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Quick Reviews: Week Of 08.05.2022
Flash Reviews Of The Upcoming Weekend's Movie Releases
Last week felt bizarre for me when it came to new movie watching, as thanks to COVID I was extremely limited in what films I could watch and review. Thankfully that has come to pass and I am back to my regularly scheduled movie watching, and just in time as this new weekend for films is absolutely packed; so much so, I had to push back my catching up with some movies until next week.
Anyhow, here are my thoughts on the movie releases from the weekend of 08.05.2022 in alphabetical order of their respective release dates. A reminder, you can click this link to see how I grade films when I review them.
- Plot: Unlucky assassin Ladybug is determined to do his job peacefully after one too many gigs have gone off the rails. Fate however may have other plans, as Ladybug’s latest mission puts him on a collision course with lethal adversaries from around the globe. All with connected, yet conflicting, objectives - on the world’s fastest train.
- Review: Earlier this year we got Michael Bay’s Ambulance, a “turn your brain off and just enjoy the ride” popcorn flick. Now months later we get the next movie in that subgenre in Bullet Train. Starring Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Zazie Beetz, Bad Bunny, and featuring some major cameos that were obviously made to trigger audience reactions (and thus I don’t feel like spoiling them in this review), this is an ultra-violent action film that doesn’t fear having fun.
Dripping with humor throughout, quirky characters and backstories, and incredible fight scenes and stunt moves, the movie is like a literal fast-speed cinematic roller coaster ride that overstimulates the senses. If you’re going to nitpick every little scene in this movie in regard to how realistic or silly it is, just stay home because your mind is going to go crazy. Things happen in this film that defy the laws of our universe, and even the most tense moments come with comedic relief. However If you’re down for that kind of chaos and can suspend disbelief, this is going to be a fun ride for you.
The camera work is competent, the set designs are great, the action sequences are all done well, the visual effects are better than you’ll get from other Hollywood blockbusters, and all the actors (and I mean all of them) are clearly having the time of their lives playing their roles. The movie’s frantic pacing, the chaotic and fun moments, and the actors having a blast helped make this for me as one of those movies I could take my non-cinephile dad to go see and know he’s going to have a good time.
My gripes with the movie would probably be some of the uneven introduction of characters and setting up of all the subplots. It can get a bit confusing if you’re not paying close enough attention and can lull you into a false sense of boredom before suddenly things shift to become the non-stop thrill ride it becomes in the second act. I also have to say that as much fun as I had with this, the silliness and over the top stuff can have its limits and will likely not be for everyone.
But all in all, I enjoyed my ride on this train. Its the definition of that movie most of your family and friends will be entertained by as they chow down on their popcorn and sip on their sodas. If you want a break from the depressing state of the world or want to take a breather from all the serious dramas, board yourself on this ride.
- Initial Grade: B+
- Plot: Suddenly finding herself in the never-before-seen Land of Luck, the unluckiest person in the world must unite with the magical creatures there to turn her luck around.
- Review: In 2017, John Lasseter, one of the most important animators in cinematic history, lost his job at Disney after workplace sexual misconduct allegations brought him down. Meanwhile, a brand new animation studio, Skydance Animation, was founded. Two years later Lasseter was hired to run the studio, and not much later after Apple signed on to have their Apple TV Plus service distribute their first two films. Lasseter’s career comeback after such awful allegations is concerning, but alas as a film critic I have to review this movie and judge it as is regardless the bad apples that may be linked to its production.
That aside with the kind of names and corporate companies tied to the first movie for the new studio, I was fully expecting something well done that could show us a peak into a new powerhouse in animated filmmaking. Unfortunately that movie, Luck, is an embarrassingly mediocre and dull affair that left me astounded at how bored I was as I kept glancing over at my watch.
I found the animation to be sub-standard from what I would expect from a film with a 140-million-dollar budget. I kept squinting my eyes and wondering if I was watching something that meant to be a straight to Nickelodeon movie. The voicework felt off thanks to the animation of the character interactions which lead to the voices not exactly matching their lips, and the scoring sounds generic as it gets. Furthermore the script was repetitive and never earned the emotional moments it was going for. The characters aren’t necessarily “un-likable”, but I never really found myself caring about them all that much.
If this is the big launch for Skydance Animation, I am very worried about their future output. This is easily not just one of the biggest disappointments of the year, but easily one of my least favorite animated movies of the year. Unless your kids really need the background noise, your best bet to avoid bad luck is to not bother with this poor man’s attempt to match what other studios have done better.
- Initial Grade: C+
- Plot: On the Great Plains in 1719, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled Comanche warrior, sets out to protect her people when an unknown danger threatens them. But the prey she’s stalking turns out to be a highly evolved alien predator with a technically advanced arsenal.
- Review: 1987’s Predator is legitimately one of my all-time personal favorite action-horror films. I’m talking A-tier graded, among the greatest films I’ve ever seen, sentiments from your humble film critic. Unfortunately its sequels have left much to be desired save for an outlier or two. Now in 2022, we get a brand new concept on the creature with Prey - a movie that takes the Predator lore into a more down to earth, more simplistic, man-versus-beast sort of action-horror thriller set in the past and with a native tribe rather than an elite group of soldiers dealing with the alien.
Starring Amber Midthunder as the lead protagonist, an actual member of a native tribe herself playing a Native American character, this feels like one of those cool comic book concepts you would find read about where they take a major IP monster property and do a story no studio would typically green-lit. Thankfully this was as Midthunder absolutely slays in her role and from the very first time we meet her, even as a young woman still trying to prove herself a hunter to her tribe and family, I bought her as a legitimate badass female warrior. Her performance in this should be up there with Arnold’s iconic role in the very first movie.
The movie’s cinematography leans more into being raw about the reality of the American wild during the 1700s, opting for a more natural look. The setting of the story plays greatly into the plot as our protagonist Naru doesn’t just have to deal with the Predator itself but also Mountain Lions, Bears, and of course Frontiersmen. There are no machine guns or explosives here for the native tribe to deal with such a monster, which in itself just makes the Predator, already one of the most frightening cinematic villains, all that more scary to go face-to-face with given its advance technology. This goes back to the basics of human beings having to get resourceful to defeat something that is beyond them.
But for all the great decisions the script makes, and for all the competent filmmaking behind this, I do have a big gripe - the pacing. The movie’s pacing, for me, felt a little sluggish in the middle, and until things started to pick up big time during the final act I found myself almost losing interest. Its arguably a nitpick given how tough middles are to execute, but it will effect some of its rewatch-ability with me in the future.
And yet this is easily the best stand-alone Predator movie in quite some time. If you want a more down-to-earth and raw frightening action-horror thriller that pits Comanche warriors up against one of cinema’s most frightening alien creatures, this is going to be right up your alley. If you have a Hulu subscription this one will be worth hunting down to see for any horror or sci-fi fan.
- Initial Grade: B-
- Plot: Campers at an LGBTQ+ conversion camp endure unsettling psychological techniques - while the campsite is stalked by a mysterious killer.
- Review: Unfortunately we live in a day and age where state legislatures are trying to shove queer kids back into the closet, go after the existence of trans people, and some of our body politic is focused on debating how much queerness the public can take rather than addressing real life domestic issues such as the budget deficit, stagnant wages, and dated infrastructure. We also live in a day and age where horror has embraced more of a social commentary role after going through what I thought was a “torture porn” phase in the 2000s. Mix these together and you get the new Blumhouse-backed They/Them, a film that attempts to provide commentary on gay conversion therapy with the genre of horror.
This movie is sold on two things, the first being horror. That is quite frankly not as prevalent here until the literal finale. If anything this is more of a psychological thriller that messes with your mind on what you’d think a conversion camp would be like, and then slowly but surely amps up the volume on the disturbing truth beneath the layers. What starts out as healthy communication between queer youth turns into sexual harassment, brainwashing, and even torture in both the mental and physical form. The horror comes from the killer stalking the camp during all this, who doesn’t really start doing their thing until towards the finish of the runtime.
The second thing selling this movie is Kevin Bacon, and I have to say he helped me like this movie a little more than I probably should have. He’s playing his role as sadistic homophobic psychopath running this conversion camp with a smile and comforting ear to hide behind so perfectly. I found myself unnerved and yet somehow trusting of him in the first scene as he assures the youth he’s more progressive than he really is. By the finale I was in shock and anger at the things he puts these kids through.
The rest of the cast is a diverse and inclusive one, and I have to say I did buy a little into the friendship and bonds made between our protagonists. I also loved that our main protagonist came in Jordan, played by non-binary actor Theo Germaine, a trans non-binary character who is going through trying to accept themselves even as they end up sort of becoming the de-facto leader and protector of their fellow camp go-ers.
That being said that’s not to say everything works. My slightly more positive than not outlook on this movie is a minority opinion. It does have very questionable pacing and will leave some bored with how much of a slow burn it is. It also has a scene or two that doesn’t feel like its thematically fits with the movie’s tone, specifically a seemingly random dance number that erupts between the youth singing along to the artist Pink’s songs.
But overall I have to say for me that I thought this was enjoyable “junk food horror” that at least attempted some interesting, and unfortunately relevant to today, social commentary. I had more than a few “Oh my God, What the f*ck?!” moments and was legitimately interested in seeing how things would end up. Its on Peacock for no extra charge, so if you are a subscriber I don’t think there’s any harm in horror fans giving this a try.
- Initial Grade: B/C
- Plot: A dramatization of the real-life 2018 rescue of a boys soccer team from an underground cave in Thailand.
- Review: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, everyone knows all about the miraculous 2018 rescue in Thailand of an entire boys’ soccer team from a flooded cave. If you didn’t catch it as it played out in real-life on national news, you probably caught the highly-heralded documentary film on the incident from last year, The Rescue, that grabbed nominations throughout awards season but ended up just missing out on an Oscars’ one. And now we have an actual feature length narrative film in Thirteen Lives distributed by Amazon Studios with hopes of making this a major awards player.
Directed by Ron Howard himself and starring names like Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, and Joel Edgerton you can expect the competent work in the director’s chair that you’ll get from Howard even in his most mediocre films; and the acting in my mind is pretty damn good if you see what their real-life counterparts are like in comparison.
The movie plays out with its plot getting going from the very first scene. Unlike other similar films which would have us get to know the characters before we get to the meat of it, this wastes no time. In a way this is both a positive and a hinderance to it as it gets straight to the point of what you’re watching the movie for, but it also makes it feel like its missing some meat on the bone even with its lengthy runtime. Compare this to last year’s The Rescue documentary which so expertly weaved us getting to know these rebel cave divers that pulled off this amazing feat, and yet also gave us all the facts into what lead to this event and what went into making the miracle a reality.
I also wonder if it coming out so soon after the real-life event plus a widely-seen documentary makes it less gripping given you know how all of this plays out from start to finish.
But taking it as a movie by itself, its get-to-the-point pacing, the camera work that makes things feel as real as a scripted film can feel, and the solid acting make for a crowd pleasing experience. This is the kind of film that I can see being a major hit with certain audiences, and I can see why the studio sees this as possible “Oscar bait”. Even knowing how this would play out, I thought this was a very good adaptation of the miracle rescue of these thirteen lives.
- Initial Grade: B+