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Dora and the Lost City of Gold Review
After living in a jungle, Dora must learn to survive the harsh and unforgiving world of school life.
Dora (Isabela Moner) has spent her childhood growing up in the jungle along with her parents Cole (Michael Pena) and Elena (Eva Longoria). But now she needs to adapt to a whole new environment - high school. Aided by her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), Dora must learn the ways of suburban city life. Meanwhile, her parents take off on an adventure of their own - to search for a lost city of gold. A series of events sees Dora taking it on herself to find them along with her new classmates.
Drawing inspiration from the Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones series of adventure films, 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold' also has the additional task of connecting its popular television series to this live-action adaptation. It tries to achieve a distinct tone that merges fantasy with reality while its wit appeals to kids and adults alike. This balancing act doesn't always work, but when it does, it makes for an enjoyable watch. The lead role played by Isabela Moner is challenging for the young actor as she's meant to capture the positive, often naïve, attitude of a child while being a vibrant and enthusiastic teenager. Fortunately, she succeeds, and it's impossible not to be drawn to her sparkly nature. Michael Pena and Eva Longoria as her parents will manage to amuse older audiences, who will be disappointed that they don't get to see more of the two actors, along with the slightly mature humour they bring. Instead, we end up with some unnecessary jokes around the call of nature.
The plot takes a while to get around to the actual puzzle-solving that's to be expected from this genre but instead, takes off on flights of fancy along the way. The first act particularly struggles to find its identity. The reality-bending narrative might also prove to be a challenge, even though the talking fox Swiper, played by Benicio Del Toro and Boots the monkey are easy laughs. Although it struggles to pinpoint its target audience, the underlying message of being yourself in the face of peer pressure is for all ages. Despite its obvious flaws, 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold' is self-aware, and its whimsical tonality is held together by a strong lead to make for a family-friendly watch.
Jabariya Jodi (2019)
Jabariya Jodi Review
Abhay Singh (Sidharth Malhotra) runs a syndicate of kidnapping greedy grooms, who demand dowry in Bihar's Madhopur. He then, forcefully marries them off to the girl, calling it a 'surprise party'. But when his childhood sweetheart Babli (Parineeti Chopra) re-enters his life, he must choose between love and his long-term ambitions.
Prepaid kidnappings followed by Shotgun shaadis - this is the dowry central of Bihar where grooms and goons are the only two, who mint money. Abhay Singh is at the top his game ensuring no dulha demanding dahej is spared of becoming a Jabariya Jodi (forced couple) - a real problem in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where it's called pakadwa shaadi. Director Prashant Singh and writer Sanjeev K Jha try to tackle these serious societal issues with a pinch of humour. They succeed in making you chuckle quite a few times in the first half with hilarious punches like 'rukawat ke liye khed hai, tumhara kidnap prepaid hai' and 'yeh toh emotion ka loose motion lagta hain'. This ensures that the first half remains breezy and light, even though a lot of it doesn't make much sense. However, the writing in the second half is all over the place and banal. The story becomes increasingly melodramatic, robbing the film of its humour or the impact for the message that it tries to deliver.
Film's leading man, Sidharth Malhotra makes the frame look good, but feels like a misfit in the role of a small town gunda. Even with colourful shirts, dark scarfs and tacky sunglasses, he doesn't quite make the cut as a menacing goon that he is supposed to be. Ditto for Parineeti, who is always glammed up in chic designer wear, even when she's in an emotional turmoil. Her character starts off being quite feisty, earning the moniker 'Babli Bomb' for publicly beating up her boyfriend, for being stood up. But her transition from a 'bomb' to a bechari isn't convincing at all. While both the actors put in their best, with Parineeti getting the Bihari accent bang on, the writing is what eventually lets them down. Among the character actors, Javed Jaffrey and Sanjay Mishra are impressive and entertaining. Aparshakti Khurana, as the forever friendzoned lover is decent, but his character seems way too good to be real.
Jabariya Jodi starts on a promising note, but loses steam along the way. It tries to throw light on serious issues with lighter moments, but gets tangled in a melodramatic and unrealistic narrative that doesn't feel all that jabardust.
Manmadhudu 2 (2019)
Manmadhudu 2 REVIEW
When a commitment-phobic casanova gets an ultimatum from his family to get married within three months, he hires a waitress to be his pretend-fiance and ditch him on his wedding day so that his family gets off his back. However, things don't go according to plan, causing severe consequences.
They paid no? - any Tollywood film buff in the new milennium would remember this dialogue from Brahmanandam in Manmadhudu. The film has become a modern day cult classic of sorts largely because of its comedy. Seventeen years later, Nagarjuna is back in Manmadhudu 2, directed by Rahul Ravindran. And while this film has no connection with the original, one thing that remains constant is the rip-roaring humour. If it was Brahmanandam who stole the show in Manmadhudu, this time it's Vennela Kishore who leaves the audience in splits with his terrific comic timing, that lifts this rom-com into something special.
Having had his heart broken, Sambasiva Rao AKA Sam (Nagarjuna) decides that he doesn't believe in commitment or marriage, and instead deals only in one-night stands. When his family gives him an ultimatum to get married, he ropes in Avanthika (Rakul Preet) to act as his fiance and ditch him on the wedding day. Little does he know that his plan could have serious consequences.
When you look at the rushes of the film, you'd expect it to have plenty of humour - and Rahul Ravindran doesn't disappoint there. There are some absolutely hilarious scenes in the film, especially involving Vennela Kishore, who really is the scene-stealer as the hero's friend. Whether it's him bursting into a long monologue in English or one particular instance where he inadvertently smokes weed and gets stoned, the actor is involved in some side-splitting humour. The visuals too are wonderful, with the stunning locales of Portugal and Switzerland adding to the film's vibe.
In attempt to balance the story, Rahul sometimes makes it seem a bit too melodramatic. The climax, in particular, could've been a touch better. A little less melodrama and a little more of that brilliant humour would've probably served the film better in the last half hour, especially how given the plotline, one could've predicted a melodramatic climax from a mile away.
It doesn't take much for Nagarjuna to convince us while playing the role of a casanova. "I don't fall in love, I make love," Nag quips in one scene and the effortless ease with which he pulls it off shows the trait of a seasoned actor. What's heartening to see is that both Rahul and Nagarjuna were willing to joke about the age-difference between the two lead actors. At one point, Rakul refers to Nag as "the hot older man". Rao Ramesh and Lakshmi - both terrific in the film - also take some hilarious wisecracks at the couple's age difference. Which is why a love story between the two of them doesn't seem cringe-worthy, and Rahul deserves credit for it. The director missed a trick or two with the climax but gets almost everything else bang on, ensuring a hilarious entertainer that you wouldn't mind watching on repeat. Too much of something can be an overkill, they often say. But when it comes to Vennela Kishore's comedy in Manmadhudu 2, that doesn't ring true. In fact, it only leaves you wanting for more.
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw Review
Former antagonists Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) reluctantly team up to face the cyber-genetically enhanced villain Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) as he attempts to retrieve a bioweapon from Shaw's sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). Ever since the ludicrous, immensely entertaining Fast Five, each new Fast & Furious instalment has been an exercise in preposterous escalation - from skydiving cars in Furious 7, to The Rock launching a torpedo with his bare hands in The Fate Of The Furious, and everything in-between. Far from the simpler times of the series being a Point Break homage about beautiful street racers boosting DVD players, each increasingly Fast & Furious movie amps up the absurd, testosterone-tinged action as it casts aside those boring laws of physics. Hobbs & Shaw falls at the point in the series' trajectory towards 'Fast & Furious...In Space' (as screenwriter Chris Morgan has suggested), where two special agents face off against a cult that believes that humanity's future lies in cyber-augmentation. It's a different flavour of Fast & Furious movie; while there's still plenty of vehicular carnage, the film focuses in on spycraft, fist fights and wacky buddy comedy. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Jason Statham work wonders, but Vanessa Kirby steals the show with wry wit and casual lethality. As the film's attention mostly falls on this lead trio, Idris Elba relishes the squeezed time he has on screen, bringing entertaining swagger to an otherwise one-note character. David Leitch's direction brings familiar shades of John Wick and Atomic Blonde to the action. Intricately choreographed fights are splashed with neon, innocuous objects become deadly weapons (at one point, Statham wields a toaster), and Leitch gives each fight flair and clarity, playing to the different physicality of each performer. The camera quickly moves along with Statham's nimble, precise movements, slows down to clearly show Kirby's brutal dexterity and grace, and stays at a distance for Johnson's sequences to capture the actor's sheer intimidating size and strength. When it comes to the cars, Hobbs & Shaw is just as creative as its franchise forebears, one standout sequence involving a daisy chain of cars helping Hobbs lasso a helicopter. In keeping with Fast & Furious tradition, this action is balanced with earnest, genuinely sweet talk about the importance of family. This time, however, it's about connecting with one's roots and maintaining that contact, rather than finding family in those who come into your orbit. The strongest of these moments come from Hobbs' interaction with his Samoan relatives (Johnson himself being Samoan). This journey home brings both further warmth to a character known mostly for absurd displays of strength and even sillier one-liners, as well as a fun twist to a third-act showdown. Guns are traded for traditional war weapons, the usual pre-battle smack talk replaced with the Siva Tau (the Samoan Haka), a delightful and unique sight in a Hollywood action franchise. Hobbs & Shaw lies on shakier ground when it comes to its comedy, with a broader, more self-aware tone than the franchise's usual straight-faced sincerity. The vulgar insults come thick and fast (especially during some bizarre cameos), but don't always land. Still, Statham and Johnson hold even the faltering moments up through sheer charm, their chemistry never better than when the film lets them lean into the slapstick of two macho doofuses having to work together.
USA's political procedural, a spinoff of 'Suits,' sees attorney Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) try to dismantle Chicago's political machine from the inside. The fish rots from the head. And in USA's new political procedural Pearson, a shadowy spinoff from feather-light legal drama Suits, that fish is Chicago, decaying from the inside out thanks to its corrupt mayor and his sinewy network of venal backers and malleable sycophants. Thankfully, new brooms sweep clean. (Or so they try.) Pearson is named for Gina Torres' steely do-gooder attorney Jessica Pearson, newly arrived from Suits' New York to clean up Chicago as a fixer in the mayor's administration. In a previous backdoor pilot, Jessica headed to Chicago to file a lawsuit against the city on behalf of an estranged aunt, only to end up accepting a high-profile job with shady young mayor Bobby Novak (Morgan Spector) in exchange for dropping litigation. Now wracked with guilt, Jessica must figure out how to support her struggling South Side family while publicly protecting the Novak administration (and privately scouring it from the inside). The central conflict revolves around her crushing, stiletto-healed ambition competing with her inconvenient sense of justice.
As Torres flips from supporting to lead in this new story, think The Good Fight, but dryer and less clever. There's apparently not much humor to be had when there are city aldermen to lobby and union leaders to hammer. Arguably 95 percent of Pearson's scenes take place in a dark room between two characters at odds with each other, a static pattern that became funnier to me the more I recognized its consistency. That's about as much fun as I extracted from this moody 10-episode opening season. Still, Pearson is a shrewd adult drama that takes its characters seriously. Like The Wire, it distills municipal infrastructure into palatable little chunks for the audience to nibble on. (Each episode is named for a local leader conflicting with City Hall: "The Superintendent"; "The Donor"; "The Political Wife.") The show contains only mere hints of sex, romance and violence; you get the sense that the producers know what Pearson is not more so than they know what it is. It is not a soap. It is not a legal buddy dramedy. But in leaching out the elements that would make the show a little pulpier, they end up with freeze-dried fruit leather: a nutritious but tame diversion. As Jessica begins to untangle the Gordian knot of Chicago politics, she's thwarted at every turn by those who disapprove of her taking this job: her partner, her family and, most intensely, the mayor's lackies. The standout of the supporting cast is Bethany Joy Lenz (One Tree Hill) as aggressive city attorney Keri Allen, the only full-bloom character besides Jessica herself. (Prior to the first episode, Keri had Jessica disbarred, adding an underlying jaggedness to their eventual 'frenemiship.') Keri is Mayor Novak's right-hand woman, a canny and loyal vizier who also happens to be his longstanding mistress. (Spector's Novak is disarming, resembling a young Rahm Emanuel.) Pearson doesn't opt for tawdry thrills here, instead focusing on Keri's conflicted love for the man. Every time she says she's "in a relationship," you feel the embarrassed pang of witnessing someone in complete denial of reality. One of the season's best and most surprising storylines sees Keri openly bond with her lover's ill wife (Betsey Brandt) over their mutual allegiance to the complicated man. Lenz sparks every scene she's in, pulsing Keri with confidence, insecurity, feistiness and vulnerability. Her needle-sharp scrappiness is a perfect foil for Torres' slick regality. Like Olivia Pope 2.0, Jessica is a strutting, crusading mid-career fixer draped in a chic white silhouette. (In fact, given its racially inclusive, woman-forward cast led by an Afro-Latinx actress, you can't help but attribute at least some of Pearson's progressive edge to the influence of TV pioneer Shonda Rhimes.) Jessica tussles with her dueling impulses to both do right and win at all costs. Her critical cousin Angela (Chantel Riley), a South Side single mom with two young kids, constantly pressures Jessica to give into her deep-down moral imperatives. This woman is such a martyr she elects to live on the streets in solidarity with her fellow evicted neighbors, rather than with Jessica in her cushy apartment, in order to send a message to City Hall. Unfortunately, Angela comes off as more a storytelling device than flesh-and-blood human, her arc merely a narrative window into the lives of the everyday Chicago citizens Jessica is supposedly looking out for. Pearson has better luck with Jessica's idealistic assistant Yoli (Isabel Arraiza), a young DACA recipient whose activism and political naivety is often at odds with her ability to effectively do her job. (She and Jessica have one of the most true-to-life dom-sub office dynamics I've seen on TV, Yoli often chastened and contrite when Jessica admonishes her.)
The Outpost (2018)
'The Outpost': Review
It's hard to remember the last time a broadcast network aired a series that looked this cheap, which doesn't bode well for a show with epic fantasy aspirations.
With so much on TV endeavoring to close the gap between expectations for the big screen and small, there's something very nearly refreshing about The CW's new drama The Outpost, which looks to be closing the gap between the small screen and an unauthorized high school theatrical production of Game of Thrones. Sorry. That's probably mean. It's just a little baffling to figure out what The Outpost is doing on The CW at all, other than keeping the lights on during the summer. Surely there had to be better illuminating options than this international production of questionable provenance - Dean Devlin's Electric Entertainment and Arrowstorm Entertainment made the show for Syfy outlets elsewhere - and insufficient inspiration to cover for a budget that must have been astoundingly low. The Outpost isn't offensively bad. It's just head-scratchingly, "Why is this getting domestic distribution at all?" bad or "Geez, I hope The CW doesn't think it's going to be able to lure fans of The 100 to this" bad. Jessica Green, who I think has a screen presence capable of allowing her to eventually move past this, stars as Talon, the last of the Blackblood race or tribe or species or something. With pointy ears and an apparent love of nature, they are sort of like elves except that... Well, the pilot doesn't give any other details, so while it's possible they have certain magical powers - Talon definitely can do something related to a confusing CG blur - they're wiped out by a band of bloodthirsty mercenary soldiers before they can exhibit definable characteristics.
The soldiers are part of a string of fantasy buzzword organizations swiftly introduced with the assumption that viewers probably won't be interested enough to ask follow-up questions. They're The Bones, and I think they're employed by The Covenant, which I think is part of The Prime Order, which I believe took power from The Royals, or some such thinly explained nonsense. This isn't one of those Game of Thrones or Tolkien things where you're invited to figure out a layered political or historical allegory. There isn't a fresh or interesting concept in the show.Thirteen years after Talon watched her race get slaughtered in a nighttime raid on the poorly lit soundstage where her family dwelt, she's determined to get revenge and a quick montage takes her across whatever kingdom this is taking place in. Along the way, she passes through one poorly lit forest soundstage populated by badly computer generated creatures called grayskins before arriving at another poorly lit forest soundstage at the very outskirts of the realm, where she's attacked by poorly made-up creatures called plaguelings and rescued by roguish and dimpled Garret Spears (Jake Stormoen), a captain in the outpost guard. Garret brings Talon back to the outpost, where they are safely protected by walls that are either Styrofoam or paper mache, but don't look sturdy enough to withstand a stumbling gaffer, much less a feral army. Is the outpost a full-scale city? A military installation? What's it keeping out? What's it protecting? Unfortunately, with only one episode made available to critics, there's very little way of knowing, though Garret observes, "Nobody comes to the Outpost simply to find work. No, people come here because they're running from something." In short, therefore, the Outpost is a fantasy cliche. It does have a tavern, where Talon seeks employment and interacts with creepier-than-the-show-believes master brewer Janzo (Anand Desai-Barochia) and costumed-for-a-different-series Gwynn (Imogen Waterhouse). Way too much of the pilot for The Outpost is people talking around the things the budget can't show. So Talon's fleeing from bad guys in an early scene and one soon-to-die sidekick warns her, "The other side is grayskin territory." She continues and the pursuing soldiers stop and say, "That's grayskin territory. They won't get far" before holding back. Then a bad special effect attacks and Talon says, "Grayskins. I was hoping they weren't going to be this far east." This is all in maybe a minute of screen time. Whatever limited momentum the show has comes from composer James Schafer's reasonable approximation of every fantasy score ever. There are ways of working around a budget deficit, but show creators Jason Faller and Kynan Griffin haven't figured out how to accomplish that task. One obvious way would be to do something interesting with your characters, any of your characters, and upending genre expectations. It doesn't have to be the plucky feminism of a The 100 or a Wynonna Earp, but those are two easy examples of shows that charted ideological territory that upstaged effects-free primitivism or primitive special effects. As well as Green holds the camera, Talon isn't much of a character. She's spirited and independent until exactly the point at which she requires a man to save her life, and even when she's spirited and independent, she's not notably clever or quick. The attempt to create pseudo-romantic banter between Talon and Gwynn is undone by clumsy staging within the amateurish outpost set, a lack of chemistry and the fact that Garret has to both flirt and give exposition like, "Those are plaguelings. They spread their... disease... through that... needle they try to stick you with." Every time Talon has a sidekick for very long, they seem to die, and after one episode, I'm already perfectly ready for that fate to befall Janzo and Gwynn. Another way of working around a budget deficit is to find creative ways of handling action. Xena was not a show with a huge budget, but it was a show with boundless energy and ingenuity when it came to delivering action that was fun, if not epic. Pilot director John Lyde tries to hide as much of the action in darkness as possible. It's suggested that Talon has skills with hand-to-hand fighting, swords and the aforementioned CGI shimmer, but with this lack of stunts or effects you'd never know. The pilot's big action showdown is woefully choreographed and sets up a dumb cliffhanger that I tried to get a second episode to resolve, without any luck. Yet another way of working around penny-pinching is to substitute humor for grandeur, having characters joking a little about the situations they find themselves in, making it clear to the viewers that it's OK to laugh along with a wooden supporting performance, less-substantive-than-wood set or sub-video game creature.
Jaya Janaki Nayaka (2017)
Jaya Janaki Nayaka Review
Gagan is very much in love with Sweety aka Janaki, a sweet-natured girl, ever willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. But she ends up rejecting Gagan and later finds herself in a situation from which there seems no escape. Why did Sweety reject Gagan and what does he do when he finds her in a dangerous predicame. For one man, it is a question of pride, for another it is a question of love. To what extent will they go to stand up for what they believe in? Who will ultimately triumph in this clash of personalities?
Gagan (Bellamkonda Srinivas) and Janaki alias Sweety (Rakul Preet) are students of the same college. But Gagan is not your typical guy - the young man rejects the advances of girls and is extremely devoted to his father (Sarath Kumar) and brother (Nandu). Despite being very rich, Sarath Kumar has the reputation of being an alcoholic. But there is a reason behind this. Impressed by Gagan's character, Janaki falls in love with him and he reciprocates. Her sweet, kind nature endears her to his family. Jagapathi Babu plays Ashwit Narayana Varma, a business magnate and king of the 'infrastructure industry'. Despite his riches, however, he is a person who values his pride above everything else. His nemesis is another ruthless baddie, Arun Pawar (Tarun Arora) and there is fierce competition between them to bag a prestigious project. Janaki's father is a top government officer responsible for handing out the contract. Incidentally, he does not approve of Gagan. The film essentially is an interplay of various circumstances among all these key characters, and ultimately poses threat to the well-being of Gagan and his family. What are those circumstances and how does Gagan face those challenges to protect his loved ones? Jaya Janaki Nayaka is an out-and-out Boyapati Srinu film. The interval bang, true to Boyapati's style, is praiseworthy and elevates the movie to a different level.The action episodes have been shot well. Music by Devi Sri Prasad is a huge asset to the script, whose beauty lies in the fact that all the characters have been well etched out, giving each actor his due. Rakul is simply terrific as Janaki and her character is the pivot for the entire film. Srinivas shows improvement in acting, over his earlier two films. Jagapathi Babu, Pragya Jaiswal, Sarath Kumar, Vani Viswanath, Shahshank, Nandu lend able support. The strength of the film is undoubtedly the characterisation, Rakul Preet's performance and Boyapati's direction. For Srinivas, this film will serve as a platform to further make his way into the hearts of the Telugu audience and he has to thank Boyapati for that.
Arjun Patiala (2019)
Arjun Patiala Review
This spoof comedy narrates the story of a cop Arjun Patiala (Diljit Dosanjh) and his sidekick Onidda Singh (Varun Sharma). Together, will they be able to accomplish their mission of a crime-free town with their goofy style of policing?
'With you always,' reads the slogan on the police van of the fictional town of Ferozepur in Punjab. The man in charge is Arjun Patiala - a handsome young gabru jawan, who has his priorities set (read women, whiskey and work). Giving him company is his trustworthy but goofier constable Onidda Singh, who has given up on women after multiple heartbreaks. He has now settled for a buffalo as his lady love. If you thought that's bizarre, then wait for more. There is a glamorous yet feisty television reporter Ritu Randhawa (Kriti Sanon), who casually reports on the dreadful trigger-happy goons who infest Ferozepur. An unscrupulous MLA Prapti Makkad (Seema Pahwa), who is often referred to as 'Property Makkar' for her nefarious deals in the real estate. And there is also a gullible goon called Sakool (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) and a host of other quirky characters including IPS Gill (Ronit Roy), who is frankly the only sorted one (for the most part). All of them are part of a fictional story of a formula film narrated by a writer, who often breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience. This altogether takes away the scope of taking the film seriously.
The film's first half breezes through with a few fun moments including a cameo by Sunny Leone. While that fails to register her acting skills (or the lack of it), it leads to a forgettable item number that is admittedly mandatory in such a narrative. Diljit Dosanjh delivers a decent performance with a few laugh-out-loud moments. His innocence brings out the vulnerability of his character that is instantly likeable. His leading lady Kriti Sanon (introduced as Heroine No.1) looks flawless, but the same cannot be said about her character. The writing gives her little to work with other than mouthing dialogues without much conviction. But the one who manages to deliver most laughs is Varun Sharma. From his amusing backstory to his forced singlehood, Varun is simply the guy, who can make you laugh at his expense. He also gets some of the best lines that fall quite short in pulling off an out and out comedy.
The movie's writing, direction and execution become increasingly childish and pointless in the second half, as it stumbles towards a hotch-potch of a climax. Thankfully, the makers do not resort to cheap, offensive or vulgar humour in a desperate attempt to make you laugh. Film's music is average except for the peppy dance number 'Preeto'.
Above the Shadows (2019)
'Above the Shadows' Review
This hooky, high-concept fantasy, about a woman who disappears into sorrow and a man fighting to break out, fades from clever into cliché. Grief-fueled romantic fantasies can be tricky for filmmakers not named Wim Wenders. Everyone aspires to make "Wings of Desire" with its stirring immediacy, beautiful imagery and pressing poignancy, but most wind up delivering something closer to its decent but dreary American remake, "City of Angels" - which could also be said for writer-director Claudia Myers' "Above the Shadows." This magical-realist fairy tale, about a young woman feeling so isolated and insignificant after a tragic loss that she's literally invisible to everyone except one other struggling soul, is certainly imaginative and intelligent in its ideas. However, the savvy smarts within don't quite sustain the running time and, much like its protagonist, the film becomes transparent in its motives and sentimentality. Holly (played in younger years by Fina Strazza, later by Olivia Thirlby) was extremely close to her mom Victoria (Maria Dizzia) growing up. As a middle child sandwiched in between two siblings who outshined her in brains and beauty, Holly felt insecure, though never unnoticed when Mom was around. Everything changes for the family once Victoria is struck with a terminal illness. Those warm, lovely, sunshine-filled days Holly once knew transition into colder, duller ones. Without Mom focusing light on her forgotten child, Holly begins to fade from the memory of the surviving family members, as well as the rest of the world. She turns invisible, and with no other options afforded her, disappears into the dark recesses of the city.
Holly rises to the challenge, striking out on her own in her teens, adapting to the changed world around her. She discovers how to get by, living in the shadows of the night, taking full advantage of the new opportunities presented to her. Excelling as a photojournalist who exposes celebrities' dirty laundry for a popular tabloid, she has learned to navigate the nightlife undetected - that is, until she meets down-on-his-luck bouncer Shayne (Alan Ritchson) while out on a job. Whereas others look right through her, Shayne sees her as a flesh-and-bone person. He's similarly been discounted by society after a scandal broke - one Holly leaked - that cost Shayne his stellar reputation, his actress girlfriend Juliana (Megan Fox, who adds significant depth to a shallow role) and his career as an MMA fighter. Feeling guilty over her actions, Holly figures out Shayne is her redemption from her purgatory-like curse. But the comeback story she's spinning for the both of them won't be easy. They must suffer foreseeable genre tropes an occasionally antithetical formulaic devices in order to achieve catharsis. Though it lags intermittently, Myers' feature moves at a fluid pace. The first 30 minutes are snappy despite being heavy on exposition - not just from Thirlby's perfectly deadpan narration, which delivers the bulk of information, but also from the internet video Holly watches to fill in Shayne's backstory. The rules of Holly's world are delivered in an easily digestible manner. It's intriguing to see how she thrives in spite of her challenges (including simple things like the way she enters buildings unnoticed when people are around), how she communicates with those who can't see her (via texts!), and how she buys food and necessities. Shayne's love for mixed martial arts is well-communicated, likened to a game of chess that engages the body as well as the brain, eloquently giving the sport some earned respect. Character stakes are clearly defined and egalitarian in design, as both Holly and Shayne need something from each other. Her role isn't limited to aiding the man's arc.
Once she starts finding confidence, however, the situation gets a little sticky. Helping someone outside of herself gives her confidence, but it also brings out her vanity. For someone presented as cunning and intuitive, Holly makes a few dumb decisions, such as assuming Juliana's mystery date wasn't going to be Shayne and that she isn't solely responsible for their breakup. She's also rather passive about her own healing process for a very long time until Shayne finally calls her out on it, when it functions as the pat, predictable end-of-the-second-act conflict. Without much creative ingenuity involved, it also hits on the stereotypical "you lied to me" moment and a gender-swapped variation on the old "chase to the airport" romantic movie cliché. Plus, the metaphysical reason why Holly's life was altered shoulders her with responsibilities and expectations to which no one who is grieving - especially those in the tender teenage years - should ever be held accountable. While the narrative falters, Myers' subtle aesthetics don't go unappreciated. Her transitions mirror the duo's mindsets. The city's daylight hours are shown perpetually shrouded in gray, overcast skies when the characters are struggling through life. Cinematographer Eric Robbins also utilizes a cool-toned color palette evocative of the pair's psyches. Once romance enters the picture, so does the sunlight, peeking through the cloud cover. Myers' use of canted angles during the pair's moonlight-drenched make-out session reflects the protagonist's point-of-view being thrown off-kilter. She and Robbins also photograph press conferences and fights differently from the crowded and flatly-lit way audiences so often see them, making these sequences feel intimate. The tone may not be entirely original, but it's among this melancholy indie's strengths.
While you'd be hard pressed to name a time during the past few decades when Star Wars or Star Trek weren't swirling somewhere near the center of the pop culture zeitgeist, it seems safe to say that they're both experiencing something of a renaissance now, or at least, as close to a renaissance as a thing that never truly went out of style can have. From movies and TV shows to books and comics, these long-running franchises are still churning out a steady stream of new stories to keep their fans happy, with both a new Star Trek series and a new Star Wars film debuting later this year. With all this bona fide Star-content swirling around the media landscape, it's not only important, but imperative that new stories drawing inspiration from either of these behemoths work hard to establish their own raison d'être right out of the gate. Unlike, say, the glut of YA dystopian books and films in the wake of The Hunger Games - a franchise that, at the time, seemed finite, meaning fans had to venture outside the high-stakes world of Panem if they wanted to keep scratching that itch - new properties hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the two dominant space-based juggernauts have to look beyond the superficial elements of their inspiration in order to stand out. After all, why watch a knock-off version of Star Trek or Star Wars when seemingly limitless versions of the real things are available right at our fingertips? This is the fatal flaw of The CW's new futuristic summer series Pandora, a show which feels like it desperately wants to be Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, or perhaps Star Wars: The College Years, but woefully misses the mark on both. The opening sequence of Pandora's pilot episode, "Shelter From the Storm" (the first of two episodes that The CW released for review ahead of the premiere), follows protagonist Jax (Priscilla Quintana) in the year 2199 as she goes for a jog away from the small, sand-colored colony of New Portland where she lives with her parents, pausing to gaze up at the planet's twin suns, right before blasts from an unseen source rain down from the sky to obliterate her home, leaving Jax as the sole survivor. After a brief scene in which she wanders Luke-Skywalker-like through the ashes and rubble, Pandora jumps ahead in time to find Jax on a shuttle back to Earth, where she will be attending the Fleet Training Academy under the supervision of her uncle, Professor Osborn (Noah Huntley). In short order, Jax is introduced to Osborn's teaching assistant, Xander Duvall (Oliver Dench), classmates Atria (Raechelle Banno), Thomas (Martin Bobb-Semple), Greg (John Harlan Kim), and Ralen (Ben Radcliffe), and roommate Delaney (Banita Sandhu). Even casual Star Trek fans will recognize a few familiar archetypes among Jax's group of friends. Greg is the charming rogue; Tom looks human, but has partial telepathic abilities, inherited from his father; Ralen is the lone Zatarian at the Academy, a species which Delaney describes as "violent," "warlike," and "treacherous"; and Delaney has cybernetic implants she received as a child, effectively checking the "robot/cyborg" box in the show's roster. Atria is the only one of the bunch who doesn't feel like a Star Trek character with the serial numbers filed off - she's an Adari clone, a refugee from a planet on which she was considered property - and is a refreshingly effervescent presence on the show, determined to soak up all the life her origins would've had her miss out on.
However, while Pandora has a decent grasp of what the cast of a college-aged Star Trek might look like, writer Mark A. Altman does little in the show's first two episodes to demonstrate that he has any idea what to do with this diverse ensemble of characters. While Jax - the titular Pandora, whose true nature is ostensibly the central mystery of the show, despite the first two episodes doing very little to prompt us to wonder at her identity - runs bizarrely hot and cold for no apparent reason throughout the entire first episode (thankfully, she evens out a bit by the second), Xander isn't given any personality at all besides "protective."
Meanwhile, most of Osborn's lines feel as though they were written for one of the thousand-year-old vampires on The Originals, Tom drifts from scene to scene as if even he isn't quite sure why he's there, Greg's sole purpose seems to be to halfheartedly flirt with Jax, and every scene Delaney is in feels like an afterthought, as though Altman forgot she existed until the scripts were nearly complete. Ralen benefits from more screen time than most of the others, but his characterization rests either on him being a fish out of water - "I do not understand," he muses intensely during the opening scene of the second episode, pondering a plate of chili cheese fries - or on his bucking of Zatarian stereotypes, which feels a little awkward since the show doesn't give us any opportunity to buy into those stereotypes in the first place. The only one of the students who feels more or less like a real person is, ironically, Atria, the one who wouldn't be considered a person at all on her home planet, which is possibly why Pandora puts her at the center of the show's second episode, "Chimes of Freedom." Unfortunately, even a second episode focused on the show's strongest character isn't enough to save Pandora from stilted dialogue, hamfisted plotting, and severely undercooked worldbuilding. Much of what happens in the first two episodes doesn't make a ton of sense, and it's not helped by clunky pacing that drags one minute, bogged down in pointless scenes that have nothing to do with anything, then speeds up so abruptly that it threatens narrative whiplash. At one point, Jax takes a shower (seemingly for no reason other than for viewers to ogle the silhouette of her naked body through the frosted glass door) that lasts for exactly ten seconds, and I honestly have no idea if that's because the showers of the future are ridiculously efficient, or if it was merely another example of Pandora's frustratingly sloppy grasp of time. All of this could still be salvageable, if the relationships between the characters were strong enough - I have been known to soldier through some pretty dire writing in the name of beloved characters - but Pandora seems largely unconcerned with laying any sort of solid foundation on which to build up its characters' feelings for one another. It asks us to emotionally invest in these friendships and friendships-with-potential solely on the basis of a few shallow conversations that amount to little more than small talk, and one heavy-handed scene in which a character spells out for Jax, "We are your friends. I'm your friend." Yet, if its first two episodes are any indication, Pandora is a show built on the notion that these characters will go to drastic lengths to protect one another, risking their careers and their lives for the good of their friends. It's a dynamic that has worked well for many other CW shows, from The Vampire Diaries to Riverdale, but here, it feels forced and unearned, requesting full marks without bothering to do the homework. It's a shame, because it's evident that, despite its regrettable clumsiness, Pandora has something to say. Even amidst the overstuffed mystery-box plot of "Shelter From the Storm," characters manage to speak about the importance of tolerance and diversity, of speaking out and standing up for the marginalized, and about understanding those who are different from you before passing judgement. Then, in "Chimes of Freedom," those sentiments move from the periphery to the forefront, as characters debate the limits of free speech, engage in peaceful protest, and work to overthrow an unjust system. They're themes and plotlines that would feel right at home on any version of the famously progressive Star Trek, and it's clear that Pandora wishes to hit similar notes for The CW's audience. But a story needs more than a diverse ensemble and a unified space fleet to be the next Star Trek, and more than a Chosen One and a bunch of aliens to be the next Star Wars. Both Star Trek and Star Wars have endured for decades not only because of their imaginative worldbuilding, but because of how strongly audiences identified with their characters and storylines.
In its first two episodes, Pandora doesn't seem to realize or care which of its scattered pieces should be its most important, stumbling around draped in all the external trappings of the type of show it wants to be when it grows up, like a little kid playing a haphazard game of dress-up. Perhaps it's fitting that one of Pandora's main characters is a clone, since these early episodes of the show feel more interested in copying what's worked in the past, rather than forging its own unique new path. I can only hope, as the season progresses, that Pandora is able to figure out who and what it wants to be, and works to differentiate itself from anything that has come before. If not, well, I'll probably just watch Star Trek.
iSmart Shankar (2019)
ISMART SHANKAR REVIEW
Shankar (Ram Pothineni) is a criminal wanted for the murder of an ex-Minister. While he doesn't shy from killing for money, what happens when he loses something dear to him?
With iSmart Shankar Puri Jagannadh aims to bring the story of a flawed, seemingly heartless criminal, who happens to fall for the only girl who will not put up with his nonsense. But what happens when said criminal finds out he has not just been paid to kill someone, but been used as a pawn in something far more sinister? With a plot like that, one expects the film to be fast-paced and maybe remotely logical. But with iSmart Shankar you get anything but that. Shankar (Ram Pothineni) is a criminal who doesn't shy from making enemies. He mouths dialogues in an annoying manner while offing his enemies and is bronzed orange. His double-toned jeans and gaudy shirts happen to come across a civil engineer called Chandini (Nabha Natesh), someone who's unafraid of him and his nonsense. But of course, she eventually falls for him even if his favourite pastime is to frustrate her beyond belief. On the other hand are CBI agent Anand (Satya Dev) who's working on Shankar's murder case and his girlfriend Sarah (Nidhhi Agerwal), a neuro-scientist, whose invention is crucial to this tale. There's also a mystery plot that Shankar must unveil that is so predictable, it's funny how you can smell the conclusion from a mile away.
The issue with iSmart Shankar lies (surprisingly) not in the fact that the protagonist of this tale is such an uncomfortable and unlikable character that he believes threatening women with rape and objectifying their body is what makes them fall for him. And Puri would have us believe it works, even if he never pretends that Shankar is supposed to be likable. He even offers explanation for why Shankar could be the way he is in a throwaway dialogue but never takes away the discomfort. The bane of the film is however its core point which both requires you to stay engaged and expects you to suspend disbelief. But even in this make-believe world, when rules change by-the-minute, it's hard to give a damn. To make matters worse, the long, tedious journey one goes through to find out something you already predicted doesn't make it any better. Ram Pothineni however gives Shankar his all, bringing in a kind of energy that makes it a delight to watch him on-screen, even at his most-disgusting self. He especially comes through when the film requires him to showcase massy dance steps in horribly ill-placed songs. He also breezes through the very few emotional scenes in the film and the numerous comic ones. Satya Dev's character never gets a chance to flesh out much, remaining a caricature of what an agent is supposed to be like. Shame, seeing as how well he can act! Nabha Natesh and Nidhhi Agerwal's characters too suffer from a similar syndrome where despite much being made of their professions; they only serve the purpose of being the perfect misogynistic male-fantasy. Nabha however delivers an earnest performance with what she's offered. Nidhhi is plain okay. iSmart Shankar is a loud, messy and pakka mass film that fails to take off. While Mani Sharma's effective music and BGM adds to the noise (literally), it doesn't do much to help the film. Give this one a chance this weekend if you're a Puri, Ram or Nabha fan, you might find the patience needed. If you're looking for anything remotely logical, feel free to give this one a miss.
Kadaram Kondan (2019)
Kadaram Kondan Review
The pregnant wife of a young doctor is kidnapped and the kidnappers want him to help free a patient who is admitted in the hospital. Who is the patient? And why are the cops and criminals after him? KK (Vikram), the protagonist of Kadaram Kondan, is a mysterious figure - even after the film ends. Is he a supercop? An undercover officer? A double agent? A master criminal? But then, the film asks us to not worry about it. All you need to know is that he is badass - the kind who lights up a cigar when the gash on his abdomen is being stitched. And Vikram plays this character by turning on his star power to the fullest. The character might hardly be a stretch for Vikram the actor, but for the star, it presents a great chance to play to the gallery. In that sense, you could call Kadaram Kondan Vikram's Billa moment. All that the film asks from him is swag, and that he delivers in loads. As for the film, which is a remake of the 2010 French action thriller, À Bout Portant (or Point Blank as it is internationally known), it shares quite a few similarities with director Rajesh Selva's Thoongavanam (which itself was a remake of another French hit Sleepless Night). As in that film, we get a kidnapping and blackmail, twists that involve dirty cops and cover-ups. This does give us a bit of deja vu. The story here revolves around Vasu (Abi Hasan), a trainee doctor, who saves the life of KK, who was involved in an accident and has been admitted in his hospital. But this leads to his wife, Aatirah (Akshara Haasan) getting kidnapped. To save her, he has to help KK, who is now wanted by the cops, escape from the hospital. But soon, he realises that his only way to save Aatirah and himself is by teaming up with KK, who is most wanted among both cops and criminals. What makes this film somewhat different from the French version is that it puts the focus on KK rather than have Vasu as the protagonist. The action scenes make Kadaram Kondan a visceral experience, even though Rajesh Selva's filmmaking falls short on flair. As long as we get a chase or a shootout, the film feels thrilling enough. It is only in the quieter moments, like the initial scenes that set up the story, that get us restless. Thankfully, Ghibran's energetic wall-to-wall score lends the film momentum. And Vikram ensures that we don't leave disappointed.
The Lion King (2019)
THE LION KING REVIEW
2019's The Lion King is a 'live action' remake of the 1994 original animation flick which went on to become an iconic film for all ages. Those who have watched the original Lion King will vouch for its strong emotional connect, rousing, heartbreaking moments that left a lasting impression and of course the legendary soundtrack and background score. When the royal lion cub, Simba is born to Queen Sarabi and King Mufasa, animals in the forest rejoice at having a new heir. But their joy is short-lived when Mufasa dies trying to save little Simba's life. Feeling guilty for being the cause of his father's death Simba runs away from the forest. And now his evil uncle Scar takes over the throne. So does the 2019 version of Lion King match up? (In India, the film is releasing in four languages - English and also dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Telegu.) The big draw of course of the Hindi dubbed version is actor Shah Rukh Khan as Mufasa and Aryan Khan as Simba. The father and son duo had earlier lent their voices to the Hindi dubbed version of The Incredibles in 2004. 2019's Lion King is a visual extravaganza to savor. Everything you see on screen is etched out with spellbinding detailing and the visual finesse gives way to near perfection. Some scenes especially ones with the fire flies in the night, open starlit skies and expansive views of the forest look stunning. Where the visual appeal falls short is in the expressions and emotions on the faces, especially the eyes of the animals which the animated version had got so right. So while you do feel sad when Mufasa is killed, you are not particularly moved to tears like with the original. And while Scar looks evil, he is not menacing. Also though the film is thirty minutes lengthier it pretty much remains an almost scene by scene copy of the 1994 version, losing its potential to surprise and intrigue further. 2019's Lion King is a visual extravaganza to savor. Everything you see on screen is etched out with spellbinding detailing and the visual finesse gives way to near perfection. Some scenes especially ones with the fire flies in the night, open starlit skies and expansive views of the forest look stunning. Where the visual appeal falls short is in the expressions and emotions on the faces, especially the eyes of the animals which the animated version had got so right. So while you do feel sad when Mufasa is killed, you are not particularly moved to tears like with the original. And while Scar looks evil, he is not menacing. Also though the film is thirty minutes lengthier it pretty much remains an almost scene by scene copy of the 1994 version, losing its potential to surprise and intrigue further. However, the principal voice cast is a delight - Shah Rukh Khan as Mufasa is captivating from the word go, Aryan Khan shines as the young Simba - capturing every emotion perfectly. The scene where Simba speaks to his father's reflection in the water, with Mufasa's voice emanating from the sky stands out as a whole - visually and otherwise. Ashish Vidyarthi as Scar is particularly good, his voice adding the required dimension to the character.Perhaps to contextualize andgive it a local flavor Pumbaa (Sanjay Mishra) and Timon (Shreyas Talpade) speak in tapori hindi here - so there is a generous sprinkling of 'Bhai' 'Jhakaas' ' Apun' 'Bindass'. And the gang of hyenas speak in Bhojpuri.While it may connect with the audience and elucidate some laughs, it robs the classic film of some of its original flavor. Shreya Ghosal, Arman Malik and Sunayna Sarkar do a fine job with the Hindi renditions of the soundtrack. But for those who have reveled in the original 'Circle of Life', 'Can you feel the Love tonight' and 'Hakuna Matata' it may not match up totally. The background score by Hans Zimmer is one of the high points of the film.
An unapologetically corrupt cop realises his mistakes and stands up for a noble cause to ensure that a few criminals get severe punishment.
The subject of Venkat Mohan's Ayogya is relevant in today's times as it deals with a brutal crime against a woman. An average audience can connect to the movie because the incidents in the film have resemblance to some of the crimes that shook the state in the recent times.
The story begins with an insane cop, Karnan (Vishal), getting transferred to Chennai from Thoothukudi. His transfer was initiated by Kalirajan (Parthiban), a criminal, who is into various anti-social activities, for his selfish needs. Karnan, who has a self-confessed love for money, takes charge as the inspector and lets Kalirajan's brothers go scot free. Unfortunately, the brothers engage in unforgiving crime. How this affects the life of a few people and what Karnan undergoes later forms the rest of the story.
Vishal is decent as the cop with zero ethics, and Parthiban, as the drug lord who is ready to go to any extent to save his brothers, isn't bad either. As the movie is a remake, comparisons can't be avoided completely. Ayogya is more or less the same as its original version (the Telugu film Temper, which was recently remade in Hindi as Simmba, including the characterisations and locations, except for the unexpected climax. The dialogues in the Telugu version are merely translated into Tamil in most of the scenes, and so, this film may not appeal to those who had watched the original. Vishal's over-the-top performance has shades of Jr NTR's in the Telugu version. Raashi Khanna manages to do what Kajal Aggarwal had portrayed, but KS Ravikumar's portrayal of an honest cop should have been more engaging. The fight sequences are interestingly shot while the music is okayish. The big plus for the film is its time of release as it helps audience relate to the film because of the real-life events. The uncompromising climax, too, is likely to go down well with viewers. It conveys the message without being preachy and underlines the importance of court giving their verdict immediately for sensitive cases.
Jai Simha (2018)
Jai Simha Review
If you're a Nandamuri Balakrishna fan, Jai Simha might work like most of his films have over the years, for it treads a very familiar path of violence, romance, drama and action. Coming from a seasoned director like KS Ravikumar, known for delivering several commercial blockbusters, it's no surprise that the film would appeal to a section of the audience and it does to some extent. Kumar gives a solid action spin to an age-old story and the result is surprisingly decent.
There's not much one can expect from a Nandamuri Balakrishna's film unless he does something very offbeat such as Sri Rama Rajyam or Gautamiputra Satakarni, which doesn't happen very often. In Jai Simha, we get to see Nandamuri Balakrishna, the actor and star, in equal measure and kudos to Ravikumar for tapping both the sides convincingly. Balakrishna is at ease in dual roles as father and son. As the father, he plays a character who's on the lookout for a place there's no bloodshed. To imagine him, known for playing violent characters against faction backdrop, play a character who doesn't want violence is a relief. But this is justified with a flashback, a recurring element in most of Balayya's films. The film has good scope for comedy and who better than Brahmanandam to take the lead. As silly as some of the portion with him come across, they're still entertaining and lighten the mood of an otherwise loud and serious film. Given this is a festival release, Jai Simha packs all the elements in right proportion, ticking all the boxes that ideally make such films click. As clichéd as it may sound, Jai Simha is a popcorn entertainer that gets most things right.
Sailaja Reddy Alludu (2018)
Shailaja Reddy Alludu Review
Chaitanya and Anu are neighbours who fall for each other. However their path towards marriage is far from easy. A haughty would-be mother-in-law complicates the proceedings. The couple put up a united front to clear their roadblocks.
Shailaja Reddy Alludu Story: Chaitanya and Anu are neighbours who fall for each other. However their path towards marriage is far from easy. A haughty would-be mother-in-law complicates the proceedings. The couple put up a united front to clear their roadblocks. This is a year where formula-driven cinema in Telugu has faced outright rejection. Yet, director Maruthi times the revival of the once-famous atta-alludu trope that brought the roof down in the 90s for a festival. How successful is he? To put things straight, he doesn't disappoint. Shailaja Reddy Alludu is another film where egoist character(s)-creates-mayhem in the house after Geetha Govindam. Though it may be the lead actors Naga Chaitanya, Anu Emmanuel and Ramya Krishna who do the crowd-pulling act, it's thanks to the supporting actor-lineup featuring Vennela Kishore, Prudhvi and Murali Sharma for laying a neat foundation for the film's entertainment quotient. There's some progress shown in the writing of its female characters, despite the patriarchal backdrop. Anu doesn't mind fighting for her career despite opposition from her mother. The girl puts her foot down in the need of the hour, even with Chaitanya. Ramya Krishna as Shailaja Reddy could've got a better character arc, had she channelised her repertoire beyond a Sivagami-like act. It's also time that Telugu cinema stops antagonising women who have an identity of their own. Shailaja Reddy Alludu doesn't indulge in this aspect much, but portraying Shailaja Reddy's husband Venu (Naresh) as a victim of his wife's domineering qualities could have been avoidable. Even in the overdone climax, Ramya Krishna deserved her moment of glory, while the director prefers Chaitanya to do the goon-bashing as a protective son-in-law. The film's heart is still in the right place in its lighter moments. Vennela Kishore as Chari is in inimitable form in another role as a hero's friend. Watch out for the sequence where he hides himself with a bedsheet from Ramya Krishna. Prudhvi and Vennela Kishore share infectious on-screen camaraderie. Murali Sharma is ever-dependable, he's an equal match to Ramya Krishna in terms of prioritising self respect over common sense. A sub-plot in the film too talks of the importance of wedding rituals, the difference between this and Srinivasa Kalyanam being that the former makes it much more relatable to this generation.
Blood & Treasure (2019)
'Blood & Treasure' Review
Few things in the TV industry are predictable anymore, but the cornerstone of the breezy summer procedural stands strong. This season of global misadventures and banter thick with sexual tension kicks off with "Blood & Treasure," a new CBS drama about renegades trying to track down priceless artifacts and a notorious terrorist. Danny MacNamara (Matt Barr) is an art enthusiast who's referred to by his full name more often than not. (He's also explicitly an "Indiana Jones" fan, so the show isn't exactly trying to be subtle about his origins.) Lexi (Sofia Pernas) is a fugitive for hire with trust issues and a wicked left hook, who just so happens to also be Danny's ex-girlfriend. After their foe raids and blows up the tomb of Antony and Cleopatra - yes, that Antony and Cleopatra - Danny calls upon Lexi's expertise to help him get to the bottom of how and why. So as you can probably tell from that description, "Blood & Treasure" - from co-creators Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia of CBS' "Limitless" - is about as straight up a heist series as it gets. Danny and Lexi are recognizably basic characters to anyone who's watched an action movie, with the slight gender-flipped twist of Danny being the marginal nerd and Lexi preferring to solve all her problems with blunt force. Between them, the federal agents pursuing them, and the ancient Egyptian mystery at the center, "Blood & Treasure" often feels like the writers threw "The Mummy" and "National Treasure" into a blender until they resembled something more network TV friendly. In fact, in a funny bit of coincidence (or is it?), the terrorist is even played by "Mummy" co-star Oded Fehr, who brings a welcome extra dimension to a potentially flat character. (The show also attempts to mitigate the eyebrow-raising optics of a nefarious Middle Eastern terrorist anchoring the action by making Lexi Egyptian, albeit with a posh British accent she credits to private school.) Very little about its opening two hours truly shocks; everything from the story to the dialogue is thoroughly paint by numbers. On the other hand: that kind of predictable fun is exactly what someone tuning in to a CBS procedural called "Blood & Treasure" probably wants. This isn't the kind of show that's trying to reinvent the wheel so much as go for a joyride that can be thrilling even if the destination is clear all along. Throw in some splashy mythology, handsomely shot setpieces on location in Rome and Morocco, and entertaining performances from Fehr, Paras, and a bumbling Michael James Shaw, and you've got yourself a solid distraction to turn to in the general desert that is TV's summer programming.
L.A.'s Finest (2019)
'L.A.'s Finest' Review
"L.A.'s Finest" isn't just a cop show. It's a gambit - a bet placed by cable provider Spectrum that by providing not just access to HBO and HGTV but original programming of its own, it'll stand out. The series, a Jerry Bruckheimer production set within the universe of his "Bad Boys" film franchise, is the beginning of a stream of on-demand Spectrum Originals programming that will also include, eventually, a comeback for "Mad About You." The idea of providing some added value to subscribers through original programming is a reasonable enough one (why not get in a game with so many players already?). But this particular show seems ill-suited to its format: Meant to live on an on-demand platform, this drama seems oddly unlikely to have been specifically demanded by anyone at all. A tonally disastrous half-comedy, half-melodrama about policing that draws in cartel politics and family angst, "L.A.'s Finest" seems designed to be vaguely, generically acceptable to have on in the background - which makes it a strange choice as the launching point for a set of programs that would seem to require viewers affirmatively choosing to tune in. Notionally, series stars Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba might draw in curious channel-surfers. And Union, especially, is as strong as ever in her role as a police officer whose desire to right the scales of justice extends to off-books operations like burning down a nightclub. We consistently believe she has her reasons, while Alba, by comparison, reads a bit too zenned-out and sunny to sell her character's ties to darkness. But the jauntiness of the series - toggling in the show's first scenes to banter about Alba's book club and Union's sex life, and later to hazily motivated shifts in the pair's relationship, back and forth between collaboration and mistrust as the script demands it.
Notionally, series stars Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba might draw in curious channel-surfers. And Union, especially, is as strong as ever in her role as a police officer whose desire to right the scales of justice extends to off-books operations like burning down a nightclub. We consistently believe she has her reasons, while Alba, by comparison, reads a bit too zenned-out and sunny to sell her character's ties to darkness. But the jauntiness of the series - toggling in the show's first scenes to banter about Alba's book club and Union's sex life, and later to hazily motivated shifts in the pair's relationship, back and forth between collaboration and mistrust as the script demands it. "L.A.'s Finest" would be substantially worse than most of the fare on a broadcast network, but it would feel at home there in philosophy. A show in which Alba can, from scene to scene, face down criminal elements from her past and then her stepdaughter's inappropriate wardrobe is a show that wants to be everything to everyone - and a show that not only can't nail its tonal hairpin turns but doesn't really seem to be trying is destined to be no one's favorite. The years since "House of Cards" kicked off the streaming revolution, for good or ill, made the boldly niche show, the series carefully wrought to appeal to a sensibility, however far outside the mainstream, the most valuable sort of series - and even broadcast television, in its slow and plodding way, is following suit. "L.A.'s Finest" seems to want to exist outside the way people watch TV now. Which makes it a poor on-demand show, but perhaps the only sort of show a cable provider, nostalgic for an era rapidly passing from view, could create.
'Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood' Review
Quentin Tarantino's tale of a TV-Western actor and his stunt double, and how they collide with the Manson Family in the Hollywood of 1969, is a heady engrossing collage of a film - but not, in the end, a masterpiece.
It has been 25 years to the day since Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, crystalizing a cinema revolution, and we have never looked back. Yet here's one more QT anniversary, a bit less monumental but, in its way, as meaningful: It has been 10 years since the premiere of "Inglourious Basterds," which also took place at Cannes - and for me, at least, that means it's been a decade since Quentin Tarantino gave us an unambiguously great Quentin Tarantino movie. You know the difference as well as I do, because it's one that you can feel in your heart, gut, nerves, and soul. It's the difference between a Quentin movie that's got dazzle and brilliance and a number of hypnotic sequences, and is every inch the work of his fevered movie candy brain, and a Quentin film that enters your bloodstream like a drug and stays there, inviting (compelling!) you to watch it again and again, because it's a virtuoso piece of the imagination from first shot to last - and every moment is marked by a certain ineffable something, the Tarantino X Factor that made "Pulp Fiction" the indie touchstone of its time. "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood," which premiered today at Cannes, is not that X Factor movie - though for long stretches (a good more than half of it), it feels like it could be. It comes closer than "Django Unchained" or (God knows) "The Hateful Eight." It's a heady, engrossing, kaleidoscopic, spectacularly detailed nostalgic splatter collage of a film, an epic tale of backlot Hollywood in 1969, which allows Tarantino to pile on all his obsessions, from drive-ins to donuts, from girls with guns to men with muscle cars and vendettas, from spaghetti Westerns to foot fetishism. In this case, he doesn't have to work too hard to find spaces for those fixations, since Tarantino, in this 2-hour-and-39-minute tale of a Hollywood caught between eras, is reaching back to the very source of his dreams. In "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood," Tarantino tells the dual story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), who starred in a black-and-white TV Western series called "Bounty Law" in the late '50s and early '60s, but whose career is now hitting the skids; and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick's longtime stunt double and best pal, who has basically become his gofer and driver. Both are drawling, easy-going good ol' boys who are functional drunks (Rick favors whiskey sours; Cliff likes his bloody Marys), and they've been kicked around Hollywood, but they've got a yin-and-yang thing going. Rick, who appears to be based at least partly on Burt Reynolds, is an instinctive actor, a gentle charmer, and a secret softie in a brown-leather jacket - the first Tarantino hero to prove that real men do cry. (When the tears come, it's for how badly Rick has let his career melt down.) Cliff, by contrast, is a war veteran and rough-and-tumble stud bruiser who lives in a cruddy trailer next to the Van Nuys Drive-In but seems happy and satisfied, like most Brad Pitt characters, with himself. When he's crossed, he will kick the bejesus out of anyone, and he's got a bad reputation. The rumor is that he killed his wife and got away with it. (A flashback to a scene on a boat with that very wife, who digs at him mercilessly, doesn't spill the beans, but it's not exactly evidence that the rumor is false.) The first half of "Once Upon a Time...," which is the superior half, is set in February '69, and Tarantino views these two characters with a straight-up macho humanity that is gratifyingly unironic. DiCaprio and Pitt fill out their roles with such rawhide movie-star conviction that we're happy to settle back and watch Tarantino unfurl this tale in any direction he wants. And he does digress, in that following-his-free-associational-bliss way. A car-denting, fists-meets-martial-arts duel on the set of "The Green Hornet" between Cliff and Bruce Lee (played to ferocious perfection by Mike Moh)? Why not! A scene with Rick, playing a black-hatted villain on the new series "Lancer," getting into a philosophical chat about acting with his 8-year-old girl costar, who's a budding feminist Method Actor? Bring it. And when Cliff, driving Rick's cream-colored Coupe de Ville, keeps passing an outrageously flirtatious teenage hippie vamp in cut-offs and a halter top, who lives with a guy named Charlie at the Spahn Movie Ranch, the sense of worlds colliding, in ways as sinister as they are vibrant, feels right. Many have turned the spectacle of Charles Manson and his girls into drama, but Tarantino is onto something by viewing Manson's followers as ominous harpies who also incarnated a new kind of sexualized feminine consciousness. And Tarantino takes us deeper than we've been into the life of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who along with her husband, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), has rented the house next to Rick's on Cielo Drive. Robbie nails Tate's wide-eyed slightly aristocratic sensual daze, and has a lot of fun in a scene where Sharon goes to a movie matinee to watch herself in the Matt Helm caper "The Wrecking Crew," exulting in her performance as she props her dirty bare feet up on the seats, so that Quentin - in an image he uses as a motif more than ever before - can park his camera in front of them, as he does a little later with the Manson girls. In "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood," Tarantino re-creates the Hollywood of 50 years ago with a fantastically detailed and almost swoony time-machine precision, and it's not just about the marquees and the billboards featuring end-of-the-studio-system-era corn like "Three in an Attic," or all the juicy Top 40 chestnuts on the soundtrack. The movie captures how Hollywood, by 1969, was a head-spinningly layered place. Here's the TV-cowboy mystique of the '60s, which is really a degraded schlock echo of the movie-cowboy culture of the '50s. Here's the rock 'n' roll of the moment (Paul Revere and the Raiders, "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron"), which popped like crazy yet with a rambunctious easy-listening bounce. And here, beyond the music, is the new noisiness of America: the "hip" commercials blaring from transistor radios, the TV sets that never get turned off (even the Manson girls are TV zombies), the flamboyant hippie garb that's starting to go mainstream, turning the counterculture into a living fashion boutique. Here's a Playboy Mansion party where Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) is hanging out, as you might expect him to be, but then so is Mama Cass (Rachel Redleaf). McQueen, talking to Rick, fills in the back story of Sharon, Roman, and their friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch), the hairdresser who is still in love with Sharon - and, according to McQueen, is hanging around with them because he's biding his time, waiting for Roman to screw up his marriage. At that point, we're hooked enough on Tarantino's heightened version of true-life Hollywood that this love triangle sounds like a little movie of its own. Rick, on the set of "Lancer," turns out to be a desperate but terrific actor. There's a sensational extended sequence of him playing the villain, forgetting his lines, hating himself in the trailer, then revving himself to go back and give a hell of a performance, and it's all a testament to what an extraordinary actor DiCaprio is. Pitt is just as inspired. The sequence in which that Manson girl, named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), gets Cliff to drive her back to the Spahn Movie Ranch, where Cliff used to shoot Westerns, and where he meets the Family (though not Charlie, who is only in the film for about 30 stray seconds), is creepy, suspenseful, and vengefully gratifying. All Cliff wants to do is say hello to his old colleague George Spahn (Bruce Dern). But to do that he's got to threaten his way past Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning), who sleeps with George to secure the place for the Manson cult. In the late '60s, a lot of people passed through Spahn Ranch, and this encounter - though, of course, pure fiction - plays with an eerie plausibility. Rick has an offer on the table, from a shrewd if scuzzy agent (Al Pacino), to shoot a Western in Rome. The prospect fills him with despair; he thinks spaghetti Westerns are the bottom rung of the entertainment totem pole. In a sense, he's right, but he goes and does it, taking Cliff with him, and he spends six months there, making a few more movies; he comes back with an Italian wife. And it's just at around the point of his return that "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood" begins to move forward with less cocksure bravura, less virtuoso snap. In the movie, Tarantino has already introduced a narrator, who he uses sparingly, but then he starts to use the narrator more often, breaking the show-don't-tell mystique, and we wonder why. Isn't he the master of showing?
It's now August 8, 1969, and the rest of the film is devoted to Quentin Tarantino's version of how the Manson murders play out, which I will not reveal. I will say that what Tarantino does here rhymes, to a point, with the violent climax of "Inglourious Basterds." Yet that movie, as much as it toyed with history (which was no more, really, than any of the late-studio-system World War II movies it drew from), was also, in the largest sense, true to history. Hitler got destroyed, and the Americans won. Which is, in fact, what happened. The way Tarantino plays with the Manson murders in "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood" is at once more extreme and more trivial. And frankly, for this Tarantino believer, that made it less satisfying.
There are buddy comedies that work, there are buddy comedies that don't, and Stuber is one that very much falls into the second category. Some of the most critical elements of a good buddy comedy are connection and chemistry because if you don't connect with the characters, you don't really care about them. Bottom line, if the characters don't have chemistry, whatever else you pack in there isn't going to work effectively, and the chemistry isn't there on-screen. Both Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani work with what they've got, but that's not a lot and what they've got lacks spark.
Nanjiani plays Stuart (Stu for short), a lovelorn and generally mild-mannered Uber driver who picks up Vic, played by Bautista, a cop on the hunt for the bad guy who killed his partner. Vic can't drive himself around LA as he's had Lasik eye surgery earlier that day so can't see correctly. As a result, Stu is thrust into a pursuit that takes him all over the city, not only putting him in the line of fire but it also means he can't get to the recently single friend, and new Spin Cycle business partner, he is secretly in love with so they can have sex. On top of that, Stu has to make sure he does an excellent job so that his Uber rating doesn't drop otherwise he'll lose his job. It's like if Speed swapped out the bomb and staying above 50 miles per hour for customer service feedback and a booty call with none of the tension. There are two things that Stuber needed to get beyond tropes and afford it some good grace when it comes to papering over the cracks: good comedy and good action. There are plenty of moments within the movie where both are present but rarely do they meet their true potential. For an R-rated comedy, Stuber throws away the opportunity to go hard and embrace the madness and chaos.
It is almost like the film doesn't have the confidence to push things that extra bit further. Stuber could really do with being much bolder, crazier, and far edgier. Sadly, Stuber can't hold a candle to the likes of action comedies and mismatched buddy comedies such as 48 Hrs., 21 Jump Street, The Heat, and the list goes on and on. Whether it was a conscious decision to dial it down, or the material simply wasn't there to allow them to dial it up, it's hard to tell, but the end result lacks balls. Despite Stuber's fundamental shortcomings, some moments do land well and get a reaction, whether that's a solid laugh, a wince or an audible 'oof.' However, these successes only serve to highlight further the parts that don't work or feel undercooked or merely lazy. Something I will give Stuber is that it's probably the only movie that will provide audiences with a Simon Birch reference this year. While it is Bautista and Nanjiani who take center stage in a movie that generally underwhelms, the blame shouldn't be laid entirely at their feet. In a film like this, the cast is only as good as the material they are given, but the script isn't strong enough and, apart from one or two moments, the action set pieces aren't bold or exciting enough. Now, if it's a case of the lead cast improvising dialogue, that's a risk that hasn't paid off for the most part. When it works, it works, but that's not often enough.
As far as the supporting cast goes, Mira Sorvino, Iko Uwais, Jimmy Tatro, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin, and Karen Gillan, are all wasted being either underserved by the narrative or just underdeveloped as characters. Morales as Bautista's daughter, Tatro as Stuber's boss, and Gilpin as the recently dumped and horny friend could all have been utilized far better.
Director Michael Dowse does a competent job but not a lot more. There are few stylistic flourishes or stand out sequences, but nothing that goes above and beyond what you might expect. Had there been more to Stuber, I would have been open to a sequel as the buddy comedy genre is somewhat underserved these days, but there's not enough potential realized here to warrant that.
Stuber is an awkward, uneven action-comedy that never realizes its full potential. It squanders a good premise and an odd couple pairing with potential that could have delivered something special. Stuber reaches its destination, but the journey is far from memorable and mostly underwhelming.
Shaft takes the franchise and turns it into an unremarkable and disappointing comedy, which is ostensibly about a murder mystery but takes more time telling jokes about how millennials are wimps, old people don't understand computers, and how John Shaft Sr. really doesn't want his son to act gay. These are all jokes that would have been outdated and ignorant decades ago, and here we have Shaft - the bastion of all things cool and revolutionary - espousing them with a fingernails-on-chalkboard earnestness.
The film tells the story of John Shaft Jr., whose mother Maya (Regina Hall) left Shaft Sr. to protect their child from his violent lifestyle. Over 20 years later, Shaft the Younger is an FBI data analyst who doesn't like guns and can't seem to ask out his childhood crush, Sasha (Alexandra Shipp). When Shaft Jr.'s best friend Karim (Avon Jogia) dies under mysterious circumstances, it's up to our young hero to investigate, but his investigation takes him to the New York underworld and there's only one person he knows who can guide him. Shaft Sr., a private detective, takes the case and then proceeds to bicker incessantly with his son about topics ranging from proper lemon storage to internet porn to the aphrodisiacal properties of guns. Over the course of the movie, Shaft Jr. finds his confidence and proves himself just as capable as either of the other Shafts, but only because he abandons almost everything that made him unique and becomes more like his father. All the backwards ideas that make John Shaft Sr. a joke throughout most of the movie turn out to be exactly the kind of weirdly regressive ideology that Tim Story's story actually believes in.
It's perplexing that this attempt to update Shaft for the 21st century makes him less cool - and significantly more homophobic - than he was in the 1970s, and it's frustrating because Jackson, Usher, Roundtree, Shipp and Hall are all engaging performers who would normally make this material work. It's the material that fails them at every turn. Instead of updating the sensibilities of Shaft for modern audiences, and speaking to the systems of oppression that a modern Shaft would have to deal with, this film makes Jackson's Shaft into a one-note joke and forces everyone to deal with his obnoxiousness.
It's not much of an action movie. Tim Story's Shaft is shot like a sitcom and none of the fights or shootouts have anything noteworthy to make them stand out. The confident sensuality of Richard Roundtree's Shaft movies is missing, and in its place there's a lot of awkward sex talk between the hero and his dad. And in a world where racism is a hot button talking point, the film carefully sidesteps almost every opportunity to make the new or old Shafts part of that conversation, and in so doing make the character relevant again.
It would be one thing if Story was trying to translate the tough, worldly, violent and sexual world of Shaft into something that could appeal to all audiences, but the film is riddled with overt sex jokes and casual gun violence and swearing, so it's got an R-rating anyway. Only kids are likely to appreciate how juvenile this new Shaft is, but only adults are invited into the theater. And the adults in the audience will probably know just how important Shaft is, as a character and a franchise, and be let down by this disappointing new rendition.
Tim Story takes a classic movie franchise and drains it of all the action, sex and topicality that made it worth revisiting in the first place. Jackson, Roundtree and Usher have star power to spare but they're asked to perform embarrassing and ignorant comedy routines, and the action is so unremarkable that the movie can't even rely on that spectacle to compensate.
Grand Hotel (2019)
'Grand Hotel' Review
There's hardly a better setting for a summer drama than a swanky Miami hotel overflowing with champagne and secrets. Enter ABC's "Grand Hotel," based on a Spanish series and developed by Brian Tanen ("Devious Maids," "Desperate Housewives"). It wastes no time diving straight into a tangled mess of melodrama, ranging from missing people to secret pregnancies to a bratty pop star who demands overnighted pastries from his mom. Directed with efficient humor, in part by executive producer Eva Longoria Baston, "Grand Hotel" packs as much punch in as it possibly can.
Heading up the action and the hotel alike are Santiago (Demián Bechir) and Gigi (Roselyn Sanchez), who got together after Santiago's wife (and Gigi's best friend) died suddenly of a heart attack (probably - with a show that prizes itself on twists and turns like this one, no death certificate can be trusted). Santiago is in over his head after taking out one too many shady loans to save the hotel, leading to him making a whole lot of stupid decisions that frustrate everyone around him, most especially Gigi, his daughter Alicia (Denyse Tontz), his righthand woman Helen (Wendy Raquel Robinson), and this reviewer.
Since few are looped into that particular aspect of the hotel's standing, everyone else obliviously marches along on their own interweaving paths. Alicia tries to put her business school degree to good use, but manages to save some energy for flirting with mysterious new waiter Danny (Lincoln Younes). Her playboy brother Javi (Bryan Craig) gets caught up in the series' weakest plot when surly hotel maid Ingrid (Anne Winters) tells him she's pregnant. It's a shame how flat this story is given the sly humor Craig brings to an otherwise tired archetype, and the shaky grasp "Grand Hotel" has on the class differences inherent in its cast. Meanwhile, Gigi wants to prove she's a smart asset who's worth more than the title of Santiago's "trophy wife." (Sanchez is a sharp actor who can take some wild turns, but Gigi's personality shifts too wildly depending on whose company she's keeping.) Her twin daughters Carolina (Feliz Ramirez) and Yoli (Justina Adorno) flit around the sidelines bickering, mostly to serve as an odd couple comic relief until the show deigns to let them grow personalities outside of "the hot one" (Ramirez) and "the annoyed one" (Adorno). That's plenty to digest, and yet, "Grand Hotel" wants to serve up so much more.
Reef Break (2019)
'Reef Break' Review
Unmoored from reason or shame and buoyed by its willingness to be as silly as it wants to be, the new ABC drama "Reef Break" is a wildly unserious piece of television. In that, it's a bit refreshing - a network series that embraces its network-iness, that has absolutely no ambition beyond evoking a smile. "Reef Break," about a thief-turned-fixer who finds herself involved in fighting crime on a Pacific idyll, is not particularly distinguished, but as an example of a particular sort of television-making, it's better-done than it might be.
The series's cold open is emblematic. Flying into a small Hawaiian island, Cat Chambers (Poppy Montgomery) susses out the flight's air marshal. Once the plane has landed, she tells him that a fellow passenger is armed and has an open wound bleeding through his shirt; she suspects he committed an armed robbery before the flight. As marshal and perp face off on the tarmac, Cat struts through the melee, adjusting her sunglasses and picking up some loose bills that fly from the suspect's bag of ill-gotten cash. It's a faintly ludicrous set-up that exists to set up Cat as omnipotently observant and possessed of a certain blasé cool - a sangfroid that shatters, a bit, when she later refers to the island as "the shadiest sunny place in the country." Beachy zen vibes don't tend to coexist with impassioned cliché, but Montgomery tries her hardest to make it all work.
Cat Chambers is a certain sort of old-school TV writer's dream - she's capable of noticing anything, as long as one is patient enough to wait for her epiphanies, which tend to arise on a timeline governed by act breaks. She's sarcastic and a bit sharp-tongued, but not in a manner that might potentially turn audiences off, and she has a softer side, too; she's prone to reflections that are easily scored with a pop song as she stares into the horizon. (The pilot has more than any episode's share of such moments of quiet contemplation, let alone an episode that's anchored by a plot about an heiress and would-be influencer getting kidnapped from out of her kayak.) The only thing deep about "Reef Break" is its silliness. Yet splashing in the shallows can, for those in the right temperament and in need of brain-off summer fare, have its pleasures too.
Cold Blood Legacy (2019)
Cold Blood Legacy Revíew
French action veteran Jean Reno ('Leon: The Professional') returns as a hitman in Frédéric Petitjean's feature debut.
As the minutes slowly tick by in the lifeless thriller "Cold Blood," it's easy to mourn for what might have been. Jean Reno stars as Henry, a veteran hitman seeking isolation in a remote cabin in the Pacific Northwest, which could have made for a contemplative and melancholy reimagining of his signature role in Luc Besson's "Léon: The Professional." When Henry is forced to care for a mysterious, injured woman who interrupts his solitude, one envisions a close-quarters psychological cat-and-mouse game between two dangerous and deeply secretive people. It turns out we get neither of those, just a bland and forgettable B-movie that came and went quickly in France last May and looks to do the same upon its day-and-date release in the U.S.
Reno, who turns 71 this month, hasn't burned through the credibility he amassed with the cool kids during his long-ago career peak working with Besson. He still represents added value, especially when livening up supporting roles. But with "Cold Blood," he's not only repeating himself, he's doing it with a script (written by the film's director Frédéric Petitjean) that's stubbornly disinterested in putting any spin on the world-weary hitman scenario, leaving the actor with little to work with.
His character does know how to field dress a deer and perform minor surgery, though, both of which will come in handy after a young woman crashes her snowmobile near his cabin. With civilization 70 miles away, Henry is compelled to carry her inside, remove large splinters of wood from her leg and nurse her back to health. The convalescing stranger initially lies about her name, then fesses up that it's Charlie (Sarah Lind). Henry dutifully washes Charlie's clothes, rustles up her food and gets her walking again, niceties that continue despite both parties seeming to distrust the other.
Reno and Lind work fine together, but Petitjean never solves the problem of how to maintain viewer involvement when two characters stuck in one location can't divulge any information about themselves. So more interesting, if only by default, is Henry's earlier assassination of a wealthy industrialist and the resulting police investigation. On the case is Kappa (Joe Anderson, his New Yawk attitude a bit much), recently transferred from the Big Apple to Washington state for reasons never made entirely clear. He and his partner Davies (Ihor Ciszkewycz) eventually discover that the murdered man has an heir. Kappa's conversation with the dead man's amnesiac wife (Samantha Bond from "Downton Abbey," an oasis in her one scene) reveals that the heir is a woman named Charlie.
Generic, character-deficient and lacking in suspense or thrills, "Cold Blood" never kicks into gear. The film, shot mostly in Ukraine, is also sloppy around the edges. Many of the Eastern European players are obviously dubbed while others affect unconvincing American accents, both of which are distracting. The French-born Petitjean's English-language script is filled with stilted dialogue and empty profundities, unless one finds existential significance in Charlie wondering, "Is it necessary for a mountaineer to be so serious when he chops wood?" There's even a typo in a text sent by crisply attired Euro-intellect Brigleur (François Guétary) to a henchman whose childhood friendship with Charlie is vaguely noted in one line of dialogue and then completely forgotten.
The only standout work here is by cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. Luc Besson's longtime DP ("Léon" and "The Fifth Element") emphasizes the beauty and isolation of Henry's wintry cabin while his pulsating orange and purple-hued bursts of steam bring style to an assassination in a sauna.
Early in "Cold Blood," to establish that he's not your run of the mill hitman, Henry is seen reading Sun Tzu's "The Art of War." One of the key takeaways of that 5th-century BC military strategy manual is to "ponder and deliberate before you make a move." Jean Reno, whose reputation will only suffer the slightest ding after this lackluster outing quickly fades from memory, should ponder and deliberate a little harder the next time he's asked to play an aging hitman.
Oh Baby... (2019)
Oh! Baby Review
A 70-year-old woman transforms into her 24-year-old self after she's photographed at a studio, changing her life and those of the people around her forever.
You can understand why director Nandini Reddy felt doing a film like Oh! Baby could increase the risk of criticism. It's not an easy movie to remake, and there are a lot of things that could have gone wrong. To transform a cranky old woman into an attractive young lady while still being the cranky old at heart is no mean to task to pull off, and it can look unconvincing or even downright silly. But Nandini seems like a director fully in control and Samantha delivers arguably her best performance to date, and all we can say, is Oh! Baby.
The first 20 minutes are probably the most critical, as it sets the tone for the entire film. We are introduced to a cranky, whining old lady Baby (Lakshmi) who constantly fights with her daughter-in-law and snaps at almost everbody around her even as her doting friend Chanti (Rajendra Prasad) stands by her trying to calm her down. Her son Nani (Rao Ramesh) is a professor and when her grandson shows a passion for music, she sees in him her own lost dreams. When an altercation with her daughter-in-law results in Baby having to leave the house, all she yearns for is to be young again so that she can follow her passion to do the things she always wanted to. As fate would have it, she walks into a photo studio and transforms into her 24-year-old self again, and all hell breaks loose.
There's a lot to like about Oh! Baby. The manner in which the old lady behaves like a young woman in her 20s is hilarious. The writing is straightforward, the music (by Mickey J Meyer) is terrific and the acting is top-notch. There's a moment when Samantha looks at her son and leaps out of her chair to greet him, only to realise that she's not his 70-year-old mum but a different, much younger woman. Baby's conundrum is a joy to watch. Her swinging emotions, inner demons, missed opportunities, burning desire - all come to the fore.
However, the film often comes across as a bit too melodramatic, especially towards the second half. A run-time of 161 minutes is a tad too long, and there are quite a few moments where the film veers away from its light-hearted nature and becomes a bit of a sobfest. Some of the emotional scenes are well shot and touching, but there are more of these scenes than necessary. Lakshmi as the older Baby is brilliant, but the way Samantha adapts her character and makes it her own is admirable. Her Rajahmundry accent is spot on and she never looks uncomfortable playing a much older character (not by appearance, mind you, but in nature). Rajendra Prasad is the film's backbone and is brilliant right through, as is Rao Ramesh, who's in his element again. Save for moments in the latter part of the film which are a tad bit melodramatic, Oh! Baby is an enjoyable ride. It's a film that has its heart in the right place and has a lot of great moments to take away from. Nandini Reddy has successfully adapted Korean classic Miss Granny, and has made it her own, and Tollywood is richer for it.