Archive for category Reviews
Ever since the beginning of cinema, actors and directors have been teaming up to produce multiple projects together. Leonardo Dicaprio was just another pretty face before Martin Scorcese made him an actor; Wes Anderson’s phone number is the only one Bill Murray will ever answer; Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater break all kinds of boundaries; Tim Burton and Johnny Depp share the same brain; and John Ford and John Wayne are probably still making movies together in heaven. What makes them work so well together is because each pair have a unique brand; you always know what you’re going to get when you walk in the theater. One of the more recent actor/director collaborations is Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg, who have made four films together over the last five years (two of which opened in 2016). The first three were powerful true stories of harrowing bravery in the face of tragedy. Their newest partnership, Mile 22, is miles from their previous jaunts together, but nevertheless stays true to their brand.
Wahlberg plays James Silva, a man recruited by a clandestine government agency because of his wild temper and unfortunate upbringing. He’s a man without morals, without shame. He talks in narcissistic tones and rattles off his beliefs to perpetrators as if he’s channeling a ’90s version of Denis Leary. And he’s ruthless when it comes to his job, getting the work done no matter the cost. He’s paired with a team of similar, like-minded anti-heroes, none more so than Alice Kerr (an aggressively foul-mouthed Lauren Cohan), who must use a sensitivity divorce app so that her mouth doesn’t get her in hot water with her ex-husband (Berg) and give him fuel for the custody fire. She’s feminine on the outside, hot-wire testosterone on the inside.
While stationed at the U.S. embassy in China during an operation to track down some weaponized gas, a man (Iko Uwais) walks up to the embassy with a hard drive that holds the key to where the gas is located around the world. The only way to get those answers is to provide him with asylum to the U.S. There’s a time limit, though, as the ability to enter the code that will unlock what they need only lasts for several hours. Silva’s team, then, must get this man twenty-two miles to an airfield while being tracked by a shady Chinese government that wants him silenced.
This is the first time Wahlberg and Berg have partnered on a fictional story and one that doesn’t portray Wahlberg as a standard hero — someone who beats the odds while saving lives under the rule of law and integrity. Silva is a degenerate through and through, having to snap a rubber band on his wrist in order to ease his temper. It’s these little quirks, though, that add to the character and give him his arresting personality. It’s hard to relate to Silva, not like the characters Wahlberg has embodied in the past, but the more you learn how abused his mind is, the more you understand him and realize he isn’t so different after all.
It’s also through this character trait that Berg creates the visually kinetic world Silva lives in. On the surface, the film feels tensely frenetic. Choreographed fight scenes and chase sequences edited like a music video on crack. Even the simple dialogue and exposition scenes move too fast to catch your breath. But this visually hungry style digs deep within what makes Silva tick; Berg is showing us how fast and intense Silva’s mind actually is, and when you can’t escape the speed and chaos of this type of reality, how else are you going to present yourself to the world. It’s just one more layer to Silva’s character and both Wahlberg and Berg pull it off beautifully.
A lot of the humor also stems from this gruff, no holds-barred, boys-club attitude. The banter between teammates causes not only friction, but a hostility that leaves you with nothing else to do but laugh so as to release some of your own tension. Along with that, writer Lea Carpenter provides us with authentic-feeling dialogue between Silva’s team and Overwatch, a group of geeks sitting behind computers run by Bishop (John Malkovich), who see all and know all as they guide Silva’s team through the bedlam distracting them from getting to their destination. Watching how this team communicates is a wonder in itself.
Where the script falls a bit short is in the development of plot and key character aspects. Carpenter is so immersed in getting to the twisty reveal at the end of the film that they set things up that never really pay off. Case in point: as Silva’s team tries to get their “package” to the airfield, a couple of hackers remain behind to break the code in case things don’t work out. We get some crazy banter about signatures and the like and one of the hackers tries to find out who was behind building the encryption. This person is eventually revealed, but so arbitrarily, it’s a wonder why so much attention was paid to this aspect of the film.
But is that ultimately the point? Throughout the film, Berg cuts to Silva being interrogated about the mission, and if you’re really paying attention, a lot of what he has to say is in the undertones of the words themselves — that no matter how much you think you’re safe, or how well orchestrated everything is, there really is no point to anything that happens. Life isn’t some calculated game; it’s a mess of circumstance that no one can fully plan for, and when things get ugly, the only thing to do is step up and do what’s necessary to complete the mission.
And therein lies the true testament to Wahlberg and Berg’s collaborations. Mile 22 may be a gritty, less sympathetic way to showcase their message, but in the end, Wahlberg’s character is simply trying to save lives and do so without the help of anyone but himself. It’s not perfect, but it fits and does what it sets out to do, and in that way, Wahlberg and Berg produce yet another win in their growing repertoire.
My Grade: A
Alpha, a dreary story of how the dog (or in this case, wolf) first became “best friends” with man, spends so much time winking at its own cleverness and “authenticity” that it forgets to imbue its tale with fulfilling, heartwarming substance. B-
Though every story line is utterly predictable, Dog Days still pulls at the heartstrings with a Gary Marshall-level symphony of emotions, bringing together a fun cast of characters to deliver a simple message: love in all forms is possible — so as long as you have a dog. B+
Next week, new movies include A-X-L, Searching and The Happytime Murders. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.
What made Jaws so great when it first scared audiences away from beaches (and subsequently made the rest of the series so underwhelming or bad) was that it felt so authentic. It’s been widely documented that Steven Spielberg had major technical problems with the shark during production, limiting its exposure to the audience. This “problem” provided much more tension because we could sense a danger lurking in the depths of the water, but couldn’t see it. Ever since then, filmmakers have tried to replicate that sense of fear to varying degrees of success.
The problem is, as technology evolved and became more accessible, that authenticity devolved. Filmmakers jumped at the chance to use computer effects to create more menacing sharks without the hindrance of technical issues, but in doing so, made them less scary. Not only that, but by focusing so much effort on making the shark more frightening, they stopped caring about the characters, which is another ingredient Spielberg nailed to precision. And when the characters simply become a source for food (and the only goal of the filmmaker is how many people die, and how gruesome their deaths will be), we lose that connection and, thus, our ability to relate to what’s happening. The genre, therefore has either embraced the stupidity of shark attacks or have failed to live up to the promise of being the next Jaws. Read Full Review
In small doses, Kate McKinnon can be very funny. On Saturday Night Live, for example, she has a knack for infusing characters with just enough manic energy and quirky characteristics that juxtapose perfectly with her straight-laced counterparts within the same sketch, and with her ability for perfectly-timed, over-the-top expressions, she can both make a sketch work from the beginning or bring life to an otherwise dying sketch. But this works best in four-minute bursts. It doesn’t work as well when she tries to extend this personality over the course of a two hour film. I have yet to see a movie featuring McKinnon where I didn’t find her overly aggressive, annoying and off-putting, mainly because it’s clear this type of extreme shtick is all she knows. This perception doesn’t change with her new film, The Spy Who Dumped Me, where she plays the hyperactive yin to Mila Kunis’s frazzled yang. Read Full Review
In my review of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, I compared the M:I franchise to the Fast and the Furious franchise, in which the films really found there voice with their fourth installments and haven’t let up on the gas since, each one producing fun, inventive (sometimes wholly outrageous) pieces of entertainment. My viewing of each series followed the same basic trajectory, where the first in the series was just okay, the second worse, prompting me to skip the third altogether (and still have yet to see). When the fourth entry came around, I reluctantly went to see them (Fast & Furious because my friend wanted to see it and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol mainly because of Simon Pegg). To my surprise, both franchises upped the ante and turned what could be considered singular, stand-alone projects into a continuous story where each new entry could stand on its own two feet, but as a whole felt as if they were part of a much bigger world, breathing life into the plots and the action by way of new characters that stuck around beyond their first appearance. With Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth installment of the M:I series, it almost feels like the end of an era, wrapping up story threads going back as far as the third film for one last hooray. Read Full Review
Readers love myths, legends and fairy tales. Whether it has to do with vampires, werewolves, Greek gods or little red riding hood, mythical creatures and tales of magic and happy endings allow our imaginations to run wild while teaching us lessons in morality. More to the point, fairy tales have a legendary sensibility to them, which is why a lot of writers continue to re-envision these stories with a fresh eye, helping new generations believe in something otherworldly (and maybe teach them a lesson in life, love and friendship). Vampires were given sparkles in Twilight; King Arthur and Robin Hood have seen many an iteration, and the most prominent re-imagining of fairy tale characters was in the television show Once Upon A Time. In Shot Through the Heart: A Faerie Story, C.A. King brings a new spin to a character not many have tackled, taking us behind the scenes of Cupid and adding a fun twist on the classic god of love and attraction.
In this short story, Cupid isn’t just one being; it’s an agency of faeries who travel from their unseen realm to our world with a pair of names they are tasked with helping to fall in love. I thought it was quite interesting to see this concept as a regular job, where one misstep could get you fired, or worse, demoted to troll duty. Some of the lore that King sets up is a little on the light side (meaning it doesn’t dig too deep into how all of this was established or what the rules are), but she provides just enough to understand how the world works and how it affects the characters.
The main character is Adelia, a new recruit for the Cupid agency. Her first job upon her promotion is to pair a man named Ricky Sage with a girl named May. Another new recruit, Junapree, is also tasked with pairing a couple named Dean Sage and Mary. When Janapree accidentally targets May instead of Mary, things get a bit sticky. Adelia returns to the agency to report the mistake and is soon tasked with fixing the issue by finding another match for Ricky. To do so, she needs to enter the mortal world, which leads her to learn that the faerie’s mistake goes a lot deeper than anyone first believed.
The story is quick and breezy. With only twelve chapters (each with about two to six pages each), it’s easy to get through. The tone is light and airy, matching the core of the characters that inhabit the world. The stakes may be high, but they also feel inconsequential in so far as that everything will more than likely work itself out in the end, a fairy tale trope that works well for the story King is telling. This isn’t supposed to be a dense, dramatic or tense story. You’re supposed to fall in love with Adelia as she seeks to produce love in others, and that’s what happens.
So much so that you want more than you’re allowed to have. There is so much content that could be mined from this idea, that you always have the sense something is missing. I yearn to learn about this world in more detail and travel along with these characters as they try to fix their mistakes. It was a great story, with some interesting characters, it just wasn’t enough, which seems to be a trend with King’s story (see my review of Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness) — there isn’t enough meat on the bones to satisfy you. Some stories are meant to be short and sweet. I don’t think this should have been one of them, and I would love to see what King could do if she allowed herself to develop her stories beyond the simple short narrative.
My Grade: A-
Born and raised in Halton County, Ontario, Canada, C.A. King is proud to be among the list of Canadian-born authors. King wasn’t always a writer; it wasn’t until her husband and both parents passed that King found her passion for the written word. After retiring from the workforce to do some soul searching, she found she could redirect her emotions onto the page, and in 2014, decided to follow that passion and publish some of her works. She hopes her writing can inspire a new generation of Canadian authors and add to the literary heritage and culture Canada has to offer.
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If you are an independent author and would like your book reviewed, let me know in the comments section with a link to where I can purchase the book. If I find it intriguing, and it’s something I think I’d like, I will purchase a copy and add it to my reading list. Not all requests will be accepted.
It seems sequel-itis has officially hit theaters this week with not one, not two, but three follow-ups to semi-successful films that most people weren’t hankering for. This comes on the heels of Tom Cruise’s sixth go-around as Ethan Hunt in the Mission:Impossible series and follows a week after the third installment of Hotel Transylvania 3 graced us with its unpleasant summer vacation. I understand that brand recognition can drive sequels, but if that’s the only thing studios are banking on, then they are doing not only the audience, but themselves a disservice. Producing a sequel is one thing; producing a new story with interesting character development within the same world is quite another, and it isn’t hard to see the difference. Where Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again, a follow-up ten years in the making, finds a way to feed off of its predecessor while maturing into its own delightful song, The Equalizer 2, the next chapter to the semi-successful 2014 film about a man with a past who anonymously helps those less fortunate, does nothing but set itself on repeat. Read Full Review
Science fiction as a genre is very vague in its identity. The reason being, there are a plethora of sub-divisions within the sci-fi umbrella, which include space travel, time travel, alien planets, futuristic technology, altered states, multi-verses, wormholes, gritty noir, action, drama, comedy and of course realistic science. With Necrotic City, author Leland Lydecker adds political intrigue to that list, tackling a sub-genre that if done incorrectly, could damage a book’s popularity among particular groups of people. Lydecker, though, balances the heavy political material with enough tension and foresight as to allow each reader to utilize the lens of their own predilections to guide them in how the story unfolds and how they ultimately feel about the characters, what they do when confronted with certain decisions, what to take away from the story, and how it relates to the society we currently live and society as a whole.
The story revolves around Adrian, a genetically- and robotically-enhanced human, known as a Hero, bred to protect the citizens of Necrotic City. Controlled by the Company, the city has been divided into several “tiers”, the top tiers of which are designated for the wealthy and most affluent members of the community, while the lower you go, the more downtrodden the public becomes to the point in which a wall was built to exclude a number of tiers because they were no longer worth their time, money or influence.
During a routine patrol of one of the lower tiers, Adrian is caught in the destruction of a housing complex. At the same time, due mostly to the amount of citizens he’s saved, he’s also one of five heroes nominated to become the Prime Hero. Griffith, his main competitor, though, wishes to change the structure of the city, merging the Hero division in with the Enforcers — those that are able to arrest, judge and terminate citizens when necessary. After losing the election to Griffith, and seeing the widespread dissent and destruction, Adrian is reassigned to private citizen protection, and must decide whether he wants to continue living under the new rule of law, or discover something new hidden in the depths of the city.
Lydecker does a good job in setting up our hero, giving us someone we all can relate to while showing us how he operates on different levels, both physically and emotionally. With a heightened level of integrity, Adrian would die to protect any citizen, no matter their station, he has a high level of physical and mental strength, as well as a heart that shows he’s not so by-the-books strict that he must follow the rules by the letter, but will allow some leeway in situations he deems insignificant. Lydecker also sets up a lot of well-crafted secondary characters that are fun and interesting and fit well into the story.
What Lydecker doesn’t seem to do as well is set up the structure of the city itself. There are a lot of terms that are used to differentiate the classes of people, but how the city is actually set up was never quite clear to me, so trying to visualize how things are built in order to follow the action correctly did get a little frustrating. The good thing is, because the characters are set up so well, after awhile, it doesn’t seem to matter as much because you’re so invested in what’s happening and what will happen to these characters that the layout of the city becomes inconsequential to what’s actually happening.
The pace of the book is also a bit of a mixed bag. There is so much mundane action that set up the characters but don’t do much else in the first few chapters, that the story gets a bit sluggish and I kept wondering if anything important was ever going to happen. But then Adrian is nominated for the Prime Hero role and the political intrigue begins to really take over, adding a new level of intensity that was missing from the first third of the book. Then, halfway through, Lydecker begins burning through a lot of meaty ideas to try and reach the end quicker, making everything feel far too rushed.
Characters get in and out of situations quicker than they should and the setups take more time than the payoff, as if everything is gearing up for something big and then it’s just over and moving on to the next big event that will end just as abruptly. This happens with a few character developments as well, where double-crosses are turned on a dime without much exploration for why they were set up that way in the first place, with one character in particular dying without much fanfare. They’re here, they cause havoc and with the snap of a finger, they’re gone.
Necrotic City isn’t the most well-written sci-fi novel (how many times is Adrian going to wake to begin a chapter?), nor is it a perfectly captured political thriller, but because of Lydecker’s knack for creating a set of interesting and compelling characters (some, like Vey, who Adrian meets late in the novel, I wish I could have seen more of), Necrotic City seamlessly blends the two genres, and I believe that if Lydecker finds a way to balance his pacing a bit better in the future, this is an independent author I would try again to see what’s next in the exploration of genetics, robotics, and political corruption within our society.
My Grade: B+
As a writer and former airline employee, Leland Lydecker’s interests range from the natural world, to space exploration, to technology and medicine, emphasizing genetic engineering, cybernetics and artificial intelligence, all of which help support his preferred writing topics, including crime, extra-judicial justice, corporate corruption and the future of our societies.
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If you are an independent author and would like your book reviewed, let me know in the comments section with a link to where I can purchase the book. If I find it intriguing, and it’s something I think I’d like, I will purchase a copy and add it to my reading list.
Harmless (adjective): not able or likely to cause harm; inoffensive. Synonyms include safe, benign, mild, unobjectionable and unexceptional.
All of these words apply to Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, a harmless, safe form of entertainment that goes out of its way to be as inoffensive and unobjectionable as it can be, ultimately making the film feel benign and unexceptional. If I may, I would also like to add: unnecessary. Read Full Review
Walton Goggins has been a favorite actor of mine since he first broke onto the scene as Timothy Olyphant’s charismatic and calculated foil Boyd Crowder on FX’s Justified. Goggins brought rich depth and nuance to a character that wasn’t meant to last past the first episode, and he didn’t let any second of screen time go to waste, especially when he shared it with Olyphant, each able to bring out a brother-like camaraderie that intensified the other’s performance. Ever since then, whether it be in TV or movies, Goggins has yet to recapture that presence in the same way. Goggins is a thinking man’s actor, and so far this year, he’s taken roles (or been given them) in films that don’t need any brain cells to enjoy, such as Maze Runner: The Death Cure and Tomb Raider, and that trend doesn’t stop with Marvel’s newest film, Ant-Man and the Wasp. Read Full Review
There’s been some controversy recently about producers and studios claiming that some movies aren’t made for critics; they’re made for the fans. For me, this claim is just an excuse to produce films without any effort. If critics weren’t fans of film, why would they subject themselves to hours upon hours of their lives watching them? And if studios don’t want to receive bad reviews, they should stop rushing films into production and do what Pixar does and take the time to develop a good, solid story. On the other hand, everyone will bring their own personal experiences with them into a film. Where one person sees a masterpiece, another sees boring tripe. You’re never going to please everyone; all you can really do is make the best possible movie you can and let the chips fall where they may. Somoene’s opinion should never be mocked or ridiculed just because it doesn’t line up with yours. I know not everyone is going to like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the newest entry into the dino-centric franchise. Some will think it’s a retread of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, some won’t be interested in the cast, and some will say it’s nothing more than a cash-grab. And that’s fine. As for me, I enjoy an array of different types of films, and as both a critic and a fan, I thought Fallen Kingdom was a welcome addition to the franchise. Read Full Review