Spontaneous

Very dark comedy combines with a heart felt coming of age drama to incredible effect in this surprise and explosive movie.

A boring math class in an average high school. Senior Mara, played by Katherine Langford, drops her pencil on the floor. She leans over to pick it up. In that moment the girl sitting in front of her explodes. She just goes pop spraying the entire classroom in blood. Mara sits up back to find her entire world changed.

One by one the kids in this one math class inexplicably go pop throughout the film. Mara and her best friend Tess, played by Hayley Law use humor to deal with the stress and trauma of never knowing who could be next. Mara falls for the cute Dylan, played by Charlie Plummer and their very sweet relationship makes up the best escape from the exploding kids surrounding them.

The movie is surprising. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it, but it really won me over with its mix of sweet and sardonic. From the first kid exploding to the way Mara and Dylan’s relationship unfolds, to the various coping mechanisms Mara uses the film consistently surprised me. It found some wiggle room within the traditional three act structure and created a really fun and thought provoking ride.

I really loved the way the teenagers are written. They are messy. They can be smug and too self assured. They maintain a feeling of invincibility in the face of certain death. It really captures the teenage experience.

The dark as night humor really worked for me too. The sight gag of gallons of blood spraying all over a classroom was really funny to me. And the razor sharp dialogue and asides from Mara and her friends ring genuine laughs out of a horribly macabre set up.

The film was written and directed by first time director Brian Duffield. He brings a playfulness and inventiveness to the story. The characters have overlapping voice overs and often turn to the camera to directly address the audience in order to fill out the story. It’s a lot of fun to see someone having fun with the medium.

This movie really worked for me. It pulled me in and kept me there. It doesn’t reveal deep truths about life and the world, but it has a lot more on its mind than gross out dark humor. It takes the implications of its premise seriously and tells a really compelling story with its high concept.

It’s streaming on Amazon prime. I just happened to stumble across it last night, and I hope you do too. It’s my cup of tea. A-

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

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+

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

This movie is an overly long, self indulgent, slog, but it’s also a lot better than the originally released Justice League movie.

A little history for those who haven’t been following the Snyder cut saga… Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and he had a grand plan to complete his superhero trilogy with Justice League. As principal photography was wrapping up, Snyder ensured a family tragedy that took him away from the production. Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, took advantage of Snyder’s absence to hire a new writer director to complete the film. The result was a very bad Justice League movie that satisfied no one. Snyder began teasing his fans by saying he had a nearly complete version of the film that he would give them if only Warner Bros. let him. What resulted was a years long fan campaign to release the Snyder cut. Finally after all these years, $70 million dollars in additional filming and cgi work, we have the Snyder Cut now dubbed Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Clocking in at 4 hours and 2minutes and presented in the baffling 4:3 aspect ratio which means it’s a square image not a rectangle like all other movies today. Is this film worth checking out?

That’s a complicated question. If you are a die hard Snyder fan, you’ve already watched it twice. If you are a DC fan? You’ve probably already checked it out or will be checking it out regardless of what I say. If you’re a movie fan and curious about the filmmaking process the difference last between the original and this are so fascinating that I’d say you have to check it out. If you are a casual viewer looking for a movie to watch this weekend you can skip this. It’s not worth your four hours.

To break it down, the film follows the same plot as the original. There are three mother boxes, super powered cubes hidden on earth. The alien villain Steppenwolf comes to earth to unite the boxes and destroy earth as we know it. Batman brings together a team of super powered individuals to stop him.

I don’t like to compare one film to another, but the comparisons are the most interesting part of this movie. For instance the plot is given more time to breath and unfold naturally here than in the original. The character arcs and storylines actually make sense and work here. And tonally the film feels cohesive as opposed to the jumble we got the first time around. These are massive improvements.

The character of Cyborg has a really compelling personal journey here. He’s played by Ray Fisher. He was a star athlete who after a horrific accident is transformed into something less human and more machine. He provides a strong emotional heart as he grapples with his identity and place in the world.

Aquaman is given a more serious and internalized quality here than in the original. Wonder Woman is less hung up on her ex boyfriend but given little else to do. The Flash is still the goofy comic relief character although he does have a nice compelling moment toward the end that really works. Batman isn’t funny in this one unlike his depiction in the original. It’s a much better performance from Affleck too.

All in all the performances are strong. The look of the film is solid Snyder has a strong visual aesthetic. He also handles the action well. There are some genuinely exciting moments and cool action that surprised me.

That said this movie is so self indulgent! After every other scene I said to myself they could’ve cut that. There’s a three minute scene in which a trio of women readily sing a folk song over Aquaman’s sweater that he leaves behind after he swims away. Why was this included? What did it add? Next to nothing. There’s a 10 second reaction shot of Gal Gadot’s face as she stares at a wall. We could’ve cut after three seconds. There’s a slow motion sequence of Aquaman walking into a storm. It takes forever and feels like a perfume ad was accidentally cut into the movie. I excepted the sensual voice over to cut in telling us about Dolce and Gabbanas latest scent. It was so long and just felt like Synder was rubbing our noses in it. He had all the time in the world and decided to use it.

For me the biggest improvement in the film is with the villains. Steppenwolf has a stunning design. He looks really unique and cool here. He also a really interesting motivation. He is a servant of Darkseid an intergalactic warlord who conquers and enslaved worlds. Steppenwolf failed him and is trying his hardest to get back in his good graces. It’s a really compelling motivation for a villain.

The climactic confrontation feels streamlined and more exciting. I quite enjoyed the finale and really got into it. It feels like anything could happen and that the happy ending isn’t a foregone conclusion.

However, there’s another half an hour after that climax. The last half hour of the movie is absolutely insufferable. It’s just scene after scene of fam service and sequel setups that will never happen. It’s just Snyder indulging himself and wasting our time on badly written scenes that amount to nothing in this narrative and setup movies that don’t exist. Maybe I was just in a bad mood after spending 3 and a half hours watching a movie I had already seen, but that last half hour was agony.

The advertising for the film promised a brand new movie. I didn’t get a brand new movie. I got 75% of the same movie and 25% deleted scenes and shots being held longer. It’s tonally consistent and that 25% does add a lot of character, but it’s so much the same it doesn’t feel worth it to me.

A note about Snyder’s superheroes. They’re all vicious sociopaths. Wonder Woman murders a lot a dudes in this movie. Aquaman stabs a villain in the back. Superman pins a guy down and pummels him almost to death then lasers him in brutal fashion. These are brutal almost cruel versions of these characters. I know it’s a different interpretation of the characters, but do you really have to cut a guys head off after he’s been killed?

In the end, would I recommend this movie to anybody asking? I would definitely recommend it over the theatrically released version. It’s a much better movie. There are a lot of improvements made here. It’s undeniably a stronger film. But it does have a lot of problems. If you’re on the fence about checking this out I don’t think you’ll miss much if you watch something else. If you’re interested in the changes made it’ll be fascinating and frustrating.

This is such a hard one to rate. Is it my cup of tea? It’s somebody’s cup of tea that’s for sure. How do I give it a letter grade? A fit effort? F for wasting so much time? For me, some of it is my cup of tea, a lot of it isn’t. Half a cup of tea. Letter grade? Middle of the road… B

Moxie

At times ham-handed, at times wonderfully genuine, this coming if are story is a big old feminist anthem that is pretty good.

Directed by Amy Poehler, Moxie tells the story of high school junior Vivian, played by Hadley Robinson, who is struggling to find something she’s passionate about. After witnessing the blatant sexism on display in her school, she starts publishing a zine calling out the wrongdoers in.

The story is really a drama, but tonally it operates as a comedy. It deals with privilege, sexual violence, and unjust power structures, but it feels at all times like a goofy comedy. Ike Barinholtz hams it up as an inept teacher. Amy poehler wrings laughs as Vivian’s mom. And the dorky mascot is genuinely funny, but they feel out of place considering the subject matter.

When the movie becomes sincere I think it really shifts into gear. Vivian’s struggle with self doubt and her disappointment with failure is really affective and heart wrenching at times. She has a delightful romance with a doofy but sincere dude named Seth, played by Nico Hiraga. He likes skate boarding and that’s about it, but he’s supportive and earnest. And I love the tender moments between him and Vivian.

Some of the feminism and girl power moments feel forced. The movie shifts into sermon mode on a couple of occasions, and that really didn’t work for me. It’s not that I disagree with the sentiments expressed. I just wish they came about more organically and elegantly. The shift from naturalistic teen movie to political speech just feels false and pulled me out of the movie.

The cast deserves a lot of credit here. Lead by a great Hadley Robinson as Vivian these characters really come alive.

Patrick Schwarzenegger is chillingly effect as the Golden boy quarterback who is nasty and sinister toward anything he can’t have.

And my favorite was Lauren Thai as Claudia. She’s Vivian’s best friend since infancy and wants to support her feminist movement but fears the consequences. She has a lot of pressure from home to stay out of trouble. She gives a great performance, in an interesting part, offering a unique perspective.

The movie culminates in a really great moment that I loved. That was almost instantly cut down by an awkward and forced denouement. It felt like they didn’t want to add any additional scenes, so they just mashed all the subplots together to wrap things up neatly. I really disliked that ending. I felt genuine emotion follows by disappointment by the ham handed conclusion.

All that said, I enjoyed the movie. It’s a mixed bag, but you can do worse this weekend. Entertain by flawed. It’s half a cup of tea for me. B

Coming 2 America

This is pleasant sequel that tries to do way too many things, but still ends up being a pretty enjoyable comedy.

Thirty years after Prince Akeem of Zemunda journeyed to Queens in search of a bride, he’s back, and he has a lot on his plate. He finally takes the throne from his father played by Janes Earl Jones. He faces off a rival kingdom lead by Wesley Snipes. He discovers he has a long lost son in Queens. His daughter wants to rule the kingdom but can’t. He must train his son to be king. His son falls in love with the royal stylist. And his sons uncouth family gets a taste of the royal life. And Akeem must reckon the man he wanted to be with the man he’s become. Phew. I think I got them all, but there’s probably a few plot strands I missed.

There’s way too much happening in this movie. Because our attention is so divided no one plot line really stands out or makes an impact. This movie feels like eating a samples pack. There’s a lot of good stuff mixed in there, but once you taste something you enjoy it’s gone. You have to move on to the next sample which isn’t as good, but it’s over soon. You move on to the next thing. The overall impression is positive. I enjoyed enough of the samples that I had a good time. But I don’t feel satisfied. I definitely don’t feel full.

I like Eddie Murphy in this role. He plays Akeem and brings charm and humor. His daughter Meeka is played by KiKi Layne, and she’s a really strong presence. Arsenic Hall is back playing multiple roles and he’s having a great time. It’s a lot of nostalgic fun seeing the entire original cast together again. And the new cast members especially Wesley Snipes and Jermaine Fowler turn in really fun performances.

The movie wasn’t laugh out loud funny for me. It’s more of a soft chuckle kind of affair. I smiled a lot. I blame the editing for this. The movie is cut within an inch of its life. The editing just zaps the comedic timing out of a lot of these scenes. I don’t know why the editor didn’t trust the actors to make the jokes land.

Overall the movie is really fluffy. It’s bright and breezy and goes down easy. It’s not good storytelling. It’s too crowded and distracted. There are way worse movies out there you could watch. I’d recommend checking out the original. It’s a superior film. However if you’re looking for something pleasant to fill out an empty afternoon this movie will fit that bill.

Its currently streaming on Amazon prime. Its half a cup of tea for me. B

Chaos Walking

Charming leads and an intriguing premise can’t save this movie from being a rushed somewhat generic young adult adventure.

Todd Hewitt, played by current Spider-man Tom Holland, is a young man who lives in a world where people’s thoughts appear floating above their heads in cgi clouds. They call it the noise. Todd is described as a young runt by the men in the village. All the women have disappeared until one day, Viola, played by Daisy Ridley, crash lands nearby in a space ship.

I love the premise. All your thoughts are on display at all times. Nowhere to hide.

Teen boy finds a girl. Maybe the only girl on the planet.

Mysterious and dark forces at work in the village drive these two out on a wild adventure.

Sign me up. The problem is the execution. The movie is based on a trilogy of young adult books and this movie ends up feeling like one of the many Hunger Games cash grabs that littered movie theaters a few years ago. I can picture the studio notes now, “make it more like Hunger Games!”

The movie is less about what it would be like to have your thoughts on display and more about what cool sci fi action stuff can you do with the noise. This person thinks about a snake, and a snake jumps out and attacks! Cool. I’d rather see what that constant exposure and lack of privacy would do to a person.

There’s a lot of running around in the woods while our heroes are chased by adults who just can’t stand that these young ones are different. Where have we seen that before?

Just like all the other young adult adventures of recent years, it has a great cast. Mads Mikkelsen is always a fantastic villain. David Oyelowo brings a bonkers intensity. Demian Belchir is great as Todd’s adoptive father. But Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley are the standouts. Tom Holland is a really terrific actor. He is open and expressive and does a great struggling to hide his true feelings. Daisy Ridley brings a nice stoicism to her role that offsets the Holland’s wide open performance. These two ring real emotion out of the few quiet moments they’re given.

The real problem I had was with the story telling. The movie needed to take its time creating this world. It took until about the halfway point before I realized the movie doesn’t take place on earth. It wasn’t supposed to be a surprise or a twist. They just never made it clear. Where does the noise come from? Who are these people? How does this world work? The movie brushes past all these questions to get to the adventure. I don’t think you can have gripping action if you don’t even know what planet you’re on.

All in all the movie isn’t terrible. It’s very watchable, and it’ll play nicely on TV some lazy Sunday. It’s not a good movie, and it’s not worth spending the money to rent it right away. Which is too bad because I really wanted to like this movie.

Not my cup of tea. B-