Tag Archives: movie review

Review: In ‘Morbius,’ The Darkness Beckons

Jared Leto stars in a Marvel movie adventure, directed by Daniel Espinosa. 

A dark adventure that gets darker as it goes, Morbius flexes its action muscles early and often, telling the story of a brilliant doctor who is desperately searching for a cure to a rare, blood-borne disease. His latest experiment goes disastrously wrong, turning him into a ‘living vampire’ with an insatiable appetite for human blood. 

Scripted by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, a writing team whose credits include Lost in Space, Gods of Egypt and Dracula Untold, based on a Marvel comic-book character, created by Roy Thomas, that first appeared in 1971, Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is presented as someone whose life was shaped by a rare, disabling medical condition. In his youth, he met Milo (Matt Smith), who suffered from the same disease, but came from a far more privileged background. The two became lifelong friends, and Milo continues to fund Mobius’ medical experiments. 

Lately, Dr. Morbius has been focusing his research on vampire bats, and believes he may have found a cure. He is seriously mistaken, resulting in a disturbing collection of corpses that have all been drained of their blood, save for a sole survivor, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius’ colleague and a romantic interest. 

As soon as Milo learns of the Morbius solution, and sees for himself that the ‘solution’ leads to a fantastic, permanent uptick into the superhuman realm for whoever takes it, he ignores Morbius’ pleas for restraint, leading to a series of destructive battles between the two in the skies above New York City. Much blood is shed, amidst an endless array of colorful vapor trails in the night sky. 

Director Daniel Espinosa is a Swedish filmmaker who broke out big with Snabba Cash (2010), established himself in Hollywood with Safe House (2012), and followed that with the European crime-drama Child 44 (2015) and the sci-fi horror Life (2017), the latter of which showed he could take a vaguely familiar premise and turn it into a roundly entertaining thriller.  Taken purely as escapist entertainment, Morbius fits neatly into Espinosa’s filmography. 

The action sequences are well-executed showcases for the visual effects, which consistently divert the eyes, though without engaging much thought beyond the simple command: “See, dog! Fetch!” Jared Leto and Matt Smith are well matched as snarling face pitted against each other; Jared Harris lends his grounded authenticity as a longtime physician; Adria Arjona ably contributes in her character’s various thin roles as ‘doctor’ and ‘romantic interest,’ as well as ‘sensible and caring person.’  

On the big screen, the dark palette looks appropriate for the dark story that is told. We are living in dark days, so it is fitting to see a dark antihero who is doing his best to resist his impulse to do dark things. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, April 1, via Sony Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘The Batman,’ Into the Shadows

Every new iteration of Batman, derived from the DC Comics character created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, has reflected the period in which it was produced. 

Thus, the campy television show Batman reflected the campiest aspects of 1960s culture; Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) granted its characters seriousness of purpose, which was soon undermined by its increasingly zany sequels; and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy reclaimed the serious intent. Zack Snyder’s version of Batman was even darker, imagining the character as he grayed in appearance and became even more ambivalent about his motivations. 

Ben Affleck was signed on to further the character in a solo film, but dropped out. Matt Reeves came on board with still another version of the character, a man who is younger and not, at this point, connected to the DC Extended Universe of films. 

It is Matt Reeves’ vision that has been realized in The Batman, and it is a magnificently dark vision that resets expectations about the character and his place in the world. 

We only glimpse ‘billionaire Bruce Wayne’ occasionally. His primary attention is devoted to his life as a crime-fighting vigilante, a figure in the night who inspires fear. His self-description, announced in the first few minutes, is to the point: “I am vengeance.” And vengeance does not sleep. 

The Batman (Robert Pattinson), as he is known far and wide, is in Year Two of his public activity, supported by James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), an impeccable man of integrity who must constantly deal with blowback from his fellow officers, detectives, and superiors in Gotham City, the large, fictional metropolis where the story is set. (The city looks more than ever like an unholy convergence of Old Chicago, Modern New York, and Future Los Angeles, circa Blade Runner).

A series of increasingly outrageous and murderous crimes awakens the city to the presence of a serial killer, who wants to be known as The Riddler. For reasons that are not initially apparent, The Riddler draws a rope ever tighter around The Batman’s neck, eventually drawing The Batman to look ever more closely at his family history.  

The mystery, as constructed by co-writers Matt Reeves and Peter Craig, is what drives the story forward, creating sufficient space and reasonable motivation along the way for a series of elaborate, sometimes jaw-dropping action sequences. Simultaneously, as the mystery is fleshed out, its motivations are gradually unveiled, shining a light on complex family dynamics. 

It’s the familial relationships of more than one key character that bec0me the cornerstones for what Matt Reeves is building, rippling outward in ever greater circles. The performances fit the characters, and the actors, notably Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgard, and Colin Farrell, are fully up to the task of creating a motley crew varied of fully-fleshed out individuals. Some are taciturn, some are eloquent, some are more visually striking, yet nearly all underplay, toning down emotional outbursts until the time may come for such a display. 

One of the pleasures of the film, especially for longtime viewers of the Batman cinematic universe, is the absence of familiar touchstones from past installments. Some well-known characters are featured, including Alfred, Catwoman, The Penguin, and The Riddler, James Gordon, and others, but they have been re-thought and re-invented for a new, darker day. 

The new film is certainly dark, spending more time in the shadows than out of them. It fits the bleak atmosphere that The Batman inhabits. Maybe it’s where we’re all living now. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, March 4, via distributor Warner Brothers. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Uncharted,’ Trapped in a Video Game

Do not miss the opening scene, especially if you risked your life during a global pandemic to see this movie on the biggest screen possible. (On IMAX it looks truly phenomenal!)

The movie proper begins after the in media res opening scene and a flashback, which sounds like a long way to travel, simply to start a mindless movie based on a video game, but it sets up the sequence of events to follow and succeeds in making one anxious to watch the next action scene, whatever it might be, because it promises to relieve the tedium of sitting through yet another narrative exposition, which really doesn’t matter anyway, since this movie is all about the action scenes. 

Did I mention it’s based on a best-selling series of video games? 

I’ve never played any of the games in question, which began with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, released in 2007. Per Wikipedia: “The main series of games follows Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who travels across the world to uncover various historical mysteries.” 

Well, that’s basically the plot of Uncharted, the live-action movie, directed by Ruben Fleischer, known especially for good-hearted comedies, starting with Zombieland (2009) and the extremely zippy, if less-heralded 30 Minutes or Less (2011), followed most recently by the larger-scale action pictures Venom (2018) and Zombieland: Double Tap (2019), which both played down to lowered expectations. 

Displaying lovely busy backgrounds in an artificially-enhanced atmosphere that doesn’t feel like the world in which we currently live, Uncharted follows Nate Drake (Tom Holland), a big-city bartender who makes a modest living, boosted by his earnings as an expert pickpocket. One night, Sully (Mark Wahlberg) enters his life, offering the Kid an opportunity to join him on a mission to hunt down the greatest treasure ever known. (The movie is not short on a steady supply of self-applied superlatives.) 

Sully also teases the possibility that he knows what happened to Nate’s beloved older brother, who disappeared some 15 years before. (Watch the early flashback for pertinent story details.) With that possibility in mind, Nate agrees to join Sully, but first an adversary or two needs to be introduced, along with another friendly collaborator who cannot be trusted.  

Tati Gabrielle adroitly portrays Braddock, a sleek, mysterious and deadly figure; Antonio Banderas plays Santiago Moncada, an heir to a fortune who speaks Spanish, which makes him immediately suspect; and Sophia Allie embodies the winsome Chloe Frazer, whose true motives remain unknown, yet highly suspicious. 

Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg manifest their charming, friendly, and winning personalities as though they were on the longest red carpet in the world, which makes their constant, occasionally amusing banter the rightful center of the wildly uneven action adventure. 

In the screenplay, which is credited to Rafe Judkins (the recent Prime Video series The Wheel of Time) and the team of Art Macum and Matt Holloway, who also produced, and are known for writing Transformers: The Last Knight and Men in Black: International, Uncharted doesn’t explore new territory so much as it reimagines a modern adventure movie. The film is quite open in its unspoken admiration for the great action classics that have come before, and even proudly name-checks one. 

Its focus, though, is on imagining ever more outlandish and outrageously elaborate action sequences. Slender as it is, the slender plot-line is only intended to connect, somehow, the dashing, incredibly involved, daring-if-they-were-real sequences, which are deliriously unrealistic and unmoored to any sort of recognizable human reality. 

The plot holes are big enough to hurl a flying pirate ship through, with room to spare for anything else your heart might desire to see on a big, big movie screen. The more, the merrier. 

The film opens Friday, February 18, only in movie theaters, via Sony. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Belfast,’ Snapshots That Resonate 

Where did you grow up? Do you still live in your hometown? 

Many were born in this area and have never left. Others of us, including myself, moved here from other parts of the country, while still others fled unsafe regions of the world and have settled in North Texas. Whatever the case, we probably all still yearn to experience fond memories from our youth, to recall and reminisce. From my own experience, this is especially true as we grow older. 

Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, rapidly approaching 61 years of age, has now turned his attention to his own youth. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he and his family fled to greener, safer pastures as ‘The Troubles’ in his native land reached a boiling point in 1969. 

Framed as a tribute, his latest film, Belfast, presents its story from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy in that tumultuous year. The beguiling Buddy (Jude Hill) happily wanders through his neighborhood on his way home; everyone knows everyone else in the tight-knit community, and shares similar values. 

Or so it would seem, except that The Troubles quickly come home and Buddy’s world is sent spinning. 

As a filmmaker, Kenneth Branagh has built a reputation based on his screen adaptations of stage plays by Shakespeare (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like It) or influenced by Shakespeare (A Midwinter’s Tale, All Is True), as well as plays and novels by other writers (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sleuth, Murder on the Orient Express). His productions for major studios (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella, Artemis Fowl) reflect the work of a journeyman, rather than an auteur. 

Shot by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who has been working with Branagh since Sleuth, and presented in black and white, Belfast marks a fitting departure in style for the filmmaker, calling to mind some of his earlier films in the 1990s. By making a young boy the protagonist, and capturing the narrative from his perspective, Branagh allows the viewer’s knowledge and general assumptions about the period to fill in any blanks. Anything that is left vague and imprecise can be safely attributed to Buddy’s youth. 

From his vantage point, it’s easier to soak in the churning and chaotic atmosphere that is all that the boy has known all his life. It only becomes more important to him when he realizes that his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) and his parents (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan), referred to only as Ma and Pa, are quite rightly anxious and concerned about the effect that The Troubles are having upon their children. 

Meanwhile, Buddy enjoys spending time with his loving grandparents (Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds) and his cousins. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a body part blown off, so to speak, prompting Buddy to snap to attention and come to the recognition that somehow, in some way, his entire world is about to shift on its axis. 

Until that point arrives, Belfast is a marvelously-accomplished, resonant snapshot of a moment in time that is gone forever, but not forgotten. Every immigrant will see something of themselves in the story. I imagine every native who has never left will see something familiar too. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, November 12, via Focus Features. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Genius’

dfn-genius_300For any movie fan who also loves to read, Genius is intoxicating.

The film takes place in New York City over the course of several years in the heady literary period of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The central figure is Max Perkins (Colin Firth), an editor at Scribner who already counts F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) among his renowned authors.

Into his life strides Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), a boisterous presence and a prolific writer. Perkins immediately recognizes his talent, and then must work with Wolfe to trim his ungainly and massively long manuscript into something he can publish. Once that’s done, and Wolfe wins the acclaim he deserves for his first novel, the writer eventually returns with his next book: even longer, even more ungainly, and even more in need of editing, in Perkins’ view.

Yet Wolfe resists, in part because he’s in love with every word he’s written, and in part because he resents the suggestions made by critics and others that he owes his success to Perkins. The exceedingly modest editor, for his part, is resistant to any such idea, and even wonders if his editing has affected Wolfe’s work to its detriment.

The very experienced screenwriter John Logan adapted the first book by A. Scott Berg, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, published in 1978 and winner of a National Book Award. As might be expected, Berg’s book covers far more ground than could be covered in a single feature film, and so Logan primarily focuses on the relationship between Perkins and Wolfe.

That makes sense, in that their personalities are so markedly different. Perkins is quiet and supportive, while Wolfe is wildly effusive and selfish. Perkins is married to a loyal wife (Laura Linney) with a handful of children, while Perkins carries on with a married woman (Nicole Kidman).

Yet Law portrays Wolfe with such over the top abandon that he chews the scenery in every scene he’s in — and then spits it out with relish. It’s difficult to ever forget that Law is giving a performance, which makes it feel like a caricature. Kidman’s shrewish anger at her paramour also strikes a variety of false notes. She’s angry!, dang it, and she wants everyone to know she’s unhappy — and it’s not her fault.

Director Michael Grandage makes his feature debut here, bringing with him considerable experience with stage productions. Teamed with veteran, versatile performers, it’s easy to guess that the very uneven performances played far better in person. On screen, however, the tonal inconsistencies call attention to themselves, and even the best efforts of Academy Award-winning film editor Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire) cannot smooth them all out into a convincing narrative.

The consistent theme that emerges is that we’re only seeing a synopsis of the lives on display. Genius is perfectly enjoyable for what it is: a tasty appetizer, not entirely satisfying on its own, but, strangely enough, a movie that encourages reading, to find out more about Max Perkins and the authors whose talents he nourished.

The film opens in select theaters in Dallas on Friday, June 17.

Review: ‘Mr. Right’

mr_right-poster-300There’s a lot of talk about being crazy in Paco Cabezas’ violent romantic comedy, Mr. Right. Young Martha (Anna Kendrick) endlessly tells herself (and her friends) that she’s crazy for the way she lubricates herself after finding out her boyfriend is cheating on her. Dashing Francis (Sam Rockwell) dons a rubber clown nose and dances his way through a parade of bullets while nonchalantly dispatching the people he’s been hired to kill.

With all that proposed lunacy, it’s no surprise that Martha and Francis make a simpatico couple when they finally “meet-cute” in a convenience store. The real question becomes – once Martha finds out the true identity of this charming, funny guy – will she stay or will she run?

Even though this tired and generic story arc is regurgitated once again here, the performances and energy of both Kendrick and Rockwell save Mr. Right from out and out boredom. In fact, the banter between the two leads is the primary reason to see Mr. Right. They both feel comfortable and effortless as the odd couple growing to appreciate each other inside a budding relationship.

Less effortless is the way Mr. Right swings between rom-com and violent action movie, but I get the idea all the language and blood and gunfire are easy marketing ploys to attract an audience for an otherwise tame comedy. Locked in this other movie are people like Tim Roth as an ex-operative buddy of Francis, hunting him down for some unspecified incident in Serbia.

Likewise, Francis’ new client (James Ransone) has hired him to kill his brother in an attempt to take over the family business. All of these extraneous subplots veer Mr. Right into a Tarantino-esque knock off where people say cute things right before they pull the trigger or some twist from an unknown hand carries the scene into another direction entirely.

Yet, if one can block out all the explosive noise from those parts of the film (or better yet, give up and enjoy them on their own terms) and concentrate on the semi-sweet relationship between Kendrick and Rockwell, then there’s a nice little comedy buried beneath the rubble. As two actors who consistently give perky, unpredictable and honest performances, their streak continues in Mr. Right. It’s just a shame one has to squint to fully enjoy them.

Mr. Right opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, April 8 at the AMC Mesquite.