Category Archives: Film Reviews

IR Film Review: BAD BOYS FOR LIFE [Sony]

The relevance of making a sequel revels in the notion of what it brings to the table and its identity. When Joe Carnahan was first thought to be doing the film as a director, there was a jump since, having talked and known Joe early in his career,  it was known he would bring a grittiness but also the texture of Michael Bay in a way as know in SMOKIN’ ACES for example but also NARC. He split with the project over creative differences which is interesting to perceive since he still has some story and screenplay credit on the final film. The themes he likes are there but the familial structure and drama is definitely his. The comedy seems to be more mainstream in the final product which is with two Morrocan co-directors. There is an interesting baseline of what this film is and what it could have been. I did the interviews for BAD BOYS II in 2003 with Bay at the height of his intentions which is great because BAD BOYS I and II were about that and that slickness which carried in a certain way to the darker MIAMI VICE a couple years later. While the aspect of growing older in this installment provides the background, it tends to jump all over the place without being as cinematic as it could have been. Granted all in all, it is still fun but it doesn’t feel like as much of a BAD BOYS movie but a very good TV version of it with some odes to what came before.

Granted, it is based in the fact of did a sequel need to be made. The last film adequately set up the cool, riding into the sunset element like to be very honest, LAST CRUSADE did for Indiana Jones which made CRYSTAL SKULL a let down. The laughs are still there, Smith and Lawrence do their jobs well but they do lumber more, especially Lawrence but that is the point of the story. Smith understands this and is smart about it. What is also glaring, but more of a nitpick, is that one can tell that much of the film is not shot in Miami. Certain spots are for sure but the taking advantage of Georgia tax credits definitely played into this, which is disappointing for a Miami native. The AMMO crew, which is the new addition to this play has its textures and actually does ode this a little more to MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, which is likely what Smith as a producer, saw.

The eventual build up and essence of reveal is alright but the logic, which wasn’t such a big thing back in the 90s but is now, makes certain leaps in logic and logistics glaring. BAD BOYS FOR LIFE may have more depth than its past two outings but it lost something along the way. Despite Michael Bay’s overreaching style it does create a certain texture and when the chemistry of the actors is focused (as it has been for the most part saved for TRANSFORMERS) it works as well. The spark is still here but it is not the same.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: STAR WARS – EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER [Lucasfilm/Disney]

Following any divergence such as was “The Last Jedi” there can be a sense of reckoning. In the first “Star Wars” trilogy not overseen by one person (i.e. Lucas) there is bound to be conflict of conception. Colin Trevorrow was originally supposed to do this segmentation and obvious a wisp of his story structure remains. But as Adam Driver alluded, this path was always the correct one and the point discussed from the beginning. The film here feels right. It is the best made of this trilogy of films mating some of the basic risks that Abrams might have avoided with “Force Awakens” which felt infinitely too safe but also keying into aspects of what fans would like to see.

“The Rise Of Skywalker” is dense and moving. And yet there are holes. Now granted in most movies of this scale, there is a certain level of disbelief allowed. But this is Star Wars. The reality is director JJ Abrams had a shorter time to make this, close up as many loose ends as he could and keep the release date Disney set. He did. And to make the film as entertaining as it is with some specific moments that needed to work while integrating Leia and giving a sense of closure, this one feels more steady.

Rian Johnson’s previous film which had a couple spots which were brilliant also drifted too much into the metaphors and politics, which of course is part of it but also what bogged down many elements of the prequel trilogy. There is no exact formula with these movies that make them work no matter what. These films are a huge undertaking. “Empire Strikes Back” didn’t look effortless. There are clunky elements in that too but time is the true test. The issue here is that you see the work but the bridges made to get there don’t have time to breathe and have a lack of connection. The dichotomy of what everybody feels and how they display it is very anachronistic almost making it seemed forced. Daisy Ridley as Rey is a perfect vessel but she always seems too pained though her voyage is not meant to be easy. When you see joy in her, it is mired in sadness which is part of the structure. The intention is there but it is all about plot. Rey wants to find balance. Every act she commits is towards this. But impulse is her enemy which is the entire progression. But balance is the key word.

In keeping the main three stars together most of the time in this installment, it creates a better dynamic considering how different all of them are. This is why the original film worked between Han, Luke & Leia. Chewie had a better part then. Here even that character is used more in the vein of nostalgia but Abrams uses that as much as he can. Poe as a character is still underdeveloped. He was never supposed to be a Han Solo and yet there is never a sense that he nor Finn is a general per se. They still have the same fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants mantra but their stakes never feel fully realized. “The Last Jedi” was better at doing this and for inherent iconic image. But again didn’t move like this. No Canto Bright to bog the trajectory down.

Adam Driver, comparatively as a character, is truly the only one that comes close to full realization as Kylo Ren but again his character needs to serve the plot as well. One scene in particular really makes it sing and it was inherent that it need to happen, despite it being more of a metaphor per se. But inherently that is what Star Wars is about. Without giving away spoilers, this scene offers the perspective which makes everything acceptable. Star Wars was and is about archetypes. The path could only truly be one way. The ideal it comes back to is that this is entertainment and the film thrills. Case closed.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: CATS [Universal]

Musicals are a bit of an odd cat. Initially perceived on a stage, perspective is the inherent necessary component in adapting for the screen. The best in this reviewer’s estimation is when it never diverges from song but to balance this you need both great actors and singers. This is why nearly 25 years later, “Evita” as an adaptation that still ranks among the best as well as something like “Oliver.” With the new addition of “Cats”, it continues a progression of adaptations like “Nine” which didn’t necessarily need to be made. Even with Universal’s “Mamma Mia” and its vastly superior sequel “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”, there was a balance of tone that needed to be found. That is not the case here but again, that was the essence of the musical as well.

“Cats” wants to be and about something but it just doesn’t know what. Like many of Universal’s films in the past it is a big swing that inherently doesn’t work save for some inspired moments. The music itself, unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom Of The Opera,” is more 70s synth inspired so it is not classical based but more a perspective of jazz and funk with an element of acid. Certain sequences that one would think would be more intense like Ian McKellan’s older Gus approach feels flat whereas the Skimbleshanks Tap Cat is absolute glee but with intensity, showmanship and barrel roll pace. It is the only scene where Hooper seems to take the film out of the main soundstage and makes it cinematic. That is what the film is missing most of the time but inherently that would be even more expensive. They were trying so hard to make sure the cats effects on the actors look good, they forgot that it is all about the feeling. The film instead is made for the die hard theater goer and not the broader audience base.

The one person beyond that who perhaps knows what the film needs is Judi Dench as Deuteronomy. As a point of contention, she is the most unlikely member of the cast one would think but she gives a sense of whimsy and weight, especially in the final moments. She has a wink in her eye but it is not as glaringly overplayed as say Minnie Driver in “Phantom Of The Opera”. Idris Elba as the villain Macavity per se has the intention but it plays more to a cartoonish representation slinking around with a sense of mischief. The tone, like with the play, can be all over the place as each cat is so different. Like Skimbleshanks, Jason Derulo doing “Rum Tum Tugger” is fantastic in its own way because it is funk personified. In an overall way, many of the bits as well as the slight off-kilter production design reminds this reviewer of “The Wiz”, another slightly misguided adaptation with whimsy and brilliance peppered in but missing something ultimately.

The one undeniable point which was apparent through and through from the trailer and is the most powerful point of the movie was Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella. Her painful and powerful rendition of “Memories” and its eventual progression is heart wrenching. But again, it is its own movie and a minute amount of screen time in the overall construct. It is the rock of the play but that is all that it is. James Corden and Rebel Wilson’s respective vignettes are their own ideals. “Cats” might have worked better as a music video episodic. It is so many things without being one. While the throughline is becoming a Jelicle Cat is very vague, the stream that is supposed to keep it together is Victoria (played by Franscesca Hayward). She is adequate but her performance shows she is overwhelmed by all around her. While this is part of her character make up, a stronger lead would have helped but again one does not want to overwhelm the main stars.

Taylor Swift, also joins the aspect on centerpiece scene involving catnip. She wants to be a vixen at the center of the showstopper but most of the time, she tries so hard that is never comes off as authentic. She is not that vixen and is not a dancer but almost doesn’t try (possibly for fear of looking awkward). She loves cats in general so her inclusion is completely understood and warranted. It also provides the film its new song “Beautiful Ghosts” which Swift wrote with Webber. A good marketing angle for sure.

“Cats” is its own monster in a sometimes off-putting but undeniably unique way. The blend of too much and too little. For example, the inherent way the cats interact with noses and rubbing their heads together is a creative choice as is much of the choreographing but it almost overbearing but not quite so. The musical scitzophrenia is part of the show’s undeniable draw but also the hardest aspect to adapt. In years to come “Cats” will likely gain a following. The talent is diversified and intensive. The direction shows a world but perhaps one racing too much towards the finish line. When it stops for a moment and breathes, it runs the risk of collapsing under its own intentions.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

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