Category Archives: review

Review: ‘Fast X,’ Making You Suffer

Vin Diesel leads the all-star cast. 

Loudly proclaiming, early and often, that’s it ‘all about family,’ Fast X proceeds to dismantle that bromide, bit by excruciating digital bit. Calling back to and revolving around key events in Fast Five (2011) from the adult perspective of Dante (Jason Momoa), the son of the earlier film’s principal antagonist, drug lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), the film imagines that Dante has been plotting revenge ever since and now intends to executive his vengeance upon them by MAKING THEM SUFFER (cue evil laugh). 

By “them,” of course, the vengeful Dante plans to attack Dom (Vin Diesel) and his extended family of blood relatives and close criminal associates, who now number into the thousands, or at least to the point that Dom embraces every survivor of his kooky driving, shooting, and killing exploits as a member of his family and thus deserving of the kind of protection that only he can provide (cue 1,000-yard stare). 

What follows is a blitzkrieg of images, hasty assembled into something resembling a narrative, and clearly meant to be taken dead serious, judging by the tone set by Vin Diesel, who exudes the same hulking menace, whether he’s crouching over his young son or ignoring the property damage he has caused or the enemies he has murdered to protect those that he loves. 

The decision to circle back to Fast Five as a jumping-off point for the story is just the first in a series of bad decisions. Directed by Justin Lin, the film was the first in the series to leave behind entirely the constaints of time, space, common sense, and the laws of gravity. By embracing its entirely ridiculous excesses and having fun with them, acknowledging its own Looney Tunes mentality, the film simultaneously declared it would henceforth be making up its own rules and establishing its own (un)natural laws. 

The films that have followed, especially after Lin departed the franchise after Fast & Furious 6, steadily embraced that wildly individualistic style with diminishing effect, especially noticeable after writer Chris Morgan departed after The Fate of the Furious (2017). Even with Lin’s return to the helm in F9 (2021), the series was reduced to treading water and felt desperate and ever more outlandish and untethered to any sort of guiding narrative throughline.

That continues under the direction of Louis Leterrier, a journeymen helmer who has made seven previous action movies, none that are especially memorable. (Lin before work on this film before departing shortly after production began due to “creative differences.” Note that Lin co-wrote the script.) From the outside, Leterrier appears to be a hard-working sort of filmmaker who gets the job done, on time and on budget, but without much noticeable flair or hint of personal style. (He also claims to have re-written substantial portions of the script on his flight to begin work.) As to the acting, well, the franchise is a graveyard for Academy Award-winning actors (Rita Moreno, Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron, Brie Larson) who, like Leterrier, get the job done (i.e. say their lines) without leaving any discernible marks. 

At the public preview screening I attended, Jason Momoa’s performance as a supremely flamboyant metrosexual villain played extremely well with the crowd. Personally, I could not quite fathom the reason for his character to lean heavily on behavior that I thought was outdated and (borderline) offensive. He practically twirls his moustache. (Cue evil laugh again.) 

Perhaps I’m missing the point (or the humor) entirely. In any event, it’s in an entirely different style from all the other performances, which makes it stand out; it’s as though Momoa thinks he’s in a comedy, while everyone else plays it as a family drama.

At best, he’s a distraction from a lessening spectacle. More does not always mean better, as painfully demonstrated in Fast X. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, May 19, via Universal Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3,’ Closing the Book

James Gunn directs Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautistia, and Bradley Cooper. 

Consistently chaotic and confusing, the film is the kind of mess that only a mother could love. 

Director James Gunn’s first stab at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, released in August 2014, inspired me to write: “Fine, if anonymous big-screen entertainment from a company that appears intent on a course that is slowly flattening. As long as the money keeps flowing, expect more of the same in the future from Marvel Studios.” 

His second entry, released in May 2017, indeed featured more of the same. In essence, I wrote, it is “an animated film, well-integrated with live-action players, that is targeted at the young adult audience. Its sole purpose is to entertain, not to disturb or question the order of things; it’s a goal that it meets quite well.” 

Thus, it’s no surprise to report that his third entry heaps more of the same, only in greater quantities and with less humor than before. There are more creatures, more characters, more visual effects, and more pop songs, yet the whole thing feels tired and obligatory, as everyone goes through the paces of what is intended to kick off the box office season on a high point. 

Writer/director Gunn shows new characters arriving with the assumption that viewers will already know and be invested in said characters, presumably from Marvel comic books, when those of us who are not dedicated Marvel fans whose entire universe revolves around Marvel characters will not have any idea what is going on. 

Truly, this is a movie that only a die-hard fan could love. Occasionally, things happened or words were spoken that made me smile or even laugh, especially those related to the “stupid idiot” Drak (Dave Bautista) — his words, not mine. And I suppose Vin Diesel should be commended for dreaming up 1,000 ways to say “I am Groot.” 

But, for some reason, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) spends the entire movie moping about his lost love, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), all while he is moving heaven and earth to try and save his “best friend,” Rocket the self-denying raccoon (Bradley Cooper), who lies mortally wounded while he recollects his tragic origin story. *sigh* *sob* Oh, yes, many, many people die, or are at least shot with “phew” “phew” weapons, the sounds kids make to mime bullets or laser explosives. And so it goes. 

Only a “stupid idiot” would watch this movie with the expectation, nay, hope, that it would be better, more enjoyable, or funnier than the previous two entries. So call me a stupid idiot. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on May 5, via Disney. For more information about the film, ask your children. 

Review: ‘Peter Pan & Wendy,’ Flight of Fancy

David Lowery directs a new version of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, now streaming on Disney Plus. 

The first half plays like a bright and sunny children’s film. Then, the weather changes. 

First appearing as a character in 1902, created by J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan is probably best known from his starring role in Walt Disney’s animated classic Peter Pan (1953), though there have certainly been many other adaptations of the characters of Peter, his fellow playmates the Lost Boys, and the villainous Captain Hook, all from the fantasy world of Neverland, as well as the teenage Wendy and her two younger brothers, who lived in London and were whisked away to Neverland by Peter and his faithful companion, Tinkerbell the Fairy, to a place where they would never grow up.  

Director David Lowery previously breathed vivid life into his version of Pete’s Dragon (2016), written by Lowery and Toby Holbrooks, which dramatically improved upon Disney’s 1977 original. Having worked together on various projects in different capacities, Lowery and Holbrooks again collaborated on the script for their new adventure, based on Peter and Wendy, a novel by J.M. Barrie that was first published in 1911. 

The film appears to be a flight of fancy at first. Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) is not happy that she will soon be sent away to boarding school by her parents (Molly Parker, Alan Tudyk). After all, she still enjoys engaging in pretend sword fights with her younger brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), and resists the idea that she needs to start growing up. 

Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) arrives to save the day, as it were, by whisking her and her brothers away to Neverland, with the assistance of the tiny and faithful Taco Bell Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi). There, Wendy meets the Lost Boys, a very diversified lot who now include girls among their ranks, led by the helpful Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), and comes into contact with the villainous Captain Hook (Jude Law), as well as his first mate/comedy sidekick Smee (Jim Gaffigan). 

Peter Pan & Wendy gradually darkens after Captain Hook’s arrival, thereafter feeling more like some of David Lowery’s moodier films, especially A Ghost Story (2017) and The Green Knight (2021). If I had children, I’d probably want to keep them close and wrap my arms around them for the second half of the film, which gets decidedly dicier in its tone and more explicit menace depicted. 

The two halves do not mesh as well as might have been hoped from director Lowery, especially in the performances of Alexander Molony and Jude Law; it’s almost as though they are acting in two different movies, with Molony playing an innocent naif and Law hamming it up as a tortured villain. Since their characters, Peter and Hook, become the focal point of the drama that develops, that becomes a bit of a roadblock. 

Even so, the ambition and the beauty of the film is undeniable. Peter Pan & Wendy is definitely not your father’s favorite family film. It distinctly hews an independent path to its intended conclusion. 

The film is now streaming on Disney Plus

Review: ‘To Catch a Killer’

Shailene Woodley, Ben Mendelsohn and Jovan Adepo star in a suspense thriller, directed by Damián Szifron.

A young police officer, Eleanor Falco (Shailene Woodley) is quickly added by FBI investigator Geoffrey Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn) to his tiny team, charged with locating a mass murderer who shot and killed 29 people in Baltimore on New Year’s Eve. 

Geoffrey insists on keeping his team limited to himself and special agent Mackenzie (Jovan Adepo), bringing on Eleanor as a so-called “liason” between himself and the local police force. Understandably, that adds to the pressure of finding a killer who left little to no evidence behind. 

Suspense is baked into the premise, as the focus narrows to savvy veteran investigator Geoffrey and fledgling profiler Eleanor, working along with Mackenzie, as they chase down leads. The script, credited to Jonathan Wakeham and Damián Szifron, begins with an intentional The Silence of the Lambs vibe to how to Geoffrey and Eleanor collaborate, developing further as shades of their backgrounds and personalities are revealed, before becoming absorbed into the investigation itself. 

Hailing from Argentina, Damián Szifron’s third feature, the superb and sprawling Wild Tales (2014), excited everyone who saw it, including myself. Szifron was then set to direct Six Billion Dollar Man before stepping down over “creative differences.” To Catch a Killer is his first film since then, and it shows that he has not lost his ability to craft a compelling narrative, elicit top-notch performances, and frame shots that mysteriously disorient before smoothly resolving into clarity. 

It’s also fascinating to have an outsider’s perspective on the prevalence of mass shootings in the U.S. Without descending into shrill sloganeering, the implicit anti-gun messages are weaved into the fabric of the narrative, elevating the material from the typical, limited, familiar range of police procedurals

Though the closing sequences are not entirely convincing, the film has built up sufficient momentum by then to maintain its tight grip. It’s a relief to relax, finally, and take a deep breath as the closing credits roll. 

The film opens today in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities, only in theaters, via Vertical Entertainment. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Showing Up’

Michelle Williams and Hong Chau star in director Kelly Reichardt’s gentle, lovely slice of creative life.

We are surrounded by creativity. How did it get there? 

Hard work and perseverance, according to Showing Up, the newest film by director Kelly Reichardt. The title, apparently quoting Woody Allen — “Ninety percent of success in life is just showing up” — is apt, though it only begins to explain what drives the titular artist (Michelle Williams), a sculptor making final preparations for her next show in Oregon. 

The artist sculpts out of her home studio with her roommate, a cat. To support herself, she works as a commercial artist at an arts & crafts combine, managed by her mother (Maryann Plunkett). She visits her father (Judd Hirsch), a retired artist, and worries about her brother (Jean-Luc Boucherot), an artist with an unsteady grasp on life. 

She crosses cordial paths with fellow artists all day long, though she has become angered as of late with Jo (Hong Chau), an artist on the rise. Their point of contention is a hot-water issue in the house owned by Jo, of which the artist rents space for living and working.

All these are little matters that only become bigger issues when they veer from distractions  to obstacles that impinge upon the artist’s free flow of creativity. They may seem small, if not outright petty, yet they grow into mountains when ignored. 

Written by frequent collaborators Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, Showing Up flows by with casual grace, capturing the gentle push and pull of daily life for an artist. She’s not a ‘struggling’ artist, in that she has food to eat and a safe place to live. Still, hers is a modest life, like that of many of her fellow artists. Occasionally, some may break through and start to enjoy greater success, as Jo appears to be doing. 

More often in life, the artist does not have greater success; the only success they can hope to achieve is to do the work, to finish the work, and then live for another day, so they can start on a new piece of work. The end goal is not necessarily to achieve great success, but to express what is inside, what they may not be able to explain to anyone else, except for showing the work. And to do that, first they just have to show up. 

Director Kelly Reichard does that better than most, as expressed delicately, yet with great passion, in all her films to date. Without the noise of genre films, she captures great big slabs of life, and then distills them into tasty slices that resonate and echo, like a flat stone skipped on a calm lake, rippling quietly yet memorably.

The film opens Friday, April 21, Angelika Film Center (Dallas), Cinemark West Plano, and Alamo Drafthouse Richardson, via A24 Films. It will expand April 28 to additional theaters in Addison, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hurst and Plano, . For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Tetris,’ Video-Game Cold-War Thriller

Taron Egerton stars in a nostalgic film that gradually becomes a thriller. 

Who knew falling blocks can be so much fun? And serve as building blocks for a retro cold-war thriller? 

The opening scene establishes Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) in a high-rise office building, making a sales pitch to a Japanese bank executive (Rick Yune) who looks bored as Henk tells what sounds like a slight variation on his usual sales pitch. The difference is that Henk is genuinely enthusiastic about the true potential of what he’s selling. 

As Henk makes his pitch, his globe-hopping is dramatized as he narrates his introduction to an instantly-addictive video game at a trade show, followed by his relentless pursuit of the sales rights. Frankly, even though the narrated sequences are handsomely produced and propulsively sown together —  Colin Goudie, Ben Mills, and Martin Walsh are credited as film editors —  the ceaseless globe-hopping of what appeared to be a video-game origin movie was starting to wear out my patience. 

Then, as Henk arrives in Russia, sometime around 1988, director Jon S. Baird slows the pace down. Written by Nick Pink, the opening portion of the film is merely a prelude to what happens to Henk when he seeks the sales rights from the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), stumbling into a hornet’s nest, where Communist Party security officials, the Russian beauracracy, Japanese interests, a software salesman, and Nintendo all compete against each other to acquire the rights to publish a video-game that would become a worldwide smash. 

After one viewing, I could not decipher the many layers of legitimate business dealings, as opposed to those cloaked in duplicitiy and criminality. How much of this “inspired by a true story” movie is, in fact, true, and how much is pumped-up artifice?

By the end of the movie, I did not care. 

Taron Egerton is very convincing as a good-hearted family man, married to a loving and supportive wife (Ayane Nagabuchi), with multiple adorable children, and doing his very best to pull off a deal to ensure their financial future. He’s the owner of a small software copmany in Japan, where he met his wife, has a working knowledge of the language, and also wants to keep his company viable for the sake of his devoted employees. 

Multiple other colorful supporting characters populate the film, which moves at a pace that slowly picks up speed and resembles a video game. 

But it’s a good video game, and one that is irresistible. 

The film opens Friday, March 24, in select theaters nationwide. In Dallas, it opens at Alamo Drafthouse Lake Highlands. It will be available to stream March 31 on Apple TV+. For more information about the film, visit the official site.