‘Bloodshot’ Offers a Sort-of Fascinating Spin on a Few Common Sci-Fi Tropes

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures

Starring: Vin Diesel, Guy Pearce, Eiza González, Lamorne Morris, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, Talulah Riley

Director: David S.F. Wilson

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Bullets and Explosions Here and There

Release Date: March 13, 2020

Bloodshot strikes me as more of a cinematic experiment moreso than a narrative presentation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The medium of film is robust enough that it can accomodate things that aren’t exactly telling a story or not doing so straightforwardly. Bloodshot actually does have some sort of plot, but that’s not the most interesting part about it. Based on a comic book series, it stars Vin Diesel as a Marine named Ray Garrison who gets killed but then is very quickly brought back to life stronger and more deadly. You know, that old saw that we love from the likes of The Six Million Dollar Man and RoboCop. He is bent on revenge against the man who “killed” both him and his wife, although the scientist who brought him back, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), has a few missions he would like him to go on, but perhaps their motivations align with each other … or do they?

Ray’s enhancement is fueled by microscopic technology referred to as “nanites,” a word that I will never not find hilarious as I primarily associate it with the creatures of that name from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Basically, the idea is that these little creatures, or tiny robots, or whatever they are, work at an atomic level to repair any injury that Ray sustains thoroughly and immediately. In visual practice, this means that when he gets hit with bullets or other weaponry, fields of blood-red strands shoot off from his body, as his molecules re-assemble in mid-air and then return back into him.

Working alongside that idea of reassembling on the fly, the other major idea fueling Bloodshot is the series of false memories that uploaded into Ray’s head. His revenge mission, it turns out, may just be what he’s been programmed to do. In practice, this generally means that it never feels fully clear exactly what the practical stakes are. But on the plus(-ish) side, it also means we get some visual flourishes that I’ve never quite seen in any other movie, like one moment that virtually recreates the setting that Ray has been trained to remember. It looks like a behind-the-scenes video that shows the rendering of visual effects. I’m not sure that sort of thing belongs in a finished cinematic product, but I’m fascinated by its presence there nonetheless.

That mix of fascination and uncertainty is my general overall reaction to Bloodshot. Pretty much everything about it feels like it was made up on the fly, or meant to be about making it up on the fly. How else to explain the presence of New Girl‘s Lamorne Morris as an English hacker and the fact that he’s the best part of the movie? The second part is easy enough to explain: he’s Lamorne Morris, and he’s awesome. But presumably, he would’ve been just as awesome with his normal speaking voice. Is his character unmistakably English in the comic? Do we Americans just love accents that much? Look, you get your pleasures where you can with a movie that doesn’t seem to have thought through every little detail. Or you turn your brain off and admire the pretty pictures. Or you tap into some part of your brain that you didn’t realize you’d need to access for a movie as surprisingly un-pin-down-able as this one.

Bloodshot is Recommended If You Like: Vin Diesel gradually figuring it out, Lamorne Morris as the comic relief, DVD bonus features about special effects

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Nanites

Movie Review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ is Surprisingly Goofy, Unsurprisingly Family-Oriented, and Annoyingly Convoluted

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Universal Pictures

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Eddie Marsan, Eiza González, Helen Mirren

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Big Vehicles and Big Egos Slamming Into Each Other

Release Date: August 2, 2019

Spin-offs should offer something that the original couldn’t. Hobbs & Shaw immediately feels off in that regard, considering that Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have already been a couple of the biggest characters in the last few Fast & Furious movies. Although, they aren’t quite members of the core family, so that leaves them enough wiggle room to break out on their own. But it can’t be too different! This franchise has a sterling stunt reputation it needs to maintain, and while director David Leitch and company do not try to be as relentlessly mind-blowing as Fast Five or Furious 7, there is at least one memorable moment when a motorcycle slinks between some truck tires.

The separation, then, mostly comes in Hobbs & Shaw being at its core an odd couple buddy comedy, and in this case, that means a few celebrity cameos who inject their own particular brands of impishness. These moments feel out of place in this world, but they might also be the best parts? Their charms cannot be denied. Honestly, though, I think we would have been better off spending more time with Hobbs’ daughter (Eliana Sua), as her scenes are both delightful AND internally consistent.

As wonderfully corny as Hobbs & Shaw is willing to be, it can’t change the fact that most of the plot is convoluted high-tech, globetrotting nonsense. Idris Elba is the cybernetically enhanced big bad, and we get a few genuinely disturbing shots of how he is becoming a superhuman or something beyond human. There is a hint of a larger conspiracy at play here, but only a hint. Meanwhile Vanessa Kirby plays Deckard’s sister Hattie, an MI6 agent who has been infected with a virus that’s going to kill her and apparently everyone around her also. The explanation for how the virus is supposed to spread is either glossed over or not emphasized enough, which is a problem because the race to cure Hattie is what drives most of the action.

Thankfully, the reward for dithering through all that is a surefire demonstration that we must, in true F&F fashion, celebrate the importance of family. It’s not as flat-out heartwarming as the series proper, but Hobbs takes us all along to Samoa to meet his mom and brothers, and Helen Mirren totally rocks her prison jumpsuit in her return as Mama Shaw. I could do without all the derivative action flick gobbledygook, but I’m grateful for the good vibes.

Hobbs & Shaw is Recommended If You Like: James Bond, but with a goofy postmodern (though not quite parody) sensibility

Grade: 3 out of 5 Friendy Insults

Movie Review: ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Features Visionary Effects and a Convoluted Story

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Eiza González, Lana Condor, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Idara Victor

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Running Time: 122 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Cyborg Limbs Flying All Over the Place

Release Date: February 14, 2019

Can slightly-larger-than-normal human eyes in a motion capture performance exist anywhere other than the Uncanny Valley? That is the conundrum at the heart of Alita: Battle Angel‘s box office prospects, but from where I’m sitting, they’re clearly the best part of the film. Yeah, those peepers might be creepy, but they are also a deep wellspring of an infectious personality. Rosa Salazar may have given her performance while dressed up in a bodysuit with a camera mounted on her head, but her enthusiasm to be part of groundbreaking cinema is consistently palpable.

Based on the manga series Gunnm, Alita: Battle Angel was co-written and co-produced by James Cameron, but presumably because he’s busy with all those Avatar sequels, directing duties fell to Robert Rodriguez. This could have been a clash of auteurs, as both men are enamored with creating digitally rendered, visually rich fantasy worlds, but Rodriguez has never really worked on the same scale as Cameron. (To be fair, nobody works on quite the same scale as Cameron.) But the steampunk metropolis of Iron City in 2563 is a sight to behold, and its array of cyborg citizens are correspondingly fascinating. Rodriguez has mostly realized Cameron’s vision without putting his own unique stamp on the project, but even so, on a technical level, this is the best James Cameron movie that Cameron never directed.

Too bad the plot is incomprehensible. A bunch of sci-fi tropes about the dangers of creating and living alongside artificial life are thrown out there, but none of them amount to anything. There is some talk about how Alita resembles the deceased daughter of her scientist caretaker (Christoph Waltz), but that does not lead to any of the expected emotional confusion. Alita is also being hunted down by other cyborgs, but it is never clear what threat she actually poses to anyone. Also, she is centuries old and the last of her kind, which could mean that she is a sort of Rosetta stone to the past, and people treat her that way, but nobody ever clearly explains why that matters. With all the empty dialogue in Alita, it makes me wish that someone in 2019 would be bold enough to make a $200 million sci-fi extravaganza as a silent film.

Alita: Battle Angel is Recommended If You Like: James Cameron’s Brand of 3D Visual Effects, Overly Busy Impenetrable Screenplays

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Big Eyes

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Welcome to Marwen’ is an Odd True-Life Story Made Odder by Fitting Into Feel-Good Movie Clichés

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CREDIT: Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie, Diane Kruger, Neil Jackson

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Bloody Doll-Based Violence, Neo-Nazi Assault Flashbacks, and a Few Unexpected Sexual References

Release Date: December 21, 2018

Welcome to Marwen is a low-key film whose gentleness belies its supreme oddity. At least it comes by its unusual nature honestly. It’s based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol, about the artist Mark Hogancamp, who was beaten nearly to death after he told a group of men that he was a cross-dresser. Then as a kind of therapy, he constructed a miniature Belgian World War II-era village and populated it with dolls representing himself and the people in his life. I haven’t seen Marwencol, so I cannot attest to any historical veracity or lack thereof, but given the premise, Welcome to Marwen was always going to be as tricky to make sense of as it turned out to be. Steve Carell, for his part, plays Hogancamp like the sort of meek, PTSD-afflicted, obsessive, highly impressive individual that corresponds with his story. But then there are ways in which Welcome to Marwen attempts to mold Hogancamp’s world into a traditional cinematic structure, and the movie itself feels like it is rebelling.

The biggest miscalculation is probably the romance storyline, which consists of a series of major miscommunications on the part of everyone involved. The doll version of Mark is typically accompanied by his female companions, and the scenarios he playacts quite clearly reveal the feelings he has for them. Figuring prominently is Mark’s new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann), which is pronounced just like “Nicole,” but spelled without the “e” for some inexplicable reason. She’s quite forward in her friendliness, which Mark interprets as romantic interest, which he appears to be correct about, until it is unmistakably clear that he is in fact very incorrect, rendering the audience confused by the ways in which Mark’s perspective is favored over everyone else’s.

While Welcome to Marwen has a few clear missteps, I am not sure how this story could have overall been presented much differently. One answer is that it should not have been made at all, leaving the documentary to stand on its own. But I reject that, on the basis of believing that all cinematic ventures, no matter how ill-advised, can theoretically turn out successful. However, while I am fascinated by this elaborate fantasy world created to deal with trauma and the way that director Robert Zemeckis presents it, I wouldn’t point to Marwen as the best example of this maxim.

Welcome to Marwen is Recommended If You Like: Extensive shoe collections, Romantic miscommunications, Playing with dolls and action figures at any age

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Glamonistas

This is a Movie Review: Baby Driver

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González

Director: Edgar Wright

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Everything Spinning Out of Control

Release Date: June 28, 2017

I am not sure if the one nagging thing preventing me from fully embracing Baby Driver is a moral one or a storytelling one. I am also not sure if that thing matters and I should just embrace the film unabashedly. But either way, let me let you in on my thought process: am I bothered by not just all the bloody mayhem, but also that we are seemingly meant to cheer on all this violence? Or am I more flummoxed by the lack of context regarding Doc the crime boss (Kevin Spacey)? Part of the issue is that I was prepared for just a fun stylized thrill ride but what I got did not skimp on the consequences. In fairness, I should have been prepared, as writer/director Edgar Wright’s films always grapple with the practical and emotional fallout of even the most outrageous circumstances. While that is alarming, Baby Driver is frankly better for it.

But back to that highly stylized premise for a moment. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver with a drum in his hum (i.e., tinnitus sustained from a car accident that killed his parents) and thus always has earbuds in to keep himself centered and rhythmic. Accordingly, the soundtrack never lets up. It is a toe-tapping mix of classic rock, funk, and R&B that is never too familiar to be too tiresome. It would be impractical to list every track, but I will pick out a few favorites (Bob & Earl’s breezy “Harlem Shuffle,” Golden Radar’s ominous-but-in-a-fun-way “Radar Love,” Focus’ face-melting yodeler “Hocus Pocus”) and note that all of them have everyone’s heart ticking at just the right click.

This could all be a setup for a nearly dialogue-free sensory experience, but instead it has an honest-to-goodness narrative, and the result is more challenging than the alternative. It traffics in clichés, but it spins gold out of them. Baby never meant to get mixed up in this world of thieves, and he is going to get out of the game after ONE LAST JOB. Naturally, Doc threatens to break his legs and destroy his loved ones, but the two also seem to somehow have a genuine friendship. The contradictions are striking but lived-in and convincing. The love story is just as basic and formulaic, with Baby dead-set on driving out of town with diner waitress Debora (Lily James). But their attraction is sparkling and immediately filled with mutual respect. The only improbable thing is how they lucky they are to have met their perfect match by sheer happenstance.

Ultimately Baby chooses to resort to some extreme means to escape his lot in life, and the fate that then meets him somehow feels simultaneously black-and-white and filled with shades of gray. Herein Baby Driver reveals itself as an illustration of the tension between a decent man and an indecent world. We all need to something to keep us centered to get by. For Baby, that is not just his music. Even more so, it is a penchant for mutual acts of kindness and pleasantness. A valuable message absolutely, and one that makes the few moments when Baby slips into darkness so difficult to bear.

Baby Driver is Recommended If You Like: Its Trailers – this is a well-advertised movie

Grade: 4 out of 5 iPods