Adventure

Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw

First Hit: A real waste of time to sit through this confusing, nonsensical story.

Granted, there are moments of out-loud laughter, but it is mostly a poorly constructed film and story with little focus or value.

It begins confusingly with a group headed by Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 field agent, and a small group of people breaking into a building and/or a truck of some sort to steal a 4-inch glass vial that has some liquid in it. This vial is protected by some computer lock which Hattie is hacking so that she can free and take possession of the jar.

Then, she is attacked by Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a former rogue MI6 agent, who is part human, part machine. He and the computer entity he represents want the substance in the vial as well. Lore wears a black armored suit that looks similar to the Black Panther suit and rides a motorcycle that bends and does odd things. He is being controlled by a machine that has installed parts into his body that allows him to be strong, quick and analyzes possible punches thrown at him so he can deflect and counter punch. Brixton appears to enjoy these powers.

During the initial scuffle with Hattie, Brixton and his two fellow motorcycle riders manage to kill most of Hattie’s team but fail to get the vial. Hattie has managed to insert the contents of the vial into her body. The liquid materials are supposed to melt the internal organs. I never figured out why the contents didn’t make her insides mush.

Meanwhile, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a federal agent working for DSS, is contacted by CIA agent Locke (Ryan Reynolds) who convinces Hobbs he has to go to London and help retrieve this deadly vial of substance. He says OK and makes a point to say he always works alone when Locke says he’ll be teamed up with someone.

At the same time Hobbs is being recruited, so is Shaw (Jason Statham), a former British Special Forces assassin-turned-mercenary. We know Shaw had no love for Hobbs because of a previous encounter when Hobbs jailed Shaw in LA.

When Shaw goes to a prison to visit his mother Queenie (Helen Mirren), we learn that Shaw’s sister is Hattie. During this visit, Shaw and Queenie talk about how Queenie wants Shaw to reconcile with his sister.

When Shaw and Hobbs discover they’ve been teamed up together to recover Hattie, the drug, and to neutralize Brixton, the never-ending competitive macho conversations begin and only to predictably cease at the end of the film. Yes, some of the dialogue is funny, and some of the sight gags are clever, but mostly the setups are ridiculous and the action stupefying.

The film does try to make it personal and heartfelt; Hobbs getting closer to his Samoan family while introducing his daughter to her relatives, and Shaw reuniting with his sister and then, together, seeing their mom in prison.

But the action and heartfelt stuff is pressed, makes little logical sense (like stringing 5 cars and trucks together to pull down a helicopter), and quite frankly wasn’t interesting or exciting. However, what confused me the most was; if this stuff in the vial was supposed to turn someone’s insides to mush and the vial contained enough to threaten the world, why wasn’t Hattie affected by putting the entire vial into her body?

Johnson was his typical self in that he’s gregarious, charming and depends on his brute strength and muscles to solve the problem. He’s the same here, and it is good enough. Statham is adequate in his role of using more brains than brawn but ends up using his brawn trying to show up Hobbs. Kirby was one of the best characters in this film. I enjoyed her the most, but this bar was a low hurdle to clear. Elba was mediocre in this role. It seemed to depend too much on the technology that was inserted and really didn’t allow for a character to emerge. Kevin Hart was a joyful interlude because of his small role as an air marshal on a plane Hobbs and Shaw were on. He asks them to allow him to join their team, and I immediately thought of Joe Pesci’s role as Leo Getz in the “Lethal Weapon” films. But alas they didn’t follow this route. It could have made the movie funny. Reynolds’ brief role was right and probably the only other part that I enjoyed in this film. His sarcastic way of delivering his lines is always fun to watch. I don’t understand why Mirren took this small role. Chris Morgan wrote this ill-conceived screenplay from his own story. David Leitch did what he could, but this film was stupid on paper and as wrong on the screen.

Overall: Ill-conceived and poorly executed, this film just doesn’t work.

Men in Black: International

First Hit: Certainly not as good as the original, but at least we’ve got “women” involved.

I never thought of the “Men in Black” as a domestic only group, but I guess I was wrong. I mean, how could aliens be on earth and only lived in the United States? So for me, the premise in the title was weak.

We begin with young Molly (Mandeiya Flory) looking out her window witnessing her parents being neuralysed by Men in Black (MiB) agents because of a commotion in the house. The uproar came from a young alien the agents were tracking, and Molly thinks it’s cute, so she helps the alien escape, but not before learning a word from the alien. You know that this will mean something later in the film.

We jump some twenty years into the future and Molly (Tessa Thompson) is still focused on becoming a MiB agent to work with aliens because she likes the alien she met and saw what happened to her parents after they were neuralysed. We are meant to believe that the single early childhood event has become her singular whole life focus.

Attempting to find where MiB headquarters is located in NYC, Molly sets up computers to track incoming aliens. Finding a MiB encounter, she follows the agents back to their offices. Slipping into the building, she gets caught and quickly tells them, she wants to become an agent carrying a neuralyser. After extensive interviews, she’s given a chance to prove herself as a probationary Agent M.

Her assignment takes her to London (hence the International in the title), where she meets High T (Liam Neeson) who assigns her to work with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth).

Agent H is shown in several scenes to be a play-boyish rogue of sorts, loving to gamble, and drink taboo elixirs. Agents H and M are assigned to meet Vungus, the Ugly of royal alien family heritage. But during this meeting, Vungus is killed by evil twins who can manifest themselves as pure energy.

Because Vungus gives M a secret weapon before he dies, she and H are being tracked by the twins who want this weapon to destroy Earth. Will M and H save the world?

This is the short version of the plot. There are other aliens in the mix as well as a storyline that High T has been protecting H since their encounter with the Hive who tried to destroy Earth many years earlier.

What didn’t work for me was that the plot felt too manufactured to be engaging. It lacked a flow to it, and therefore, it pulled me out of engaging with the story. I’m not sure why the writers needed the character of Riza as the recipient of the weapon. Yes, she was an arms agent, but it seemed like it was created as yet another plot device and character. Additionally, some of the acting (Neeson in particular) felt stiff and done for the money and not for the story. Many of the visuals were fun, like when M and H test the weapon Vungus gave M. The twins when they changed to pure energy was fun to watch.

Tessa Thompson was engaging and fun to watch. Her character made the story work. Hemsworth was a bit too silly and laissez-faire for the critical role as protector of the Earth from aliens. The part was built this way, and I thought he could have toned down some of the silliness. Neeson appeared too disengaged from the story and role. The heavy makeup and powder, as seen in the closeups, didn’t help. Rafe Spall as Agent C was very good as the one who wanted to be seen as having more power and engagement in the London MiB office. Emma Thompson as Agent O was good as the authoritarian in-charge person. Rebecca Ferguson (as Riza) was attractive in a role I didn’t think was needed. Matt Holloway and Art Marcum wrote the screenplay that seemed too manufactured as a way to use the MiB name. F. Gary Gray directed this film.

Overall: Not sure this film added any greatness or enhancement to the MiB franchise.

Avengers: Endgame

Fist Hit: A long swan song with highly predictable scenes and very little cohesive clarity.

I’m glad it’s over, and I hope I don’t have to see another Avengers film in my lifetime. Yes, that is how I feel after sitting there for three hours and one minute just to give everyone, in the Avengers franchise catalog, a scene where they could shine a little.

Were there good parts? Yes, a few. I did think Thor (Chris Hemsworth) getting fat from drinking too much beer and lying around playing video games was slightly amusing. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) was showing his age while fading graciously into the great beyond was poignant.

Everyone had their day in the sun in this story. This includes but not limited to; Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and at least twenty other known Avengers, fighting Thanos (Josh Brolin) who had destroyed one-half of the people on Earth as a way to have the inhabitants wake up.

The petty fighting between factions in this group of Avengers was brought forth and forgiven. Simmering mistrusts were rectified. Everything seemed to be tied up in a beautiful neat bow.

But the story was rather meek and dividing up the defeat of Thanos by the various personalities and powers diluted the entire reason for the franchise.

I won’t bother calling out a group or sub-group of actors and their performances as there are too many people to name. Overall, there were no outstanding performances. Everyone did what they were supposed to do, make their screen time be about their character’s strengths and weaknesses, no more no less. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote this overly ambitious screenplay: Make every Avenger have a say in the story and its ending. What they forgot about that this sort of story loses focus, the audience cannot attach themselves to a single hero, and it makes for a really long experience in mediocrity. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo co-directed this, and in the end, they did what the producers wanted.

Overall: I couldn’t wait for the end because the movie came across as an amorphous mass of ideas.

Dumbo

First Hit: Overdone, overreaching, and overproduced leaving little to the imagination — dumb.

Director Tim Burton has a habit of creating worlds and often what we see is his complete vision. He tidies the storyline in such a way that the audience can only watch and not imagine themselves. With fantasy, I think it is important to leave things to the imagination.

With Dumbo he’s created a world where we have to feel sorry for the Medici Circus because it has fallen on hard times. The circus is run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). The train cars are perfectly faded. There is the strong man who is also the accountant, as well as assorted clowns, snake charmer, and other mixed people. The only animals that are left in this dilapidated circus are dogs with colored fur and elephants.

Two children are running around the circus, Millie and Joe Farrier (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins respectively). They are being taken care of because their mother has died and their father, Holt (Collin Farrell), had to leave the circus to fight in the war.

Upon the father’s return, he’s missing an arm which adds to the depressing scene. Holt’s act with the circus was riding horses, and when he returned with one arm, he discovered the horses were already sold. He’d hoped he’d do a one arm riding act. Max tells Holt his new job will be to tend the elephants, including the new huge one who is pregnant.

When the elephant gives birth, they find out the baby elephant has enormous, I mean really huge, ears which makes him the laughing stock of the circus audience. Here is where I see a mistake, why is the audience laughing? It is merely a ploy used to make everyone feel even more bad for the Medici Circus clan.

The children are fascinated by the big-eared pachyderm, and through an accident of inhaling a feather, Dumbo sneezes and ends up leaving the ground. Soon the kids discover they can induce Dumbo to fly by flapping his ears and coaxed by a feather.

The circus is about to fold when evil villain V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and his girlfriend, Collette Marchant (Eva Green) come to see the flying elephant. Vandevere likes what he sees and buys the Medici Circus, and now everyone works for Vandevere.

Unfortunately, V.A.’s money man J. Griffin Remington (Alan Arkin) puts conditions on V.A. and Dumbo’s performance. This enhances the sadness because Dumbo’s mom is taken away again and now the Medici Circus team wants to retaliate.

You can easily imagine what happens. The whole story is to make everyone feel bad, then let Dumbo save the day along with the kids.

The most positive aspect of this film was the quality of the pictures. Burton does this well, and he’s to be commended for this, but otherwise, the movie is predictable and sadly lacking soul. The computer-generated Dumbo was a work of thoughtful art, but at times, he seemed to human-like.

Farrell was reasonably adequate to the role, but there was nothing for him to stretch into and make it his own. Keaton was OK as the villain, he’s good at it. DeVito was charming as the small circus owner, but I found it hard to believe he owned or ran the circus. The actual running of the circus, like putting up tents, seemed to happen through magic. BTW: The tent poles were longer than a train car, so I kept wondering how did they get them from place to place? Parker was stunning. Her intelligence and maturity were well beyond the child character she played. She embraced this role and was the best thing in the film. Hobbins was equal to the task as well, and it is his and Parker’s performances that kept me engaged. Green was excellent and put something of herself into this role and made it work. Arkin was sardonically perfect for this role as an arrogant banker and money man. Ehren Kruger wrote the screenplay which seemed too buttoned up and left little to the imagination. Burton was himself. His visuals were good and generally dark in character. I also thought that Vandevere’s “Dreamworld” was overdone and took the film too far out of any sense of wanting this film to be real and down to earth.

Overall: Everything was perfect and the way it was to be seen, therefore when I left the theater, nothing came with me.

Alita: Battle Angel

First Hit: The integration of human CG characters and humans in film reached a new level here.

In the past, computer graphic (CG) characters have not, visually or emotionally, felt human enough to engage the emotional or deep feeling part of the audience. Despite the action-oriented basis of this film and the main character, Alita: Battle Angel effectively makes this leap and crosses this border.

We begin with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) is wandering through a massive pile of debris which is being created by Zalem, a tethered city floating about a mile above the earth’s surface. The waste pile is the discard of Zalem.

Ido finds and picks up the remnants of an android that has a human face, but without a body and an engaged brain that appears undamaged. Taking it home, he attaches a body that he’d built for his now deceased daughter and names the girl Alita, after his dead daughter.

He and his ex-wife Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) had a daughter whom they called Alita. She didn’t have use of her body, and Dr. Ido was building a mechanical body to attach to her head so that she would survive. The daughter died too before he could finish. Bitterness between Ido and Chiren developed, and Chiren joined Vector (Mahershala Ali) to control the earth’s inhabitants. Vector gets his direction and commands from Nova (Edward Norton) who is the supreme being on Zalem.

The new Alita has no previous memories of where she came from and who she is so when she tries an orange for the first time, is blown away by the flavor. Although later she tries chocolate and thinks this taste is far better than the orange.

Alita soon learns she has skills as a fighter and after meeting Hugo (Keean Johnson) begins to show signs of being able to have and show deep feelings. Hugo wants to go up to Zalem that is dumping the garbage on earth because he thinks his life will be better there. Alita is not so sure that this is a good thing as she begins to understand that Zalem is where she came from, she was a weapon.

Where the film excels is watching Alita grow into her emotions and having some emotional intelligence as a young teenage looking girl is impressive. Showing her love for Hugo and her father is so well done that often I didn’t think of Alita as a robot but as an odd looking human with amazingly expressive eyes and facial features even though she had a body made of Nanotechnology components.

The script also gives Alita plenty of opportunities to show her fighting skills. She becomes a Hunter-Warrior. Hunter-Warriors kill enemies of the people and are paid by representatives of Zalem. All the other Hunter-Warriors think Alita is incapable of fighting until they challenge her. Throughout the film, she proves them wrong about her abilities. Through these battles, Alita proves she’s the best warrior on the planet when she wins the famous Motorball game in which the winner gets a free pass to Zalem. The fights are fun to watch, but they are typical CG in that most of the movements are humanly impossible. However, it is her humanness that makes this better than your standard CG fighter film.

Rosa Salazar as Alita was used as the model to develop the facial features and movements for the CG personnel. Waltz is excellent as Dr. Ido, Alita’s creator and father. He does so much with his facial expressions which help us to believe that Alita is real. Connelly is good as Ido’s ex-wife and right-hand person to Vector. Ali was outstanding as Vector the being who controls earth for Nova. Johnson was excellent as Hugo, the young man who has misguided ideas and falls in love with Alita. James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, and Robert Rodriguez wrote the complicated screenplay that also indicates follow-up films will be made. Rodriguez did a great job of using CG technology to bridge the human/machine gap.

Overall: The enjoyment is in the emotional context of the film as the action scenes are typical.