Review by Dan Skip Allen
Superhero movies are a dime a dozen these days. Disney and Warner Brothers have cornered the market on them recently with the MCU and DCEU, respectively. Occasionally a film will come out from another studio, or even a little indie film. Lately, Netflix has gotten into the superhero business with The Umbrella Academy, The Old Guard, and now Project Power. Project Power has a soft spot at its core despite all the blood and violence on the surface.
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and written by Mattson Tomlin, Project Power has a lot of things in it that go right, and not much that goes wrong. These directors are known for Nerve and the last two Paranormal Activity films. They know how to make visual effects work in their favor. The visuals are gorgeous in the film. The cinematography from Michael Simmonds (mostly shot at night in New Orleans) is spot on as well. The city plays as a nice backdrop for this action thrill-ride of a film.
I mostly understood the story by Tomlin. If there was one flaw I could point out its the script. The story could have used being fleshed out a little more. That might have to do with the financial aspect of the budget. A lot of money was used on the visuals and getting top-notch talent like Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordan Levitt to star in the film. Both actors and their co-stars Dominique Fishback, Kyanna Simone Simpson did a serviceable job. They are the heart of the film. Without their performances, this film would fall apart.
Project Power focuses on three main characters. One is an ex-military man (Jamie Foxx), one is a New Orleans police detective (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and the other is a teenage drug dealer. They all have different motivations for why they are trying to get to the center of a drug ring surrounding an experimental pill that gives its users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes. The results can vary from turning them into a ball of flame or giving them the ability to stop a bullet. Let's say these pills give the user unimaginable abilities, to say the least.
The strengths of Project Power are its cinematography, its visual effects, and the performances from the three leads. The weaknesses are its script and runtime. This film needed to be more fleshed out. That being said, the story was engaging enough to keep me interested in this concept throughout the film. The three main characters were very entertaining to watch. Project Power isn't the best superhero film, but it's not the worst either. I look forward to seeing what these filmmakers do next.
Project Power is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
An American Pickle is an interesting look at how a person can come to America and make their own way. This film uses a time travel element to send a Polish immigrant (Seth Rogen) from 1919 to the present day. He was preserved perfectly in pickle brine for a hundred years and was eventually discovered by two boys in an abandoned warehouse. Now he must face a world he doesn't know and or understand and make his way in it once again. He is notified that he has a distant relative (also played by Rogen). They have to develop a relationship with one another despite their hundred-year age difference.
As far as movies about immigration go, An American Pickle isn't the best film available. Rogen is trying to get a message across about how sticking together and how family matters even in difficult times. The message of commerce is another good storyline in the film. It's not easy to make a living especially trying to build your own empire. Herschel finds it very difficult to navigate in a new world he doesn't know or understand. He reverts back to some old things that have helped him in the past, whether or not they are acceptable in today's society.
Rogen has made his name in Hollywood doing raunchy comedies like Superbad, Knocked Up and This is the End. Once he became successful he decided to produce television shows like Preacher and movies like 50/50 and Long Shot. This way he has been able to get messages and themes into his movies and make things he believes people will like and enjoy. Over the years he has made films about illness and politics. This time out he deals with immigration and free commerce. Having his platform in Hollywood has allowed him to do this despite if the projects succeed or if they fail.
Brandon Trost has primarily been a cinematographer in Hollywood with his brother Jason. They've worked on several Seth Rogen projects including This Is the End, The Interview, and Neighbors. An American Pickle is his first film in the directing chair. It's obvious that he is a good cinematographer because this film looks gorgeous from that point of view.
An American Pickle has some great messages of succeeding and failing in life. It has some beautiful cinematography. Trost captures Brooklyn and New York perfectly from that perspective. The problem with the film is the relationship between Hershel and Ben. They both shouldn't have been played by Seth Rogen. This is him just trying to be greedy and do both roles. Maybe it was part of the pitch. Who knows? It didn't work for me. The fish-out-of-water stuff was quite awkward and off-putting as well. It didn't get the laughs it was intended to achieve.
An American Pickle is now streaming on HBO Max.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Image Comics is known as the company the "big five" — Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Mark Sylvestri, and Eric Larson — formed back when they all left Marvel back in the '90s. They all started their own brands within Image but the company has transcended that initial launch. They have expanded in fun, interesting and groundbreaking ways. Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead was the first breakout hit from the new Image, turning into a hugely successful show on AMC that is still on the air after 10 seasons and spawned a second show. The Old Guard is another live-action adaptation of an Image comic from creators Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez.
The Old Guard is an elite group of mercenaries who are immortal. Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Nicky (Luca Marinelli), and Joe (Marwan Kenzawi) work for whoever can afford their services. One century they can be bad and another they can be good. After being set up by an employer, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) they get word of a new immortal. Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne) is a marine that discovers her new ability to not die the hard way.
On the run from Merrick (Harry Melling, best known for his role as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise), The Old Guard tries to do what they do best, to survive. He wants these gifted individuals for himself. And will stop at nothing to get them. Andy has to help her group survive and stop Merrick from his maniacal scheme. As comic book adaptations go, The Old Guard is quite different than anything I've seen before. As far as movies and TV shows go, it's just a different take on the Highlander movies.
Gina Prince-Bythewood is a writer/director of some renown. She had directed a few movies before this one, Love & Basketball among them. Her movies have a depth of character and emotion to them. The Old Guard tries to add the same kind of depth to it. It creates a backstory for the main characters of Andy and Nile. This way the viewer will care about these characters. Although I applaud her for the good try, I wasn't really invested in these characters or their backstories to care that much about them. Even though the concept of the movie was intriguing to me. I just wasn't drawn in enough to be that taken by it.
The Old Guard is an old concept with a relatively new twist on it. It has a good cast that makes the movie more interesting to watch, but in the end, they are wasted. Gina Prince-Bythewood is hamstrung by the source material. The source material had a bunch of comics to tell this story not a two-hour movie. I'm sure these actors were fascinated by that source material and the prospect of working with Prince-Bythewood. In the end, they were let down and so was I. The film had a lot of bloody scenes and some action. I wish there were a lot more of both in the film. That might have made it more entertaining all the way around. Melling was just a mustache-twirling villain I've seen a thousand times before. This film is all over the place! In better hands, it may be more focused and cohesive.
The Old Guard is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
When people think of spy movies, they think of Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, and others portraying Ian Fleming's iconic character, James Bond. However, the spy genre has many other films in its ranks. Quite a few of them are comedies, like Spy starring Melissa McCarthy, the Johnny English films, starring Rowan Atkinson, and the Pink Panther films starring Peter Sellers and later on Steve Martin. My Spy is another comedic spy film. The problem is all the funniest scenes are in the trailer.
JJ (Dave Bautista) is a CIA Agent. He likes to do things his way. He works alone and gets the job done. When he gets discovered surveying a nine-year-old girl named Sophie (Chloe Coleman) and her mother, he has to make a deal to train her to be a spy. This doesn't go so well because she is smarter than him. This film has an interesting spin on spy movies but the humor isn't that good apart from the scenes in the trailer. The chemistry is good between Sophie and JJ, but that's not the entire movie.
Peter Segal is known for a couple of other comedic spy movies: The Naked Gun 33 ⅓ and Get Smart. In the latter, he also worked with an ex-pro wrestler, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I guess he was trying to capture that magic he got in the previous films, this time with Dave Bautista. The problem is those other films were much funnier than My Spy was. The story was bland and not fascinating or interesting at all. The comedy was solid but not overwhelmingly funny since the trailer has the funniest scenes.
Dave Bautista has come a long way since his days as a WWE Superstar. He has even done some funny roles in the Guardians of the Galaxy films and Stuber last year, in which he co-starred in a similar role with Kumail Nanjiani. Those films have a lot better action and the comedic moments were more enjoyable than those in My Spy. The script is the problem with My Spy.
Many had big hopes for this film, especially after so many funny and entertaining outings in Dave Bautista's recent past and because the director has done some fun films in the past himself. The biggest mistake in a comedic film is when it's not that funny and all the best scenes are given away in the trailer. The chemistry between JJ and Sophie wasn't enough to save this film. Just like Dwayne Johnson, Dave Bautista has now got a dud in his filmography. If you're looking for a funny spy film, this isn't it.
My Spy hits Amazon Prime on June 26.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Jason Blum has perfected a formula of low-budget horror films that entertain the masses but don't have much substance to them. He is a producer who has helped resuscitate this dying horror genre. He uses different writers, filmmakers, and actors in his films, but the result is the same: most of them aren't very good, with a few exceptions. You Should Have Left isn't one of those.
In the film, Kevin Bacon plays a stay at home dad. He is financially set so he doesn't have to work. His wife, Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), is an actress and they have a young daughter (Avery Essex) together. Susanna has an acting job in England so they move to Wales while she is working. They rented a beautiful house on a hill in a sleepy town in Wales. Little did they know they rented the infamous Stettler house. It's full of surprises of its own and threatens to tear this family apart.
Bacon has come a long way from his early Footloose days. He has been in some good roles over the past thirty-five or so years, including Jack Swigert in Apollo 13, Sean Devine in Mystic River, and Capt. Jack Ross in A Few Good Men. His career has run the gambit of all kinds of films. He has even had a good TV career as well. You Should Have Left is not one of the best roles in his career, but in the right hands, it could have been. The reunion between him and Koepp goes disappointingly wrong. It's very sad — this role and film had potential, but it's wasted in the end.
Amanda Seyfried has had a lot of potential in her career ever since Mean Girls. She's done some good work in Les Misérables as Cosette, Sylvia Weis in In Time, and Mary in First Reformed. Similar to Bacon, she's squandered a lot of good opportunities. She's settled on these one notes characters such as Susanna in You Should Have Left. A few romantic comedies here and there have helped her develop some range in her career. Sadly, she hadn't branched out for more substantial dramatic roles. Or maybe she hasn't been offered them and settled on these lesser roles instead. Who knows? The fact of the matter is she needs to pick better roles.
David Koepp has been a prolific screenwriter over the past twenty-eight or so years. He broke onto the scene with big hits including Death Becomes Her, Jurassic Park, Carlito's Way, and Mission: Impossible. He even worked with Kevin Bacon on Stir of Echoes back in 1999. This partnership is probably very familiar to both men involved. Koepp's directing credits haven't been so good though. I think he should just focus on writing rather than directing. For our sake and his. He has cranked out some very good scripts in his day. It doesn't mean he should direct everything he writes. This film is a dud.
Based on the not-so tried-and-true formula of haunted house films, You Should Have Left left me wanting more. This film had so much potential. It started great — I was very interested in these characters and their lives, and when they got to the house in Wales it even got better. Then all of a sudden, it just went off the rails. For such an acclaimed screenwriter as David Koepp, this film and script were a big letdown for me. Maybe it was the budget. Who knows? Something went wrong with the end product. It just didn't deliver on its promises from the entertaining trailer or screenwriter Koepp.
You Should Have Left is now available on VOD.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The young adult genre has only been around for about twenty or so years. Kicked off by the witches and wizards in the Harry Potter films, a series of very successful book-to-screen adaptations, the genre has had some highs — The Hunger Games and Twilight Franchises, among others — but also a few lows — like the Divergent and Maze Runner trilogies. It's safe to say this genre has been all over the map over the last twenty years. Artemis Fowl is the latest attempt to capitalize on the genre and it's from the house of mouse.
When the news hit that Disney had bought the rights to the popular young adult book series from Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl, people were excited but very hesitant. This was going to be a huge undertaking, to say the least. They chose an established director who has worked in worlds of fantasy mixed with real-life before with Thor in 2011. Artemis Fowl has a similar mix of a fairy world and the house and grounds off of the coast of Ireland of Artemis Fowl. Real people being mixed with fairies, trolls, and dwarves is not going to be easy to accomplish by anybody's standards. If anybody could do it, it would be Kenneth Branagh.
Eoin Colfer created a very magical world different than most young adult adaptations. The Percy Jackson and Harry Potter films are the closest to resemble what he has done, but they aren't close in scope. Similar to the first book, the first and probably last movie, falls into the same trap: they try to introduce too much too soon. The viewer hardly gets to know the lead characters before they are thrust into this fantasy world they know nothing about. Characters are introduced so fast you can't catch your breath before the story and movie moves on. That being said the film is a little convoluted at times, even to the point of being hard to follow. For those who didn't read the book, I can imagine they were pretty lost moving forward.
Branagh assembled a pretty good cast of established supporting actors such as Colin Ferrell, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, and Nonso Anozie. That said, real stars of the film are Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, and Tamara Smart. The cast is not the problem with this film, though. They do the best they can with this difficult dialogue and script. The script is pretty closely adopted by a handful of writers.
With Branagh's experience with melding real-world aesthetics with fantasy worlds, he accomplished the impossible of creating the fairy world of Haven City. It looks amazing. Having the fantasy aspects not come out right would have been a fail right off the bat. Like the acting, the visuals were not the problem with the film. Flying fairies, tunneling Mulch Diggums, trolls, and time warps all look very authentic. The film succeeds in placing the viewer in the world Eoin Colfer created very effectively.
Besides the script adapted from the source material, the real problem with this movie is as a viewer you're not invested in these characters enough to care about them. Even having read the book I wasn't invested in them at the end of it either. Why should the movie be any different?
Branagh rushes the story along so as to not get to know the leads very much. The children actors aren't anybody I've seen before so I didn't care about them very much. The biggest mistake is that Artemis Fowl is billed as this criminal genius and I didn't believe for one second he was evil. They don't establish that very much in the movie except for a little dialogue at the end of the film. These kids were good in the movie, but I cared more about what the established stars characters were doing and not the leads of the film. I didn't go in with high hopes and I still came out disappointed.
Artemis Fowl is now streaming on Disney+.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Netflix is usually known for its groundbreaking tv shows and mini-series. But they would change the game when they started attaching big-name talent in the director's chair, such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, and Michael Bay. With that comes high-profile actors and actresses as well. In the past year films starring Ben Affleck, Robert De Niro, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Meryl Streep, and Ryan Reynolds have premiered on the streaming service. With the Russo Brothers, Joe and Anthony, forming a production company, it was a natural fit for AGBO to work with Netflix. They are usually hands-off and by now they have earned that based on their reputation from working with Marvel and Disney. Their second project out of the gate is Extraction starring Chris Hemsworth.
Hemsworth plays a black market mercenary who likes to drink a little too much. His group gets a job where he is tasked with rescuing a boy who has been kidnapped. He's the son of a big international crime lord. The film is set in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It's teeming with people and obstacles for Rake and his team to get the kid out safe and sound. Most films like this have well thought out action set pieces and Extraction is no different. The problem is when the action isn't hot and heavy the film grinds to a halt. Based on a graphic novel Ciudad, from a script from Joe and Anthony Russo, the film just isn't that interesting until the proverbial shit is hitting the fan. A few subplots are meant to keep the viewer interested but are just a distraction from the action.
With the MCU, the Russos had decades of comic books to fall back on, in addition to two proven writers, Markus and McFeely, with whom they worked on all of their MCU Films. This time out they are only the writers and not the directors. Sam Hargrave is prominently known as a stuntman on the Avengers and Thor films. In fact, Sam has been Chris Evans's stunt man on the Captain America and Avengers films. This is his first film as director, although The Russos must have had trust in him. The sixty-five million dollar budget shows in the production value and cinematography as well as a serviceable cast.
Along with Hemsworth, David Harbour shows up as Gaspar, a friend to Rake who has his own agenda. An all-Indian supporting cast rounds out the film aside from Hargrave that plays a sniper on Rake's team. Co-star Rudhraksh Jaiswal is the breakout star of this film as the kidnapped boy. He holds his own alongside Hemsworth and company. Also in a supporting role is Golshifteh Farhani as a liaison to Rake who has an interesting relationship with him. There might be more to her than meets the eye. As advertised, the stunts and choreography are first-rate. Hargrave's background is in stunt work, so they better look real. Filmed on location in Ahmedabad, the film looks like it is in a different world from our country. That brings authenticity to it like it takes place in an actual war.
Hargrave and the Russos do their best to make Extraction seem as real and authentic as possible. Getting realistic actors to the roles and a bankable star like Hemsworth doesn't hurt either. First-rate production value, cinematography, and stunt work goes a long way to making the film accessible to all viewers. A manageable budget, 65 million, is just enough to get what they needed from this film. Where this film falters, though, is its script and character-building. The script doesn't flesh out the characters enough to make the viewer care that much about them. A boy gets kidnapped and a special team gets hired to get him home to his father. I just didn't care about whether or not he got home or not. The protagonist isn't that interesting either. All in all, this film has some good parts, but as a whole, it is an uninteresting film.
Extraction is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
It is widely known that the United States went to Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and take over the country for themselves so they could have a foothold in the Middle East and to have a better negotiating tool for oil. The problem is that the US can't just go into countries and take over — they use words like "elections" to make their take-over make sense in the eyes of the people. They also face the obstacle of getting the blessing of the United Nations, and in this case, the UN sends their own man to evaluate the situation in Iraq: Sergio Vieria de Mello (Wagner Maura).
In his career, de Mello has been in this situation before, having faced a similar situation in East Timor. He's definitely the right man for the job. But the US isn't going to let some United Nations diplomat get in their way of taking over and controlling Iraq for their own selfish reasons. George W. Bush was trying to get revenge on Hussein for his father who failed in Iraq back in the early '90s. Yet de Mello isn't going to be pushed around. He decides it's his job to let the UN know what the US is up to. He writes up an entire dossier and is about to send it to the United Nations when an explosion blows up the hotel he is headquartered in. Is this fate or on purpose?
In East Timor, he starts up a relationship with a colleague named Carolina (Ana de Armas) who follows him to Iraq as well. Ana de Armas is coming off of her biggest role to date in last year's Knives Out. She's had a few other roles before that as wives or girlfriends in such films as Blade Runner 2049, Hands of Stone, and War Dogs. She plays a similar character in Sergio as well, back to being typecast in these kinds of roles. Though with the success of Knives Out, that will hopefully change for her very soon.
Wrapped in a film about war and diplomatic games is a romance that helps the film flow. I do care about these two people and their love affair. The diplomatic struggles are okay, but not great. The East Timor stuff is essential to develop this budding relationship, but it takes away from the real story of what happened in Iraq, which is where the meat of the story lies. This film had a chance to focus on the real issue of this story, but it lacks vision and a linear narrative. This director, Greg Barker, has done similar political films based on topics that are touched on in this film, including Ghosts of Rwanda, Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden, and The Final Year. He has a knack for telling these types of stories. The problem is Sergio lacks any vision and focus. He doesn't know if he wants to tell the Iraq story, the East Timor story, or the relationship story. This film is all over the place.
Sergio is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Sally Potter is a self-made filmmaker. She wrote and directed seven films before her latest, The Roads Not Taken. She takes a personal stance in many of her films, but this seems to be her most personal yet. A film about a man who needs constant care is not something you see every day. It's a topic that is difficult to talk about in a film, and The Roads Not Taken doesn't take a straightforward approach to it either.
Leo (Javier Bardem) is a man that needs twenty-four-hour care for his dementia. His daughter, Molly (Elle Fanning) watches him sometimes, but she has a career of her own to consider. While taking Leo out to his appointments, she notices that he goes in and out of consciousness, causing her to become concerned about his well-being. While in his subconscious mind, he spends time with his former lover, Dolores (Selma Hayek). Molly asks her mother Rita (Laura Linney), Leo's ex-wife, for advice on his problems, but no one has any answers.
Bardem has had a great career so far. He has had many iconic roles, including Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men (for which he won an Academy Award), fan-favorite villain Silva in Skyfall, and Juan Antonio from Vickie Christina Barcelona. His career is as varied as the many different roles he has portrayed. He is an actor that can choose any role he wants, allowing him to work with any filmmaker he chooses. This is a very different role for him. He gives it his all, but he is not the problem with this film.
The story should have just focused on Leo and his dementia and not gone off in such a strange direction. The actors all turn in a noble effort with the dialogue and script, but even they can't save a film with no direction. If Potter had focused more on the relationship between Molly, Leo and his ex-wife Rita, it would have been more interesting.
Films about dementia should move the person watching them. Films like Still Alice and What They Had capture what family and friends are going through dealing with a person with dementia. The emotions they feel are palpable. It becomes a situation where they don't want to deal with this person anymore. The Roads Not Taken unfortunately didn't have that effect at all. Though the acting was really solid, this film is mostly disappointing.
The Roads Not Taken is now streaming online as part of a virtual cinema initiative.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Like many other people, I was a wrestling fan as a kid. I loved watching Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Macho-Man Randy Savage, Sting, and Rick Flair. Their characters were bigger than life. I watched religiously for thirty years. WWF and WCW were a way to think about that world Vince McMahon created on the USA Network on Saturdays and eventually on Monday Night Raw. The Main Event is like going back in time to when I was a kid, dreaming of being a WWF/WWE Superstar.
Leo (Seth Bane Carr) is an 11-year-old kid in middle school who goes through the normal middle school routine. He gets picked on by bullies at school every day. One day while on the run from them, Leo hides in a wrestling museum where he finds a musty old mask hidden in a box. He puts the mask on and soon realizes it gives him superpowers. With his newly found powers, Leo enters a wrestling competition to be the next WWE Superstar.
The competition is full of WWE Superstars such as Otis (Heavy Machinery), Keith Lee (as Smooth Operator, the holder of the NXT North American Championship), and Sheamus, Mike 'The Miz' Mizanin, and Leo's childhood idle, Kofi Kingston from The New Day. Cory Graves and Rene Young from Smackdown are the announcers. Leo's newfound powers help him become popular at school and he even gets a new girlfriend, Erica (Mamona Tamada). His wrestling name is Kid Chaos and he becomes the talk of his town. Of course, the question now becomes whether or not he has become too big for his friends.
The Main Event has its usual sense of teen angst and family drama as well. Leo's struggling relationship with family and his friends cause him personal trouble. He needs to decide what's most important, his life with his friends or his newfound wrestling career. Leo has tough decisions ahead. A lot of films like this have similar plot threads. Live-Action Disney films have used these types of tropes for decades. They put the main character in a position where he or she has to decide what's right or wrong in their life and who and what is most important to them. Like all those Disney films from the past, The Main Event tackles those topics perfectly.
The Main Event deals with many topics and themes we've seen a thousand times before. The thing is it doesn't get old. I found myself caring about Leo, his friends, family, and this underdog story. The subplot of his relationship with his father intrigued me as well. This is a feel-good story for today just like those Disney films were back in the day. Wrestling fan or not, The Main Event is a film anybody can get behind. Jay Karas has crafted a fun family film. Especially inspiring is the message that you can overcome the odds in life with or without superpowers. Family and friends are what matter most in life.
The Main Event is now streaming on Netflix.