The Adam Project

Release: Friday, March 11, 2022 (Netflix)

👀 Netflix

Written by: Jonathan Tropper; T.S. Nowlin; Jennifer Flackett; Mark Levin

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Zoe Saldaña; Mark Ruffalo; Catherine Keener; Jennifer Garner; Walker Scobell

 

 

 

**/*****

Shawn Levy’s sentimental time-traveling adventure The Adam Project is a Netflix “original” that stretches the term to its breaking point. The story it tells may be hopeful but from a creative standpoint it feels hopelessly generic.

The Adam Project revolves around the alluring idea of tinkering with the past in order to change an unpleasant future. Like Levy’s previous film, 2021’s Free Guy, the overall experience plays light on logic and heavy on the feels, except here the reliance upon deus ex machina is even more pronounced; this is time travel by way of Sterling Archer, a little more sober and polite perhaps, but no less farcical with the sheer number of things working out at just the right time, on the first try, on the last gasp of fuel.

Adam Reed (no, not that Adam Reed, but the one played by Ryan Reynolds) is a fighter pilot from the year 2050 who crash-lands in 2022 en route to 2018 where he hopes to find his missing wife, Laura (Zoe Saldaña). She’s gone back to terminate an Evil Future Woman from taking over a time traveling device and using it for her own vaguely nefarious purposes. Adam’s plan is complicated when he realizes he has conveniently landed at the very location of his old house, a quaint little pocket in the woods where he encounters his pre-teen self (Walker Scobell).

Less convenient are the circumstances into which he has accidentally plopped himself down. It’s been about a year since the sudden death of his father Louis (Mark Ruffalo), a brilliant scientist, and both young Adam and his mother Ellie (a disappointingly under-used Jennifer Garner) are coping in their own way, which for the former means giving the latter a really hard time and making her worry about his future. Older Adam, nursing a wounded leg and stressing over his wife’s fate, lacks the temperament to deal with his younger self’s so-called problems and his many questions.

Two-time Oscar-nominated Catherine Keener meanwhile has ditched teacup-tapping hypnosis for an admin position at some Skynet-adjacent tech conglomerate. As the movie’s big bad, Maya Sorian, Keener hardly gets to demonstrate her abilities. (Although her character does pull double duty, manifested in the future and past — the “past version” being a poor CGI approximation that makes Rogue One-era Peter Cushing look like the Rolls Royce of digital renderings.)

The Adam Project is a diverting, fantastical adventure that, in its nascent stages, teases something special. In the end, and after so much disaster effortlessly averted, the one thing it cannot escape is its lazy, written-by-committee feel. Moving from one plot beat to the next like a tourist scooted on along by an impatient guide going through the motions, the writers seem more interested in silly song placement than getting serious about the implications of what they have set up. The film is amiable, in large part due to the cast, but it is also forgettable — a creative sin the previous Levy/Reynolds collaboration managed to avoid committing, if barely.

“No gamma rays?”
“No gamma rays.”

Moral of the Story: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are two names that never appear in The Adam Project, but they’re two names I could not get out of my head all throughout, from certain action sequences to the tonality of some conversations and the sentimentality that is laid on pretty thick. Not a bad movie by any means, but like so many Netflix “originals” there is a lot of potential that goes unfulfilled. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 97 mins.

Quoted: “I spent thirty years trying to get away from the me that was you and, I’ll tell you what, kid; I hate to say it, but you were the best part all along.”

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In the Shadow of the Moon

Release: Friday, September 27, 2019 (Netflix)

→Netflix

Written by: Gregory Weidman; Geoffrey Tock 

Directed by: Jim Mickle

I’ll admit that what drew me to the recently released Netflix original In the Shadow of the Moon was not Boyd Holbrook, even though he’s, uh . . . he’s the main dude in it. In this era of super-important and super-niche brand appeal it seems a little silly to volunteer two hours away to a movie heavily featuring an actor you’re not much of a fan of. But I am somewhat drawn to time-traveling narratives and on the surface In the Shadow of the Moon seemed to have me covered. In an ironic twist it was Holbrook I came away thinking more about than anything else.

Director Jim Mickle (Cold in July; We Are What We Are) mixes and mashes genres and ideas in a way that results in a viewing experience that’s very much a tale of two halves.  Set in the city of brotherly love In the Shadow of the Moon begins its life as a grittily compelling — and pretty icky — police procedural, then gives itself over to a time-traveling farce that gets bogged down in increasingly convoluted internal logic and noisy social commentary, the latter updating Minority Report‘s stratagem to target politically-motivated terrorists rather than plain, old murderers.

Taking place over the span of roughly 30 years — 36 but who’s counting? (you should be, that’s who) — the thrust of the narrative concerns the relationship between a devoted cop who eventually finds himself a detective, but loses a lot of other things, and a blue-hooded terrorist bent on righteous retribution, one with the ability to travel backwards in time and who resurfaces on one particular moonlit night every nine years to exact justice on future perpetrators of even worse, broader acts of violence. Key developments are parsed out every nine years across an episodic story broken up into “chapters” — ’88, ’97, ’06, ’15 and finally looping back to the dreaded 2024, where the film begins — drip-feeding clues that appear to draw the detective and the terrorist closer together, even though they’re traveling through time in opposite directions.

For emotional investment, the movie relies on that old gambit of obsession being the hero’s ultimate undoing. Officer Lockhart (or is that Locke? not even IMDb seems to know) devotes years — decades — to a seemingly impossible criminal case, which creates a rift between him and his family (his daughter played at various stages by different actors) and casts him as a hopeless defendant in the court of common sense and reason. His peers, including laidback partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine as a Roger Murtaugh type) and Detective Holt (Dexter‘s very own Michael C. Hall), who happens to be Lockhart’s brother-in-law, invariably jump ship well before the hair and old-age makeup transition Holbrook from handsome to “haggard.”

Fortunately the performances and a few adrenaline-spiking chase scenes provide enough of a human heartbeat and broad entertainment to make the journey relatable and not a completely polarizing exercise in political extremism and inflammatory left-wing rhetoric. Holbrook is clearly committed, a proud southerner who found his way into acting by way of Michael Shannon dropping in to his home town (his high school didn’t even have a drama department), and who has used his fashion model looks to get him considerable attention in bit parts and more substantial roles (Narcos; Logan). He remains a sympathetic presence throughout. Opposite him, the striking-looking Cleopatra Coleman as that enigmatic time-traveler doesn’t need to do much to be effective. With a shaved head and the lips to incur the envy of Angelina Jolie, her canvas is easily one of the most unique assets this movie has tucked in its holster.

Blue Hoodies Matter

Recommendation: I left with a better impression of actor Boyd Holbrook, though if you’re here for Dexter you might not leave quite as satisfied a customer. While the rules governing the agency of each of the two leads becomes increasingly convoluted, you have to praise In the Shadow of the Moon for its ambition. It’s certainly one of the better Netflix offerings currently available. I just wish it could sustain the quality of the much better, seedier first half. 

Rated: TV-MA

Running Time: 115 mins.

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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Release: Friday, February 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Josh Heald

Directed by: Steve Pink

I, along with six other brave souls, ended up in a theater that was playing a film titled Hot Tub Time Machine 2 because apparently the original had that kind of effect on me. I’m now doubting all kinds of things about myself.

Steve Pink picks up where he left off in 2010 with a superfluous sequel to a comedy that many have deemed rather silly to begin with, and I’m in no position to argue against that. We’ve lost John Cusack in the transition, though. But what’s this — Adam Scott is in as an utterly useless replacement character? I suppose it’s fitting, as the boys in this slightly outrageous misadventure soon discover that going further into the future doesn’t always mean things improve. They do quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

With the end results of their traveling back in time in Hot Tub Time Machine rendering Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke) much wealthier, superior versions of themselves — particularly Lou after the advent of his “Lougle” conglomeration — we are introduced to the same characters who are now much less likable. Corddry steps up the obnoxious a notch or two, resulting in his being blasted in the crotch with a shotgun by some agitated partygoer. As he begins to die in the most humiliating of fashions, his time-traveling pals come up with a plan to save him. They’ll use the hot tub to once again go back in time to prevent quite possibly the most unnatural castration ever.

Instead of going back to the past, the buffoons wind up jettisoning themselves ten years into the future, and things have changed seemingly in favor of young Jacob, who now is the proud owner of a ballin’ crib and has a hottie for a wife. She’s only one in a parade of beautiful women who serve as scenery/distractions from the fact that these guys just aren’t as funny this time around. Of course, saving Lou/Lou’s penis isn’t going to be as simple as it sounds and the narrative diverts into territory that is neither useful nor effective. I saw this film a matter of hours ago and am struggling to recall anything significant about minutes 20 through 90.

I do recall a steady decline into boredom, however. Adam Scott plays Cusack’s son, Adam Jr., but what the hell happened in that gene pool, exactly? A character devoid of dimension, most notably in the humor department, and a stiff at that — he is getting married very soon, as he repeats over and again, and he can’t afford to party like an animal as the others wish to — Adam Jr. represents a new low in a decidedly low-brow franchise. A brief flash of Community‘s Gillian Jacobs as his bride-to-be only compounds that problem.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2, when not falling flat with misfirings of all colors, shapes and sizes (and flavors) takes some rather dark turns and oversteps boundaries, making light of suicidal acts well past the point of mockery. I’m actually not sure if making fun of suicide is that bright of an idea to begin with. You might not believe me after all this, but the film isn’t exactly all for nothing; there still remains the camaraderie between the threesome. We experience the commitment Nick and Lou have to their friendships during a ridiculous and smirk-inducing game show sequence circa mid-movie.

Oh, but wait — didn’t something similar happen five years ago? Yes, yes it did. But repeating old jokes isn’t that offensive when compared to the new stabs at funny mostly failing. Pink’s follow-up asks some interesting questions about how we might govern our present-tense lives if we had any inkling of what today’s actions will lead to later, but the more interesting question really is how can a somewhat reliable formula produce such a different result? If you are bothered enough to try and answer that for yourselves, go ahead and see this. Personally, I’d rather get my own . . . ah, never mind. I won’t go there.

so-lame

1-5Recommendation: Neither funny nor that fun to spend time with, the gang has fallen on hard times indeed. What worked for the original was a sense of nostalgia for the ’80s (if you get nostalgic for that sort of thing). But for those who are fans of good comedy, seeing this one through just may make you nostalgic for the good old days of a John Cusack-led bubbly-tub bacchanalia.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 long mins.

Quoted: “. . . that smells like hatred.”

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Lucy

lucy-movie-poster-a-peek-at-powers-in-lucy

Release: Friday, July 25, 2014

[Theater]

While it’s true this outing is a step up from last year’s The Family, with director Luc Besson even seeming willing to dip his toes into deeper waters as far as interesting concepts are concerned, we are, unfortunately, still not operating at 100% yet.

It might seem dismissive to rule this summer’s latest sci-fi obsession guilty of association based on who’s directing it (a man whose last effort found Robert DeNiro and Tommy Lee Jones competing to see who could look more disinterested in being involved), but at the same time it’s also clear that there has got to be some kind of three-strike rule in place for at least this reviewer. There’s only so many times one can go to a film expecting the worst, then receiving pretty much just that and then going to do it all over again another time, hoping for something different.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s the definition of insanity.

Even the great Morgan Freeman can be heard stumbling over a few awkward lines of dialogue at some of the worst times possible. An image of humanity rendered without a brain as powerful as the one it’s been given is a compelling one, but this actual idea is realized as much as the concept car you ogle over in magazines and faux advertisements is ready for the general public.

Uhh. . .it isn’t.

One is left at the end credits with the nagging thought that if anyone else had gotten into the driver’s seat of this car, maybe we might have gone to some truly cool places.  While it is at times undeniably fun, Lucy fails to engage on a more significant level as it trades out far too much potential in exchange for the quick and easy thrill, a la mainstream Hollywood. In fact there is so much left to be desired at the time of the flaccid conclusion we wonder if there was anything here that didn’t go to waste.

Well, there’s the central character for one. Scarlett Johansson’s casting indeed becomes the film’s saving grace. She instantly affords Besson and his oft intentionally-stilted screenplay a level of gravitas that helps this story gain traction as it plods ever forward, simultaneously with purpose and without any at all. Lucy is a young woman with not much of an identity seen in the film’s open getting wrangled into a drug deal she never wanted to be a part of. Now handcuffed to a briefcase containing who-knows-what, she’s wrestled into a den of some threatening-looking Asians, led by Min-sik Choi’s mean old Mr. Jang. At such time she’s informed she’s now a drug mule for them, and is subsequently sent out to board a plane for somewhere else in the world. Poor girl. Or is she?

Lucy’s intellectual journey begins quiet, innocuously, as she first sets about finding out what has happened to her. After awakening in a hotel room with a bandaged abdomen and being told she’s carrying a pouch of an extremely potent substance, she makes moves quickly to rid herself of the package. The contents of the bag are a synthesized form of the natural chemicals found in a pregnant woman during late stages of her pregnancy. Their power’s asserted to be the necessary boost that helps form bone structure in the yet-to-be-born child. Needless to say, if this drug (labeled CPH-4 in the film) can do that to an infant, what would a quadruple dose do a fully-grown person?

This is going to be, annoyingly, as confronting and as experimental as the material ever feels like becoming. Instead of detailing all of the ways in which someone’s life could be enhanced — and perhaps just as compellingly, how it might be devalued, even destroyed — by the power of being able to access 100% of one’s brain power and an ever-expanding ocean of information, we get surface-level glimpses at what Besson thinks could happen, you know. . .theoretically.

There are, admittedly, a few drool-worthy visual sequences: Lucy physically manipulating radio and electromagnetic waves to suit her needs; her ability to multitask is on a level most Bluetooth-wearing businessmen would be sorely jealous of; and then there’s the traveling through time and space as a means of exploring what we are meant to be doing here on Earth (if anything at all). To reiterate, its all eye candy for the sake of providing action sequences that immediately yank us out of an intellectual discussion and into a pseudo-summer blockbuster.

Lucy is also guilty of devolving into a somewhat plodding affair. It oftentimes holds all of the enthusiasm of a tenured history professor dragging his students through another 8 A.M. lecture. Ironically enough, this is the very character Morgan Freeman has been hired to play. Professor Norman is first seen speaking extremely National Geographic-narratively to an audience of some nondescript understanding about the fact that people only are typically able to use 10% of their brain function. He stands there apologetically, regurgitating a script that begs us to ponder what we might be able to do if we just used all of our brain. The character, despite Freeman’s unyielding watchability, is a complete cardboard cutout of a layman pondering the true depth of the thinking man’s soul. I’m not going to feign pretense here — the movie is too stupid to be taken seriously.

Norman isn’t the problem, it’s Besson’s handling of what could have been an incredibly inspiring premise. For the second time in a row (that I have seen, anyway), Besson has taken a solid concept and fumbled it at the eleventh hour. Lucy, poised to become a modern sci-fi mind-bender, exists now as a crowd-pleasing slice of mainstream Hollywood entertainment, which should be taken as no insult. But it’s a significant step down from the thought-provoking journey into the essence of what it means to be human — something that this excellent performance from Johansson more often than not hints at.

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Not a good time to become claustrophobic

2-5Recommendation: Starpower and an interesting premise unite to dupe audiences into watching a very run-of-the-mill action flick featuring some awe-inspiring visuals and a brief period of hectic violence. Lucy is not what is advertised, but unfortunately that was something that might have been foretold by the names of those involved behind the camera. I’d recommend this film on the basis of Johansson but not much else. There are some truly impressive moments but not enough of them carry through to warrant the kind of Roger Ebert two thumbs-up that I was looking to give here.

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “We never really die.”

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About Time

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Release: Friday, November 1, 2013

[Theater]

For the price of admission to this one they ought to give you an entire box of tissues — they can come in handy here. Richard Curtis delivers the world the feel-good/tear-jerking film of the year, bar none few.

About Time is, well. . .if you want to see a tired genre getting a facelift — a good one, not one of those sloppy jobs that make you wonder what that person just had and now no longer does — go see this one. Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams light up the screen like few cinematic couples have since Ryan Gosling and she did way back when. Before we go name-calling and accusing Allie of two-timing her beloved Noah, I need to gush even more and say Gleeson and McAdams are perhaps the more believable, romantic pairing. This film benefits tremendously from an all-around lovable cast including Bill Nighy (Hot Fuzz; Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows) and Lindsay Duncan (Under the Tuscan Sun) as Tim’s parents, and Lydia Wilson as Tim’s oddball sister, Kit-Kat.

This film may be getting bashed for its sentimentality, and there’s probably some level of validity to the criticism, but honestly these folks are grossly overlooking the overall experience of this film. The logic to its central plot and even perhaps the way it’s carried out is questionable, sure, but hey, at least it’s inventive. Infectiously so.

After turning 21 and having failed miserably in his most recent attempts to pick up a girlfriend over a New Year’s party, Tim’s father sits him down for a chat. But instead of the birds-and-the-bees he gets a little inside scoop on a curious family secret. Since the beginning of. . .whenever. . .the men in the family have been able to travel back in time. Tim simply dismisses this as a strange joke at first (of course), but his dad urges him to try it out for himself. All he has to do is go to a small, dark room and close his eyes and clench his fists, thinking about a moment in time he’d like to go back to. Wham. He’s there.

As one might imagine, with a “gift” of being able to go back into the past, the possibilities are limitless as to what any of us would do with it. Tim uses his abilities to find the perfect girl to make his life complete. Admittedly, the film’s objective is pretty one-dimensional, but the value of family-building and finding love in the most unexpected ways is a hard concept to rail against, so it’s necessary to suppress the urge to call this movie too-pat.

I should back up a little bit actually. About Time isn’t necessarily exclusively about lovemaking and forming families; it also reminds one of the impossibility of living inside the perfect moment all the time. As Tim comes to find, even with the ability to go back to these moments, it can’t be done. Life forces us to move forward, day-by-day, taking whatever comes at us. Curtis’ inventive narrative here is extremely intriguing in this regard. How would you manage your life with this kind of insight? What would you take and what would you leave? As Nighy’s perpetually-charming father warns, “You have to use it to make your life the way you want it to be.”

This film’s charm is responsible for it rising to near the top of my list of favorite romantic-comedies of all-time (now, granted that’s not a huge list, but this is still a huge surprise given the material and my film preferences). The scene in which the emotions and dialogue feel forced or tailored to Hollywood’s liking is impossible to find here. This is the trump card, above Mary and Tim’s relationship; this above the father-son relationship; this above the love a brother has for another sibling.

It’s a film not without its flaws and cliches, but it’s about time a film of this kind of discerning quality is made. The contemporary landscape of romantic-comedies/fantasies is a barren wasteland of instantly forgettable stories that typically go in one direction — straight to the happy ending. That’s all well and good, and that’s not to say Curtis’ film doesn’t trend similarly, but in the process of this story being told, we actually feel like we learn a thing or two about a complicated family dynamic. Or more importantly, about the complexities of families in general.

At the very least, Tim’s father admits that he’s used his ability to time travel to go back and catch up on reading all the novels and books he could ever imagine being able to read. Between this idea and the interactions between the main characters, this film feels lightyears more mature than others of its kind.

I absolutely lost myself in this special little film. What a lovely surprise.

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4-0

Recommendation: A film for those who don’t mind tearing up quite a bit throughout, and for those who appreciate a well-acted and thoughtful meditation on what family means, why they matter and how they come to be.  See also: a healthy alternative to any romantic comedy made within the last ten or fifteen years. This is very much a film to determine whether or not you should see it based on its audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (85%); rather than the critical consensus (68%). Seems a little ironic to write that on a blog that critically analyzes films, but hey. . .I’d rather speak the truth than get all up on my high horse like I usually do.

Rated: R

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “You can’t kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy. . .”

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