Our Friend ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: ""So then Seth Rogan dropped his pants....Oh, wait....This isn't that kind of movie."
2020 didn't give us much to work with, considering how many movies were delayed, became difficult to find, or just faded away from existence, the new year has already begun to continue the previous year's trend of pushing everything back. This time I plan to be more prepared to get back to seeing things that I might not normally see on my own, allowing myself to continue to expand on what I watch and later recommend, while also giving time to smaller, more personal films.
Inspired by a true story, "Our Friend" follows "Matthew Teague" (Casey Affleck), along with his wife, "Nicole" (Dakota Johnson), as they struggle with her cancer diagnosis, which only gives her a limited amount of time to live. They find some much needed help getting through this from a dear friend, "Dane" (Jason Segel), who has never gotten far in life, but happens to be one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Dane helps his friend's daughters, "Molly" (Isabella Rice) and "Evie" (Violet McGraw), through this distressing time, as Matthew and Nicole's cope with their dwindling time together, as Dane's presence helps make their difficulties bearable. Really, the plot is just how goodness, while it can't make pain go away, at least dilutes it and reminds you of the joys of life.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite ("Blackfish", "Megan Leavey"), with a screenplay by Brad Ingelsby ("Out of the Furnace", "The Way Back") that adapts the "Esquire" article by the real life Matthew Teague, "Our Friend" isn't a particularly exciting, original, or even all that important a film. It's something that will easily be forgotten by the year's end, and if not openly sought out, would probably go under most people's radars. What the film really end up being is just very sweet, simple, and exactly the kind of thing you might need to give a look to on the chance that you're feeling a little depressed. The film does a solid job of balancing an off-kilter sense of humor to go with some heavy drama, which is handled in a realistic and mature fashion, without needing to overstate itself. Now that isn't to say that the movie isn't without its predictable beats or moments of unnecessary conflict (There's a late sort of twist that can be seen a mile away, and adds nothing), but in a way, some of that comes with the territory. The filmmakers at least find ways to counteract it with how likable it is, with the audience understanding or even relating to the flaws of the characters, giving off the feelings of knowing people in real life who might seem similar. (Some might even see a little bit of themselves in it)
Jason Segel is quite wonderful, generating a lovable warmth and sense of humor, yet also inhabiting a hidden sadness that perhaps many people like this try to keep out of sight from others. There are some fantastic performances from Casey Affleck (He's generally excellent) and an especially affecting Dakota Johnson. However, the film doesn't do much when it comes to supporting characters, who sort of just come and go throughout, though there is a brief standout moment from Gwendoline Christie (as "Teresa", a woman that Dane ends up taking a random hike with), who gets a very insightful little scene. There's a little forced conflict at some point, but thankfully, it's looked over quickly and avoids tossing in some kind of antagonist. It wouldn't have been necessary to do so, and I appreciate the filmmakers never forgetting what the movie in the end is truly meant to be about.
"Our Friend" is a rather straightforward sentimental film, that doesn't do anything too new, nor is it really meant to. It's just sincere and heartwarming, generating some mild, good natured laughs in the process to go with the human oriented drama. It's a movie that I see a lot of people just kind of ignoring, though could find an audience with those seeking a bit of a pick me up right now without much consequence. Considering this January's lack of cinematic content at the moment, we could all use it. 3 Stars. Rated R For Language And Heavy Themes.
Outside the Wire ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Falcon", helping to stop an attempt at a violent insurrection to stop the American democratic process.
What is the whole deal with Netflix and their love of low budget, only somewhat science fiction, that to be perfectly honest, all kind of look the same? It's almost like Netflix is their go-to distributor when they're not certain if a big screen release will draw much of a crowd. Not to mention with the lack of theaters being open at the moment and the many bored souls that spend their days searching through Netflix to escape their real life problems, the movies truly have found a to flourish as best they can. At least until "Disney+" releases more Marvel stuff.
Taking place sometime in the not so far off future, "Outside the Wire" where the United States creates robotic soldiers, known as "Gumps", to combat Russian mercenaries led by "Victor Koval" (Pilou Asbæk). After disobeying orders (And getting a couple Marines killed), drone pilot "Lt. Thomas Harp" (Damson Idris), gets moved to Ukraine, where the US has their main base of operations to combat Koval's forces. Now disgraced in the eyes of his fellow soldiers, Harp is commanded by his new superior, "Eckhart" (Michael Kelly), to work under "Captain Leo" (Anthony Mackie), who as it turns out, is an artificially created, very advanced, and incredibly skilled android, created to be the perfect super soldier. To prevent Koval from getting his hands on nuclear missiles, Leo and Harp embark on a secret mission into Ukraine, where Harp begins to suspect there's something Leo isn't telling him. They encounter Koval's enforcers (Which also includes his own versions of the Gumps), a resistance group led by the almost equally ruthless "Sofiya" (Emily Beecham), and America's need to fire a drone strike first and ask questions later, while everyone's true motivations start to reveal themselves.
Directed by Mikael Håfström ("Escape Plan") and released through Netflix, "Outside the Wire" is a relatively small scale action flick with moderately high ambitions, but with one simple goal to be your average science-fiction thriller of the week. It'll be entertaining in the moment, with aspects that might even lend itself to something even more fascinating, but at the end of the day, the filmmakers have no intention of taking things as far as they possibly can go. The film borrows a lot of elements from various well known properties, though "Terminator" seems to be the most obvious one. That isn't a bad thing, and what keeps the film from being something completely forgettable. Topics about what humanity is willing to sacrifice during warfare, what technology and weaponry we should be allowed to use as we please, and the many that will always be caught in the crossfire no matter who is actually in the right throughout the conflict, are all addressed and given a somewhat unique spin. However, the movie also wants to be an explosion filled video game, and the two can only work with the absolute best working behind the scenes. What we get is decently made enough, but fairly bland and most of all, not near as good as it actually could be.
Anthony Mackie is still excellent in the film, generating a lot of charisma, mystery, and occasional intimidation, making for a very interestingly complicated character that keeps you guessing to what his true motives are. Damson Idris also does a good job playing the audience surrogate, and goes through a steady character arc. Some supporting characters add little, such as Emily Beecham's surprisingly inconsequential (And intellectually lacking) character and especially Pilou Asbæk, who is barely even a character. The special effects are solid for what they are, with the Gumps appearing rarely and not getting much focus, though the best use of CGI ends up being on Anthony Mackie's Leo. (His body is made up of a synthetic, gel like substance, which gives off a distinctive and original robotic design)
"Outside the Wire" has potential and only occasionally know its, but would rather give its audience the simplest of pleasures that usually come from a low budget action thriller. It's fun in the moment, with a few well crafted action sequences and drama that's enhanced by good performances. It's also unmemorable and when you really get down to it, just kind of weak. Not near enough has been invested into anything I can fully recommend except to quell those early January woes. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Language, And Military Machismo.
Locked Down ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Are they the ones who stole the election?
I'm officially starting to forget what normalcy looks like anymore, and it's not helping when movies are also referencing the pandemic. I'm having trouble remembering what the world was like before we had to wear masks everywhere we went. In just a few months, we will be reaching the anniversary for when it all went to sh*t, and I'm starting to feel like this might be the new normal. We already know things are going to be different and in others, are never going to be the same. When all of our movies are going to start referencing it, I don't think there will be any going back for quite a while.
"Locked Down" follows disgruntled married couple, "Linda" (Anne Hathaway) and "Paxton" (Chiwetel Ejiofor), on the verge of separation. However, before the two of them can leave each other, COVID-19 happens, initiating lockdown in London. Now stuck with each other and working from home the best they can, Linda and Paxton's relationship continues to deteriorate. Paxton, desperate to move up in the world, having been trapped in a job as a delivery truck driver due to a felony, finally gets his boss, "Malcolm" (Ben Kingsley), to allow for a chance a promotion. Due to Paxton's felony, he will be required to do deliveries with a false identity (The identity being "Edgar Allen Poe", since Paxton's boss is a moron). Meanwhile, Linda, who runs a fashion company, is tasked to fire some employees and clear out a "Harods" department store (One of the items to be cleared out being a rare diamond). Their schedules end up overlapping, with Paxton's last run being at Harods, making Paxton's job more difficult. Then the two get the wacky idea that since there is also a replica diamond at the store (And because of COVID restrictions, security will be lacking), to um, permanently borrow the diamond, with nobody being the wiser.
Released through HBO Max (Movie theaters? Who needs them?), "Locked Down" is a movie that might be construed as "Insensitive" or "Too soon", much like last year's horrifically offensive and insultingly stupid "Songbird", but I can assure people that it's nowhere close to that level. Directed by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", "Edge of Tomorrow"), with a screenplay by Steven Knight ("Hummingbird", "Locke", "Allied", "Serenity"......Not that "Serenity". The bad one), the film actually has something to say, and is a lot more competently made. Aside from the questionable timing, it's a fairly likable sort of romantic comedy, that while a little off in terms of execution and pacing, makes up for it with a somewhat eccentric, mostly dialogue heavy charm. Due to the fact that the film was in production right in the middle of the whole pandemic, there aren't many locations, secondary characters, or even much real movement at all. Most of the film focuses specifically on our leads, or maybe sometimes the people they talk to via Zoom calls, which are complete with constant freezing and sound issues. (It's nice to see a movie actually address that kind of thing) It just takes a while for things to really get moving, which is especially noticeable when the actual main plotline doesn't fully come into play into about halfway through. It's subtlety hinted at throughout, but if you didn't already know about the film's premise, it would almost feel out of nowhere.
What carries the film more than anything would be the flawless chemistry, and delightful onscreen presences of Anne Hathaway (Looking cute and endearing as usual) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Who it's nice to see doing a comedy, considering how great a dramatic actor he is) are hard not to like. They get some great banter between each other, and even though their characters are meant to be strained, you can still see these characters really do have a connection. Most of the movie is just focusing on them, though it does leave room for rather brief appearances from Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller (as Linda's boss), Stephen Merchant (as the head of security at Harods), Mindy Kaling (as a former co-worker of Linda's), along with amusing parts for Dulé Hill (as "David", Paxton's half-brother) and Jazmyn Simon (as "Maria", David's wife, who Linda may or may not have had a sexual experience with).
Brought down a bit by possible poor timing and an execution of style that will either make or break the film (It's not boring, but it's not exactly an "Exciting" film), "Locked Down" isn't a movie that will find itself appealing to everyone. It is however, quite fun, and despite the romantic comedy aspect to the premise, it defies a lot of the standard tropes that many films of that genre tend to overly rely on. Also, unlike "Songbird", the film has a bit of a point to itself, addressing that in a way us being in lockdown could be seen as a positive, aside from the obvious protection from the virus. It makes you think about what exactly you've been doing in your life and now you're forced to contemplate the future, especially when we as a species really took a lot of things for granted. Very fitting to think about considering how things in real life are very much going to be different from now on. 3 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Language And Pieces Of Fabric, Worn Over Your Face That Violate Your Constitutional Rights In Ways That Nobody Has Been Able To Actually Explain To Me.
Shadow in the Cloud ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "Wait....This isn't prequel to 'Gremlins'?"
What's the best way to start off the new, hopefully better year? Aside from allowing deranged, bigoted loonies to storm our Capitol and attempt to overthrow democracy (Now that twist I did see coming years ago), it's to make way for something of little consequence, but enough good old fashioned cheesy entertainment value. It makes the January dumping ground much easier to get through.
Set in 1943, and after an amusing little animated PSA assuring that so called "Gremlins" aren't sabotaging war planes, "Shadow in the Cloud" follows a supposed British Flight Officer, "Maude Garrett" (Chloë Grace Moretz), who boards a B-17 bomber plane, "The Fool's Errand", with a mysterious package that she claims contains secret documents and must be delivered without question. Most of the bomber's crew is immediately antagonistic and sexist towards Garrett, with the captain, "John Reeves" (Callan Mulvey), sending Garrett to sit in the ball turret, forced to leave her package with the nice guy, "Walter Quaid" (Taylor John Smith). After the plane takes off in the middle of a storm, Garrett notices something is off about the flight, especially when she notices a terrifying looking shadow on the side of the plane. When parts of the bomber plane start to fall apart, it becomes apparent that something is wrong. With the sudden arrival of Japanese fighter planes, and the revelation that there is in fact a bloodthirsty gremlin on board, it's up to Garrett to take command of the situation, while her true mission slowly starts to become apparent.
Directed by Roseanne Liang, who also rewrote the screenplay previous written by known douchebag, Max Landis (He was completely removed from the project due to sexual misconduct and misogynistic comments, only receiving a legal credit. I'm assuming the feminist message was not the original draft), "Shadow in the Cloud" is not the kind of movie that will make any best or worst lists. Granted, the filmmakers know that. It's not supposed to. It has one simple job to do, which is provide silly, tongue in cheek popcorn flick fun, that also has a surprise sense of empowerment and believe it or not, a few unexpected twists. The movie is rather original in execution. It doesn't fully explain everything right off the bat, unraveling things as it progresses. The film spends a decent chunk of its short runtime focusing on the main character as she's confined to the ball turret.
Chloë Grace Moretz is the star of the show in more ways than one. Aside from being the lead, we see everything from her perspective, meaning the other characters are mostly heard through voice over, and the same goes for the creature itself. What we learn about her character is hinted at, but not explained right away. Moretz is also quite the badass in the action scenes, providing a showcase of her versatility as an actress, which is not something you expect to see in what's essentially nothing more than a B-Movie creature feature. The rest of the cast mostly serves their purpose, with Taylor John Smith playing the nice guy, Nick Robinson (as "Beckell", the rookie gunner) playing the inexperienced one, Byron Coll (as "Finch", one of the more antagonistic ones) playing the dick, and Callan Mulvey playing the stern captain, but the film is almost completely focused on Moretz, who makes up for the film's lack of depth with the supporting cast. As for the creature itself, it's a creepy looking, though not exactly realistic looking creation, that still manages to make for a scary threat.
"Shadow in the Cloud" is a cleverly directed (Liang makes great use of cinematography and seemingly intentionally lackluster visual effects), effectively suspenseful thriller, that's part monster movie, part war drama, and part female empowering epic. While it gets somewhat more hard to believe as it goes along (Considering what's revealed to be inside the package and what it goes through, how is it not damaged in anyway by the end of the film?), it's very entertaining to watch and has the makings of a future cult classic. Not a bad way to start off the new year. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Sexist Dudes, and Violent Winged Monkey Rats.