more interesting.

A local farmer goes missing, armed with a rifle and seemingly suicidal after a series of failed inspections that threaten his livelihood. This being a small town, the farmer is known to Laurent, a friend. Laurent is obviously very motivated to have this man found safely, but does his familiarity cloud his judgement? When the farmer is eventually located, it leads to an altercation, resulting in Laurent discharging his weapon in an effort to prevent the farmer from taking his own life. Laurent kills him.

The aftermath is as messy as you’d expect. Everyone agrees it was an accident, but was it reckless? Negligent? The farmer’s sister obviously thinks so; she’s suing both Laurent and the force. Thrown into self-doubt, recrimination, and emotional turmoil, Laurent takes off on a journey he must take alone. Which, honestly, is where the film lost me. Up until it veers off into a very different direction, I was enjoying this slow-burn character study. Renier kept things dignified, stoic but just expressive enough to hint at upheaval behind the façade. Unfortunately, director Xavier Beauvois muddies the water with some confusing and unnecessary subplots, taking away from the power and potency of Renier’s performance.

Albatros’s final moments redeem some of its earlier mistakes but there’s no way the film needed to be two hours long, which seems to dilute the urgency and impact of what should have been the movie’s central themes. Albatros is a good idea unevenly executed, not quite saved from a stellar star performance.

Coming 2 America

It’s been 33 years since pampered African Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) first came to America, and in 2021, he will return.

King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) is getting older, and as he prepares his son Akeem to take his place, he reveals that he has tracked down Akeem’s bastard American son, a son Akeem didn’t know he had, a little souvenir from that trip to Queens more than thirty years ago. Akeem and Lisa (Shari Headley) have three daughters, but women can’t inherit the throne in Zamunda. Fearing instability upon his passing, particularly from General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), King Joffer urges Akeem to go to America and bring home his first-born male heir in order to keep their kingdom peaceful.

As you can imagine, learning that you’re a prince is a bit of surprise, and it’s a bit of a culture shock when Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) does indeed return to the palace with the dad he never knew, with Mom Mary (Leslie Jones) and Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) in tow to add a little…flavour to the royal proceedings. Akeem has selected a bride for his son, the alluring and diplomatically wise choice, Bopoto, daughter of General Izzi. But it is the palace groomer Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) who catches Lavelle’s eye. As every man becomes his father, Akeem finds himself in the position of forbidding Lavelle’s love match and enforcing the political one. Akeem was supposed to be different when he was king but it looks like he’ll follow in his father’s footsteps, for better of worse.

This movie isn’t a remake but it’s awfully close, following the events of the first film like they’re identical twins, even repeating a lot of the same jokes. Murphy reassembles the entire team and there’s no denying this sequel is an extreme act of fan service and that Eddie Murphy himself is having a grand old time reliving his youth and revisiting a pivotal time in his life and career. The result is surprisingly watchable. Is it great? No. But it’s fun and familiar improving on the first, delivering a more modern and more quickly paced comedy. Murphy and director Craig Brewer work well together, but since both are mega fans of the first film, they’re content to coast on its fumes. Ultimately Coming 2 America is 110 minutes devoted to remembering how great Coming To America was. It’s a cast reunion with some great costumes and some fun cameos. It’s a celebration 33 years in the making and if you were a fan of the first, you’re walking away happy.

Boss Level

Here we go again…

Roy (Frank Grillo) is living the same day over and over. We catch up with him after he’s died about 40 times, only to wake up again to an assassin swinging a machete at his head, and even if he escapes that threat, Roy has discovered he is the target of many, many more killers. Eventually, one of them is going to get Roy, and once they do, he will restart his personal Groundhog Day again and again and again. Who are these killers and why do they want Roy dead? That’s what Roy will have to figure out in order to escape this time loop and save the world, with some help from his scientist ex-wife (Naomi Watts) and with serious opposition from her evil boss (Mel Gibson) and his sidekick (Will Sasso).

Did we need another time loop movie? Definitely not. But Boss Level is not the worst of the bunch. If you can look past some dumb dialogue, such as its insistence that Street Fighter II is an 80s sidescroller (which is so obviously wrong in so many ways), there is a decent action movie here. Again, not a great one, but a serviceable one. It’s no Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, or Palm Springs, as it doesn’t add anything new to the live/die/repeat genre, and doesn’t bother to even try.

Still, it’s a workable popcorn movie and we certainly haven’t had a lot of those lately. If you’re in the market for one of those, this will probably fit the bill, as long as you are willing to put up with a lack of originality, Mel Gibson’s involvement, and the repeated misclassification of a classic 2D fighting game that was released in 1991.

Berlinale 2021: Ted K

Ted Kaczynksi, more popularly known as The Unabomber, lived in isolation in a 10×12 cabin in the woods of Lincoln, Montana. Arguably that might be enough to have driven anyone crazy, but director Tony Stone puts together a more detailed and intimate portrait of one man’s descent from loner to terrorist.

Focusing primarily on the seven years before his arrest while Ted (Sharlto Copley) was living that hermit life off the grid in the middle of a forest, Ted K doesn’t provide much context or insight into who Ted was before he left society completely, or what might have driven him to do so. Filmed in the same woods where he lived and using the 25 000 pages of his coded diary as its basis, the film tries to remain impartial, merely eavesdropping on our subject while he mutters to himself, shakes his fist at planes overhead, begs family for money over collect calls made from a phone booth. He rails against the industrial system, sometimes generally, sometimes more specifically (leaf blowers, snow mobiles), the destruction of nature, the proliferation of technology, which he predicts will be our downfall.

Bomb making becomes just one of his daily tasks in his cramped cabin. More angry than evil, more sick than disturbed, Ted exists on the margins of society in more ways than one. As his mental health frays and unravels, he seeks to soothe his pain with vengeance. Unable to engage in any meaningful way, anonymously sending violence through the mail to imagined adversaries feels like such an on-the-nose characterization of Ted’s particular psychology that if it was fiction rather than fact, you wouldn’t quite believe it.

At times I felt alienated by the film, which does its job a little too well painting Ted K as an unknowable type, but Sharlto Copley’s performance kept drawing me back in. His exact recipe is known only to him, but its ingredients include neuroses, coiled anger, desperation, internal grand-standing, loneliness, disconnection, superiority, inferiority, and more. Yet Stone chooses to show him in mostly banal circumstances, even his terrorism reduced to ordinary little tasks performed in ramshackle shed by a solitary, mumbling man. The film is Copley’s alone; other people are mere footnotes and even his victims are spared little thought. He is the subject of the largest manhunt in FBI history, but of that we have no sense. The film has no sense of urgency or drama. Ted K is just a sad and lonely man going about his business. The movie asks for no mercy, no sympathy, it just tries to get inside his head, and sometimes even succeeds in doing so.

 

Berlinale 2021: Tides

In the not too distant future, humanity will have completely decimated the Earth and fled 500 light years away, to a distant, alternate planet in the Keplar star system. But this planet isn’t the utopia they’d hoped; within just a couple of generations, they’ve lost the ability to reproduce. The first envoy they send back to Earth to check things out disappears completely. The second fares only a little bit better.

Astronaut Blake (Nora Arnezeder) barely survives the splashdown landing and immediately has some real problems; there are survivors, and they’re none too trusting.  Earth is a barren wasteland ruled by extreme tides and split into two warring, violent factions. But they are able to reproduce – Blake sees plenty of children and babies before she’s taken prisoner. Her jailers turn out to be surprisingly friendly – leader Gibson (Iain Glen) knew her as a child, was a friend of her father, who disappeared with the first envoy. He’s been working very hard to make things tenable for the Keplar community to return to Earth but lacks the means to communicate. Only Blake has that, but the longer she’s there, the more sinister everything seems, and she’s no longer convinced it’s the best course. But Gibson and his gang aren’t about to let go of their plans without a fight.

Tides doesn’t have a great script. Its details are frustratingly vague, and if you care about strict logic, I’m pretty sure the math here doesn’t remotely add up. But if you’re simply in the mood for an unabashed sci-fi genre film, you’ve got yourself a sure bet. So sure, in fact, you might find it looking familiar. It actually feels like, rather than telling its own story, director Tim Fehlbaum is setting up some sort of dystopian hub where more successful films in the genre might convene. It wouldn’t feel strange to see Tom Hardy drive by with someone strapped to the front of his doon buggy, or Kevin Costner sail by on a really big boat. But aside from building a world that feels and looks familiar, Tides fails to establish its own story. Despite a committed performance by Arnezeder and some interesting nuggets of premise, Tides is ultimately too weak to stand on its own legs.

Sundance 2021: The World to Come

Picture it: mid-19th century American East Coast frontier. Life is hard; it’s round the clock, back breaking work just to stay alive. It’s dirty, full of drudgery, isolating, dark, and monotonous.

Dyer (Casey Affleck) is a poor farmer who will toil his whole life away and never have anything to show for it. His wife Abigail (Katherine Waterston) works just as hard at even more menial tasks. Their relationship is predicated on hard work and common sense. Their life is colourless, hard-scrabble, and bereft after the loss of their only child. When another couple appears in the “neighbourhood” (which is to say, another isolated cabin miles and miles away), their dreary lives are cheered just a little bit by the ability to see another face once in a while. Abigail becomes particular friends with the wife, Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), though Tallie’s husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) is a real stick in the mud, another burden to be borne, but worth the price of seeing Tallie.

If Dyer notices that Abigail and Tallie are growing closer by the day, he’s hardly the type to say anything, but Finney is much more jealous, and perhaps this isn’t the first time his wife has wandered over to someone else’s homestead. Abigail and Tallie relieve their loneliness and ignite something in each other’s company. Their relationship turns intimate, and physical, a balm on their otherwise psychologically taxing existence.

The World To Come is based on Jim Shepard’s lyrical story of the same name, which is fine for a piece of literature but translated less well on screen. Katherine Waterston provides a poetic voice-over that grows tiresome very quickly, not to mention suspicious. Dyer, who eats potatoes for every meal of every day of his sad little life, hardly seems the type to have said that “contentment is a friend who rarely visits” although the sentiment, at least, rings true, the biggest excitement in his life provided by a molasses enema when he gets the flu.

Waterston and Kirby are wonderful together, and the setting is absolute perfection. The sense of longing and emptiness are well conveyed, and Waterston does a fine job embodying both Abigail’s stoic reticence and the private, flowery language of her journal. The World to Come has plenty of isolated aspects to admire but they amounted to a boring film and a frigid love story that I didn’t need to see (again: this is hardly the first of its kind). Mona Fastvold is an excellent director who picked a crummy script and failed to breathe enough life into the story to justify it or indeed to hold any emotional heft. This one left me cold.

 The World To Come will be released via video on demand on March 2, 2021.

Red Dot

Engaged and pregnant, Nadja (Nanna Blondell) and David (Anastasios Soulis) travel to the north of Sweden for a hiking trip to hopefully check out the northern lights. A little parking lot scuffle involving scratched cars, racism, and dead deer turns into something much more sinister, turning their romance under the stars into a real nightmare.

Sleeping in their tent wayyyyyy out in the middle of the snowy nowhere and “keeping warm,” they suddenly notice lights on the horizon that aren’t northern. Outside the tent, a red dot appears in the middle of Nadja’s chest, and then David’s head. They can’t see anything, but a red dot would make anyone nervous. Trying to get back to their car, the gunshots start. The first to fall is their dog, Boris. Poor, innocent Boris. But no time for mourning! Unknown psychotic gunmen are out there, apparently very upset about some cosmetic bumper damage. Cold and increasingly wounded, Nadja and David are chased out into the frozen wilderness where crazed shooters are only a portion of their worries. Survival becomes all-consuming and increasingly unlikely.

Director Alain Darborg’s movie really has nowhere to go but deeper and deeper into the fray and we go limping along with it. If you’re in the mood for a harrowing movie about constantly almost dying, this might be right up your alley, or across your frozen tundra or what have you. The pursuit is relentless and after a while, borderline monotonous. And then there’s a twisty ending that’s kind of infuriating because it comes out of absolutely nowhere and is kind of unfair and totally unearned. But there it is. If you’re in it just for the action I bet you can overlook it but if you were hoping for a good, satisfying movie, keep moving, it’s best to look elsewhere.