Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Ambulance: A Review (Review #1588)


As far as popcorn films go, Ambulance is decent enough fare. This is not damning with faint praise: I was entertained by Ambulance, even if it was longer than it should have been and had bits that were both predictable and illogical. 

Iraq war veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is facing hard economic times, without a job and mounting medical bills coming his way. To earn some quick money, he goes to his "brother" Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master criminal about to embark on his biggest banking heist ever: $32 million in a meticulously planned robbery.

Of course, even the most meticulously planned robbery will inevitably have a hitch, and that hitch is from rookie Officer Zach (Jackson White), who has been persuaded to go to that bank to get a teller's phone number. From this moment, the bank robbery spins into total chaos, more so when Zach is shot. The ambulance run by cynical but professional Cam Thompson (Eiza Gonzalez) and rookie Scott (Colin Woddell) attempts to help Zach, but Danny sees it as their way out.

From here, Ambulance becomes a frenetic chase involving the local police, Mexican criminals, the FBI and the media. As Danny and Will attempt to find a way out of their predicament, Cam attempts to keep Zach alive, and Danny's FBI frenemy Agent Clark (Keir O'Donnell) attempts to capture them with the reluctant assistance of LAPD Captain Monroe (Garrett Dillahunt), the all-day chase has various people dying amidst the chaos and carnage.

I do not think a film has embraced its gleeful level of destruction as much as Ambulance. Chris Fedak's adaptation of the Danish film Ambulancen does not waste time giving us in-depth details about the myriad of characters zooming and zipping along. Instead, we get the core basics via visuals and dialogue.

We know Will is facing financial hardship and family health issues via the bills and his inability to reach a person to talk to on the phone. We know Cam is professional but aloof through her demeanor with the patients and her latest EMT partner. We know Zach is a rather shy, bumbling man from how he interacts with his partner and the cute teller he's got his eye on. As such, we are free to focus on what Ambulance thinks is the important thing: the action.

I am neither a Michael Bay fan nor hater. While suffering through Hour Two of Pearl Harbor, I was rooting for the Japanese, but thought highly of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. I think it is important to judge a film based on what it is trying to do, hence my hatred for Pearl Harbor and love for 13 Hours. Ambulance is meant to be a wild action film where things go from Point A to Point B. 

It succeeds in that effort, so it is an entertaining film. I can't go so far as to say it is a good film, but it is an entertaining one. Ambulance goes for broke in the action department, throwing all sorts of explosions and shoot-outs with naked abandon. These are enhanced by the camera work, which delights in flying all around with surprisingly impressive shots. 

The frantic style in Ambulance shows in Gyllenhaal's performance. Here, he devours the scenery with a manic, crazed glee. We find no subtlety or restraint to Danny. Gyllenhaal embraces the crazed manner with joy in a performance I found weirdly captivating. To be fair both Abdul-Mateen and Gonzalez did work hard to be a bit more grounded, even if grounded is one thing Ambulance is not. Nevertheless, they kept things from spinning into full-on camp.

It is interesting that O'Donnell's Agent Clark is gay without it being a major issue. We first see him in couples therapy with his partner, and he casually mentions that fact when asked where he was. In Ambulance, we have that call for "representation" answered but with it being only an aspect of O'Donnell's life, not the sum total of it. 

That positive, however, is countered with the continued use of Hispanic characters being criminals. It would have been nice to see Latinos not shown as gang members, so there is that. We also have the issue with length and logic. In the former, Ambulance seems to go on longer than it should as we get certain familiar beats (the final confrontations, the person who comes closest to killing Will). In the latter, I kept wondering why after fooling the LAPD and FBI, Danny and Will opted to keep Cam and Zach hostage rather than escaping and letting them go.

Other parts, like men in their forties claiming not to know who "Doogie Howser" is, and a Christopher Cross Sailing singalong are not funny but dumb.  

All things being fair, I think people will enjoy Ambulance as good entertainment that just wants to bathe us in blood and action. 


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Bull Durham: A Review



As per tradition I now review a baseball-themed/related film to coincide with the Minor League Opening Day in El Paso. This year's film is a romantic comedy that blends love both romantic and athletic.

There are two kinds of players in the Minor League system. There are the young, hungry men biding their time until they are called up to "The Show" (aka the Major Leagues). Then there are the older but still hungry men who either have made it to the Majors or are for whatever reason still falling short and starting to see their chances slip away. Bull Durham takes us into this world, one where matters of the heart metaphorically and sometimes literally collide with fastballs. 

Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) is a baseball groupie, taking on one player from the Durham Bulls minor league team as her lover for the season. She calls it her own personal spring training. This season, she finds two prospects.

There's Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a pitcher with what is described as "a million-dollar arm and a five-cent brain". Then there is LaLoosh's polar opposite: Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), a veteran catcher who has skimmed the edge of the The Show but for twenty-one glorious days has never entered this rarefied world. He has been brought in to help LaLoosh control his wild pitching style to get him to The Show. Annie and Crash do their own versions of training Ebby, now nicknamed "Nuke", but while Annie continues her affair with Nuke, she is also fighting an attraction to Crash.

She, devoted to baseball, knows that Crash is close to having the record for most home runs in the minor leagues. Crash, however, sees nothing great in what he considers a dubious record. Crash helps Nuke get to The Show, but with his purpose gone, Crash now finds himself out. Annie and Crash find that perhaps getting a grand slam is possible with each other as Nuke enters the literal big leagues.

Bull Durham is many films all in one. It is a comedy, a romance, a drama and a sports film. A fan of all these genres will find something to enjoy in the film, and writer/director Ron Shelton blends them perfectly. It is a credit to Shelton's writing and directing that Annie's voiceover works, never explaining the story but instead giving her viewpoint and hers alone.

Many films, sadly, use voiceover to move the plot forward. Bull Durham, conversely, uses voiceover merely to give one character's perspective without diminishing the Crash/Nuke story.

Bull Durham has three exceptional performances. Robbins is spot-on as the dimwitted Nuke, vapid and vain who thinks owning a Porshe and having sex is what makes him successful. A man so unaware of things that he refers to Edith Piaf that Annie listens to as "that crazy Mexican lady", Robbins excels at the arrogant but eventually somewhat more aware Nuke.

Costner is by no means playing a "grizzled veteran", especially given he was only 33 when Bull Durham was released. He instead plays a still-young, eager man aware of life and aware whatever hope he has to get back to the Majors is fast slipping. Near the end of the film he yells at Nuke, "I got brains, but you got talent," acknowledging his fate to be wise but to not have everything to move up. 

He has a weariness in his performance mixed with a sharp intelligence and a still strong sexual drive. Crash does not want sex without love, wryly telling Annie that he has been around too long to try out for it. Costner has incredible delivery in his dialogue, making Sherman's script sound authentic and natural.

It might be cliche to say that Sarandon is "sensual" and "flirtatious" as Annie, but she does showcase a pretty sexually charged character. However, along with Annie's brazen manner, Sarandon also shows quite a bit of humor, even naivete as Annie. Her attempts to seduce Nuke away from his abstinence by propping up her leg at him is hilarious. Every time she remarks on something with "Oh my" showcases a woman who can still be surprised, who might not be as sophisticated and worldly as she thinks she is. 

Sarandon's Annie is also a woman of culture, able to quote William Blake. Annie, perhaps curiously, is also a baseball devotee, able to find the weakness in a player's form both athletically and physically. What can one say about a woman who reads Walt Whitman as foreplay? That she knows a man will endure something he finds tedious in the hopes of a tryst shows Annie is aware of how men think, but in her own way, Annie is sweet, a mentor to younger players and just as vulnerable to love as those she plays with.

Bull Durham allows for smaller moments and baseball eccentricities, such as players' various superstitions or that mix of anticipation and frustration about their careers to come through. It is well-supported by smaller roles such as Trey Wilson's much-harried team manager who gives the simple advice about how to play baseball.

"You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball". 

Bull Durham is a great love story of two people who know a good thing when they see it, even if sometimes their own views collide with how to handle a talented but dumb prospect. It is also a love letter to minor league baseball: the long road trips, the smaller crowds, the events to draw local audiences in. These players, who dream of getting to The Show, keep grinding away, with only that dream of moving up keeping them just at the edge of the majors. 

See it as a romance, a comedy, a romantic comedy, a wise sports film or a drama of dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled. Bull Durham keeps them all balanced, with strong performances and a firm understanding of that lesser-known world of Minor League Baseball. It is a Show unto Itself, and Bull Durham is a delight from start to finish.


2017 Opening Day Film: Eight Men Out
2018 Opening Day Film: Fear Strikes Out

2019 Opening Day Film: Ladies' Day

2020 Opening Day Film: Mr. 3000

2021 Opening Day Film: Alibi Ike

Monday, April 11, 2022

Da Vinci's Demons: The Complete First Season. An Overview




If there is one thing about Da Vinci's Demons that can easily be said, it is that it is not very interested in history. Instead, it is using historic figures to present an alternate history, one that has fact and fantasy blend throughout. 

The first season sets up a long thread about the Sons of Mithras, a secret society that tasks Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) to find the mythical Book of Leaves, a hidden source of esoteric knowledge. Da Vinci, an arrogant genius, is more than up to the task. However, he has two issues to contend with.

The first is the machinations of the Vatican, headed by the villainous Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) and his more villainous nephew Riario (Blake Ritson). The second is the machinations of the Medici family, headed up by Lorenzo (Elliot Cowan), whom da Vinci has wormed his way into. Leo has also wormed his way into the bed of Lorenzo's mistress, Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), who happens to be both a Vatican spy and Riario's cousin.

Over the course of eight episodes, Da Vinci's Demons packs a lot of its story within it. I was surprised at how one episode could have so much going on, with only The Devil feeling like a bit of filler. To be fair though, it is hard to have a Dracula vs. Leonardo da Vinci episode without making it sound and play slightly ridiculous.

The sheer lunacy of the various plots and counterplots, blended with magical, mystical elements is what makes Da Vinci's Demons entertaining. It should not be taken completely seriously. Yes, the show wants us to embrace the story and characters, but it also wants us to escape into flights of fantasy.

Da Vinci's Demons is aided by a first-rate cast. Tom Riley seems almost made for the lead role: a brilliant man aware of his own brilliance. His character's habit of moving his fingers as he thinks demonstrates a strong level of method in his madness, and it is almost endearing. Haddock's Lucrezia is sharp, erotic, villainous and sympathetic all at once. Tom Bateman's Guiliano de Medici gives Riley a run for his money as the hunk, but he also makes Giuliano's frustrations at playing second fiddle to his older brother relatable.

Major credit should also be given to Ritson's Riario, who almost never shifts from his calm, sotto voce delivery. His habit of speaking softly and menacingly is what makes his crazed, almost unhinged manner in the Season One finale The Lovers all the more shocking. Faulkner too knows how to use his growling voice to great effect as the Unholy Father, and as a side note, the term "naked homicidal Pope" is one I thought I would never write.

The supporting cast ranging from Gregg Chillin's devoted friend Zoroaster to Allan Corduner's forever harried Andrea Verrocchio, Leo's artistic employer, gives the show welcome bits of light moments. They are not comic relief but do lighten the somewhat esoteric goings-on. 

There are two points in Da Vinci's Demons that I do dislike. The first is the graphic nature of the show in sex and violence. As this is Starz, the show has more leeway in what it can show. However, there were times when the gore was far too much for my own tastes. Second, I thought the nudity was more than I thought necessary. 

The second was in the exposition dialogue that seemed to plague so many Season One episodes. Too often in my view, dialogue was created to move the plot forward, attempting to explain things rather than let the situation and action do that. Again and again we had characters tell us what was going on versus showing us.

I think the latter is not as important as the former in my enjoyment of Da Vinci's Demons. There was particularly in the violence a more graphic tone that I like and am comfortable with. However, I figured this was going to happen here, so I did not go in with eyes fully closed. On the whole, I think Season One of Da Vinci's Demons will appeal to those who like fantasy and history blended.

With a little sex in it, or in this case, a lot of sex in it.

Season Two Episode One: The Blood of Man

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Moonfall: A Review


Even by the schlocky standards that Moonfall is aiming at, I found that if not for one fatal flaw, I would have been able to forgive much. However, Moonfall went one step too far in its horrible execution that I could not forgive. 

Ten years after a space accident that got a fellow astronaut killed, disgraced former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) is broke, depressed and barely hanging on. His now-adult son Sonny (Charlie Plummer) is in jail, but while Sonny's mother Brenda (Carolina Bartczak) frets, Sonny's stepfather Tom Lopez (Michael Pena) is not too concerned.

Brian's former astronaut partner Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) could not verify his story that they were attacked from something versus the accident being Brian's fault. She, however, has stayed on at NASA and has her own problems domestic and galactic. The galactic ones are bigger due to the Moon starting to shift orbit. 

This was seen by eccentric science aficionado KC Houseman (John Bradley), who is convinced that the Moon is really a hollow superstructure. Turns out, he's right. Now KC, Brian and Jo join forces to fight the evil sentient machines bent on destroying humanity through the Moon. All this while we pop into the chaos the Earth is enduring, along with the various domestic issues that Houseman, Fowler and Harper face on our lonely planet.

I think that Moonfall took some inspiration from Ancient Aliens given that we discover that humans are descendants of aliens who planted us here. Again, I have to think that no one involved with Moonfall expects us to take any of this seriously. At least I suspect that is the case given how director/cowriter Roland Emmerich (writing with Harald Kloser and Spencer Cohen) crafted the film.

How else to explain a character say, "The Moon is going to help us!" without having audiences or actors burst out laughing. I genuinely cannot remember if this was said by Jo or KC, and to a point it does matter. KC is meant as the comic relief: the somewhat socially inept conspiracy theorist who takes selfies of himself in space and named his cat "Fuzz Aldrin". If he says, "The Moon is going to help us!", it keeps to his wackiness. 

However, if it is Jo who said it (and my memory says so), it just makes poor Halle Berry look foolish. Granted, I think she knew Moonfall was schlock and decided to try and make it a drama anyway. I do, however, feel that given her performance she could not muster any enthusiasm for either leaning in on Moonfall's goofy camp element or going all-in on making this remotely serious. 

It almost looked like she knew she was trapped in trash and just wanted to get through it.

Patrick Wilson is someone I am despairing for. I do think he has talent, but now I think his primary acting style consists of looking forever confused.

This, coincidentally, is the second film with John Bradley that I have seen in as many days (he played Jennifer Lopez's manager in Marry Me). At least here he had more to do and embraced the apparently looney but endearing Houseman. He, for whatever faults Moonfall has, at least played it like a comedy.

The unfortunate thing is that Moonfall itself did not know whether to lean in on the camp or work to play any of this seriously. It was becoming more and more laughable that Harper and crew kept meeting one disaster after another. These guys simply could not catch a break. The same can be said for the various figures left on Earth: Houseman's elderly Alzheimer's affected mother, Jo's young son, Brian's adult son, Sonny's stepfamily.

No matter the circumstance, things simply never went right for any of them. Moonfall throws in pretty useless moments such as crazed survivalists that probably wandered off Greenland and a space race that was left over from Geostorm. Yes, the latter was awful but at least I could laugh at it. The former was bad but at least it made an effort.

Moonfall did neither: not funny enough to laugh at/with, not making an effort to move past the awful cliches and bad performances. Not one of the actors save perhaps for Bradley were bothering with this, and most look embarrassed to be there. Some of the actors, fortunately were there so briefly that their deaths had no impact.

Not since I was asked to cry over a brontosaurus left to die on a pier in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom have I found efforts to make me cry so wildly misguided.

As dumb and illogical as Moonfall was, I was ready to forgive most its flaws to be more charitable. Then it happened: the bane of my cinematic experiences. It hinted that there would be a sequel.

That, I could not forgive or forget. I despise whenever a film suggests there will be a sequel. This is not like Dune, when I already know the story is so massive that a sequel was more than likely. This is something else: a vain, arrogant suggestion that I would not only endure this idiocy but that I would want more of this idiocy.

It was at that point that I threw my hands up in the air and said, "No, No, No". There really is nothing in Moonfall to recommend a second helping. There's hardly anything to recommend a first helping for that matter.

The effects were cheap looking, there is no sense of urgency in what is meant to be a literal life-or-death crisis, secondary characters came and went with nary a rhyme or reason, and the main characters were dull as dishwater save perhaps for Bradley's Houseman.

Moonfall plays like a bad SyFy Channel production without the wink-wink manner that could make it worth the time. I know people can enjoy Moonfall given how the very small audience applauded the end. However, now I wonder if they applauded it because it was over. 


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Marry Me: A Review (Review #1585)



I am pretty forgiving film reviewer in that I judge a film based on what it is trying to do versus some grand level of "art". As such, I can look at something like Marry Me with a more tolerant eye than others. Marry Me is fluff, pretty forgettable and in some ways not good. However, it is what it set out to be: fluff, pretty forgettable and in some ways not bad.

Music superstar Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) is set to marry fellow music superstar Bastian (Maluma) live in concert after singing their new smash hit Marry Me. Math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) has the vaguest of ideas who Kat Valdez is. He, however, is roped into going to this concert/wedding for his daughter Lou's (Chloe Coleman) sake. 

Just as J-Lo, or Kat, is about to take the stage in a lavish wedding dress, she finds out via social media that Bastian had a fling with her personal assistant. Devastated, she begins rambling until she spots a man holding a "Marry Me" sign and agrees to marry him instead. That man? Charlie.

For reasons Charlie agrees to the charade of a marriage while he and Kat attempt to sort out their lives. It should not come as a surprise what happens to Mr. and Mrs. Valdez as their worlds clash: she of perpetual media exposure, he who is so disdainful of social media he still has a flip phone and rarely checks his email. Things culminate when Kat has to decide whether to sing with Bastian when Marry Me receives a Grammy nomination or go to the Mathalon in Peoria to support Charlie and Lou.

I think I was misled when it came to Marry Me. I was led to think it was an abomination. I found it to be merely inept but harmless. Is it preposterous down to bizarre? Yes. Is it poorly acted? Pretty much. Is it in some ways downright creepy? Also, yes. Despite that, I still did not hate Marry Me, even if at least one thing was a bit of a sticking point.

Maluma is 28. Jennifer Lopez is 52. Marry Me is asking us to accept that Bastian is hot and heavy with a woman old enough to be his mother.  I would find the age gap creepy if Maluma were 52 and J-Lo 28, and I imagine there might be more criticism on that matter if the ages were reversed. I do not know if having the woman be older than the man makes things better, but it does stretch believability to something already pretty preposterous.

For the record, Owen Wilson is 53.

What I found in Marry Me is dumb escapism that had the opportunity to be more than what it ended up being, but not a nightmare to sit through. In fact, if you accept the preposterous premise and do not bother to think on things, you could enjoy Marry Me for its cliches and lack of thought.

This comes through in the performances. In what might be a curious criticism, Jennifer Lopez seems too smart to play Kat with any sense of seriousness. Part of it comes from the John Rogers, Tami Sagher and Harper Dill adaptation of Bobby Crosby's graphic novel. Sometimes Kat is sensible and realistic, such as when she attends a school dance with Charlie. Other times she is a blinking idiot: when arriving at Peoria, she is astonished to find no car waiting for her.

I do not know why Kat's apparent inability to function without flunkies keeps getting brought up but given that she is more than capable of making business decisions solo it does not make sense to make her sometimes into an airhead. Moreover, Lopez overplays the comedy bits, exaggerating things to unbelievable levels.

Add to that the idea that "Kat" is pretty much the "J-Lo" persona and one wonders whether the real J-Lo was used to the best of her abilities.

Wilson does not shift from his apparent dazed and confused persona either. Charlie at times can come off as cruel and contemptuous of Kat, dismissing her work and constant media presence without realizing that for her, it is all part of her career.  Maluma is not an actor, and I will be frank in that like Charlie, I have the vaguest idea who he is. As he was not called on to do much other than sing and talk, he did well in both of those.

Marry Me is not terrible. It is dumb, implausible and more than a bit absurd. However, like Kat, it only wants to be loved. I genuinely could think of films I found less than entertaining, even some held up as a turning point in cinema. By no means "good", Marry Me is not "bad" enough for me to dislike. I would say it is a bad romp, but a romp in any case. If you do not ask much of it, you can get through Marry Me with mild enjoyment.