No Sudden Move

Don Cheadle stars in this very cool very twisty turns crime thriller that has a good sense of humor and a few too many twists and turns for its own good.

Don Cheadle plays Curt Goynes a man just released from prison after a heist gone wrong. He returns to Detroit in 1954 and takes on a job that should be easy. He and two other small timers Ronald, played by Benicio del Toro and Charley played by Kieran Culkin are tasked with stealing a document from a safe. The job goes wrong but n a very interesting way, and the criminals climb through the layers of crime in the city which leads them to an expected place.

There’s so much to love about this movie starting with the cast. Aside from the three I’ve already mentioned, we have great turns from Ray Liotta as a gangster, David Harbour as a nebbish accountant, a fat Brendan Fraser as a mid level mob enforcer, and Jon Hamm as a federal agent. Not to mention Amy Seimetz as a 50’s housewife struggling to keep it together and Julia Fox as a put upon gangsters wife. Every character is wonderfully drawn with interesting quirks and shading to their personas. This is as much a character piece as it is a thriller.

The film plays loose with perspective. We move from Curt to Ronald to Ray Liotta, to David Harbour. Using this shifting perspective the film creates a web that shows us the full picture of events rather than limiting us to one characters POV. It helps clarify the rather intricate plot twists that occur.

For my money there are too many twists and double crosses. Movies like this always zig when you expect them to zag, but this movie zigs then zags then loops back around to zig and zag again. There are so many double crosses in the end that I lost track. I think this reaction will dissipate upon rewatching the film. It’ll all make sense the second time around, but this time around it was distracting.

The other aspect of the film I really didn’t like is the cinematography. Steven Soderbergh shot the film (he is credited under the false name of Peter Andrew’s). I’ve never liked his cinematography. I don’t like the way Soderbergh lights interior scenes. Characters always appear too dark especially when next to bright windows. His films just look muddy and underexposed to my eye. In this film he uses an extreme wide angle lens that distorts the image in an unsettling manner. Will this bother anyone else? Probably not, but I couldn’t stand it.

As a story it’s fascinating. The characters are richly drawn and vividly brought to life. I really enjoyed this one aside from my gripes. It’s currently streaming on HBO Max. It’s definitely worth checking out especially if you’re a fan of crime films.

It’s my cup of tea B+

F9: The Fast Saga

There’s a scene in the show The Office in which the character Kevin Pours a massive jar of M&M’s into his mouth. That’s what it feels like watching this movie. This movie jams so much crap down the audience’s throats that it just becomes painful and boring.

I have a mixed history with the Fast and Furious franchise. The first is a mediocre action movie. The second is completely forgettable. I actually like the third movie. It tells a simple and coherent story with style. The fourth is a moody boring muddle with crappy cgi. The fifth is a lot of fun. It’s a silly car heist movie with great stunt work. The sixth is silly escapism. The seventh is the pinnacle. This movie is the height of the franchise for me. It blends the absurdity and the sincerity of the series beautifully. The eighth movie is crap. I dislike it so much. It has a stupid incoherent plot and is obsessed with its own world building.

I say all this to establish my credentials as someone who likes the series as a whole. I also don’t hate dumb fun. It’s my favorite kind of fun. When I say this movie sucks, it’s because the movie sucks. Let’s get into why.

The film opens with the story of how Dom’s father died I’m race car crash. We then cut to Don and Letty, played by Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez living a quiet life on a remote farm. She is chafing against their quiet retirement. Adventure comes calling when a former ally sends a message that his plane carrying a super weapon has been shot down. The team reassembles to find the super weapon. It turns Dom’s long lost brother from the flashbacks is working for the man who has kidnapped the villain from the last movie to find the weapon. Meanwhile, Dom discovers that his brother killed their dad. Then they discover that Han, who died either movies ago or two movies ago depending on how you look at the series absurd chronology isn’t actually dead, he’s just been hiding from his family for many years because the former ally used his death to hide the super weapon from someone. At which point Han rescues the daughter of the scientists who made the weapon and Dom’s brother discovers that she is the key to using the weapon, so he gets himself captured by the heroes using a super powers magnet car in order to kidnap the girl and set off a satellite that will destroy the world?

Do you feel like a jar of M&M’s is being poured into your mouth? This movie doesn’t tell a story so much as jam ten or twelve disparate plots together and call it a movie. Dom and Letty living a quiet life yet yearning for adventure? That’s a story. Dom reconciling with his brother? That’s a story. Han faking his death to protect a little girl? That’s a story. Instead of choosing one story to tell the film makers violently smash them all together without any apparent regard for narrative cohesion. It’s a pain to sit through because no element is given time to matter.

Okay but the plots aren’t really the point in these movies is it? It’s about the action. These movies are famous for their amazing action. This movie doesn’t have much of it. There’s an early chase through the jungle with an entire military trying to kill our heroes. Bullets fly, explosions go off, none of it matters. The chase takes them through a mine field. That’s a great location for a car chase. What do they do with that location? They just drive faster and make it through unscathed. A few extra explosions go off, but that’s it.

There’s a scene they’re proud of, it’s in all the trailers, in which Dom Tarzans his car across an impossible ravine. This should be really fun and silly action. I wanted to like this, but it doesn’t work. The impossibility of the stunt, the fact there is no build up to the moment, the fact that it works with complete ease robs the moment of tension or interest.

Justin Lin directed this film. He’s usually a very good action director, but he sucks here. Fistfights are shot in darkness and incomprehensible closeups, so everything just looks like dark blurs. The set-pieces are all wasted like the mine field or the Tarzan car. The worst is just the incompetence on display in the final act.

Dom is in an armored van sliding down a mountain. He looks up and sees a drone coming to shoot him. Cut to the drone. Cut to Dom. He looks down at a small dark object in his hand. Cut to the drone preparing to fire. Cut to Dom doing something with the object then throwing it off screen. He jumps back inside the van. Cut to the drone shooting the van. Cut to the front of the van as an explosion goes off underneath it. The explosion causes the van to roll and land on its wheels on the road. At which point Dom takes the wheel and drives off. I smacked myself in the forehead so hard after this sequence that I’m sure the whole theater heard it.

So what the hell happened in the scene? from what I could piece together after the fact, Dom saw the drone coming he threw a grenade under the front of the van. The grenade blew up sending the van into a roll that helped the van land on its wheels. The grenade did not damage the van in anyway. The drone was just there as an added threat I guess? A closeup of the grenade would have helped us understand what it was he was doing. A shot of the grenade landing under the van would have explained what the explosion was and that it was intentional. A shot of the drone shooting at and narrowly missing Dom would have gone a long way to establish its threat. Without these connective shots were no longer telling a story we’re just stringing together a series of shots and explosions. The scene is so incompetently shot and edited that the dumb isn’t fun. It’s just annoying.

Is this one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen? Yes. The movie cost over $200 million dollars, but couldn’t even assemble a cohesive action scene let alone narrative. The actors give bad performances. The action is bad. The story is a mess. And the worst part is that I was bored throughout the movie! Don’t go see this movie. Don’t reward it’s incompetent story telling. If you’re considering making a return to the theater go see any of the other movies out right now. This one isn’t worth it.

Not my cup of tea. F

Chinatown

Well it’s a classic for a reason. I went into this rewatch with an expectation that it wouldn’t be as good as it’s reputation, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well this cynical, slow burn of a movie holds up.

Chinatown tells the story of private investigator played by Jake Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, who is hired by a suspicious wife to see if her husband is having an affair. Jake gets a lot more than he bargained for when his investigation uncovers murder, corruption, and the dark side of sunny Los Angeles.

I first saw this movie probably 15 years ago when I was just diving into classic cinema. It didn’t do much for me at the time. I was young and found it slowly paced, quiet, and convoluted. When I saw it was now streaming on Netflix, I thought it might be time to give it another shot. I’m glad I did because this movie is excellent.

It has a stellar screenplay by Robert Towne. It tells so much of the story through visuals and action. When dialogue and exposition are used they employ masterful subtext to get the point across. The story unfolds in a true slow burn. If you pay attention to what’s happening the story just crackles all the way through. I don’t recommend trying to watch it on your phone while you do other stuff. In order to get the most out of this movie you really have to commit to watching it and pay attention to the nuances on screen.

I was really struck by the world the movie creates. It paints an idyllic and idealized version of Los Angeles in the 1937. The sunshine is beautiful. The clothes are impeccable. The suits and hats are neatly tailored and worn just so. Jake apologizes to a lady for using the word broad to describe a woman. But at the same time it shows a gritty violent and realistic depiction of the world. When Jake gets into a fistfight it is messy and ugly and feels very real. When his nose gets cut in a very famous scene the violence is quick and shockingly painful to watch. I found this dichotomy of impossibly perfect and realistically messy incredibly engaging.

The acting here is also fantastic. It’s very naturalistic and understated. We all know Jack Nicholson can go over the top, but here he feels so natural and at ease. Faye Dunaway gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as a sort femme fatale with deep wounds and deeper secrets. John Huston is iconic with that drawl of his talking about the future.

The direction here is self assured and steady. The camera lingers and the edits are methodical. This is a movie that is in complete control of its vision. It was refreshing to see something so stylistically different from what we get these days.

Now the big question is does this movie hold anything for a modern audience? Some classic are amazing but won’t do much for the average viewer. I think this one will. I think that if you’re looking for a good crime thriller this one will hold up and be a great surprise to many viewers. It feels oddly contemporary while still feeling timeless. I think if you give it a real chance you’re going to get a lot out of it.

This is my cup of tea. A+

Awake

The latest Netflix release feels like a worse version of a dozen different movies I’ve seen. A charming lead can’t save the movie from the films clunky and awkward execution.

The film opens with Jill Adams played by the lovely Gina Rodriguez, as she finishes up her shift and steals some prescription drugs which she sells to the most generic drug dealer type in movies. She goes to see her kids who are living with their grandma and take them to school. On the way something happens that takes out the power all over the world. Their car dies and gets hit by another vehicle. They tumble into the lake.

The movie has its one effective scene here where we are put inside the car and feel the claustrophobic dread as the car sinks.

That night they discover that no one in the world can sleep. The world instantly descends into chaos and self destruction. The movie hurries itself through the usual end of the world tropes. Religious zealotry, rioting in the streets, military action, and the scientists desperately trying to save humanity.

What works? Not much. Even the decent elements are undone by terrible direction and awful writing.

There’s a scene in which a group of characters are yelling at each other and someone walks up behind another character and shoots him in the back of the head. It’s filmed in the most clumsy way possible. There’s no build up. There’s no tension. The characters start yelling. They continue yelling. Bang! Then we move on. If it was an intentional choice to film it so awkwardly, I don’t know what they were going for. If it was a mistake, and they just didn’t get enough angles, I’d understand. But serious it’s just bad regardless.

A problem I have is that the movie is in such a hurry to hit all the apocalypse high notes. We rush from the event to people losing their minds almost instantly. The pacing feels like they’re trying to get the movie over with as quickly as possible.

The real story here is that of a mother with a troubled past earning the respect and love of her kids through the crucible of extreme circumstances. This should work because it’s works a million times before. Abad parent becomes a good parent amidst an alien invasion, plague, or war is a well worn trope. I don’t buy it here because Gina Rodriguez doesn’t look old enough to have two kids. Her teenage son looks roughly her age. She has no chemistry or relationship with the kids from beginning to end. They feel like perfect strangers throughout, so when they cry out for her in the end I don’t believe it for a second.

I really like Gina Rodriguez, and I wanted to like her here, but she’s just lost in this mess. She does her best, but you can’t save a sinking ship through willpower alone.

This is a paint by numbers movie that never amounts to much. I checked it out sight unseen because I’ve had good luck with Netflix’s recent releases, but yikes this one was a dud.

Not my cup of tea. Skip it! D

One last complaint, this film features Finn Jones. He’s terrible. I’ve never seen him give a halfway decent performance. He always looks painfully uncomfortable on screen. He delivers all his lines like he’s confused by them. Terrible.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

A strong addition to the Conjuring series that doesn’t surpass its predecessors but does offer a lot to enjoy.

The film opens with a brutal and intense exorcism of a young boy named David. It took me a second to realize that David was indeed played by the cute kid from Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House Julian Hilliard. The poor kid just can’t catch a break with all these demons. There’s a shot ripped straight out of The Exorcist. I’m not sure if it qualifies as an homage or if it’s just a ripoff here.

Anyway, the family is being aided in their demonic troubles by Ed and Lorraine Warren, played once again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. During the exorcism Arne Johnson, played by Ruairi O’Connor, tells the demon to take him instead, so it does. It leaves the little boy and takes Arne. At first everything seems okay. Life goes on.

However, when Arne’s landlord antagonizes Arne, he begins seeing nightmare visions and defends himself with his knife, murdering his landlord and landing him in jail. The Warrens step up to help Arne with his legal defense. His defense? Not guilty by reason of demon possession.

Right away the movie gooses the Conjuring formula of a family in an evil house by turning our ghost fighters into ghost detectives almost as they try to uncover the source of the demon and who sent it against the innocent David and Arne.

This shift works really well in some spots and less so in others. We lose the immediacy of the stuck in the house setup. We also lose the horror of the home. For most people home is a safe space. It’s where you feel the most protected. In a ghost story your safe space is infested with danger and fear. When you’re scared as a kid you run into bed and hide under the covers. In the Conjuring world, the demon will pull you right out from under those covers. This movie loses that but gains a wider variety of locations to haunt.

The biggest shift from the first two films though is the director. James Wan directed the first two with clear cinematography and a slow build up and payoff. The director here is Michael Chaves. His visual approach could not be more different. He suffocated his characters with shadow. I’d say 75% of every frame is darkness. It isolates the characters and creates an oppressively ominous atmosphere.

Chaves also launches into wild expressionism in moments of possession. We get thrust into the POV of characters undergoing possession and seeing the horrifying imagery that accompanies that evil. These leaps into expressionism are intense and serve to untether the viewer and keep them off balance, constantly wondering what’s real.

I have some problems with the movie. One is the evil that they’re fighting is sort of nebulas and unmotivated. When discussing why someone would want to hurt little David the only answer offered is essentially evil people are evil. That’s just not compelling to me. I’d like a little more in my demonic villains. Do they want a soul? Do they thirst for blood? Were they wronged in the past? I’d just like a little something to give the villain shape.

There’s a cliff side sequence that looks so incredibly fake it pulled me right out of the movie. The cgi work is abysmal here. It looks like Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga standing in front of a watercolor backdrop. It’s incredibly unconvincing. It’s hard to be afraid when you don’t believe what you’re seeing.

Overall, this is a really good scary movie. It’s not great like its predecessors, but it is a good time. If you like these characters and their series this will be a fun time.

It’s my cup of tea B+

Ted Lasso

This series truly lives up to the title feel good show. It has an indomitable positivity and a true love for its characters. It made me laugh out loud every episode and brought me close to tears at times.

The series follows Ted Lasso a charmingly goofy and relentlessly positive American football coach who is hired to coach a soccer team in England despite the fact that he knows nothing about soccer. Ted Lasso is played by Jason Sudeikis of SNL fame. He is silly as when he asks his friend to goof off with him if they dream about each other. He is endearingly positive as when he marches into a new country and a new sport with the biggest smile on his face. He’s also heartbreaking in moments of personal challenge. He has a phone call home in the first episode that blew me away. He carries the show, but he’s not alone.

The woman who hires Ted is Rebecca Walton played by the very imposing, very lovely, and very tall Hannah Waddingham. She won the soccer team in a divorce settlement with her wealthy philandering her of an ex husband. He really is awful. She knows that the soccer team was the only thing he ever really loved. She decides to destroy it by hiring Ted. If you think you know who this character is or where the story is going to take her you’ll be surprised. She isn’t shrewish or evil. She is a wounded person who is working through her pain in an unhealthy way. She is full of layers and depth that are so much fun to explore as the show goes on.

Joining Ted is his assistant coach and friend Coach Beard. He’s mostly silent, but has some of the funniest lines in the show. His friendship with Ted is the kind everyone should have.

The star player on the team is Jamie Tartt. He’s an arrogant young hotshot and a real jerk, but as the season goes on he too has his layers peeled back to reveal a real person underneath.

Jamie’s girlfriend is Keeley Jones played with effervescent energy by Juno Temple. She is a delight. She is an earthy working class girl who describes herself as being famous for being almost famous.

Then there’s Nate. He has such low self esteem and feels so insignificant that he is shocked to discover that Ted remembers his name. He blooms and grows over the season in a delightful way.

I fell in love with this series. It is a real breath of positive fresh air. It has elements of sports movies, but doesn’t go all out with sports cliches. It is a very funny comedy, but really gives us the serious moments to ground it. It has so much heart and pathos, but doesn’t drown in it. The series is really about making friends and building relationships, and that feels like a great antidote to the world in which we live.

I don’t usually review series because the mechanics of TV and movie story telling are so different, but this one feels like a united piece. A real story told over the course of ten episodes. It’s on Apple TV plus. Which is too bad because while it is a pretty solid streaming service no one has it. If you can get a free week promotion get it and watch this show. Even if you have to pay for a subscription it’s worth the $6.

Check it out. It’s absolutely my cup of tea. A