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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: 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

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: IFFAM 2019 [Macao, China]

The aspect of a foreign film festival is to provide a perspective of what is both possible and perceivable throughout the world. Within the essence of the 4th iteration of the International Film Festival & Awards Macao (aka IFFAM), the idea is as much about the human experience and its psychological impact as it is about the final result. The films, in their own way, reflect that.

JoJo Rabbit The opening night film while an interesting diatribe in the States is an angled approach for Far Eastern audiences who can be primarily removed in many aspects of Western culture. The story inherently is one of tolerance but the tone is just a little bit off from satire. It believes it is funnier than it is which is to its detriment. If it was played a little more extreme (“Top Secret” [1984] despite its over the top tongue-in-cheek quality understood this much better) it would have much greater impact. The balance of the love story has possibility but never quite makes its connection. Waititi plays Hitler with an aloofness that is not altogether wrong but, at certain points where he could have made some metaphorical points that didn’t necessarily align with history, he misses the mark. The audience would have gone with him on the journey undeniably but it is a lost opportunity. Some of the greatest heart of film comes not from the lead JoJo but from his best friend [Yorki played by Archie Yates] who gets the inevitably of it all right. It is only through him and, in a very specific way, Sam Rockwell as a commander who both has a secret to keep but a brazen nihilistic feeling of his own existence that makes it work. They seem to get it. Granted Rockwell did “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” and he still hit that exactly right. At one point when Rockwell jumps out with his gun and winks at the camera during a battle scene, you get a sense of what the film could be. Scarlett Johansson tries but she should have been allowed to play the comedy much more broadly where she mostly sticks to a certain angle. She has a gift for it and that smile when she shows it belies the kind of heart that is sometimes missing from her roles since many of her characters are in misery.

Buoyancy Misery is a continuing structure in many of the Far East films integrated here. “Buoyancy” knows what it is: a tale of primality through and through. Hope in the lead character is an overrated commodity. The story follows a boy in Cambodia who believes he is made for bigger things. But his naiavte ends up placing him on a Thai fishing ship basically as identured labor where he needs to survive in learning by example. The example unfortunately is undeniably brutal.  One scene involving what is akin to drawn and quartered with boats shows the incessant darkness of the story. But in true form, the weak must become strong and lose a sense of right and wrong to exist in the gray.

Wisdom Tooth The aspect of a better life is sometimes wasted on the eyes of the beholder. Just getting by versus seeing how the better half lives can sometimes be a curse. A sister works at a hotel and is kept happy by the smaller things in a corner of China. Her brother, or the man she believes is her brother, cares for her and life continues in a sense of suspended animation. There are aspects of the underworld and corruption in play but it is portrayed simply in many ways a part of the fabric of life. The lead actress is replete in her details recording things she hears including that which might be against her own best interests. The interests dovetail which is a bit off kilter but undeniably conflictive. Her brother finally makes a connection with a romantic love bathed in a secret and yet the relationship doesn’t play with a sense of protection but jealousy. It is an interesting dynamic but yet played to an awkward level bouyed by a sense of loneliness which creates an interesting dichitomy of drama. The kind of pain she feels (in the scene shown in the photo above) is akin to a wisdom tooth. so close and yet so far away, something that can’t be removed except with excessive pain.

I’m Livin It Like “Wisdom Tooth” before it, the closing night film is replete with people suffering through their own ego but also their inherent situation. Aaron Kwok always tends to show an interest in people on the slight fringe of society who are a result of the circumstances. The title is a reflection of the 24-hour McDonalds-type establishment ability per se to act as a haven or oasis for homeless people, at least in Hong Kong. Kwok plays Bowen who used to be a financial maven until he was convicted of embezzlement. The film doesn’t really expand on the psychological reasoning of his character’s fall from grace but rather his incessant need to redeem himself while doing really nothing to improve his situation. Everyone in the film seemingly has a hang up which continually holds them back yet the story is one of perservance even as every character seems to fall further down the rabbit hole against their own best interests.  Ultimately the movie does pull at the heartstrings in concert with the viewer’s own best instincts. The fact is that the people try so hard and they have talent but life seemingly just is stacked against them. Times are tough and the film doesn’t bely that point but it has resolutes itself with a sense of integrity even in the face of certain tragedy.

By Tim Wassberg

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