‘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

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Destroyer’ is Worth Admiring for Nicole Kidman Inhabiting a Detective Whose Soul and Psyche Are Paralyzed by Undercover Work

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CREDIT: Sabrina Lantos/Annapurna Pictures

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

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Jade Pettyjohn, Bradley Whitford, Scoot McNairy, Toby Huss

Director: Karyn Kusama

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: R for The Nasty Violence, Sex, and Drugs of Police Work at Its Most Unmoored

Release Date: December 25, 2018 (Limited)

Destroyer plays a bit like Memento, with its irregular temporal structure and out-of-sorts lead character investigating some unsavory behavior in Los Angeles. But besides a few moments in which everything clicks into place, Destroyer‘s narrative approach is more maddening than brain-tickling. Where Memento‘s backwards arrangement was both revolutionary and strikingly purposeful, Destroyer‘s propensity towards flashbacks and withholding information just feels haphazard. Perhaps director Karyn Kusama and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi had a clear purpose in mind, but that does not really come across in the final product. But at least they have a typically riveting performance from Nicole Kidman to hold everyone’s attention.

Kidman plays LAPD detective Erin Bell, who is basically the epitome of someone whose life has been destroyed by working undercover. The events cut back and forth between her time infiltrating a criminal gang and nearly two decades later when the leader of that crew re-emerges. With perpetually puffy eyes, chapped skin and lips, and dusty hair, she is a walking husk of a person, and you get the sense that she has been that way every day for quite some time. The message seems to be that the lying and identity warping of undercover work cannot possibly be worth whatever good it accomplishes, to which I say: you didn’t have to make an entire grungy movie to convince me! There are a few pleasures to be had when you finally realize why certain memories are as traumatic as they are for Erin and why the opening scene is what it is. But it is a big ask to go down into the muck with Kidman for two hours, although she is at least decent company.

Destroyer is Recommended If You Like: Appreciating the full range of Nicole Kidman’s oeuvre, The dry skin-cracking Los Angeles sun

Grade: 3 out of 5 Spoiled Relationships

 

This Is a Movie Review: A Monster Calls

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A MONSTER CALLS (2016) Conor (Lewis MacDougall) and The Monster (performed and voiced by Liam Neeson)

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Toby Kebbell

Director: J.A. Bayona

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Not Watering Down the Rough Patches in Life

Release Date: December 23, 2016 (Limited), Expands Nationwide January 6, 2017

In the fantasy/domestic drama A Monster Calls, adolescent Conor O’Malley (Lewis McDougal) must deal with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness, his grandmother’s (Sigourney Weaver) overbearing presence, a classmate’s (James Melville) frequent torments, and the geographical distance from his father (Toby Kebbell). In the midst of all this arises a humanoid tree visitor (voiced by Liam Neeson) from the cemetery by his house. Is this monster a friend offering relief, or a foe busting in with more troubles? Hard to say. What he does have are stories, but their meanings are either difficult to parse or not as comforting as Conor would like.

A Monster Calls is admirably challenging for a film ostensibly aimed at family audiences. The laws of nature are likely to make the life of any teenage boy turbulent, and that difficulty is piled on via his parents’ separation, mother’s closeness to death, and the oppressive dreariness of England. A more typical “fantasy creature meets boy” story would position the monster as protector or companion, but for Conor the Liam Neeson Tree is mostly a source of frustration, which he internalizes and takes out on those around him – destroying a room at his grandmother’s in a fit of rage, getting back at the bully – and the consequences are confoundingly minimal. Conor expects to be punished, but life does not always make sense.

Making A Monster Calls difficult to embrace fully are the unpleasant sound effects that accompany every movement of the tree monster. They are, in a word, oppressive. Perhaps they are meant to illustrate the lack of comfort inherent in Conor’s story, but that strikes me as a step too far.

A Monster Calls is Recommended If You LikeThe BFG, The Mother-Son Relationship from The Babadook, Kid Actors with Fiery Emotions

Grade: 3 out of 5 Snapping Tree Branches