Unhinged

An all in performance from Russell Crowe helps make this thriller a little less generic, but it can’t save the film entirely.

Rachel is a harried mother dealing with a contentious divorce, a failing business, and a teenage son she’s struggling to raise. On top of all that she has to deal with rush hour traffic. While dealing with the traffic she has a verbal altercation with an unstable man who takes things way too far.

Rachel is played by Caren Pistorious. She turns in a solid performance although she looks way too young to be the mother of a 15 year old. The real star here Russell Crowe as the unnamed maniac man who viciously attacks Rachel’s family in retaliation for her rudeness on the road. Crowe is doing the most acting here. He’s either wearing a fat suit or he packed on an unhealthy and unnecessary amount of weight. He has false teeth. He’s doing a crazy person accent. He has wild eyed face contorting fits of rage. It’s so much acting. Whenever he’s on screen I’m totally entertained.

When Crowe isn’t on screen the movie is only okay. It’s predictable in its plotting. You pretty much what story bears will play out sheen. It’s action is shot pretty generically. There’s a car chase that can’t decide if it wants to put you in the drivers seat or film the action in an objective birds eye point of view. It doesn’t dive into any of its characters settling for surface level characterization. We never find out too much about Rachel’s husband or how she feels about him. There’s lip service paid to Crowe’s psychosis that’s he’s a troubled man, but no real character study is done here.

That said it’s an easy movie to watch. It has a little action. It has likable actors. There are couple of surprises. In the end all is put to right. It’s like comfort food or a bowl of cereal. Is it nutritious? Not particularly. Is it fun? Does it go down easy? You bet.

My biggest issue with the film is how it tries to turn its story into something more than it is. At its heart it is a grungy b-movie about a psycho terrorizing a woman and her family, but the movie true to force a ham handed message about road rage and societal frustrations onto its paper thin premise. Don’t try to force a message. You made a pretty good thriller. Don’t try to make it important.

This isn’t a bad action thriller. I had a pretty good time with it. I think you might too if you decide to check it out. It came out last year during the height of the pandemic and dared us all to see it in theaters. I’m glad I waited until it started streaming on Amazon prime this week. Check it out. You could do a lot worse.

It’s my cup of tea. It’s a solid B

Thunder Force

This movie was terrible. It’s poorly conceived and executed. It has a big cast of talented people who are wasted. Somehow inspire of its lack of quality, it has a few moments I genuinely enjoyed.

The movie has squanders an interesting set up through incompetence. A world in which cosmic rays bombard the earth and only sociopaths were given powers. Cool premise. Now let’s ignore it for the rest of the movie. These super powered people are called miscreants which sounds like an elderly person in an old episode of Dragnet complaining about kids these days. Octavia Spencer’s parents were killed by miscreants, and she vowed to discover a way to give good people superpowers to combat the miscreant menace. Unfortunately, her bumbling best friend Melissa McCarthy causes whacky antics along the way.

Where to begin with this films problems? How about the fact that I don’t believe a single moment of this movie. I don’t believe in the world because they never spend time establishing it. I don’t believe Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy are friend. They act like total strangers with zero history or connection. If I found out that these two were never on set together and were simply cgi’d to appear together I’d believe it. No chemistry. I don’t believe the super powers. Mediocre effects and a lack of actor commitment just kills the super powers. I don’t believe a moment of this movie.

This all should be laid at the directors feet. Ben Falcone is a bad director. He doesn’t stage or photograph action well. He doesn’t have a good sense for building comedic moments on camera. There’s a scene where Melissa McCarthy uses her super strength to throw a bus at an escaping miscreant. She lifts it, prepares her throw, and launches it against the constant pleading of Octavia Spencer. Then we cut away. We don’t get a punchline. They cut out the moment the bus crashes. They don’t show the bus miss it’s target. We don’t have a funny reaction shot of McCarthy or Spencer. The scene just ends. It’s like unintentional anti-comedy.

I will give the movie its due. I laughed out loud a couple of times. I’m going to spoil a couple of details so beware. Jason Bateman is in this movie. I didn’t know that! It was such a delightful surprise when he showed up. He plays a miscreant who is part crab! He has giant crab arms. They’re actually convincing prosthetics. He and McCarthy have a bizarre musical interlude in the style of a cheesy 80’s music video. It is weird and inspired and hilarious. I’m smiling as I think about it. Whenever Bateman gets scared he walks sideways and clicks his pincers. It’s amazing.

There’s also an amusing scene wherein the villain kills a henchman and then they talk about how they always liked him and what a good worker he was. It’s a nice little commentary of the villain killing his henchman trope. But these moments are examples of the performers rising above the limitations of the material and the director.

If you love the performers you might find something to enjoy here. Otherwise it just feels like watching a weird Disney Channel original movie about superheroes. I don’t recommend it in spite of the genuine laughs it got out of me. There’s infinitely better movies to spend your time on this weekend.

If you really want to see crab Jason Bateman, Thunder Force us currently streaming on Netflix.

D not my cup of tea.

Concrete Cowboy

I loved this movie. It has fascinating characters. It’s set in a really unique world that I never knew existed. It tells a classic narrative with some nice twists. I really fell for this one.

This story might feel familiar, a troubled teen named Cole, played by Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin, gets into a fight at school. This prompts his single mother who has finally had enough to send him to live with his estranged father in Philadelphia. This is Harp, played by the ever-stellar Idris Elba. Cole is shocked to find a horse living in Harp’s living room. Harp is part of a community of black cowboys who live in urban Philadelphia.

This is a real community of urban cowboys called the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. They’re part of a century long tradition of riding and caring for horses in urban Philadelphia. They teach horsemanship and encourage positive outlets for youth in the community. It’s a rough group who lives a messy lifestyle that butts up against the gentrification of the neighborhood.

Cole is faced with a choice between the hard, distant, and outwardly uncaring father and his hustler friend Smush played by Jharrel Jerome. Smush used to belong to the cowboys but left to make money any way he could. Cole is constantly pulled between the two worlds and struggles with the person he wants to become.

The movie walks the well trod story paths of the coming of age narrative, the father son reconnection story, and the western genre. The film contains some cliches of the genres, and normally I’d be annoyed by the inclusion of these cliches. However the movie gives those cliches a jolt. It mixes them all up in a blender and creates a wonderful smoothie out of its genres. One I enjoyed from start to finish.

The actors are stunning. I love the mix of real cowboys and professional actors. There are some moments that will stay with me forever because of their poignancy and authenticity. I got all choked up several times in this movie.

The world these characters inhabit is so interesting. I loved spending time with these characters in this place, and knowing that they are based on a real place made it all the more impactful.

It’s beautifully shot, and well directed with great acting and a compelling world. I loved it. Check it out. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. My cup of tea for sure. A

Minari

This beautiful little family story is full of humor, warmth, and hardship, that stumbles in the end for me.

The film follows the Yi family, Korean immigrants who after working for years finally buy their own land Arkansas in the 1980’s. The way this Korean family struggles with the locals, money, and their own dreams makes up the plot of the film, but the story is all about family.

We follow this family through the eyes of David Yi played by Alan Kim. He’s the youngest child of Jacob and Monica played by Steven Yuen and Han Ye-ri. Jacob wants to become a farmer and work the land. Monica wishes the had stayed in California. When the stress becomes too much they bring Monica’s mother to live with them. This is the wily, foul mouthed, spitfire grandma Soon-ja, played by Youn Yuh-jung.

This is a movie that is full of feeling for me. I felt the disappointment of Monica as they see their crappy house for the first time. (It doesn’t even have front steps to get in.) I feel Jacob’s frustration as he tries to raise crops with dwindling water reserves. I feel David’s confusion about his grandmother who doesn’t act like any grandmother he’s ever seen. This movie is an empathy machine. I feel for them and understand them even though for the most part they are speaking a language I don’t understand.

The film is full of little moments that really charmed me. I don’t want to give any of them away because they were so full of warmth and surprise I’d hate to spoil them for anyone. I laughed and smiled in warm recognition throughout the movie, and I think you will too.

The biggest downside for me is the ending. This is one of those movies that ends without a definitive conclusion. This is often done to make the audience think about the story beyond the theater. Too often it feels like the filmmakers forget to come up with an ending, and just said “forget it, let the audience figure it out for us.” This ending feels disappointing to me because it left too much unresolved and too many serious thematic moments were left hanging. I just wanted more from the ending. I think a stronger finish that tied up more of the themes would have landed better for me. As it is, I don’t feel cheated or disappointed by the conclusion.

I definitely recommend this movie. It’s a lovely slice of life that puts things into a different perspective. We get to walk around in this family’s shoes for a couple of hours, and I think that’s really worth while.

This was definitely my cup of tea. You can rent it online or check it out in theaters. A-

Godzilla vs Kong

Did you want massive monster fights? You got it along with a lot of dumb stuff that nobody asked for. Thankfully there’s enough spectacle, action, and surprisingly heart to make up for it.

This movie mashup is the latest installment in the “monsterverse” an attempt to duplicate Marvel superhero films success. It is the second sequel to 2014’s absolutely terrible Godzilla, and the first sequel to 2017’s Kong Skull Island. If you haven’t seen any of the other films in the series it will make the viewing experience uneven.

This film takes a lot of time reintroducing Kong. He’s been held in captivity. He’s alone and angry and mistrustful if the humans, except for a little girl named Jia played by Kaylee Hottle. They’re moments together are really wonderful and give the film much needed pathos.

Godzilla on the other hand is introduced here destroying a factory in darkness. He then disappears until he comes back to attack Kong. He really isn’t given a personality or story. He just destroys anything that could be a threat to him. He’s very one note and frankly boring compared to the compelling Kong. It doesn’t help that Kong is given a deeply expressive face with a rich emotional palette, and Godzilla’s face looks like a pile of rocks. No emotional connection is possible with Godzilla.

When these two meet however this movie starts to soar. There’s something deeply satisfying about watching a giant ape punch a giant lizard in the face while standing on top an aircraft carrier. It reminded me of being a kid and bashing action figures together. It’s visceral and silly and fun. The brawls and action are a ton of fun throughout. There’s a lot of creativity in the fighting, a good use of setting and props, and a great sense of epic scope that I loved.

The movie has the problem most big budget movies have these days. It’s two movies mashed together. Just commit to one story Hollywood good grief!

The better story follows along, Jia, and Jia’s adoptive mother played by the always wonderful Rebecca Hall. They are trying to find a new home for Kong. She has a bond with the big fella and the three of them learning to communicate and trust is a really nice story that plucked my heartstrings in just the right way.

The dumb crappy story follows two teenagers and a conspiracy theory podcaster as they fall back-asswards into a massive corporate conspiracy to eliminate monsters and put humans back on top. It’s full of awkward comedy that doesn’t land. Stupid characters that are just so annoying and idiotic plot developments that just make me mad when I think about them. They literally short circuit a doomsday weapon by pouring whisky on a keyboard. So so dumb.

While that dumbness is going on though we have this stellar sequence where Kong and his friends journey to the center of the earth and find an incredible world of visual wonder in which gravity goes all screwy and some really cool visuals play out. It’s a beautiful sequence that I loved. I’d watch the movie again for that sequence.

The film is directed by Adam Wingard who made one of my favorite Halloween movies, You’re Next, and the underrated gem The Guest. He handles the human drama and the spectacle wonderfully. Although he gives too much time to dumb subplots and his pacing feels way too fast. (The climactic battle feels too rushed for it to land for me.) but that aside he really gives this film what it needs to set it apart from the rest of its ilk.

It’s big. Its dumb. It’s fun. I enjoyed most of it, and I can ignore the stuff I hated. Its in theaters and streaming on HBO Max if you’re looking for a good dumb time at the movies. It’s half a cup of tea for me. B+

Nobody

Anchored by a quirky Bob Odenkirk, this is a really entertaining action movie if you like your action brutally violent and darkly comic.

This is the latest entry in what I’m calling the “middle aged men you shouldn’t have messed with” genre. These are violent action thrillers about mild mannered men who are accosted in someway by criminals. Nine times out of ten these criminals are the Russian mob. Little did they know that this mild mannered man is really a highly trained unstoppable killing machine! It started with Taken and Liam Neeson’s very particular set of skills. It expanded with Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer, and it reached its zenith with Keanu Reeves’ John Wick. It’s a power fantasy. A superhero for middle aged men. And when done well it’s a pretty fun time at the movies.

The movie follows Hutch, played by Bob Odenkirk, a man so mild mannered he barely seems awake in the early scenes. He coasts through life in an almost catatonic state. He is distant from his lovely wife Connie Nielsen, and detached from his job. One night a pair of hapless thieves break into his house. Hutch resists the urge to take them both out. This loses him the respect of his son, neighbors, and coworkers who all think a real man should be violent and aggressive in the face of armed intruders. Hutch ends up unleashing years of pent up rage on a group of Russian mobsters. This sets off a war with a psychotic Russian who comes after Hitch and his family.

I loved Bob Odenkirk’s performance in this movie. He is so deeply repressed at the start of this movie that I don’t think he says a word for the first ten-ish minutes. When he finally cuts loose he shows off a quirky off beat personality that really sets him apart from the John Wick’s of the world. He also plays frustrated thinly veiled rage really well. It’s a nice performance.

The action is the real star of the show though, and it’s really good. There’s some really fun fights and a solid car chase sequence that plays out very differently than I expected.

For me there’s a difference between action and violence. Action is Indiana Jones fighting on a truck as in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Violence is a man getting stabbed in the eye with a broken champagne glass repeatedly as happens in this film.

The big set piece of this film is a confrontation on a bus between Hutch and half a dozen mobsters. It is brutally violent. It is messy. It is bone crunching, muscle squishing violence. Hutch isn’t indestructible. He takes a lot of hard hits, and it takes a serious toll on him. It doesn’t have the technical prowess of one those balletic single take scenes like John Wick, but it has a visceral reality that really worked for me.

This brutality is offset by some very funny moments. The film has a twisted sense of humor especially when dealing with the gruesome and macabre. This is t an overly comic movie, but when the jokes come they land because they’re so dark and surprising. If you like dark humor this’ll work for you.

My big issue with the film is the way it celebrates guns and violence. It seems to argue that real men are brutally violent creatures who need to let that violence out every once in a while in order to be whole.

My other issue is how often the filmmakers drop incongruous songs into the action. Guns will start going off and the movie will slow down as a hit song from the 70’s will start playing. It’s a fun bit that works really well until the end when it starts feeling repetitive.

Other than that it’s a solid action movie that I had fun with. I don’t think you need to rush out to see it. It’s violent, it’s funny, Bob Odenkirk is great, it’s everything I was hoping to get out of the movie.

It’s my cup of tea. B+

Cherry

Carried by a raw and brilliant Tom Holland performance this movie works in fits and starts.

The film is based on a somewhat autobiographical novel of the same name by Nico Walker detailing his time as an Army medic, and his struggles after returning home with PTSD and an opioid addiction.

Tom Holland, the current Spider-Man, stars as our unnamed protagonist. He is our narrator and our point of view. He sometimes speaks directly to the camera, but most often tells the story through voice over. He is a force to be reckoned with as an actor. His emotional range is just searing in intensity and authenticity.

He meets the love of his life Emily, played by Ciara Bravo, who’s face radiates innocence at the start and a world weariness by the end. They fall madly in love, but she gets scared and tries to leave him. He sees no future without her and joins the army.

These early scenes are full of little moments that feel so true to life. When he admits it wasn’t true love at first sight, he just wanted to have sex with her. When he discovers he’s colorblind he asks if he can still be an army medic and the answer is “you still know what color blood is, don’t you?” And an incredibly vivid and gruesome scene in which as a medic he carries a body out of a flaming humvee and his gloves start melting. Details like these really make the film stand out.

The other touch that really makes it standout is the visual style the directors Anthony and Joe Russo employ to tell this story. They really go for a subjective style that puts us right inside our protagonists head. From using incredibly soft focus that blurs out everything in the frame except Emily’s face in the scene where they first meet, to quick flashes of how he imagines the people he’s with. As Emily tells a story from her childhood we see how he imagines it played out complete with coloring book backdrops and dramatic lighting. It’s a really interesting style that worked for me.

My biggest problem is that it has no target. Our protagonist leaves the army with PTSD and falls into drug use. The movie doesn’t blame the lack of mental health care. It doesn’t condemn the drug companies for flooding the country with OxyContin. It doesn’t blame the protagonist for his lack of communication and refusal to reach out for help. The movie is full of anger and despair, but it has no target for its rage. It doesn’t blame the systems in place. It doesn’t blame the characters for their choices, so the actions depicted in the film end up feeling preordained.

He had to join the army. He had to have PTSD. He had to turn to drugs. He had to rob banks to support his drug addiction. No one in the story could have done anything differently. No one is at fault. This is just what happens. It just wasn’t enough for me.

The movie also way too long. It’s almost two and a half hours. A lot happens which merits the length, but when the film doesn’t have a strong message about those events it gets a little lost in the runtime.

In the end, I loved Tom Holland. I’d watch the movie again just for how good he is. His work bumps it up a letter grade in my opinion. The film making is pretty solid throughout, but the story falls apart for me in it’s fatalistic approach to the subject of opioid addiction.

It’s mostly my cup of tea. B+