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COLD PURSUIT (2019) REVIEW Artmos Films Blog

COLD PURSUIT (2019) REVIEW

AN UNEVEN DARK HUMOR THRILLER


 

Actor Liam Neeson has definitely made a name for himself in Hollywood. The Northern Ireland actor has turned a fine career of being leading man, but (like many actors in Tinseltown) humbly began in either smaller feature films or in supporting roles with some recognizable rising acting talents, including actors Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty, Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission, and Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin. In 1993, Neeson landed a lead role in Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 acclaim film Schindler’s list, which rose the actor in Hollywood and opened the doors to many diverse roles. While Neeson did continue to land plenty of roles in big / prominent movies during the 90s, his started to get mainstream roles toward the late 90s and turning of the millennium…most notably in 2008 with the movie Taken. After gaining favorable reviews / praise from the movie and Neeson’s performance of the movie’s lead character of role Bryan Mills, Neeson started to become a staple in the action / revenge thriller fare, with subsequent follow up Taken sequels in 2012 and 2015 as well as other similar action thriller films like Non-Stop and The Commuter. Now, Summit Entertainment (as well as Studiocanal) and director Hans Petter Moland presents the latest Liam Neeson film with the movie Cold Pursuit; a Hollywood remake of a 2014 Norwegian film. Does this revenge thriller find its aim or does get lost within its own cold / harsh environment?

THE STORY


In a ski resort town near Denver, Colorado, Nils Coxman (Liam Nesson) is a snow plow driver and beloved by his community, trying to be a decent husband for his wife, Grace (Laura Dern), and their son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson). When Kyle shows up dead from a drug overdose, Nils loses his will to live, but soon finds a sense of purpose when his son’s badly beaten friend emerges from the shadow, explaining to the grieving father that a minor mistake with a cocaine shipment led to retaliation from Viking (Tom Bateman), a drug lord who’s dealing with his domestic issues. Enraged, Nils follows the trail of Viking’s connections, meeting with corrupt men and killing them, getting rid of their bodies within the frigid waters of the surrounding area. Not sure what’s going on, Viking assumes trouble is coming from a rival Native American gang, fronted by White Bull (Tom Jackson), declaring war on the locals. While things begin to escalate between Viking and White Bull, Nils is caught in the middle; seeking revenge on Viking, while local cop Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum) follows the clues in this peculiar situation of violent disputes.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Oh, Liam Neeson….and his many revenge thriller movies. Don’t get me wrong I love him as an actor. I mean…seriously…. he’s done plenty of good / iconic roles in his career. What’s that meme again…. he’s played a god twice (Clash of the Titans and The Chronicles of Narnia films), been a Jedi Master (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace), trained Batman (Batman Begins), and punched a wolf (The Grey) …why would anyone kidnap his daughter (Taken). Yes, Neeson have created a name for himself. Of course, I do love him in Schindler’s List, but his real “popular” franchise of his character Bryan Mills in Taken really did launch him into a subgenre unto itself. Yes, I’m talking about the famous phrase “Another year, another Liam Neeson revenge thriller” …. if you know what I mean. Still, looking beyond his stint the revenge thriller / action realm, I do love several other Neeson roles such as his roles in Kingdom of HeavenThe LEGO MovieA Monsters Calls….and (of course) The Chronicles of Narnia movies. What can I say… he’s the perfect fit for the voice of Aslan.

This brings me around to talking about Cold Pursuit, a 2019 motion picture that goes back to Taken’s action revenge thriller. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Cold Pursuit is based on a 2014 Norwegian film titled In Order of Disappearance and, while I did read up on the Scandinavian movie (via the internet), I personally did not see it. To be honest, I really didn’t hear about or that it was based on Cold Pursuit. So, who knows…. I might have to check that film out one day. Anyways… there wasn’t a lot of generated “buzz” about Cold Pursuit and I really take notice of the film until I saw the feature’s movie trailer. As I mentioned, Neeson have made a mainstream name for himself in playing lead roles in action thriller films (i.e. “another year, another Liam Neeson revenge thriller”) and that was really what I felt when I saw Cold Pursuit’s movie trailer. It definitely looked interesting; seeing Neeson going after bad guys (assuming the premise of the movie from the trailer) and the film’s cast looked good (after looking on IMDB). Thus, I was interested in seeing this movie, but I sort of pushed seeing Cold Pursuit back in favor of other movies and (eventually) Cold Pursuit got pushed out of my local theaters. So, I finally decided to see the movie (renting it from iTunes) to see if the film was to my liking. And was it? Well, unfortunately, it was a mixed bag. While Neeson was great in the movie (solid as ever) and did have an amusing revenge thriller aspect, Cold Pursuit just ends up being too quirky and too unevenly bland to be a wholesome entertainment endeavor. There’s a decent amount of action revenge in the film, but not enough to be considered one of Neeson’s better projects.

Cold Pursuit is directed by Hans Petter Moland, whose previous directed In Order of Disappearance as well as other films like The Beautiful Country and Aberdeen. Given the nature of directing the original 2014 movie of which this particular movie is based on, Moland seems like a reasonable choice for helming this project; allowing the director to present a new iteration of In Order of Disappearance by within the budget (and means) of a Hollywood motion picture endeavor. In that regard, Moland does succeed and does certainly craft a nice version of his 2014. Like I said, I didn’t get around to see the original film, but I read about and looked it up online (gathering snippets of it here and there). Thus, the core making of the story is still very much intact, but Moland’s “amps” up the cinematic nuances for a western audience viewing entertainment. Naturally, Moland, known how to shape the movie, does deliver on presenting several of the action sequences in the film to be something along the lines of similar Liam Neeson movies, staging plenty brutal for Nels to kill off members of Viking’s crew.

What was kind of surprise about the movie (of which the movie did not showcase) was the quirky black comedy (or rather dark comedy) that usually accompanies the Coen Brothers in saying something like their 1996 movie Fargo. Running along those same veins, Moland, along with the film’s script writer Frank Baldwin, takes a quirky stance in presenting the film’s tone within this manner. Like everything, comedy can be subjective and can vary from person to person as Moland and Baldwin present an amusing dark comedy feature that’s committed from start to finish. Personally, there are moments where this tone of comedy does work, but I’ll mention that later on. Thus, if you’re a fan of the Coen Brother’s Fargo (both the original film and the new TV show), you’ll probably like Cold Pursuit’s quirk sense of humor.

In terms of technical presentation, Cold Pursuit definitely continues to emulate the Coen Brother’s Fargo, with a cold and desolate tundra background setting and all of its various characters moving about its setting. I mention that because the backdrop location of the movie, while not the most elaborate, definitely feels like a character onto its own; utilizing the tundra mountainous location, which was meant to be outside of Denver that was actually filmed in Canada and British Columbia, as the primary setting. Thus, the production team (and scout lay out team) should be noted for their work on the movie as well as the cinematography work by Philip Øgaard helps elevates highlight several paranormal shots outside setting. Also, the movie’s score, which was done by George Fenton, speaks to the quirky nature of the film’s dark comedy within its music.

Problems do quickly arise within the movie, which makes Cold Pursuit’s cinematic storytelling filled with too many criticism holes; lacking the potential the feature strives for. Perhaps the most perplexing thing about this movie is the simple fact that Moland worked on this project and why he decided to remake it. From what I heard, In Order of Disappearance was pretty good. So, why revisit it? For US / American audience of Hollywood influences? To me personally, it just seems like a bizarre move and Moland just might try a bit too hard in trying to make Cold Pursuit a bit edgier…. if you know what I mean. The result makes the film definitely have a R-rating (and justly so), but it still seems like a perplexing remake that probably didn’t need to be revisited. What’s even worse is that Cold Pursuit is utterly dull. Yes, the movie does have its moments that are scattered across the film’s runtime, but the feature really could’ve been done (story-wise) in about half the time of its 119 minutes duration. Because of this, the movie just slogs by as it moves from scene to scene by adding extra pieces and elongated shots / sequences that really don’t go anywhere than just to simply pad the narrative with unnecessary bits. Additionally, the movie has many (and I do mean many) secondary storylines and plot points that are never fully explored as Moland (as well as Baldwin) squander these narrative threads in just a bland manner.

 The result is having Cold Pursuit move away from the main story (Nels’s revenge) and present other narrative threads in a weaker concoction and assemblage. A prime example of this is in Viking’s personal life (surrounding his son’s health and well-being) that presents some oddities as well as the rivalry between Viking’s crew and those of the warring Indian gang (the Ute gang). The ideas are all laid out, but the execution of the film’s script and in the presentation just never materialized; creating fragmented areas throughout the narrative and lacking substance. It also doesn’t help that the main story thread is a bit bland and does feel derivate in the same realm of revenge thriller. My biggest pet peeve is the actual dark comedy humor bits that are peppered. While some might like it (as I mentioned above), the movie just tries a little “too hard” in trying to establish itself within this style approach and (personally) just ends up being a bit wacky within its eccentricity to the point of being almost cartoon-ish (like “ACME Dynamite” cartoonish). The film’s script does try toil around with these ideas of many of its various characters having their own personal idiosyncrasies, but the end result just ends up being more bizarre and weird as a more “turning off” than actually buying into their respective character personas. Altogether, the movie definitely has potential to be something, but Moland (again, who created the original film of which this feature is based on) just doesn’t really take the established narrative to the next level or rather to elaborate on all the various subplots that the film’s story has to offer, which is very disappointing.

The cast in Cold Pursuit is pretty good, with plenty of recognizable faces within its varying characters that pop in and out of the feature. However, while the acting talent is definitely present in the movie, the characters themselves (and their motives / persona characteristics) come off as either to wacky (again, playing up the dark comedy aspect of the feature) or just too thinly written. Naturally, actor Liam Neeson leads the charge of the film’s cast; playing the movie’s central protagonist character of Nels Coxman. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Neeson, has been quite adapt to playing the lead roles of action features for the greater part of the last decade or so and certainly showcases that theatrical bravado in Cold Pursuit. The subdued and subtle facial expression that Neeson can pull off is greatly emphasize in his portrayal of Nels, a quiet and reserved man who does display his emotions to the full extent, but does allow his action speak for him. So, Neeson makes Nels a solid one and perhaps the best character (theatrically speaking) in the entire movie. However, compared to some of his past characters he’s played, Nels Coxman is merely just a shadow iteration of them. Behind Neeson’s Nels, the only other character that mainly stands out (as a largely secondary character) is in the character of Trevor “Viking” Calcote, who is played by actor Tome Bateman. Known for his roles in Da Vinci’s DemonsVanity Fair, and Murder on the Orient Express, Bateman certainly fits the bill as the powerful gang leader that seems quite “unhinged” at some of the things that surround his life, which (again) plays up the quirky comedy nuances that the movie wants to project. While Bateman’s acting is fine, I kind of wished that the film delved more into his machinations and a bit more into his personal life beyond what’s given. I mean, the dealings with his kid and his wife can almost be another film entirely.

The rest of the cast, including actress Laura Dern (Jurassic Park and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi) as Nels’s wife Grace Coxman, actor Micheál Richardson (Vox Lux and Big Dogs) as Nels and Grace’s son Kyle Coxman, actor Tom Jackson (Skinwalkers and North of 60) as the Ute drug kingpin White Bull, actress Julia Jones (Wind River and Westworld) as Viking’s Ute wife Aya, actor William Forsythe (The Rock and Halloween) as Nel’s brother Brock “Wingman” Coxman, actor John Doman (The Wire and You Were Never Really Here) as seasoned police officer John ‘Gip’ Gipsky, actress Emmy Rossum (Shameless and The Phantom of the Opera) as police officer Kim Dash, and young actor Nicholas Holmes (The Shack and Project Blue Book) as Viking’s son Ryan. are the supporting players in Cold Pursuit, but are merely caricatures of sorts. The disappointing factor is that the movie never develops most of these characters beyond their initial setup and simply waste the acting talents of these individuals for throwaway roles. This is clearly noticeable in Dern’s Grace, which really does seem quite pointless in the film, as well as Gipsky / Dash’s involvement in the movie, which could be completely omitted from the feature’s narrative. As a side-note, there are a great host of gang members of Viking’s crew (some of having catchy nicknames), but to list them all completely would be another paragraph or two. To me, the only that does stand out is the character of Mustang (Viking’s right-hand man who also looks after Ryan), who is played by actor Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire and Bridge of Spies).

FINAL THOUGHTS


Nels Coxman seeks revenges and begins his one man’s assault on the drug kingpin Viking in the movie Cold Pursuit. Director Hans Petter Moland latest project sees to remake his own 2014 film, offering up a slice of American / Hollywood flavor to his narrative of revenge and quirky wit. While the feature does have an amusing taste of dark comedy and a sufficient amount of action / complexity, the film does present a mixed bag of a bland revenge narrative, a plethora of thinly-written characters, unbalanced tones, and lacking depth within some plot areas. Personally, I thought this movie was somewhere between decent and fairly okay, but mostly on the disappointing side of things. The story is there and some of the sequences are pretty good. Plus, Neeson was good in the role, but the film just felt too generic, quirky, and not enough substance; lacking precision to both storytelling and cinematic nuances Thus, my recommendation for the movie would be neither a “iffy choice” for fans of the Coen Brother’s dark comedy antics, while a “skip it” for everyone else as the movie doesn’t offer much beyond that; offering up just a bland revenge thriller. Personally, I probably would be interested to see In Order of Disappearance than watching Cold Pursuit again. In the end, while actor Liam Neeson will continue to make movies and star in plenty more action thrillers out there, Cold Pursuit isn’t one of the brightest in his collection; presenting a decent (yet a generically flat) dark humor revenge thriller.

2.9 (Iffy Choice / Skip It)

 

Released On: February 8th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 14th, 2019

Cold Pursuit  is 119 minutes and is rated R for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (2019) Artmos Films Blog

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (2019) REVIEW

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (2019)

A FUN, YET DATED EXPLORATION


 

Back in August of 2000, Nickelodeon debuted the show Dora the Explorer during its Nick Jr. scheduled block. Created by Chris Gifford, Valerie Walsh Valdes, and Eric Weiner, the show followed the adventures of a young seven-year-old Latina girl named Dora, who loves to embark on exploration quest related to activity that she wants to partake or a place she wants to reach; accompanied by her talking purple backpack and an anthropomorphic monkey named Boot). The show, which was aimed at preschoolers was filled with sequences of obstacles and riddles throughout Dora’s adventures / travels as well as breaking the fourth wall in talking with the show’s viewers (in learning words and sayings). Collectively, Dora the Explorer was a big hit and became a popular franchise of success within children’s entertainment. Not only did the show had a lengthy run, which ran from 2000 to 2019 (i.e. 177 episodes in eight seasons), but also had a spin-off TV show called Go, Diego Go!, which featured Dora’s cousin Diego on a series of adventures and ran for five seasons (74 episodes) from 2005 to 2012. Now, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, and director James Bobin presents Dora’s first full-length live action feature with the movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Does the movie harmonize with the show (and its fanbase) or is it “too little, too late” to investment in Dora’s latest adventure?

THE STORY


Raised in the more jungles of South America, Dora (Isabela Moner) is in-tuned with natural surroundings, joined by her monkey companion, Boots (Danny Trejo), as she goes on her daily routine of searching and adventurous explorations. Raised by her two professor parents, Elena (Eva Longoria) and Cole (Michael Pena), Dora is resourceful, smart, and fearless, riveted by tales of a lost city containing untold treasures. However, while her parents decide to go looking for this ancient city, Dora is sent to Los Angeles for the school year to deal with socialization skills, living with her beloved cousin, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), who has changed since the last time the two play together many years ago. Unfamiliar to the ways of normal teenage behavior, Dora is hit with the reality of cruelty, eventually making a connection with slightly dim-wit Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and overachiever Sammy (Madeleine Madden). When she loses phone contact with her parent on their expedition, Dora, Diego, Randy, and Sammy are kidnapped by mercenaries searching for the treasure. Rescued by family friend Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), the teens are stuck in the thick of the jungle, with Dora taking charge as she seeks to rescue her mom and dad and find the lost city before the bad guys do.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Oh, I remember when Dora the Explorer was super popular. It was literally everywhere. Of course, I was quite passed the age of its targeted demographic range (I was a sophomore in high school when the show first aired), but I did catch a few episodes and snippets here and there. Naturally, it wasn’t my thing to watch, but it was definitely something for the kids out there. That being said, Dora literally launched an empire that I saw everywhere I went with books, clothing, games, and other merchandise properties. It really dominated the majority of the 2000s era, but then…. kind of fizzled out. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but Dora the Explorer sort of just vanished or was replaced by the “big thing” in children’s entertainment and became more irrelevant as the years went on (i.e. like every passing popular trend). Still, for what’s its worth, Dora the Explorer (and its spin-off endeavor of Diego) captured the minds and attention of children everywhere during the 2000s. Plus, I’ll admit…. I love swiper!

This brings me back to talking about my review for Dora and the Lost City of Gold, a 2019 feature film that brings the iconic animated cartoon character to the live action cinematic medium. Of course, I remember hearing about this movie online (on social media) and like everyone….my initial thoughts were unimpressive. I mean…. does the world really need a Dora the Explorer movie? I really don’t have an answer for that, which is why I was a bit leery in this feature. The film’s movie trailer really didn’t help my leeriness anymore as it looked like a pretty “bleh” to me. Still, I wanted to see if my suspicion about this movie was wrong (or maybe a bit right), so I decided to check this movie out a few weeks after its release. What did I think of it? To be honest, it wasn’t as terrible as I was expecting it to be. While the movie definitely has its fair share of problems, Dora and the Lost City of Gold holds its own in the family friendly arena. It’s definitely made for kids out there, but not so much for everyone else.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is directed James Bobin, whose previous directorial works includes movies like The MuppetsMuppets Most Wanted, and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Thus, given his attraction to kid / family friendly movies, Bobin seems like a likely candidate choice for helming a project like this. Despite the age difference of making the character of Dora a teenager and somewhat “updating” the animated cartoon source material in both for a new generation (or even old fans of the show) as well translating into a new live-action medium. Sliding a bit away from the starch and clunky aspect of the original animated show, Bobin presents the movie as a sort of young Indiana Jones; creating more of a young teen adventure through the jungle wilds by being both clever and smart. That’s not to say that the movie captures the spirt of the show, which still provides a semi-savy and guile of education towards its primary target. In that regard, Bobin succeeds in translating the Dora the Explorer material for a live-action cinematic endeavor.

The film’s writers, which include Matthew Robinson and Nicholas Stoller with a story by Tom Wheeler, certainly credits the family friendly nature of the film, which provides plenty of humor and heart that’s quite easy to digest / view throughout the feature’s runtime (a breezy 102 minutes). Again, the whole Indiana Jones feel permeates the feature and gets the job done by providing plenty of wild (albeit slightly cartoonish) adventures for Dora and her friends to face off against. Coinciding with that, the movie does promote the interest of learning / solving challenges along the way, which can be good for the young viewers out there, as well as the ideas of family and friends; a nice fanfare theme / message to promote. All in all, while it’s not exactly the most original story (the movie’s narrative seems quite thin at times), Dora and the Lost City of Gold does prove to be fun lighter-hearted adventure romp for all ages.

The overall presentation of the film is pretty nicely done. As I usually say, nothing really completely stood out, so I don’t thank any of categories will be nominated for any award selections. That being said, Dora and the Lost City of Gold’s presentation is still pleasing to look at and definitely matches a kid’s film of today’s recent releases (gear towards that target audience). Thus, all the main areas of which I usually mention (i.e. costumes, production designs, and set decorations, etc.) are “on par” with the film industry. Some of the visual effect shots are a bit shoddy and jolting in conjunction with the live-action sequences, but it’s not the worst I’ve seeing and certainly gets the job done. Also, the movie’s score, which was composed by Mark Everson, does provide to quite “easy on the ears” (melodically speaking) and does keep the movie’s energetic and whimsical nature of kid’s feature endeavor.

There are several problems with Dora and the Lost City of Gold that really do hold the movie back from being memorable. Perhaps the noticeable one that really comes to mind is how “tardy” the movie is to its own personal popular fanfare. What do I mean? Well, with the film’s release of 2019, the “crazy” of Dora the Explorer has significantly die out. Of course, there’s been plenty of reruns of the show on Nickelodeon as well as continuing the series, which the show’s “heyday” has certainly come and gone. If the movie was released back in mid to late 2000s, the film could’ve had a lot more “pomp and circumstance”. Thus, the movie, despite the family friendly nature of it all, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is very much the saying “too little, too late’.

Additionally, the movie does have plenty of predictability throughout its narrative. I do understand that the movie is gear towards kids, but there’s not a whole lot of creativity or originality being placed in the film, which does create a formulaic narrative from start to finish. It’s all well and good, but I kind of expected something a bit more in terms of story and plot progression, which plays out in a very predictable layout arrangement (i.e. stuff coming / happen miles away). Also, the film’s ending is a bit lackluster; ending the feature on a slapdash conclusion that feels too rushed and thinly written. There’s a ending to be sure, but not just a strong one. This also brings up the subject of the movie being a bit too silly. Yes, the movie does find some meta humor within its self-awareness, but certain scenarios (as well as jokes and gags) come off as a little too much; almost forced with weak landings.

The cast for the movie has several recognizable names that play the various characters in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. At the head of the movie is (of course) the film’s main protagonist lead of Dora, who is played by actress Isabela Moner. Known for her roles in Transformers: The Last KnightInstant Family, and Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Moner certainly embodies the Dora….right down to the spunky / sprightful attitude she has towards new things and adventures. The character itself walks a fine line between cartoonish and realism teen, but I kind of figured that with this type of a family friendly endeavor. Of course, the character can be a little granting (much like her animated counterpart), but I think the character of Dora is a bit more wholesome that the animated version, with Moner’s performance being a solid one (at least I think so). Behind Moner’s Dora is actor Jeff Wahlberg (Counterpart and Don’t Come Back from the Moon), who plays Dora’s older cousin Diego. Naturally, the character of Diego is a staple of the original Dora the Explorer show (even with his own spin-off show), but the movie does present a different light to the character as a more mature (at least a maturity of American high school teenager), which does create a contrast conflict between him and Diego. This, of course, makes the character interesting, but almost predictable in nature. Still, for what’s its worth, Wahlberg pulls this off (decently) in his portrayal of Diego.

Rounding out the main younger core cast are actress Madeleine Madden (Picnic at Hanging Rock and Mystery Road) as Sammy and actor Nicholas Coombe (Midnight Sun and Cinema Town) as Randy. Collectively, these two (along with Moner and Wahlberg) do make the assemblage of the main quartet of teenagers of which the movie follows. Again, with the exception of the character of Dora, these characters are mostly stock-like characters builds of stereotypical clichés (i.e. the overachiever, the nerdy, the reluctant cousin / sibling). However, given the context of the film (as well as its overall tone), these characters are suitable.

The rest of the cast (mostly the adult cast), including actress Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives and The Sentinel) as Dora’s mom, actor Michael Pena (The Shield and Ant-Man and the Wasp) as Dora’s dad, actor Eugenio Derbez (How to be a Latin Lover and Overboard) as explorer / professor Alejandro Gutierrez, actor Temuera Morrison (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Moana) as Powell, make for the supporting players of the movie. Like some of the younger cast, these particular characters aren’t exactly well-rounded (with most being stereotypical within their persona and parameters), but they get the job done do lend a sort of “veteran” acting talent credence to the feature. Additionally, actors Danny Trejo (Machete and Con Air) and Benicio del Toro (Escobar and Sicario) as the voices for Boots and Swiper.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Dora the Explorer finally makes the jump to the big-screen in the movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Director James Bobin latest project sees the popular Nickelodeon character in her own live-action feature film that’s worthy of the name that it draws inspiration from. While movie can be a bit nonsensical and eye-rolling inducing from viewers outside its target audiences (as well as problematic areas of storytelling and characters), the movie finds its rhythm in a well-meaning way within its Indiana Jones’s style of adventure and within its cast (most notable in Moner’s performance). Personally, I thought that the movie was somewhere between okay and good. It had its moments and kept me interested in the feature’s story, but it wasn’t exactly the best and (much like I said above) felt a bit irrelevant to the times and should’ve been released almost a decade ago. Still, the targeted demographic of youngsters out there will probably like it and that’s all that matters. Plus, I thought it was a little better than what I was expecting it to be. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be a solid “iffy choice” as today’s kids (and those who grew up watching the show) will probably like it, while others (including non-fans and adults) will probably steer clear of the film altogether. Still, in the end, Dora and the Lost City of Gold eschews straightforward nostalgia kid-friendly adventures romp throughout and, while it may not be the absolute best and sure does stumble along the way, is able to get the job done; never losing sight of the title character’s curiosity and courage.

3.5 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)

 

Released On: August 9th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 17th, 2019

Dora and the Lost City of Gold  is 102 minutes and is rated PG for action and some impolite humor

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY Artmos Films Blog

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY (2019) REVIEW

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY

WRESTLING WITH HEART


 

Standing alongside the usual line-up of big budgeted blockbusters, run-of-the-mill horrors features, and the plethora of “page to screen” adaptations, the storytelling format of “sports themed” movies are an old staple of cinematic narratives to be told. While these genre of feature films have delved into various sports, including football, baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey, MMA fighting, boxing, golf, and many others, the common, the underlining theme to many of these movies is found within the commonplace message of being a underdog; showcasing the challenge of overcoming obstacles (as both an individual and / or as team) as well to stand against the outside forces of society’s views. Now, MGM Pictures, WWE Studios, and director Stephen Merchant present the latest sports themed movies with the film Fighting with My Family. Does the feature win the match or is it “lights out” from the get-go?

THE STORY


Born into a family that eat, sleep and breathe wrestling, Saraya “Paige” Knight (Florence Pugh) learned at an early age when it took to perform moves and work the crowds in her hometown of Norwich, England. Guided by her parents / promoters, Patrick (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey), Paige was mostly paired with her brother, Zak (Jack Lowden), with the kids fantasizing about one day making it big and joining the WWE. That dream comes true when WWE talent scout Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughan) decides to audition Paige and Zak, putting their talents to the test against other aspiring hopefuls. When only Paige makes the cut, she’s sent to Orlando to begin training for a spot on the WWE roster, joining flashy strangers who don’t know what to maker of her Englishness and goth appearance. Back home, Zak struggles with his new reality, dealing with the demands of a newborn and his dashed dreams, while Page has a rough time getting into the spirt of the training, worried about the mental health of her sibling as she closer to the big time.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As I said above, sports themed movies are usually stereotypical, but usually fun and uplifting in some ways; a sort of “feel good” movie. As stated, the composition of the sports driven feature are usually accustomed to the “underdog” cliché of sorts, which (in my opinion) definitely works and, while that might make the narrative a bit repetitive, it’s still a wholesome endeavor. Think like the Rocky movies. There’s plenty of entries within that franchise and, while there are some surprises, most of the base narrative plot context is relatively the same. The same can be said about the actual sports that play out in these features, which are usually palpable in their own way (i.e. look inside their world of struggles and triumphs), but can be easily changed out from one to another. Still, I personally believe that these sport themed films fun, enjoyable, and usually test the endurance of person’s / team’s spirit and their goals and tribulations along the way.

This brings me back to talking about Fighting with My Family, a 2019 film endeavor that looks to examine the rise to stardom of WWE wrestler Paige. While I initially didn’t hear much about this movie, I do remember seeing the movie trailer for it a few times when I went to my local theater. The preview looked to be promising and definitely was intrigued by it the story it presented (judging from the trailer alone) as well as the liking of the film’s cast. Of course, while I knew several key figures in the WWE roster (throughout several decades), I personally didn’t know about Paige’s story. Thus, I was quite intrigued to see Fighting with My Family, but kept on pushing seeing the movie in theaters….in favor of more interesting / bigger release. So, I did miss seeing the movie during its theatrical run; deciding to buy the movie (blindingly) after hearing many good things about it. Thus, now I finally get the chance to give my thoughts on Fighting with My Family. What did I think of it? Well, surprisingly…. I liked it. While it might be a “paint-by-numbers”, Fighting with My Family provides to be a crowd-pleasing sport driven endeavor that has plenty of wit, heart, and family drama. It’s not exactly the most original story to tell, but the movie’s craftmanship succeeds more than similar projects.

Fighting with My Family is directed by Stephen Merchant, who has done a whole theatrical gambit of director, producer, writer, and actor for various projects such as ExtrasLife’s Too Short, and The Office. Thus, given his well-rounded in both in-front and behind the camera, Merchant seems like a suitable director to helm such a project like this. In truth, despite his directorial work on television shows, Fighting with My Family marks Merchant’s second attempt in directing a feature film, with his first attempt being 2010’s Cemetery Junction. In this regard, Merchant definitely succeeds in his sophomore feature length endeavor, shaping Fighting with My Family to be an entertaining and wholesome project. What’s even more impressive is that Merchant pulls “double duty” by as both the movie’s director as well as writing the film’s script. While that may be problematic to some, Merchant does prove to have a steady grip on the directing and writing, which results in Fighting with My Family to have a solid foundation to stand out. To be sure that foundation stands upon a good source material, which derives from Saraya “Paige” Knight story on how she became a WWE wrestler. Naturally, Merchant’s script might have taken certain “liberties” with her story, but the core fundamentals of it all are still left intact; enough so that it keeps the film’s narrative to have enough entertainment and compelling piece for a wholesome endeavor.

Additionally, Merchant does make the film easy to digest in both Paige’s journey (i.e. the main narrative) and in the wrestling nuances for its viewers. So, even though a person might not know the “in and outs” of wrestling, it’s quite easy to follow. More than that, Fighting with My Family works because the film talks about the idea of family, with Merchant delving into plenty of personal family dynamic drama throughout the feature…. more so than the wrestling aspects. At the core of the feature’s narrative is the relationship between a brother and a sister (seeing with Paige and Zak) and the difference paths they must lead as well as (at the same time) provide room to examine the themes about friendship between women and the relationships between kids and their parents. It’s not exactly relatively breaking new ground, but Merchant does find a way to make all of this quite compelling; honing in on the core fundamentals of these components for a well-rounded (almost life-lessons about life) motion picture. Additionally, Merchant does keep a tight pace of the feature, which never does lag at any point. There are some parts that could’ve been improved upon (more on that below), but Merchant does keep the film moving at a pretty brisk pace; steadily clocking in at around 108 minutes (one hour and forty-eight minutes).

The technical and overall presentation for the film is pretty good. While it won’t probably get a looks for being nominated at any award show, the movie’s presentation is still spot on, especially in depicting the somewhat homely / destitute lifestyle that Paige’s working class comes from in Norwich, England to the more lavishing and contemporary of Orlando / the NXT training facilities. So, all the usual areas I mention (i.e. production designs, set decorations, costumes, and cinematography) are solid, which is quite impressive for a limited budget feature. Also, while the movie score, which is composed by Vik Sharma, is good and does provide the feature with an extra layer (melodically speaking), there’s also plenty of selected music songs peppered throughout that help pad out the film’s narrative and tone.

There’s a lot to like about the movie, but Fighting with My Family does have a few drawbacks in the movie, which hold it back slightly. The most notable one is in the film’ script, which (again) Merchant had a hand in creating. What’s presented is great, but it is, for lack of a better term, very “by the book”; projecting the same sport fueled underdog narrative yarn that’s usually accompanied in other similar sports themed movies (i.e. Remember the TitansGlory RoadMcFarland, USA, and so on, and so forth). Thus, despite the wrestling theme and following a Paige’s “road to the WWE” journey, the movie’s story is not exactly original and does follow a predictable narrative path from start to finish. Additionally, there are a few subplots that don’t exactly pan out to their fully extent, creating several fragmented narrative threads throughout the movie. Of course, the main story of Paige is presented to its fullest, but I kind of wished that the Merchant delved deeper in certain character moments. This also includes “undercooking” several key moments in the movie as well as some small, yet poignant moments as well. All in all, Fighting with My Family is a straightforward sports theme that, while still entertaining, is quite “by the book” in every word.

What does definitely help aid the movie in this criticism, is the feature’s cast of characters that really play up their characters to their fullest extent (be it heartfelt, comical, or just a variety of side characters). Leading the movie is the feature’s main character of Saraya (or rather Paige), who is played by actress Florence Pugh. Known for her roles in Outlaw KingThe Little Drummer Girl, and Lady Macbeth, Pugh certainly demonstrates the fundamental core of who Paige, a young woman who is stuck between following her dreams and her family. Her acting talents is solid, which does lend credence in the feature as we follow her portrayal of Paige with great ease poise (through elation and heartbreak), which makes her character’s journey easy to root for her. As the story’s plot suggest, Fighting with My Family showcases the dual storylines of Paige and Zak, with actor Jack Lowden playing the second main lead of the feature in the character of Zak Knight. Known for his roles in DunkirkEngland is Mine, and Mary Queen of Scots, Lowden portrayals Zak’s insecurities beautifully, showcasing the downward spiral of his own life, while his sister ascends. It’s a classic dual narrative for a feature film, with Pugh and Lowden anchoring the feature (and within their respective characters) masterfully.

In more secondary roles, actor Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and actress Lena Headey (Game of Thrones and 300) play the character of Paige and Zak’s wrestling enthusiasts / working-class parents…. Patrick “Rowdy Rick” Knight and Julia “Sweet Saraya” Knight respectfully. Together, both Frost and Heady know how to make their characters both outlandish (i.e. larger-than-life) persona fun and amusing as well as grounded and real at the same time, which does make Patrick and Julia memorable right from the get-go. Behind them, actor Vince Vaughn (Couples Retreat and Hacksaw Ridge) plays it cool and concise as the more straight-laced Hutch, a recruiter coach for NXT / WWE. Sure, it’s not his most wildest performance he’s done, but Vaughn surely makes the character his own; adding the occasionally “Vaughn” comedic bravado here and there as well as “grounding” Hutch in realism.

As for “The Rock” himself, Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs & Shaw and Moana) isn’t quite as heavily in the movie as a viewer might expect; boiling down to a handful of scenes in the feature’s final product. Still, while he made not take centerstage in Fighting with My Family, Johnson certainly does make his presences known within the scenes he’s in, showcasing the “larger than life” charisma persona he’s known for (both in wrestling days and in his recent turn at being at lead actor in Hollywood), which his involvement in the feature, amusing and welcomed addition to the film. Plus, it’s fun to see The Rock playing himself (or rather his past self from a few years back) and rifting on some of his real-world personality.

Rounding out the cast is actor James Burrows (Coronation Street and Love, Lies, and Records) as Paige and Zak’s step-brother Roy Knight, actress Hannah Rae (Broadchurch and City of Tiny Lights) as Zak’s girlfriend Courtney, actress Kim Matula (The Bold and the Beautiful and LA to Vegas) as Jeri-Lynn, actress Aqueela Zoll (Rush: Inspired by Battlefield and Bad Timing) as Kristen, actress Ellie Gonsalves (Zebra) as Madison, and actress Julia Davis (Nighty-Night and Love Actually) and Stephen Merchant (pulling another duty on the film) as Courtney’s parents….Daphne and Hugh. Most of these are relegated to small supporting roles in the movie, but each one does a good job. Lastly, because the movie is produced by the WWE, be on the lookout for several big-name wrestlers from the franchise that make small cameo-like appearance in the film. Won’t say who they are, but even I recognized them.

FINAL THOUGHTS


A story of dreams, hopes, wrestling and (of course) family collide together for a front row matchup sporting event in the movie Fighting with My Family. Director Stephan Merchant latest film sees the classic tale of a dysfunctional family and love of sports (wrestling) and molds into something pretty poignant and meaningful; following the two different lives of siblings Paige and Zak of life-altering decisions and how they face challenges ahead of them. While the films is pretty much a by-the-numbers sports underdog story (the standard trials and tribulations) as well as feeling a bit undercooked in a few storytelling elements, the movie does find its footing within its sincerity and empathetic ways of presenting its narrative, a well-earned cinematic journey, and a solid performances from all the cast members involved (both major and minor). Personally, I really liked this movie and I was quite pleased with the movie’s end result. Like I said, the story’s premise is a bit conventional for the sports genre, but it ultimately plays out better than most. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is definite “highly recommended” as it’s 2019’s “feel good” underdog film that’s easy to digest and to feel entertained by the time reaches its conclusion, especially those who enjoy the WWE. In the end, while the cinematic endeavors of sports related underdog tales will continue to be made, Fighting with My Family does certainly stand out above the rest; showcasing fun and enjoyable presentation that defines the meaning of “wrestling with heart”, while facing hardships obstacles that life throws at you to achieve your dreams.

4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: February 14th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 18th, 2019

Fighting with My Family  is 108 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content

PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE (2019) REVIEW Artmos Films Blog

PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE (2019) REVIEW

PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE (2019) REVIEW

FULL OF DISAPPOINTMENTS!


 

It’s no wonder that Hollywood would eventually get around to doing a full-length feature film endeavor for several popular (then and now) toy properties for a cinematic treatment. While not truly unheard of, the idea of translating a toy line brand (dolls, action figures, tabletop games, and trading cards, etc.) into a motion picture has a lot of both speculation and somewhat anticipation; bringing their respectable trademark proprietary names into a new medium for its fanbase and for newcomers (of all ages). Companies like Mattel, Hasbro, Waddingtons / Parker Brothers, Wizards of the Coast, and LEGO have utilized their products for these movie endeavors, including BattleshipClueJem and the HologramsG.I. JoeTransformers, and The LEGO Movie. Now, STX Films, Animation Studios, and director Lino DiSalvo present the latest “movie based on a toy” project with the film Playmobil: The Movie. Does the movie rise to the challenge of evolving its own “brand” as well as being entertaining or is it just a shallow attempt another famous “Brick” animated movie?

THE STORY


Marla Brenner (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a young spirt-free teenager who dreams of traveling the world, but her future plans come to crashing halt after receiving the news that her parents have died in a car accident. Several years later, Marla’s happy go-lucky has withered away; replaced by a more mature adult persona as she must run the household along with manage her younger brother, Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), who is lonely since their parents passed away. One night Charlie sneaks out and heads to a toy museum with a Playmobil exhibit, with Marla hot on his heels to punish him. Unfortunately, just as Marla confronts her brother for beratement, a mystical force pulls the Brenner siblings into the Playmobil universe. Once there, Charlie is captured by some pirates and brought to Emperor Maximus (Adam Lambert), the tyrannical ruler of Constatinopolis, who plans to collect the strongest beings within the Playmobil realms. Waiting to save her brother and find a way home, Marla journeys across the various Playmobil lands; finding help from several of its denizens, including Del (Jim Gaffigan), a food truck driver, and Rex Dasher (Daniel Radcliffe), a suave secret agent.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As I can always say about movies (in all formats and genres) …. not every movie made out there is created / made equally. Similar to feature films that are based on video games, these particular projects can have varying results that depend on the likeability of the actual toy product (popularity and relatively) as well how the toy product is presented within a cinematic story. Naturally, some have evolved into something more like Transformers movies (love them or hat them, but they have been big blockbuster endeavors) as well as the massive success of the LEGO Movies (yes, “everything is awesome”), while others were more duds like 2015’s Jem and the Holograms or 2000’s Dungeon & Dragons. However, some have found a sort of “happy medium” within their respectable…. such as the plethora DTV (direct-to-video) Barbie movie releases. So, like I said above, movies based on a toy are not unheard of, but draw some interest as well skepticism with each announcement release.

This brings me back to talking about Playmobil: The Movie. I do remember hearing the announcement for the film being made awhile back and thinking it was just another quick “cash and grab” in the spotlight for the LEGO Movie installments, with some studio execs capitalizing on the ideas on a similar project to those features. After that, however, I really didn’t hear much about the movie until I saw the movie’s trailer for the film (towards the end of July of 2019) and I wasn’t really impressed with it. Like many out there, it just looked like a cheaply made knock-off version of The LEGO Movie (just with the characters looking like Playmobil figurines). So, while I was on vacation, I had the chance to see an early advance screening of the film and was curious to see it. Of course, my suspicions were still doubtful, but when into the movie with a positive outlook towards the feature. A sort of “hoping for the best, but expecting the worst” mindset. So, what did think of it? Well, my suspicions about this movie were correct and that’s not a good thing. Altogether, Playmobil: The Movie just feels completely derivate to The LEGO Movie features and comes off as hollow, bland, and quick “cash and grab” mentality. As I mentioned above, not all “toy-based movies” created / made equally….and this movie fits the bill to the “T”.

Playmobil: The Movie is directed by Lino DiSalvo, who makes his directorial debut with the film. DiSalvo’s background consist of being an animator for Disney, with collective work on several of their features such as Chicken LittleTangled, and Frozen, along with other live-action films (as an animator), including 102 DalmatiansReign of Fire, and Inspector Gadget. Thus, given his past work, DiSalvo seemed ripe for picking in helming his own animated feature film. Collectively, DiSalvo approaches Playmobil: The Movie with a sort of 80s throwaway kid’s adventure story, with a pair of siblings (Marla and Charlie Brenner), who are at odds with each other at the film’s beginning, but go on a magical adventure (to another world) and learn about their importance of each other and their own inner courage. It’s definitely a well-trodden narrative path that many kids’ movies have done before, but it’s proven to work and has a sort of “throwback” feel of adventure. Plus, it is fun to see how DiSalvo utilizes several of the Playmobil locations (i.e. Viking, Western, City, Space, Roman, etc.) in the movie.  Additionally, the film does move at a brisk pace, which is kind of a good thing.

As for its presentation, Playmobil: The Movie is just adequate; providing a decent (yet average-looking) animated feature. Of course, since the movie is non-big Hollywood studio animation project (i.e. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumination Entertainment, etc.), I do have to give some credit to the animators for creating a film like this. Thus, I can’t be too harsh on that subject. Although, at the same time, the animation is a bit dated and not as colorful bright and intricate design as many other release…. even from non-animated juggernaut studios. Like the movie itself (and I’ll be saying this a lot about the film), the animation for Playmobil: The Movie gets the job done and does present various locales of the different realms therein with distinctness, but not exactly imagery sharpness or even creativity fun. Additionally, a lot of the other areas of a movie’s presentation (of which I usually mention) are merely “passable” and not much talk about beyond that. Even the film’s score, which was done by Heitor Pereira, is just bland and doesn’t offer much beyond the occasion music. Nothing of the musical composition pieces stand out.

Unfortunately, as you can tell, Playmobil: The Movie is just a flat derivate and vanilla movie right from the get-go and doesn’t offer much innovation or entertainment value to its proceedings. The most obvious one is the movie being compared to 2014’s The LEGO Movie and all of its several iterations (probably more closely related to 2017’s The LEGO Ninjago Movie….in terms of story frame working). The comparison quite noticeable and you just get a cheap “knock off” feeling of the LEGO Movies when you watch Playmobil: The Movie. Of course, the LEGO Movies definitely have plenty to offer within creativity, imagination, humor, and (even sometimes) dramatic heart within their animated tale as well as solid talents on each of their respected installments. DiSalvo, unfortunately, tries to emulate that same type of feeling with this movie, but comes up empty handed in all every aspect. I mean serious…. LEGOs….Playmobil…. the similarities between are clear cut and its obvious that the movie was being made to “cash in” on the success of the LEGO Movies. Thus, Playmobil: The Movie is just an unsatisfying and shallow attempt to be too much like the LEGO Movies.

Even looking past that, DiSalvo doesn’t do with the movie, except playing it safe and “by the numbers”. It’s quite clear as how he wants to shape the feature and frames it all its familiar way, but familiarity does creep way too much, with the movie never really coming into its own. Perhaps it’s because DiSalvo’s inexperience as a director, with Playmobil: The Movie never really finding its proper footing and just relying (heavily) on stereotypical nuances for other children’s films. Thus, there’s a weird / odd feeling while watching this movie as if DiSalvo plays a “favorite hits” of other endeavors and tries to make it his own. This also extends to the film’s script, which was penned by Blaise Hemingway, Greg Erb, Jason Oremland, with a storyline consultant advisement by Michael LaBash, which doesn’t help the situation. Why? Well, despite their attempt, the feature’s narrative is quite bland almost as if the film is a “cobbled up” version of similar kid’s adventure stories. Yes, it’s proven work, but the movie’s script never truly shines, which is disappointing. Ideas are presented but never concluded, jokes and gags are written in for comedic levity but fall flat, and various characters are made to be memorable but coming up shallow / hallow throughout. There’s plenty to dislike about this movie as if the feature tries too hard to be something new and unique, but the end result just comes off as formulaic, predictable, and just downright lackluster.

Additionally, the movie does have several musical songs that some of the characters sing throughout the movie. Unfortunately, while the attempt is there, the actual execution of it all is downright miserable. None of the songs are lyrically engaging (i.e. poorly written) and the actually “singing” of them ranges from “passable” to completely unbearable, which comes at a bit of a surprise as the film enlists two musical talents (Adam Lambert and Meghan Trainor) for two key song that are actually the worst ones of the bunch. Yeah, definitely a “head scratcher” for me.

As an interesting side-note, before DiSalvo was announced as the director of Playmobil: The Movie, director Bob Persichetti was originally supposed to direct the feature. Unfortunately, he dropped out of the project and went on instead to direct the acclaimed animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse….which (of the two animated films) was the better idea.

The cast in Playmobil: The Movie is decent enough with several recognizable acting talents involved on the project. However, much like the rest of the film, their vocal work for their particular characters isn’t exactly the best, with many (if not all) are up bland voiceover work. It gets the job done, but nothing really shines or give memorable performances in the movie. This most apparent in the main trio of characters (Marla, Charlie, and Del), who are voiced by actress Anya Taylor-Joy, actor Gabriel Bateman, and comedian / actor Jim Gaffigan. Taylor-Joy, known for her roles SplitMorgan, and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, definitely has the talent for being a lead character (or at least strong female lead in ensemble cast), but her part in Playmobil: The Movie is not her best work. She gets the part of Marla and tries her best in working what’s given to her; playing the once dreamer / adventurous character that had to grow up quickly, but then gets a chance to experience her own adventure throughout the movie’s story. Like the movie, this narrative arc has been done before, so it’s a proven path to follow, but the feature’s script is weakly done and fumbles with Marla’s character journey, which proves not a whole lot of nuances and character moments to bolster her series of adventures she has. Thus, Taylor-Joy’s voice for Marla tries to be excited and wonderous and ends up being dull and derivate.

Likewise, Bateman, known for his roles in Child’s PlayAnnabelle, and Lights Ous rather bland in his stereotypical youthful tween character of Charlie. What he gives is okay, but (again) nothing stands out within his character. Plus, the character’s journey in the feature is just weak and dated; lacking substance within his story arc. Both Taylor-Joy and Bateman are the two characters that are both in live-action sequences and in animated voiceover, but the live-actions sequences are very brief and don’t offer much in the way creativity or innovation to their respective characters. That being said, Taylor-Joy’s singing is a bit of a surprise. It’s not exactly perfect, but definitely better than anyone else in the movie.

Of the three, Gaffigan, known for his stand-up comedy and appearances in Away We GoMy Boys, and Chappaquiddick, is probably the best voice talent of the feature. His usual laidback voice definitely lends credence and characterization to his character of Del, a food truck driver who gets caught up in Marla’s quest to find / save her brother. However, the script and material given him to play around with is rather dull, which make his character rather uninteresting and less funny that what he could’ve been. And that’s disappointing. Behind Gaffigan, the only other character that stands out is the character of Rex Dasher, a cool and collective secret agent, who is voiced by actor Daniel Radcliffe, known for his roles in the Harry Potter franchise as well as Now You See Me 2 and Swiss Army Man. It’s good to see (or rather hear) Radcliffe in a movie beyond his persona of “the boy who lived”, with his voicework for Rex is sly, witty, and debonair charm (something befitting of the classic secret agent). The main problem, however, the character of Rex Dashner is only in one segment of the movie, which is strange as the movie trailer for Playmobil: The Movie (at least the latest US trailer) heavily showcased him. Thus, his appearance in the movie is limited and the film’s movie trailer show most of his sequences, which is disappointing.

Then there is the film’s main antagonist character of Emperor Maximus, the evil ruler of the Roman-like city of Constatinopolis, who is played by singer Adam Lambert. While Lambert definitely has proven himself to a talented musician with his songs (I love his song “Whataya Want from Me”), but his voicework efforts in this movie are rather cringeworthy. Yes, I do get that the character of Emperor Maximums is supposed to be the projected cliché of a Roman Emperor (in all its various forms) as well as cartoon main villain (i.e. a bit megalomaniac-esque), but Lambert just doesn’t make the character his own. To be honest, he’s actually probably the weakest character in the film and the least memorable; offering up no “spotlight” moments for him to create. Thus, the unlikability of Emperor Maximus stems not just from Lambert’s woefully “unfunny” voicework, but also in the movie’s script thinly written script.

The rest of the cast, including actor Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live and Kenan & Kel) as the pirate captain Bloodbones, actress Wendi McLendon-Covey (Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween and Bridesmaids) as the alien crime lord Glinara, actor Dan Navarro (Glen Martin DDS and The Book of Life) as the unnamed Viking leader, actress Paloma Rodriguez (Alondra Smiles and Rage 2) as the Amazon warrior Valera, and musician Meghan Trainor as the Fairy Godmother, are in small supporting roles that are peppered throughout the feature. Unfortunately, like the rest of the cast, these talents are woefully uninteresting and lackluster from the word “go”. It’s not for a lack of trying on their part to make their character fun / amusing, but the end result of them all is just unmemorable and forgetful.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The world of Playmobil heads to the silver screen for their own cinematic adventure in the film Playmobil: The Movie. Director Lino DiSalvo directorial debut feature takes the classic toy line brand and translate its imaginary world into a kid’s animated movie; showcasing a classic “tried and true” narrative of having wonderous adventures. While the movie does an amusing late 80s throwback narrative to bookend the feature as well as some recognizable talents in the vocal departments, majority of the film is just woefully terrible, which derives from the bland script, dated narrative, lackadaisical humor, generic characters, a disappointing presentation, and (above all else) a complete unentertaining film. Personally, I didn’t particular care for this movie. Besides maybe some of the voice talents involved, I felt that the movie was derivatively bland, hodgepodge, weak, unfunny, and just a downright bore, with little entertainment; a sort of gimmicky premise that backfires. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a straight up “skip it” as there’s not much reason to see this movie. Even kids will probably find it to be a snoozer, with a better effort made by watching one of the recent LEGO Movies entries instead. When it’s all said and done, Playmobil: The Movie is an unsatisfying / cheap knock off to its LEGO brick counterpart that never quite knows what it wants (other than a quick “cash and grab” from its viewers). As one character says in the movie… “Life is not full of adventures! It’s full of disappointments!” ….and that’s exactly what Playmobil: The Movie is…. full is disappointments.

1.8 Out of 5 (Skip It)

 

Released On: December 6th, 2019 (US Release Date)
Reviewed On: September 28th, 2019

Playmobil: The Movie  is 99 minutes long and is rated N/A at this particular time for US’s MPAA

RAMBO LAST BLOOD (2019) REVIEW Artmos Films Blog

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD (2019) REVIEW

RAMBO LAST BLOOD (2019) REVIEW

SHALLOW, GORY, AND UNSATISFYING


 

In the action genre, the character of John Rambo (as well as the Rambo movie franchise) has been immortalized as a staple fixture for badassery macho bravado. Deriving from the 1972 novel titled First Blood (by author David Morell), the Rambo series follows the life of John Rambo, a US Army veteran played by actor Sylvester Stallone, who is traumatized by his experience in the Vietnam War, and uses his deadly prowess skills he gained there to fight corrupt police offices, enemy troops, and drug cartels. Collectively, the Rambo franchise has had long run, with the first film (i.e. First Blood) being released in 1982 and the fourth installment (i.e. Rambo) being released in 2008, with Stallone still eager and willing to be attached to the project in playing the lead character role. The franchise has faced some mixed reviews, but still manages to be a popular within action genre; becoming a cult classic to some and making Stallone iconic in the role. Now, eleven years since the release of 2008’s Rambo, Lionsgate (as well as Millennium Media) and director Adrian Grunberg present the final entry in the long-running Rambo series with the movie Rambo: Last Blood. Does this latest close out the famed action franchise or does it conclude on sour and unsatisfying way?

THE STORY


Returning to the rural area of Arizona to reunite with his estranged father, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now in charge of the property after his dad’s death, remaining close to housekeeper Maria Beltran (Adriana Barraza) and becoming a surrogate father / guardian to her now 18 year old granddaughter, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who’s about to head to college. Still haunted by his past traumas, Rambo self-medicates with pills to even himself out, trying to remain in a healthy state of mind by a productive member on the farm. However, when he shoots down Gabrielle’s request to visit her absentee biological father in Mexico, the college bound teen defies her guardian’s wishes and heads south of the border to confront her past, only to be sold out by her once best friend, who offers her up to a sex trafficking ring un by cartel monsters, Hugo Martinez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and his brother, Victor (Oscar Jaenada). Learning of the kidnapping, Rambo heads down to Mexico to rescue Gabrielle, only to encounter the full force of Martinez brothers, which triggers something within the battle-weary warrior.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Much like the character of Rocky, Stallone’s character of John Rambo has definitely been one of those iconic movie characters that has become a pop-culture sensation. I mean…. when I think of Sylvester Stallone, I always think of Balboa or Rambo. While I personally like the Rocky franchise more, the Rambo movies are definitely a product of their time, with the first three films being released back in the 80s and bringing a lot of the 80s action violence and nuances to the proceedings. It works and has proven to be popular franchise. I did see those movies, but I never had the chance to see 2008’s Rambo. However, I did read the synopsis of the feature, so I know the story. In the end, Rambo franchise is a good mindless action flick that deserves its place in cinematic history.

This brings me back to talking about Rambo: Last Blood. As I mentioned, I was super big on the Rambo franchise, but when I heard the announcement for the film, my interest was somewhat piqued. This was mostly due to the fact that Stallone was going to be starring in the lead role (as he should be) and I curious to see how he handled the role, especially since the time gap between this movie and previous Rambo film. The film’s marketing campaign also highlighted that the feature would be a hard R-rating for violence (something akin to the franchise), which drew hype to the movie’s release as well as mine. Of course, I wasn’t expecting something completely profound (creatively speaking), but still to be entertained and amused by the presentation. So, I decided to check out the film to see if I was or not. Was I? Well, unfortunately, I wasn’t. Despite hard action R-rating and Stallone setting back into the role, Rambo: Last Blood is a shallow attempt excessive violence and thinly-sketched narration that doesn’t prove to go anywhere; bringing almost nothing new to the table. Even if you’re a Rambo franchise, Last Blood will still disappoint you.

Rambo: Last Blood is directed by Adrian Grunberg, whose previous directorial works include several projects as a second unit director (i.e. ApocalyptoJack Reacher: Never Go Back, and Man of Fire) as well as feature director for Get the Gringo. Thus, Grunberg makes Last Blood is sophomore motion picture to direct and is probably ambitious of the two film projects. For sure, Grunberg knows of what to give fans of the Rambo series, staging plenty of R-rated violence in Last Blood and credits the movie with a sort of reminiscent feel to 2017’s Logan (i.e. a seasoned and weary warrior that must make his last stand in one final mission). It’s a proven story arc that works and definitely frames the feature in that context. Additionally, the movie does take spiritual cues from the Taken films, with the character of Rambo being a one-man wrecking crew as he takes down bad guys (in some brutal fashion I might add) to find Gabrielle. Also, Grunberg makes Last Blood move incredible fast, which both a curse and a blessing, but I’ll mention more below.

Presentation-wise, Last Blood gets the job done and presents a slick movie’s background world. Of course, what’s presented isn’t exactly the best (in terms of cinematic world), so I don’t expect the feature to be nominated for any upcoming awards or anything like that. That being said, the feature’s setting and background aesthetics is actually probably better than the movie’s narrative itself. Thus, all the normal categories of production, set decorations, and cinematography are all on par with what the industry standards for an action revenge endeavor. Not fantastic, but neither disappointing…. just something in-between. However, I do mention that the intricate tunnel system that John built underneath his father’s house was pretty cool and the staging of all the various traps was neat. As a side-note, the film’s score, which was composed by Brian Tyler, does deliver some great music composition to the feature; creating a few standout pieces that feel somber yet heroic (befitting the character of Rambo).

Unfortunately, Last Blood doesn’t really get off the ground and, more or less, clunky makes his way to the finish line of its franchise. How so? Well, for starters, the movie is incredibly derivate and thin….to say the least. The film’s script, which was penned by Stallone as well as Dan Gordon and Matthew Cirulnick, is woefully undeveloped and assembles a shell of narrative plot for the film to run its course. As I said above, I wasn’t expecting something groundbreaking or original when approaching a film like Rambo, but what’s presented is barely anything and has presented in a better light in other similar projects. What’s even more apparent is that the movie is incredibly rushed. Clocking in at around 89 minutes long (i.e. one hour and twenty-nine minutes), Last Blood is undeniably short and, while it does movie at a brisk pace, feels like huge chunks of the narrative are missing. Certain scenes and character moments are absent, which makes the film’s viewing experience a bit perplexing and feels like something is missing in the feature. Additionally, the movie’s script is quite wooden, with plenty of dialogue moments that are quite dull…even for an action movie. The film’s script is probably to blame, but also in Grunberg’s execution of the feature and how he manages to shape the film. There’s a sort of wonkiness to it all that doesn’t work, which will probably leave many viewers unsatisfied in this film. There’s not enough substance to it all. To be quite honest, the film’s viewing (as an entertainment piece) is hard to justify and creates a rather bland feature that’s quite predictable (looking beyond one or two moments) and formulaic; offering little to none creativity to both the Rambo franchise and the action genre.

Also, the movie also has a bad taste in projecting Mexicans, with a certain xenophobia feeling throughout. Of course, the depiction of Latin American drug cartels has always been a setup for action features, but there could’ve been an opportunity showcase certain aspects of this, including the Mexican drug cartel violence, human sex trafficking, or even the U.S. / Mexico border security control. Unfortunately, neither Grunberg nor the movie’s script examines those particular areas fully and merely just utilizes them as “window dressing” for the feature’s thinly-sketched plot.

As a side-note, the original story for Last Blood was suppose to be more soulful and meaningful (something akin to 2017’s Logan), which really could’ve been interesting to present for the character of John Rambo to go out in the same way as the famed X-Men fan-favorite superhero character.

Then, of course, there is the movie’s violence, which can be a “double edge” sword when executing in films like this. It can be down in such a way that works in a theatrical action movie, so long as the other aspects / nuances (cinematography, narrative story, character moments, etc.) are also fleshed as a sort of balancing act. However, that’s not the case in Last Blood. Sure, there’s plenty of violence frivolities that are usually accustomed to revenge like movie narratives (i.e. TakenMan on Fire, and John Wick), but Last Blood goes way over the top in depictions of violence….to the point where it becomes unnecessarily excessive. Of course, there is some type of twisted pleasure to seeing some of Martinez brother’s drug cartel goons and bad guys getting their “just desserts”, especially since what the movie shows them doing, but it becomes just way too much. Naturally, there’s a lot of “shocking” moments that will sure make any viewer squirm and wince, but Grunberg’s repetitive nature of using this tactic wears thin and almost becomes cartoon-ish. I mean…horror movies have less gory violence than Last Blood, but at least in horror movies it feels more natural. The usage of it in this particular movie feels more superfluous…. a sort of R-rating violence for the sake being R-rated violence, with justification for it.

The cast in the movie is relatively small (choosing to focus on a small ensemble than a sprawling cast), but, despite the talents selected, Last Blood never really gives many of them any chance to shine in the feature. Of course, leading the charge of the film is actor Sylvester Stallone; headlining the feature as the franchise chief main protagonist character of John Rambo. Known for his roles in Rocky movies as well as Cliffhanger and Judge Dredd, Stallone has surely made his own; living up to be quite the iconic action hero among the greats of the cinematic action genre. Thus, much like what he did with his character of Rocky Balboa in 2015’s Creed, Stallone easily slides back into the role of John Rambo in a more seasoned and weary iteration of the character who is haunted by his past and much sums the strength for one final bout with bad guys. The story arc for John isn’t really the sharpness or best, but Stallone’s presence in every scene works and is probably the best positive attribute that Last Blood has to offer.

Behind Stallone, actress Yvette Monreal, known for her roles in The FostersMatador, and Lowriders, plays the character of Gabrielle (the somewhat main catalyst for feature). The character isn’t exactly the most well-rounded or original, but the movie does take the time (in the beginning of Last Blood) to develop the relationship between her and Stallone’s John Rambo as a sort of surrogate father / daughter pairing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to the character beyond that initially setup and is hampered by very wooden dialogue throughout. Monreal is okay in the role, but never truly fines her memorable footing in the character.

The same goes for the feature’s main two villains (Hugo and Victor Martinez), who are played by actors Sergio Peris-Mencheta (Life Itself and Snowfall) and Oscar Jaenada (The Shallows and The Losers). To their credit, their acting talents are not terrible, but Last Blood never affords either Peris-Mencheta or Jaenada shine beyond their caricature baddie personas. Thus, their actual screen presence just rings shallow and makes for less interesting characters, despite doing terrible things, which (again) lessens the impact of it all. Additionally, the character of Carmen Delgado, who is played by actress Paz Vega (Sex and Lucia and Spanglish) feels quite inadequate to the movie’s story. She lends a hand in Rambo’s journey, but it’s quite small and she’s immediately forgotten right after it. Again, it’s also as if the movie’s original story had bigger plans for her character than what was presented in the final edit.

Rounding out the rest of support cast are actress Fenessa Pineda (The Fosters and Mosquita y Mari) as Gabrielle’s friend Gizelle, actress Adriana Barraza (Cake and Babel) as Gabrielle’s grandmother Maria Beltran, and actor Marco de la O (El Chapo and Tanto Amor) as Gabrielle’s biological father Miguel. As you can tell, these minor characters serve as the bases for several components of the movie’s narrative moments (those revolving around Gabrielle’s story), but all of them could’ve been easily expanded upon for a more wholesome side characters in the film.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Stallone’s John Rambo is back on the silver screen (older and deadlier than before) in the movie Rambo: Last Blood. Director Adrian Grunberg’s latest film takes the infamous action hero of Rambo for a new installment; confronting his past and unearthing his ruthless combat skills in those who stand in his way. While Stallone is still incredibly solid in the role and some of the theatrical presentation nuances work, majority of the film just squanders that opportunity that was potential given for the character’s final stand, including a shallow story, weak characterization, a rushed narrative, unnecessarily excessive gore / violence, and just a simple hollow shell of a movie. Personally, I was disappointed with the movie. There were a few parts that I liked, but I really didn’t care for the movie as it was way too violent (and not in the cinematic / stylish way) and just downright haphazard within its paper-thin story. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a definite “skip it” as even fans of Rambo franchise will be disappointed with it. Heck, even Rambo creator David Morell dislikes this movie and saying “The film is a mess. Embarrassed to have my name associated with it.” Now that’s same something. In the end, after starting a popular franchise (worthy of the action genre), Rambo: Last Blood fizzles out the greatness of the character; ending on such a sour and unsatisfying note. What could’ve been an R-rated yet soulful farewell to John Rambo ends with an uninspiring and incredibly bland feature…and that’s the really disappointment.

1.7 Out of 5 (Skip It)

 

Released On: September 20th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 29th, 2019

Rambo: Last Blood  is 89 minutes long and is rated R for strong graphic violence, grisly images, drug use, and language

AD_ASTRA_Artmos_F Artmos Films Blog

AD ASTRA (2019) REVIEW

AD_ASTRA_Artmos_F

AMBITIOUSLY BOLD, YET FRUSTRATING


 

Tales of space exploration have always been a fascinated medium to present within a cinematic framework. As in real life, mankind’s ambition looks to the celestial heavens above and venture into the vast and infinite space; searching for humanity’s foot hole of pioneering progressions into the cosmos of new worlds and other intelligent life out there. Thus, the age of the “Space Race” and the landing on the Earth’s moon was a great “first step” for mankind’s journey into outer space exploration, with new interest in the possibility of Mars as the next monumental stepping stone for humans to venture to. Given the interest of the endless possibilities of space exploration, Hollywood has taken an acute interest in shaping theatrical features in historical and uncharted endeavor, with some being more grounded in realism (Apollo 13First ManGravityThe MartianInterstellar, etc.) and others blending into more fanciful sci-fi elements (AlienPassengersPrometheusWall-EStar TrekStar Wars, etc.). Now, 20th Century Fox and director James Gray present the latest filmmaking project to tackle space exploration with the movie Ad Astra. Does the film reach for the stars or does it get lost in the cold and emptiness of its own cinematic space?

THE STORY


Calm, cool, and collected, Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is a celebrated astronaut known for keeping his emotions in-check and steely pragmatic decision making under the harshest of challenges / pressures. While conducting work in Earth’s upper atmosphere, Roy witnesses a mysterious electromagnetic wave that batters the planet (dubbed “The Surge”), which causes violent blackout fury to the masses on Earth. Called into a secret meeting, Roy is informed that his father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), a pioneer hero astronaut, is still alive after leaving for a mission to Neptune several decades ago, and could also be the man possibly responsible for “The Surge”). Fearing the continuing deadly magnitude of “The Surge” and the affects of ending existence on Earth, Roy suits up immediately, making his way to the Moon first, monitored by Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), Roy’s handler / contact in seeing if the man can handle the pressure. Dealing with territorial difficulties on the Moon and the secrecy of his mission in journey to Mars (mankind’s last outpost in space), Roy reflects on his shortcomings from his absentee father from his childhood, his military duties, and his troubled marriage to Eve (Liv Tyler). However, the determined astronaut must push aside his inner turmoil as he rockets to the far reaches of space…. towards Neptune and his father.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Carl Sagan once said “If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds. Sailors on a becalmed sea, we sense the stirring of a breeze”. To me, I think this is profound statement to humanity’s future; finding mankind’s space exploration to be of paramount importance. Of course, I have been fascinated with space and no I’m just not talking about the science fiction depictions of outer space (i.e. starships, phase blasters, lightspeed travel, and intergalactic alien empires), but more of the practical steps of mankind journeying into the stars, including the Gemini project, the Apollo missions, and even the Hubble telescope (offering glimpses of nebulas, planets, and galaxies in the far distant reaches of the universe). As I mentioned above, the ideas of space travel / exploration have been a fun and entertaining premise for cinematic storytelling. Of course, the juxtapositions of reality and fiction within outer space’s narratives can be both fun and appealing to those particular interest; finding movies like Apollo 13The MartianFirst Man to my personal liking (in terms of realism), while features like Star WarsPassengers, and Prometheus (yes, I do like Prometheus) to be leaning towards the more fanciful elements.

Naturally, this brings me back to my review for Ad Astra, a 2019 sci-fi drama feature that’s the latest addition to this particular yarn of space exploration. In truth, I didn’t hear much about the movie on the internet (i.e. during its announcement or inherit hype during its production), so I really didn’t pay that much attention to its inevitable release or even creating some eagerness to see it. However, I did see the film’s various movie trailers and TV spots quite a lot (forgot to post the trailers on here…my bad) and the movie did look quite interesting as it sort of reminded me of Interstellar or First Man. Plus, I really didn’t do much research into Ad Astra’s story / summary (beyond the movie’s trailers), so I was of interested in seeing how the film would play out and offer up a “highbrow” sci-fi motion picture. In addition, I was also keen in seeing Brad Pitt in the central lead role of Ad Astra. Altogether, while I wasn’t entirely super excited to see Ad Astra at first, my curiosity inevitable got piqued to looking forward to seeing the film. So… I did. And what did I think of it? Well….I kind of have a love/ hate feeling for the feature. Collectively, Ad Astra offers an intellectually bold and sophisticated sci-fi drama endeavors that bolstered by impressive visuals and a terrific performance from Brad Pitt, but eventually gets lost within its own ambition and storytelling. There’s a real duality of engaging and frustrating while watching the movie, which is a perplexing conundrum.

Ad Astra is directed by James Gray, whose previous directorial works includes such movies like We Own the NightThe Immigrant, and The Lost City of Z. With a major studio backing the movie, an ambitious project, and A-lister actor in the lead role, Gray sets out to make Ad Astra quite an expansive sci-fi drama feature of which will draw comparisons to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” novella or even to 1979’s Apocalypse Now as well as 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. And those people who make those similarities are not wrong, with Gray shaping the feature in those veins of storytelling and presentation. Interestingly, despite the vastness of space travel and the scope of movie wants to present, Ad Astra is quite an imitate and personal journey, following character Roy McBride on his journey to uncover the truth of his father and facing inner challenges (mindset and setbacks) along the way. Thus, the film’s script, which is penned by Gray as well as Ethan Gross, presents a character driven feature that works as a slow burner endeavor; slowly unfolding both the Roy’s journey and the film’s visual world. All in all, Gray doesn’t really “reinvent the wheel” in portraying space on film, but he does demonstrate a keen eye for the usage of world building and visuals within Ad Astra.

Of course, one of Ad Astra’s greatest strengths is within its visual aesthetics and presentation, which is beautifully capture and rendered within a cinematic way. Despite some of the criticism viewpoints that the movie presents (more on that below), Gray’s vision for the movie truly does shine within this aspect; presenting a vivid world of Earth’s “near future” that feels grounded within enough realism and believability, but also interjects enough fanciful science fiction nuances to make the state of humanity’s space exploration feel more advanced. This is especially made clear in the feature’s representation of colonies on both the Moon with a lunar base looking like an expansive commercial airport terminal (completely with franchise names and chained restaurants) to the last “outpost” of mankind on Mars, which acts as more of the desolate and barren waystation on the Red Planet (something akin to a science fiction movie). Plus, the idea of warring factions over the Moon’s resources, including marauding pirates, is quite unique and is definitely something different to represent in a “near future” sci-fi movie. Thus, the concept and art direction team, including Kevin Constant, Christa Munro, Alison Sadler, David Scott, and Gary Warshaw, as well as production designs by Kevin Thompson and set decorations by Karen O’Hara, lend a visual credence to the ultimate shaping of Ad Astra’s near future world in an appealing way. What’s also appealing (more so than anything) is within its cinematography, which is thanks in part to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (the mind behind the visual cinematic of Interstellar and Dunkirk). Hoytema’s work on Ad Astra is quite noticeable and his work definitely speak for himself by creating such a stunning and amazingly beautiful shots through the usage of a camera angles and lightening effects in the film. Plus, while I do many times mention the film’s score in my reviews (I’m a sucker for movie soundtracks), Ad Astra’s score, which was composed by Max Richter, is quite compelling; creating atmospheric mood melodies throughout the movie that truly do harmonize with the feature’s visual appeal.

Unfortunately, problems do arise within the movie, which makes Ad Astra, despite its highbrow sophistication and compelling visuals, falter by the time it reaches its conclusion. As I mentioned above, the movie is presented as a slow burner film and, while that might be a good thing to some (allowing the absorption of the movie’s mood atmosphere and cinematography to make a profound statement as well as the character driven moments of the Roy McBride), others will find the movie’s events (or rather how they unfold) in a less favorable light. Thus, those looking for a more robust sci-fi space exploration feature might be turned off by the movie’s slower pacing. Plus, the film’s somber / melancholy tone throughout doesn’t really help the movie’s likeable appeal. I wasn’t punchy comedic zingers, but a few lighthearted moments could’ve help break up some of the movie’s serious gravitas.

To me, my biggest problem with Ad Astra is within its latter half and the ultimate resolution to the narrative. The first half (the first act and part of the second act) feels gripping and engaging; exploring the film’s near future world in both through Roy’s mission / journey and in the backdrop setting of the various location throughout. However, the second half (part of the second act and the complete third act) feels sluggish and underdeveloped. Again, I do understand that the movie is a slow burner endeavor (and I liked that about it), but the latter half of Ad Astra is quite as compelling as the former half. Perhaps this reason stems from the feature’s script, which presents a sort of flimsy story / plot right from the get-go. Of course, Roy’s mission to find his father is interesting (along with his journey of getting to him), but the film’s script has several gaping plot holes and events that the movie just simply glosses over. Chief among them is “The Surge”, the anti-matter electromagnetic surges that causing worldwide frenzy on Earth. The idea is there, but the Gray / Gross’s script just skims the surface on its implications and its disasters potential to Earth. Plus, it’s a bit perplexing as to “how” and “why” it all happens. I wouldn’t say its scientific technobabble of quantum theories (like Interstellar did with its explanations), but I was still left scratching my head as to the cause of “The Surge”.

Additionally, the film’s climatic end point scenes are rather lackluster. Naturally, I wasn’t expecting something completely “big, bang, boom” action sequences, but I was expecting a large revelation shock or some type of “twist”, especially given the sophistication nature of the movie’s integrity and ambition. Unfortunately, what’s presented during this point in the film is rather bland and lackadaisical; seeming like Gray doesn’t have a profound (or even creative) way to close out the feature; offering up a vanilla climax endpiece that doesn’t resonate or even warrant a satisfying appeal. Some might find the movie similar to First Man or Interstellar, but those emotional core in both those movies have a stronger impact than it does in in this film. Thus (collectively speaking), Ad Astra is quite an ambitious film project that works, but doesn’t work well-enough to stand on its own storytelling merits; heavily emphasizing on its visual cinematics rather than its narrative…. a classic dilemma of style over substance.

With Ad Astra’s story leaning so heavily on its main protagonist in both narrative progression and in screen-time, a seasoned and A-listed leading actor such as Brad Pitt is a perfect choice for the film’s central character of Rory McBride. Known for his roles in Meet Joe BlackMoneyball, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt really does carry the weigh of the movie on his shoulder and (thankfully) he does so with theatrical grace and seasoned poise. While he been in a number of movies of large ensemble casts (Ocean’s ElevenInglorious BasterdsOnce Upon in Hollywood, etc.), Pitt’s return to a more singular / focus lead character driven narrative in Ad Astra and is quite capable of handling it without any flaws within its part. Of course, there are some moments where the character Roy is a bit befuddling (most notably towards the third act), but that’s mostly due to the film’s script handling and not with Pitt’s performance. To be sure, Pitt’s acting in the film is quite a reflection of Major Roy McBride as a understated and subtle persona that seems a bit emotional detached to several situations. Though Pitt grounds the character within those parameters and lending his thespian credence to the feature’s proceedings, which makes his portrayal of Roy quite compelling to watch from start to finish. To be sure, even looking beyond the movie’s visual concept and cinematography, Pitt is perhaps the strongest attribute of Ad Astra.

With Pitt anchoring the movie, the rest of Ad Astra’s cast is, more or less, delegated to smaller supporting roles that are peppered throughout the movie. Unfortunately, with Pitt’s Roy taking centerstage for most of the feature’s runtime, these individuals, including actor Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive and No Country for Old Men) as Roy’s estranged father H. Clifford McBride, actor Donald Sutherland (MASH and Pride & Prejudice) as Thomas Pruitt, actress Ruth Negga (Preacher and Loving) as Helen Lantos, and actress Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Armageddon) as Roy’s failed love interest Eve, get push to wayside; leaving not much of an impression to make them memorable in the movie. Of course, their acting talents do help elevate their limited character developments / screen-time, but its hard to look pass their weak character builds. Again, some of it seems a bit intentional within Gray’s direction and in Gray / Gross’s script, with Tyler’s Eve is mostly an abstract construct in the story’s background and Jones’s Clifford is to be Roy’s father / son dynamic dilemma, but none of them makes a strong impression, especially in comparison Pitt’s Roy. Thus, it’s a shame as these characters (and the talents behind them) get shortchanged and are underutilized; merely aiding / guiding the character of Roy McBride throughout his journey….and nothing more.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The answers we seek lie within the vastness of space as Major Roy McBride journeys to find his father; confronting truth and challenges along the way in the film Ad Astra. Director James Gray latest feature delves into a “high brow” science fiction drama by creating a feature that’s quite ambitious and bold within its visual presentation and in its personal and imitate character journey. However, while the movie does have a strong cinematic appeal (visuals, concept designs, cinematography, music score, etc.) and a terrific performance from Brad Pitt, film does falter slightly within its own ambitious narrative; offering up a flimsy plot (with plenty of problematic areas) as well as lackluster conclusion and squanders its supporting characters. To me, this movie is both frustrating and intrigued. There’s a certain duality I have about this film as I liked it, but wished it could’ve been done differently in several particular areas…. most notably in the second half. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is hard and definite “iffy choice” as some will like the movie, while others won’t. There’s definitely gonna be debate on the likeability of this movie. In the end, Ad Astra might fail within its larger goals of its ambitious storytelling, but it’s an admirable attempt in its cinematic visuals.

3.5 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)

 

Released On: September 20th, 2019
Reviewed On: October 07th, 2019

Ad Astra  is 122 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language

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Career

PA(Motion Graphic Animator)

Overview and Responsibilities

REPORTS TO:
  • Line Producer
SUMMARY:
  • Provides general assistance to production employees, artists, coordinators, production managers and producers.
  • Responsible for basic office duties such as photocopying, faxing, filing, and scheduling.
RESPONSIBILITIES:
  • Assist in the preparation of production materials.
  • Organize the production unit’s files.
  • Properly file, label, and arrange correspondence, invoices, recorded media, folders and all pre- production materials.
  • Assist managers, producers, and coordinators throughout production.
  • Assist in the creation of various documents, files, orders, scripts, and research material.
ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES:
  • Collect and distribute correspondence and production materials.
  • Complete all design breakdowns.
  • Copy storyboards, model packs and background layouts.
  • Copy, scan and paste up artwork for model packs.
  • Type and paste up storyboard dialogue and storyboard direction.
  • Print and collate color models for shipment and distribution.
  • Scan and copy painted backgrounds and other color material for archiving and/or shipment.
  • Prepare domestic and overseas shipping documents.
  • Type, send and follow up on documents emailed, or any materials shipped to the network.
  • Arrange for pick-up and/or delivery of materials.
  • Assist casting director; serve as backup for recording.
  • Order and maintain production supplies.
  • Assist on special projects.
  • Help out wherever it’s needed.

Additional Qualifications

  • BA/BS preferred, or three to six months related experience and/or training; or equivalent combination of education and experience.

Basic Qualifications

  • Knowledge of Word, Excel, Outlook/Entourage, familiarity with internet and email.
  • Knowledge of FileMaker Pro, Photoshop, Storyboard Pro, Illustrator a plus.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Ability to work in high pressure, fast-paced production environment.
  • Good time management skills; good multi-tasker.

Employment Type

Full-time

Job Functions

    • Assist managers
    •  producers

Email our admin team artmosfilms@gmail.com no late applications will be processed

Closing date 20/10/2019

Career

Junior Video Editor

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An established video and film production in Durban is on the search for a dynamic and creative video editor to join its in-house video team.

The ideal candidate will have some understanding of the film industry and be a passionate self-starter. This position may be part-time or full time.

Requirements And Experience

  • A good understanding of video and audio production and editing techniques.
  • An enthusiastic and energetic attitude and a willingness to learn.
  • Excellent attention to detail.
  • The ability to work both independently and as part of a team.
  • The ability to handle fast turnaround times in a high-stress environment.
  • Must have own transport
  • Editing video, including video selection, keyframing, masking, compositing, and other basic effects.
  • Recording and editing audio, including setting-up projects, mastering levels, and using basic effects.
  • Setting up and animating objects.
  • Exporting video and audio to selected formats.
  • Documentary/travel film making and editing
  • Qualifications essential
  • Interest and experience with hunting, fishing and diving would be highly advantageous 

Requirements

Experience and a good understanding of the following Adobe software:

  • After Effects
  • Premiere Pro
  • Media Encoder
  • Photoshop

Knowledge of the following software is optional, but would be beneficial:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Logic Pro
  • Pro Tools
  • Cinema 4D
  • DaVinci Resolve
  • Must have own transport
  • Editing video, including video selection, keyframing, masking, compositing, and other basic effects.
  • Recording and editing audio, including setting-up projects, mastering levels, and using basic effects.
  • Setting up and animating objects.
  • Exporting video and audio to selected formats.
  • Documentary/travel film making and editing

Seniority Level

Associate

Industry

    • Marketing & Advertising
    • Online Media
    • Airlines/Aviation

    Employment Type

    Full-time

    Job Functions

      • Management
      • Manufacturing

    Email our admin team artmosfilms@gmail.com no late applications will be processed 

    Closing date 27/06/2019

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    Career

    Videographer

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    Qualification And Skills Required

    • Tertiary Film and Television production and or multimedia production.
    • Design and edit content for short and long format content.
    • Animation and Motion Graphics skills.

    Work experience: At least one year of experience OR Film Degree.

    Responsibilities

    • Create logical workflow and organise media to edit and export for different platforms.
    • One years’ commercial experience minimum or some sort of tertiary education
    • A Clear understanding of documentary style work, with a strong narrative thread.
    • A Clear understanding of commercial style work, with a stylised sense of editing.
    • Extensive knowledge of Adobe After Effects and Adobe Suite
    • Set up own scripts and storyboards.
    • Troubleshoot during production on location.
    • Exercise confidentiality regarding sensitive business matters and business assets – especially as he/she will be filing and have access to video footage and still photographs.
    • Be prepared and willing to perform tasks outside the job description when asked from time to time.
    • OTHER:
    • Admin, marketing, filing, client relations, sales.

    Essential : Own transport and valid drivers licence.

    Required Experience

    • Photoshop and Illustrator Production: One+ year
    • DTP & Print Production: One+ year
    • After Effects and Cinema4d: One+ year
    • Video Editing: One+ year 

    Requirements

    Communication

    • Copywriting and Scriptwriting

    Basic Camera Skills

    • Know your in’s and out’s puts
    • Shutter speed, apertures, ISOs, white balance

    Editing

    • Quick Offline Editor without sacrificing the quality of craftsmanship

    Graphics

    • Online Grading, After Effects
    • 2D and 3D animation skills
    • Graphic Design

    Social Media

    • Strategy and Social Media Management Advantageous

    Seniority Level

    Entry level

    Industry

      • Broadcast Media
      • Entertainment
      • Media Production

      Employment Type

      Full-time

      Job Functions

        • Design
        • Art/Creative
        • Information Technology

      Email our admin team artmosfilms@gmail.com no late applications will be processed 

      Closing date 27/06/2019

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