Red Notice

Release: Friday, November 5, 2021 (limited) 

👀 Netflix

Written by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber 

Starring: Dwayne Johnson; Ryan Reynolds; Gal Gadot; Ritu Arya; Chris Diamantopoulos 

 

 

 

**/*****

A red notice is associated with something of very high value, such as an art thief of international notoriety. It’s what INTERPOL uses to identify and/or extradite highly wanted suspects. If you haven’t heard, there’s one out for writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who is guilty of making a very expensive heist comedy featuring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot feel cheap and lazy.

Originality is not the issue, although (and with due respect) it never has been with Thurber, who has set his sights on pure escapism and is now a three-time Dwayne Johnson collaborator. As his filmography has shown he’s a guy who likes to rub shoulders with big-name talent. But I’m not sure he’s ever rested on the laurels of his cast quite in the way he does here. Red Notice is expensive but creatively bankrupt — a two-plus-hour conveyor belt of farcical episodes that are forgotten as soon as they happen, all capped off by one of the most asinine endings you’ve seen in a while.

As the Cliff’s Notes prologue establishes, thousands of years ago some dude named Marc Antony gifted three bejeweled eggs to the war-mongering Cleopatra as a wedding gift and a symbol of his “devotion.” Don’t worry too much about brushing up on your Ptolemaic history though; this thing is mostly just jokes and good-looking actors being captured in the perfect light. In the present day, an Egyptian billionaire thinks it would be neat if he replicated the symbolic gesture for his daughter on her wedding day. Whoever can recover all three eggs and deliver them on the big day will become a very rich man or woman indeed. 

The leading trio has certainly ensured their own personal wealth, commanding $20 million a head, but we as viewers (or armchair critics) aren’t exactly enriched by watching reheated performances from other, better movies. This is the kind of pablum that tends to cool even the hottest of Hollywood celebs. Reynolds and The Rock do alright with the odd-couple dynamic but their characters are paper thin. Gadot fares better and seems like the only one who’s trying to do something more fun with her enigmatic character The Bishop, less a femme fatale as a rogue in rouge.

Thurber, who may never set the world on fire, knows how to make a good time happen but Red Notice finds him struggling to make a $200 million production come to life. Though DP Markus Förderer injects some energy with the rinse-and-repeat FPV drone shots that link us to every important place — we start in a priceless museum in Rome, make a daring prison escape in Russia, crash a masquerade ball in Valencia and dig into the rich history of Argentina’s underground, Nazi-stuff-stashing tunnels — the temperature in every room, or outside of them for that matter, remains the same. There is no tension to any of the developments, no significant stakes. But if you are looking for an obnoxious Ed Sheeran cameo, boy do I have the movie for you. 

The Bishop and her pawn

Moral of the Story: I was actually looking forward to Red Notice when it was first announced. Those expectations weren’t anything wild, but I also was not anticipating something so machine-processed. So for me it’s hard to overlook even the minor flaws. I very much doubt I’ll be wasting my time on the two sequels that are soon coming. I’ve done pretty well avoiding most of the crap that floats around on Netflix but this time their cute little algorithm got me. Looks like I’m the chump. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know who I am? I was in The Game of Thrones! I’m Ed Sheeran, bitch!” 

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Photo credits: www.impawards.com; www.imdb.com

Moana

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Release: Wednesday, November 23, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Jared Bush

Directed by: Ron Clements; John Musker; Don Hall; Chris Williams

Moana might just be Frozen‘s spiritual, tropical sequel. But to be honest, I’m only just guessing that — I never saw Frozen. Couldn’t stand the hype. When hype for a film made by a film company I generally do not care for reaches Frozen levels, I tend to break out in hives. So I, you know, let it go.

I was similarly skeptical of Moana but eventually was won over by the casting of The Rock as a demigod named Maui, a boastful but affable caricature of the man himself who plays a major role in Moana (newcomer Auli’i Carvalho)’s voyage. Turns out, Carvalho and Dwayne Johnson go together like peanut butter and jelly. These two are wonderful together and they make a thoroughly clichéd adventure more palatable. (Plus Maui sports tattoos that come to life and with which he frequently interacts. Such was the novelty of the concept I was left wondering what Mike Tyson’s face tattoo would say or do.)

Moana is a film about empowerment and finding your higher calling in life — not exactly a first for Disney. But their latest finds separation by not only introducing a confident young woman but through an exploration of a culture that is woefully underrepresented in modern cinema. The Mouse House has often gotten by with formulaic storytelling dressed up in different outfits, and in Moana we don the cloth of a deeply spiritual Polynesian tribe. Our heroine, in a time-honored tradition, must confront her own limitations by putting herself through a series of physical and often emotional tests that will determine not only her future but that of her own people, a once-proud band of intrepid voyagers who have come to settle on the island of Monutui.

Moana, heiress to and the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) and Sina (Nicole Scherzinger), has a great fondness for the ocean. She’s captivated by its beauty and its infiniteness. Constantly drawn to the water’s edge as a child, she one day discovers a gem stone in the shallows, which happens to be the heart of an island goddess named Te Fiti. The stone was stolen by the demigod Maui in his attempt to gift humanity with the power of life and in a resulting fight it was lost to the depths. Now the ocean has seemingly chosen Moana as the one to restore it and to rid the Pacific islands of the darkness that has slowly been spreading ever since, a darkness that eventually hits Monutui.

When vegetation on the island starts dying off and fish become scarce, Moana suggests venturing beyond the reefs to search for what they need. Her father angrily rebuffs her, reminding her that her place in society is not on the ocean, but rather on land to take care of her people. With the encouragement of her eccentric grandmother Tala (Rachel House) who shows her a secret cave in which a fleet of boats have been permanently stored away — proof positive of her people’s history — Moana sets out on the open water, along with a mentally defective rooster named Heihei, to find Maui and to restore Te Fiti’s heart. When she finally encounters the demigod she starts to gain an understanding of what she has gotten herself into.

You see, Maui has lost his hook. And no that’s not a euphemism for him going insane. Although he is a bit kooky. Wouldn’t you be, though, if you had been stranded on a desert isle for an unspecified amount of time? Look what happened to Tom Hanks. Isolation is cruel and unusual punishment; it has turned a pro wrestler into a legitimate American Idol contestant. That’s right: The Rock can sing. And he can sing well. His moment comes in the form of ‘You’re Welcome,’ an upbeat little diddy that, resist as you might, will get your toes tapping. In it, he regales us with tales of badassery and tattooery. He’s “a hero of men.” But he’s lost his hook, the thing that gives him power to physically transform, to the monsters dwelling in the black depths of the Pacific.

Thus we get yet another one of those “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” subplots that Disney Animation animated films are so fond of, but rather than pad the run time the journey to the briny bottom gives us more insight into the mystical qualities of this universe. Down there we also get to meet Jemaine Clement‘s vainglorious crab Tamatoa. He gets a musical number of his own, also fun. Maybe now is a good time to point out how neither of these songs quite measure up to that of Carvalho’s ‘How Far I’ll Go.’ In fact ‘Shiny’ feels tedious when compared. Carvalho is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. Her singing only serves to reinforce her character’s mental tenacity. It’s actually pretty inspiring. And every bit as empowering.

Moana is 100% devoted to character. The adventure itself not only builds it, but the film centers around a strong, likable young female. Not a damsel in distress. Not a drama queen. A real human being with hopes and aspirations, quirks and flaws. Apparently there were efforts made by the filmmakers to reduce the role gender would play in the narrative. A first draft, written by Taika Waititi, identified Moana as the only daughter in a family of five or six brothers, a detail that was later changed to her being an only child so greater emphasis could be placed on her journey of self-discovery. Despite those efforts Moana has a distinctly feminist lean. Many female characters play a crucial role in the film, be they the village crazy, a giant Monterey or an angry deity. Best of all, Moana’s success or failure isn’t measured based on her ability to attract a love interest. There’s nary a romantic subplot at all, for that matter. That feels more refreshing even than a splash in the ocean on a hot sunny day.

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4-0Recommendation: Fun, lively, visually spectacular, and boasting some great (original) music, Moana is a great one for the whole family. Even when I don’t typically go for Disney Animated Studios stuff, I had a blast with this one. I’ll thank Dwayne Johnson and a fun supporting cast for that. The film also serves as an impressive calling card for the Hawaiian newcomer. Highly recommended. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “If I was called Sebastian and had a Jamaican accent, you’d help me.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

San Andreas

Release: Friday, May 29, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Carlton Cuse

Directed by: Brad Peyton

San Andreas turns a massive crack in the earth into the Ultron of natural disaster villains, and Dwayne Johnson seems to be the only man fit to star opposite in this chunk of supposed summer entertainment.

The former wrestler fits in well with his surroundings as rescue helicopter pilot Ray Gaines, although it’s anyone’s guess as to how the guy actually fits inside a chopper. In a tense opening sequence involving a girl and her car stuck between a couple of rocks and a hard place, we are privy to Ray’s death-defying abilities. (Those will come in handy later.) A respected member of the L.A. Fire Department, Ray is of course no model human. An impending divorce from wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is putting pressure on him as he wants his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to remain in his life as much as possible. Both relationships remain fraught with tension since the loss of a fourth family member in a drowning incident some years ago.

While the strategy is far from original, getting us to invest in this particular family’s affairs works because Johnson and Gugino exude charisma as a couple on the brink of divorce. Strange as that sounds, the pair are suitably cast and make ridiculously cheesy character development somehow watchable. Or at least tolerable. For the world — make that the western American seaboard . . . er, no, strike that: the California coastline as far as Ray and his family are concerned — is about to fall apart in more ways than one.

Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) is a scientist (you know this because of his permanent frown and a hairline that suggests his scalp and Rogaine have never met) at Caltech who is on the brink of discovering more accurate ways of predicting seismic activity. Unfortunately he isn’t too good at predicting that which strikes the Hoover Dam and claims the life of a long-time colleague. “Uhh, yeah — that fault line wasn’t supposed to be there. That was . . . my bad.” Or so says his furrowed brow in the ensuing scene, a retreat back to the university, when a local news crew inundate him with questions about any progress he might be making. Oh, such poor timing.

The incident at the dam is merely a precursor to a series of escalating, catastrophic earthquakes that come to define the plot, the characters, essentially the film’s score, ultimately any lasting memories of what you’ve just seen upon leaving the theater. However long those memories last may well depend on the magnitude of the ‘quake. The best way I know how to criticize San Andreas while sounding like I had a good time is that it is far too eager to get to these big CGI set pieces.

Everything is rushed, the biggest victim being the characters. For an action/disaster flick in 2015 there need not be a poetic fascination with them but there should be more discovery than what we get. Peyton clearly favors pushing past all that icky stuff to the visual goodies. A tidal wave engulfs many a Californian landmark; buildings collapse as though they are built from Jenga pieces; fires scorch the afternoon sky at the tops of those remaining upright. We certainly get the sense that not even Giamatti’s math could save millions from the carnage.

But the concluding sequence all but confirms the only interest Peyton and his writers have in showcasing the power of Mother Nature — the raging, pissed off one living beneath our feet apparently — is parading this year’s minuscule improvement in special effects technology. This is a visual feast and nearly two hours’ worth of society falling apart implies that, while the world may collapse, CGI will be here to stay. Like cockroaches living long after nuclear fallout. CGI is rapidly becoming the main vein feeding the industry, the lifeblood of many a filmmaker with eyes larger than their intellect.

Even by disaster movie standards, the chaotic (but beautiful) computer graphics dominate, rendering any human-related drama as deep as a paper cut. While science can at least somewhat support Peyton’s vision of a California torn asunder by massively destructive earthquakes — it has been three centuries since the southern portion of the fault line has made its presence known, and seismologists do in fact predict it is overdue for some kind of rupture — what begins as hypothetical quickly devolves into laughable.

Recommendation: Yes, San Andreas is harmless and mindless summer escapism but this is a film that had greater potential. I could smell The Rock cooking up a more memorable performance than this as well, but he and his co-star Carla Gugino pull off a marriage in trouble convincingly enough. But given the rest of the cast, they are outliers. There’s not enough in this action spectacular to recommend to the casual viewer of these sorts of things; diehards, on the other hand. . . .

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “The earth will literally crack and you will feel it on the East Coast.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Hercules

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Release: Friday, July 25, 2014

[Theater]

I think everyone who sees this one ought to go out and show their support by buying a Dwayne ‘Hercules’ Johnson action-hero figurine, complete with brown undies and epic flowing hair and redonkulous chest-piece. I don’t care what it takes, just get it done: “Hey kids, get in the van ‘cuz we’re going to Mickey-D’s to get Happy Meals just for the toy!”

Abundant are the gimmicks churned out by Hollywood that seem to attract a much wider audience than they should. You can tack Dwayne ‘The Rock’ (or wait, should it really be ‘Hercules’ now?) Johnson’s most recent summer romp onto that ever-growing list. But this, the Brett Ratner-directed and shameless harkening back to Dwayne’s glory days of dropkicking motherf*ckers left and right, has a zing to it. The former wrestler clad in prehistoric undergarments and a lion’s head as a skull cap. Tell me precisely how that doesn’t sell tickets.

Well, it did. But not an incredible amount. With its inane sci-fi competitor debuting the same weekend, Hercules took a slight slap in the face with a second-place gross opening of $28 million. (Oh, Lucy, you’re such a bitch!) But I suppose all’s fair in. . .what is this, guilty-pleasure entertainment. . .right? Lucy touted a sexy cast and some gee-golly-willickers special effects. If you were at the theater that weekend, there’s a 50-50 chance you found yourself giggling over ever-so-slight hints of homoeroticism in a professional wrestler-turned-actor, one of the (physically) biggest dudes to ever put on the acting cap, now fleeing from his clothes one badass adventure at a time.

Rumored to be the demigod son of Zeus, Hercules is somewhat burdened with beyond-legendary status throughout the land, and the word has been spreading of his completion of the Twelve Labors, a series of impossible tasks intended to separate the mortal from the. . .well, the ones who can’t die. Like, ever. But Hercules, in the wake of his refusal to accept his all-too-mythical conception and duties as a demigod to this mortal world, insists he be treated as another man. In his humbleness, he has accepted the assistance of several skilled personnel who surround him at all times.

There’s Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), a man who most often resists his temptation for wealth and gold to fight the good fight alongside his fellow man; Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), a woman warrior no man would ever dare to cross; Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), a hideously ugly man born in the midst of battle who knows only violence and bloodshed; and everyone’s favorite off-his-rocker prophet, Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) whose visions of his own death are not so impending as they are enlightening and help him in battle each and every time. Together this gang helps to dispel the myth that Hercules works alone and is anything more than a large man with titanic strength. Oh, but is he?

Brett Ratner pushes the pace of his story at quite a fine rate as we move along a series of spectacularly scenic action set pieces including grassy battlefields, murky swamplands, dank temples and vast, sweeping plains backed by towering majestic peaks. The scenery no doubt helps off-set the trademark-Ratner clunky dialogue and awkward tonal shifts. In fact it’s one of the more pleasant surprises with Hercules that nothing ever slows to such a crawl we’re allowed to over-think what’s being laid out before us. There’s every opportunity for the more cynical of us to do so anyway, and that’s all well and good but to do so too frequently would be to invite arguments as to why you are even sitting in this theater in the first place. The film dispenses of realism and opts not to take the legend all that seriously.

As if we were going to accuse Ratner of fraud with this guy in this role. What does feel a little fraudulent here are the occasional detours into full-blown drama territory. The basic plot hinges on Hercules’ muscle-for-hire and his band of dedicated warriors. When they are informed of a particular Greek province, Thrace, coming under attack by a ruthless warlord named Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann) they instantly focus their lifelong camaraderie into converting the legions of Thracian farmhands into merciless killing machines. They will be rewarded handsomely for their efforts, but alas, a caveat: King Cotys (John Hurt), the man whose daughter, Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) made them the offer to become local heroes, isn’t all he seems to be. Bulging with desire to be supreme ruler of all the Greek territories, it is the conflict once inside Thrace that puts a strain on Hercules physically, emotionally and ethically. Is he just another peasant after his pot of gold, or is there something more lurking underneath those bulging biceps and tattered-ass loincloth?

Ratner attempts to draw those conclusions but under the umbrella of a summer action flick, tongue held firmly in cheek because he knows what he is getting away with here. The crossover into profundity not only feels awkward but its handled somewhat heavy-handedly, making for some unnecessarily stilted monologues and admissions of guilt. Changes of heart feel more like changes in the script, conveniently edited clips that pander to the perfect Hollywood ending rather than one befitting of a demigod struggling to find his true identity.

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Rawr . . .

2-5Recommendation: Hercules is exactly what any reasonable person might expect. Often times you’ll find the movie poster that doesn’t reveal a great deal about its content other than its impressive cast or maybe even a particularly striking shot from one moment in the film. In this case, in one glance you virtually know the entire ordeal. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “F*cking centaurs!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Fast & Furious 6

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Release: Friday, May 24, 2013

[Theater]

This is my first time reuniting with the crew of car-crazed criminals since 2003, when 2 Fast 2 Furious riled up critics and seemed even to repel some of the fans of the original. I’ve gotta say, this was a hell of a way to get back in touch with them. With the way Fast and Furious 6 doles out action sequences and adrenaline rushes you’d think these aspects of film were going out of style, and even though this strategy reaches proportions that would have Sir Isaac Newton doubting the legitimacy of his life’s work, there was a surprising ease with which I was able to ignore the implausibility of the action and just enjoy the ride, as well as the views along the way.

The problem with these films is that in any given installment, the magic at any moment can be easily ruined if you were to just take a step back and think about what’s happening. . . particularly in the action sequences. People are able to jump further, survive higher and higher falls, and escape gunfire as if they have just graduated from a class on How To Dodge Bullets, as instructed by Keanu Reeves. Make no mistake, there’s a certain invincibility to these lead characters who have become lovable (or at least a gruff, thuggish approximation to ‘lovable’). Not to mention, their car-handling skills are otherworldly.

Alas, this is what we slap ten bucks onto the box office counter for. By now, those who are going to this film are either die-hard fans or critics just waiting to tear Hollywood a new one for allowing yet another installment to happen. As far as my readings of many reviews have gone, though, there are far fewer detractors of this film than I was initially expecting.

Fast 6 opens furiously, a bird’s eye camera following Dom and Brian as they race along a tightly winding ribbon of road cutting into Spanish cliffside. As it turns out, this brief chase is headed towards a finish line of a different sort. Brian has recently become a father, and Dom cautions him before he goes in to greet his child that this very moment marks a turning point in both their lives.

No kidding.

Of course, the Fast franchise has never been big on subtleties. This one line that Dom says is a huge foreshadowing of things to come; namely, the rest of the film’s mayhem.

One quiet afternoon the Hulk. . . er, rather, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s larger-than-life Luke Hobbs appears on Dom’s dapper doorstep, with a simple mission objective: “I need your help, Dom.” It is precariously cliche, but only in its execution do we truly find ourselves buying back into the fantasy of high-priced cars, the chasing and racing thereof, and of the lavish lifestyles that have only become more so as the series continues to expand. Initially reluctant to gather up the crew again, Dom finds himself with no other option.

Armed with the knowledge that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is indeed still alive, our crew — which has also expanded to include a few more babes and a few more goofy rapper-turned-actors — converts into some sort of quasi-military operations unit in the hunt for a secretive weapon that can power down an entire military operation for 24 hours. But that mission is second to finding and rescuing Letty from her British captors led by the coldhearted Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).

At this point it’s clear in Justin Lin’s direction that he wants the crew to transcend their affinity for stealing and pimping out their vehicles. The car aficionados (this term will forever apply at least to Dom and Brian) dart from one exotic location to the next, falling into occasional grapples with the enemy in random spurts of street racing. Not having seen the previous several, I had the impression that the street racing segments in this film were less a part of the chase than they were obligatory plot elements to keep the title relevant, even though it’s been clearly expressed that the stakes have never been higher for Brian, Dom and company. Taken by themselves, these extensive scenes are still Fast & Furious-worthy, and are bound to keep the attention for anyone who’s ever been a fan.

As the movie progresses the action is perpetually amplified to the point of becoming mind-numbing. The climax is utterly ridiculous. But this IS version number six we are talking about here. And because it is number six, it is far more surprising to me that there remained this much entertainment value in the story when it could have dived into far inferior, and more well-worn territory. Perhaps this had been the case in a few films in its history, but this time around there is plenty of material worth savoring. The fight sequences are impressive; the locations beautiful.

Performance-wise? Well, given that Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson (whom I’ve never been a fan of), “The Rock” and Vin Diesel all are acting on the same screen together — it could be much, much worse. Thankfully, screenwriter Chris Morgan devotes sufficient time to each of these guys to make them all a part of the raucous conversation about street racing evolving to the next level. I suppose if the stakes are going to be raised for every film, so too should the acting quality. Luckily, the two blend fairly well.

There may not be anything to remember other than how long it takes for a plane to lift-off (this part was perhaps the epitome of how the suspension of disbelief has been taken for granted with these films), or how Vin Diesel can survive so many NASCAR-style crashes, but by the time you get to thinking back on the film, maybe you won’t care too much.

(Oh, and by the way, it pays to stay for the credits.)

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3-5Recommendation: For fans especially, Fast & Furious 6 fires on most, if not all cylinders. It is alternately an adrenaline rush and a sentimental story that does a nice job summarizing the places we’ve been thus far. But it is safe to say we are far from the finish line with it all. Go see it on the big screen; your T.V.’s stereo system won’t really do this thing justice.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com