Find Me At Screen Rant

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hotel Artemis

HOTEL ARTEMIS

** SPOILERS **

Hotel Artemis is the cinematic equivalent of one of those distracted boyfriend memes that's been all over the Internet for the last couple of years. You know the one. Written and directed by Drew Pearce, Hotel Artemis posits an exclusive, members only secret Los Angeles hotel sanctuary for criminals run by the Nurse (Jodie Foster). It's a haven for bad guys who can't turn to traditional avenues for hospitality and medical care. 

However, outside the confines of the hotel is Los Angeles circa 2028 (a year before the events of the original Blade Runner; the universes are unrelated but the spirit is evoked). LA is in lockdown. The city is in the grips of a destructive riot as ordinary people take to the streets to protect the lack of clean drinking water. The City of Angels is a warzone. Helicopters are shot out of the sky by rocket launchers and explode into buildings as law enforcement struggles to contain the mob, These events, fleetingly glimpsed by news reports and by the film's main characters occasionally stepping outside the hotel, comes off as so much more compelling than what's actually going on in the Hotel Artemis. Hence. the distracted boyfriend meme, Hotel Artemis version:


Since we're mostly stuck in the hotel with criminals, albeit portrayed by some charismatic actors, you'd think the interactions between these bad guys with different agendas in such cramped quarters would be super interesting, but no, not really, though the actors try. Sterling K. Brown and Sofia Boutella are standouts; he just accidentally robbed the biggest crime boss in the city, Jeff Goldblum, and is trying to protect his dying brother from that very crime boss who's on his way to the hotel. Meanwhile, Boutella is a sexy international assassin here to kill Goldblum, but she runs afoul of a foul-mouthed skeevy arms dealer played by Charlie Day. Meanwhile, the Nurse tries to hold all this chaos together with the help of her loyal and good-hearted orderly Dave Bautista

A lot of scores are settled and there are revelations dropped about the Nurse's past and how it all ties into Goldblum, but it all feels undercooked and unearned. The third act, especially, should be taught in film schools, but as a cautionary tale since the reasons why the characters do just about anything they do are bewildering. Their actions feel more in service of the plot than anything that might actually benefit them from the way they're set up inititially - after all, they are criminals. There is bloody action and shootouts, but this isn't a visceral violent tour-de-force like John Wick either - though they try by giving Boutella a Daredevil-like hallway fight scene that she's fantastic in. Meanwhile, we're left wondering how the clean water riots turn out and the events that sparked them, all of which could have made for a hell of a lot more interesting a movie than Hotel Artemis turned out to be.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ocean's 8

OCEAN'S 8

** SPOILERS **

Like the cubic zirconia duplicate of the $150-million Cartier diamond necklace Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) plots to heist, Gary Ross' Ocean's 8 is an imperfect copy of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Trilogy. Debbie Ocean is the younger sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney), who is believed to have died but she doesn't know for sure. Either way, Ocean's 8 spends a lot of its running time genuflecting at the feet of its predecessors, making it very clear that they're heisting in the spirit of Danny Ocean and his crew. "You would have loved it," Debbie swears to Danny's grave at the very end, and one can picture George Clooney's affable grin and agreeable nod, though what Danny Ocean was really thinking we never knew for sure. He'd probably react the same to Ocean's 8.

Debbie spent 5 years in prison masterminding a jewelry heist at the Met Gala (while making it clear their score is stealing from someone at the museum and not from the museum itself - though that turns out to be a lie). Once out of the clink, she immediately assembles roughly 70% of the crew that her big brother usually ran with: Cate Blanchett is her partner, Rihanna is their hacker and tech guru, Mindy Kaling is their forger, Sarah Paulson is their fence, Helena Bonham Carter is their accomplice, Awkwafina is their pickpocket, and Anne Hathaway is their unwitting mark, until she isn't. 

Hathaway blows everyone away and is the best thing in Ocean's 8; she delights as a wry parody of how people perceive celebrated movie star actresses (especially herself) behave, but she's also the only one with a character arc in the film. Blanchett, in the Brad Pitt sidekick role, does her best despite having to actual character to play; she even lacks Pitt's constant eating as a running gag. As for Debbie Ocean herself, Bullock is subdued, as if she's either keeping a private joke or stifling the urge to sneeze the entire time. Debbie Ocean's 8 lack the overall charm of Danny Ocean's Eleven (and Twelve and Thirteen), but the actresses' raw talents rise above what little there is for them to work with on the page.

Of course, Debbie is working a side hustle, just like big brother was. Danny's original Las Vegas score was also a plan to reunite with his estranged wife Tess (Julia Roberts). For Debbie, it's the opposite: she's out to frame and send her ex-boyfriend Richard Armitage to prison for ratting her out and sending her to the slammer for five years. Like Brad Pitt did to Clooney, Blanchett objects when she finds out, then goes along with it anyway.  What Ocean's 8 sorely lacks, however, is a villain of any sort, and Ross' film illustrates how vitally important Andy Garcia's malevolent casino owner Terry Benedict was to Ocean's Eleven. Without an opposing force that puts the Ocean crew at risk, Ocean's 8 essentially sails through its heist in a breeze. All of their plans go off without a hitch, they're never in any jeopardy whatsoever, and what little that does momentarily go wrong is covered up by Sandra Bullock yelling at someone in a foreign accent.

Overall, Ocean's 8 is entertaining enough but proves itself to be a fraction as good as Eleven or Thirteen (it probably ranks alongside the unmemorable Twelve). After each scoring eight figures in the end, even the rewards the ladies choose for themselves are boring: Hathaway decides to become a film director (why?), Blanchett buys a motorcycle, and Bullock takes a subway ride to Danny Ocean's tomb instead of buying a house in Lake Como, which is what big brother would do.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

** SPOILERS **

Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) gets his famous surname in Solo: A Star Wars Story. It's given to him by a disinterested recruitment officer for the Empire because Han says he's all alone. The three years Solo serves in the Empire, first as a washout pilot in the Imperial Navy and later as a boots-on-the-ground grunt (the Empire has normal soldiers and doesn't rely exclusively upon Stormtroopers?), are the only time Han is ever really solo. Otherwise, Solo is surrounded by friends, most importantly, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), the heart and soul of the whole movie. Where would Han be without his best Wookiee friend (who owes him a life debt for busting him out of Imperial prison, though the film never mentions the life debt part)? Nowhere, that's where.

Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story is the story of Solo, formerly known as just "Han", a twentysomething who grew up a thief in the grimy, ship-building world of Corellia. (If there's a bright center to the universe, Corellia would be the planet it's farthest from, to paraphrase some kid on Tatooine.) Han wanted to run away and see the galaxy with his best girl Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), but the gangsters who raised them had other ideas. Qi'ra began Han's canonical attraction to petite brunettes with pretty faces and British accents. It turns out a British accent is Han's biggest lure: on an Imperial battlefield, he meets his mentor Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a smuggler working with Val (Thandie Newton), who has, you guessed it, a pretty face and a British accent. Han and Chewie end up as part of their crew, pulling a bungled train heist for crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the leader of the Crimson Dawn syndicate. Vos also has a British accent, and Bettany has a pretty face, so he counts. Luckily for Han, Qi'ra, the girl he's trying to get back to save, now works for Vos as his trusted lieutenant. She's "done a lot of things" to get to where she's at, warnings to Solo she ominously and routinely drops and Han is happy to ignore. Solo is the only one shocked when she turns on him.

Since this is a Star Wars story of a beloved canonical character, Solo has to check the many boxes of Fan Service. We learn how Han meets his frenemy Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the smooth, impeccably-caped card sharp who just happens to own the Millennium Falcon, the ship destined to belong to Solo. The fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy is brand-spanking new - at least until Solo gets his hands on it. Lando's co-pilot is a social justice-seeking droid named L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who has a British accent if not the requisite pretty face, but that's good enough for Han as well. Together, this motley crew pulls off the infamous Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs as they steal and smuggle unstable hyperfuel called Coaxium to pay off a debt to Vos. Hunting them down are space pirates led by the masked Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman). When Nest removes her helm and reveals herself to be a girl with a pretty face and a British accent, there's instantly no doubt Solo will turn on Vos and side with this babe and her burgeoning 'Rebellion' against the evil Empire. (Qi'ra even says it outright: "He's going to help her.") And there are, or course, callbacks to the Original Trilogy (thermal detonator, a kiss on the cheek "for luck", the Falcon runs afoul of a giant monster in outer space, Han shoots first) that are fun to spot.

Solo's climax is impressive (most impressive) by featuring no less than five double crosses: 1. Lando double crosses Han and leaves with the Falcon. 2. Han, Qi'ra and Chewie double cross Vos with fake Coaxium. 3. Beckett double crosses Han by revealing he sold them out to Vos. 4. Qi'ra double crosses Vos and kills him to take command of the Crimson Dawn (for those of us who don't read or care about the Star Wars Extended Universe, the sudden appearance of a long-dead Phantom Menace villain makes no sense and reeks of Fan Service), and 5. Q'ira double crosses Han and leaves him with his Wookiee as she becomes the new crime lord of the galaxy. As Homer Simpson would say, Solo learns a valuable lesson: "Never trust anyone." Except for your Wookiee. Always stand by your Wookiee and he'll look after you.

Volumes have been written - and will continue to be - about the behind the scenes chaos that birthed Solo, ultimately resulting in Ron Howard directing the picture and bringing it to the finish line. Solo shows the mark of an efficient, experienced hired hand brought in to make the shoot days and execute this by-the-numbers origin story written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. Howard rarely generates his own material, preferring to adapt existing works or the stories of others to mixed results (Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, Rush, In The Heart of the Sea), but his surehanded guidance keeps this project from the disastrous, Millennium Falcon-crushing gravity well it was turning into. One also gets the sense that if Howard was in charge from the start, he wouldn't have cast Ehrenreich, whose constant mugging masks a genuine sincerity, yet never jives with the beloved 'real' Han Solo originated by Harrison Ford. This would be fine if Ehrenreich were playing an alternate universe Han like Chris Pine did Kirk in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek films, but this is supposed to be the same guy Ford played, so. Although Solo never makes the jump to a magical hyperspace of imagination like the best Star Wars films (could it ever have?), overall, it's a solid, enjoyable romp through the seedier worlds of the galaxy far, far away. Considering the Han Solo solo film should have detonated like so much unstable Coaxium, the fact that the Han Solo solo film is fine (it's fine) is a win.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Women of Avengers: Infinity War at Screen Rant

WOMEN OF AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR AT SCREEN RANT

One of the best parts of writing feature articles for Screen Rant is getting to deep dive into the biggest films, like Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War. I've written over a dozen Features about the film - such as Infinity War Was Worth The Ten Year Wait, which I totally recommend checking out - and among them were a series of mini features on the spectaular female superheroes of Infinity War.



Friday, April 27, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

** SPOILERS **

I Hope They Remember You

"I'm with you til the end of the line," is the famous promise Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) made to each other for a century. Avengers: Infinity War is that end, the 19th film and the culmination of the last decade of the unprecedented success called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A grand and shattering treatise on death, loss, sacrifice, and heroism on a truly universal scale never before witnessed in superhero movies, Infinity War brings the epic feeling of event comic book crossovers to movies. It's not for the newbie; it's for the True Believer. Infinity War demands a working foreknowledge of the characters, relationships, and plot points that have been woven through most of the prior films. It trades on the affection audiences have for these heroes (and villains). And in the end, it shockingly wipes the slate clean with a snap of Thanos' fingers.

A loose adaptation of arguably the greatest Marvel epic, The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos (Josh Brolin) finally attempts to assemble the six Infinity Stones which represent the fundamental aspects of the universe: Power, Space, Reality, the Soul, Time, and the Mind. He's driven by his lifelong quest to balance the universe by eradicating half of it. In the comics, Thanos is a vainglorious lunatic in love with the personification of Death who is nonetheless charming and fascinating. Brolin's Thanos is a different, but satisfying take on the Mad Titan; driven, intelligent, mournful, but savage. Thanos has a heart, which is reserved for children he adopts and raises to be his lieutenants for his twisted cause. His favorite remains one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), to the chagrin of her long-suffering "sister" Nebula (Karen Gillan). Thanos and Gamora's relationship takes center stage, the latest and most tragic of Marvel's exploration of the harm fathers can cause their children.

Wholesale slaughter is Thanos' stock and trade, and absolutely everyone feels his wrath. The Avengers, broken apart and scattered in Earth and in space since their own Civil War, assemble in smaller groups to try to protect the two Infinity Stones still on Earth: the Time Stone is in the possession of Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who, along with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and the remaining Guardians of the Galaxy, try to take the fight to Thanos on his homeworld of Titan. Meanwhile, the Mind Stone ensconced in the forehead of Vision (Paul Bettany) is defended in Wakanda by Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Steve Rogers, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Bucky, War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision's lover Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). In one of the film's many interesting inversions of expectations, Banner can no longer Hulk out after his gamma-powered alter ego is humiliated by Thanos in battle when the evil aliens slaughter the people of Asgard, including poor Loki (Tom Hiddleston). 

Not every character meets each other, and some long-simmering issues remain unresolved (the biggest being Steve Rogers and Tony Stark falling out), but the meet-cutes between the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy that occur are beyond satisfying. No surprise, Marvel's two biggest egotists, the technological Tony Stark and the mystical Doctor Strange can't stand each other. Peter Parker is finally christened as an Avenger and fights alongside his mentor Tony, who watches out for him with a care and affection we've never quite seen Iron Man display before. The Guardians meet Thor (Chris Hemsworth), whose handsomeness impresses Drax (Dave Bautista) and irritates Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). Meanwhile, Thor takes a shine to Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel). The God of Thunder has by far suffered the most loss and tragedy in his two most recent appearances, but Infinity War restores him to his maximum godhood, complete with a new weapon, the Stormbreaker ax. 

The Avengers rise to the occasion in Infinity War. Despite their differences and the apocalyptic odds against them in the form of Thanos' powerful servants and their army of CGI monsters who invade New York City and Wakanda, we see the heroes at their very best (except Peter Quill). At a muscular, relentless, and overwhelming two-and-a-half hours, Infinity War is still unable, by design, to deliver everyone and every type of interaction one would hope to see. No one in the film gets the full picture of everything going on. Steve Rogers and his team's actions speak louder than words in defense of Wakanda, while Stark and his warriors are cut off from their fellow Avengers in space. Some of Thanos' minions have sufficient personality for the Avengers to banter with as they lay the smack down on each other, while Tony Stark's fame is revealed to be universal. Rather than kill the man at the center of the Marvel movie universe, Infinity War reaffirms Tony Stark as the center of that universe. It also, shockingly, does the same for the original core group of Avengers who started it all (well, almost all of them). 

The final act goes for the gusto and cements Infinity War as Marvel's version of Lord of the Rings. The universe is changed, and the body count is "Holy shit!" staggering and truly shocking. The boldest choice by directors Joe and Anthony Russo is how the main character of the story succeeds in his ultimate goal, with no obvious path to how the surviving heroes can come back and save the universe. It's a true, genuinely unsettling cliffhanger. Everyone, in the film, and in the audience, loses someone they love in Infinity War, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe loses its innocence at last. There's no telling what exactly happens next or how. Just a slight tinge of hope at the very end that the universe can indeed be saved, by a woman who bears Marvel's namesake.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Chappaquiddick

CHAPPAQUIDDICK

** SPOILERS **

Chappaquiddick is a sturdy lesson in crisis management, Kennedy-style. On July 18, 1969 - a couple of days before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon - the DUI Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy (Jason Clarke) drove his car off the Dike Bridge into the water below. Kennedy somehow escaped but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) wasn't as lucky. As Kennedy emerged safely, Mary Jo drowned in his vehicle. Fearing public disgrace, the end of his prospective Presidential run and the ruination of his political career, Kennedy waited 9 hours to report the incident. Instead, he recruited Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), his cousin, attorney, and family fixer, and Paul F. Markham (Jim Gaffigan), the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, to help him explain away the crime. And he would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for the meddling press, investigators, and everyone else peering into this careless and sloppy attempt at a cover-up. 

As Kennedy wrestles with his conscience, his poor character, and the expectations of his disappointed, ailing father Joseph P. Kennedy (Bruce Dern) - whose strategies for a cover-up Kennedy ignores - Chappaquiddick doesn't really build up steam until the lawyers come into the picture. Led by Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown), essentially Mr. Burns' ten high-priced lawyers all take turns yelling at Kennedy for his hare-brained ideas to keep his name clean. Kennedy's dumbest, by far, was feigning a concussion the night of the accident and wearing a neckbrace to Mary Jo's funeral. Like the swarthy guy who wore a neckbrace to Carol Brady's trial and Mike Brady subsequently exposed in a Brady Bunch episode, Kennedy forgot a guy in a neckbrace shouldn't be able to crane his neck around. In the end, Kennedy never did become President, but his public statement and apology to the voters of Massachusetts ended up saving his political career.

Clarke is terrific as Ted Kennedy, and Chappaquiddick does a fine job evoking the Kennedy mythology, asking the audience to weigh whatever positive mystique the family retains to this day against the ugly reality of the deeply flawed, entitled men who carry that surname. The Kennedy magic largely died with Jack and Bobby, but Chappaquiddick showed enough of the mystique remained that the local law enforcement and even the voters still bent over backward to explain away the grave mistakes of the surviving Kennedy brother.

Friday, April 13, 2018

DC's Legends of Tomorrow at Screen Rant

DC'S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW AT SCREEN RANT 

Midway in season 2 of DC's Legends of Tomorrow, during the Legion of Doom story arc, the needle began to move. Legends was always considered the fourth and least of the Arrowverse shows behind Supergirl, The Flash, and Arrow, but a shift had begun. Now that Legends' fabulous, raucous, and utterly bizarre season 3 is over, it has surpassed its sister series and has taken the top slot as the most entertaining - and dare I say best - Arrowverse series on The CW.

I've gotten to write some fun features in recognition of Legends season 3 for Screen Rant. Check them out collected below:




Followers