Mulling Over the Mule

The Mule Poster

 

At one time a legendary Western star, the famous Clint Eastwood set his sights on directing and writing more realistic dramas that were meant to appeal to his dedicated fans.  The result have been some rather dark, gritty movies that star the legend himself.  So this weekend, the next film in his arsenal came out, looking to copy his formula and bring with it another dark tale that could potentially be just as formulaic as the next film.  Going in with low expectations, I was not too excited to hit this film.  What was the verdict?  As always Robbie K, is here to share his opinions as he reviews:

 

Film: The Mule (2018)

 

Director:

Clint Eastwood

Writers:

Sam Dolnick (inspired by the New York Times Magazine Article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” by), Nick Schenk

Stars:

Clint EastwoodBradley CooperTaissa Farmiga

 

 

LIKES:

 

The Acting:  It’s Clint Eastwood, so you know what you are getting with the man when it comes to his style.  Taking his usual gritty tone with gruff presentation, edgy words, and a blunt approach that lacks any filter Eastwood will still appeal to his tried and true ways. Yet, this film sees him adding a little more lightness to his role, bringing some comedy to the mix that feels natural and no longer forced.  In regards to the rest of the crew, they hit their usual stride in regards to this kind of character with Cooper having the single-minded focus of tracking down the bad guy in that smoldering manner he does, Michael Peña, being that quirky side kick that is again okay, but not quite displaying his full talents. As for the cartel members, nice displays of stereotypical roles, but not fully diving into the members given the theme of this film. This is definitely an Eastwood focused film, so he’ll do most of the lifting.

 

The Story/Character Development:  Stereotypical and predictable, but still a deep dive into character development, The Mule accomplishes what many films strive to do.  It takes the central character and begins to mold them into something new, no matter where they start. The realistic journey over the course of Earl’s journey shows him gradually seeing the light and adjusting life based on the new needs, sometimes hitting blocks, but never so much ignoring everything in the journey to start from square one.  It works quite well, especially in the small integration of other characters, helping to display the lesson of teaching others as they teach you, aka the passing of the torch to future generations.  This rich focus will appeal to the key demographic, and may also impress some others that have the open mid to give Eastwood’s drama a try.

 

The Pace:  As I said before, Eastwood’s dramas are a little too slow for my taste, especially given the dark tones they take.  Yet this film somehow managed to take a detour down the freeway it seems, because it moved quite well for me given the facets of the plot. Despite the look of the trailers, the team did a job of adding some joys of life to the mix, embedding some natural comedy to lighten the tones, and establish an adventure as Earl goes up and down the U.S.A. roads.  The integration of these components makes for a better adventure than I could have imagined, and helps bring more people into this particular tale.  The new momentum it brought was much more entertaining for me and definitely a plus.

 

The Realism:  My final like is the fact that the movie is still keeping in touch with the realistic side of things.  The Mule does have its share of soap opera dynamics, but it doesn’t plunge so far in that it steers away from the realistic component. As such, it’s a relatable tale that is appealing to follow and potentially learn from.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Secondary Characters Flat: It’s tough to balance all the plates of characters in a film like The Mule.  Nevertheless, there was some ground to still cover when it came to the secondary characters. Some of the cartel members that were important to the plot felt very flat, the richer stories and relationships deep down in their sulking forms.  Why they didn’t focus better on the relationships, boggles me when that dynamic would have been an enjoyment to watch.  In regards to the DEA story, it serves it’s purpose as well, helping to establish the chase component of the film that a drama like this needs.  Yet, this component still could have had some better integration as well, helping to actually feel like a mystery instead of these checkpoints serving to remind us there was another story going.  I didn’t so much enjoy this parallel plot approach, but then again it could have been worse.

 

More Suspense:  An Eastwood film is known for some edgy experiences to keep you on the edge of your seat, or perhaps make you sweat just a little. The Mule sadly didn’t hit that mark for me despite its best attempts.  Perhaps it is the lighter aspects that diluted the normal rough and gruff edge he is known for.  It could be how predictable the plot is, meaning fewer surprises for me when you see them coming.  Or maybe it was the fact that the secondary characters weren’t so integrated to give the thriller it wanted as mentioned above.  Whatever the reason, the lack of suspense still made the film a little duller than intended.

 

The Ending:  Does the finale make sense and fit into the plot? Yes.  However, while I appreciate the direction in regards to the character development and the tale wrapping up, it completely derailed the momentum the majority of the film established.  The last 20-25 minutes completely changed the course of the film, once again dulling my interest and mood as they turned the corner.  At this point, the wrap up was mercifully approached, but not before dragging everything through the mud and leaving me feeling extremely low.  Not my favorite conclusion, but I’ll acknowledge their direction from story telling aspect.

 

 

The VERDICT:

 

            The Mule is one of my top films of the Eastwood legacy of thrillers.  It has character and a realistic portrayal of someone looking for changing even in the late stage of life that will appeal to much of the target audience.  Acting wise it’s solid, presentation is straight and to the point, and the new atmosphere of adding light touches of comedy and happiness, make for the more entertaining of the bunch. Still a lack of suspense and use of the other characters takes away from the complete story and suspense that we wanted.  Overall a solid film though, and worth seeing in the theater if you are looking to take an Eastwood fan to the movies, but otherwise stay the course for home viewing for this one. 

 

My scores are:

 

Crime/Drama/Mystery: 7.5

Movie Overall: 6.0

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War Ready For Action. Needs Repairs For A Story

Pacific Rim Uprising

 

Giant Robots or Giant Monsters, which of the two titans is the better combatant for the silver screen?  That question has continued to test audience members discussion boards as behemoths like King Kong and Godzilla try to usurp the title from Optimus Prime and Megatron.  Tonight’s movie though, doesn’t make you choose, because it combines the two in an epic throw down that will hopefully please both sides of the spectrum.  Pacific Rim Uprising rears back to make some noise this weekend, and yours truly is here to report his findings on the latest silver screen smash to guide your viewing needs.  Let’s get started!

 

LIKES:

Special Effects:  Most will be tired of the CGI haven these movies have become, but yours truly appreciates the work that went into unleashing the havoc.  The design of the new robots gets a round of applause, with sleek angular designs, some new tricks, and a fluid movement that fit well with the Japanese monster movie feel.  Monster wise, the Kaijou aren’t as prominent as the first film, but once breached, the monsters have got their own unique design that is odd, but again fitting in theme, with movements that again work with the pace of the movie.  And of course, all the lights, punches, and collapsing buildings are beautifully brought to life in all their dazzling, speaker rustling greatness. 

 

The Story:  While certainly not the best to grace the screen, the movie’s predictable plot has a few twists and spins on the mix to keep things interesting.  In a movie where smashing and fights are the key, you don’t always get the deepest tale, but it works in explaining what happened in the ten years and the whole grand design of the plot.  Unlike its predecessor, the movie managed to cut off a lot of fat to present this in a neat, less than 2-hour, package.  As such, you have all the elements to put a reason behind the fighting and keep as many characters as involved.

 

The Acting:  Believe it or not, the acting is a step up from other films in this genre.  The main stars of John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, and Cailee Spaeny all work in that dysfunctional family united by challenging times way.  Still, they all manage to bring some power to otherwise simple characters that are semi-engaging to watch.  Of all of them… I think Boyega gets my vote for having the best acting of all, being pushed across all realms to make a balanced character.  As for Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, they are the comedic relief and do it well, but also manage to have some involvement in the story (nice directing) and not trying to sell themselves anyway. 

 

The Action:  I’ve gone through all the stuff you might care about, but let’s face it, this series is more known for its action and that’s what you want.  Well, for this reviewer it a step up compared to the first installment.  Timing the movie, about 70% of the film involved some type of action, a majority involving the metallic behemoths fighting one giant obstruction after another.  The battles have more variety than part 1, managing to help one differentiate one battle from another.  What makes me even happier to report, is that the team listened to reviews and actually utilized their other robots more, instead of dropping them out in five minutes flat.  While still not the greatest utilization of secondary robots, it was miles better for me in the long run, making the last 30 minutes of the movie, an action-packed climax to close the story out.

 

 

DISLIKES:

The Comedy at Times:  The movie is ridiculous, I get it, but the comedy sometimes is a little too ridiculous and distracting from the overall tone of the movie.  A random aside here and there works, but when over utilized as it is in this film, well…then it gets rusty and breaks down.  In addition, there are some asides that felt awkward at the moment they chose to unleash it, jumping in amidst the action scenes when they would have fit in other realms.  These culminations weren’t my favorite use of comedic relief, as I think it crossed into corniness a few times.

 

Shallow Character Development:  Monster movies are seldom about our main characters growing a lot, but we’ve had previous installments capable of achieving this balance.  Pacific Rim Uprising is not one of these movies.  While Boyega’s Jake has a little more complexity in terms of everyone knowing him, the rest of the cast have less depth to them past a few traumatic backstories to garnish them up.  This is highly evidenced in the other pilots outside the main crew who after getting named are reduced to the shadows given the grand complexity of the film.  Uprising proves too busy to invest in its characters, but most may not care as long as they get a good smashing.  Still better than the last few transformers though. 

 

Obsidian Fury:  As cool as the name and design, I had hoped the new bot would have more point to it, but this is again where the movie fails on at least a story level.  The antagonizing robot brings a pretty epic fist fight, but plot wise it felt out of place, a tangent leading down a path that was as cold as the artic frontier it somewhat takes place in.  Yes, there are some purposes it serves, but as the movie’s plot progresses, its relevance became less and less for me, until it was just a convenient distraction.

 

Trailer Syndrome:  One thing this day of advertising is famous for, is revealing too much in shorter movies like this.  Pacific Rim Uprising’s biggest spoiler is that much of that awesome last battle has already been shown in the trailers.  Catch all three of the trailers and you pretty much have pieced 75% of that sequence, with the other 25% feeling very nostalgic/overdramatic.  I had hoped for some more dynamic moments to bypass that syndrome, or less advertising, but I didn’t get my wish again.  So, avoid the trailers and you’ll be okay.

 

The VERDICT:

            Pacific Rim Uprising doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a monster/robot movie.  It gives you the CGI thrills, spills, and chills in terms of design and the sound editing beautifully complements it.  While the story is not the deepest, it works for the most part, allowing plenty of time to cram in the action you oh so wanted to see.  Yet, the movie still has to work on its balance learning to not cram so much into the film and maximize on elements that the movie is going to be known for.  In addition, stop revealing everything in the trailers and it means less elaborate scenes you have to shoot to make up for it.  So, looking for a monster vs. robot’s movie?  Look no further, because this film is a success in terms of the action and big battles that are theater worthy.  As a film as a whole though, the movie still has a lot of repairs to make, before it becomes war ready.  Oh well, we at least have a soundtrack to get you revved up. 

 

My scores:

Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi:  8.0

Movie Overall:  6.5

 

The 15:17 to Realism

15-17 to paris.jpg

 

Biography movies, another genre victim to dramatization, editing cuts, and wild cards in terms of quality to tell the story.  Yet the great Clint Eastwood has proven to be quite the artist to bring these movies to life in that dark, emotional, presentation we all love.  So, with another biography being released this weekend, yours truly is back to the trenches to give you some insight into the latest movies to sweep the nation.  What is in store for you?  Please read on to find out as I cover: The 15:17 to Paris.

 

LIKES:

Realistic: The movie’s highlight for me is how realistic the journey is, at least in terms of how their life progresses.  That Hollywood magic of instant success, of things falling into the right place at the right time, are essentially absent in this film.  You’ll get to see the struggles of the character’s lives, feel the stinging defeat at the limitations that were in their way, and experience the frustration at the ambiguity life holds. If realism and facts are your preference in these movies, then this film delivers on this premise and probably as close to the truth as you’ll get outside of talking to them.

 

A Fun Vacation:  The chronicle of the heroes’ journey has some pretty fabulous settings that they transverse too.  As the trio begin to tour Europe, you really get to see some fabulous sights of the culture held on that continent.  The way the film is presented, this component of the movie is a fun breakup of the drama, and if you’re like me and haven’t traveled internationally, a nice way to drink in the settings.  In addition, this was probably the most entertaining component of the film.

 

Cinematography:  The movie also gets massive props for the utilization of camera work to sell the emotion of the moment.  Eastwood’s latest film doesn’t have the most memorable moments in acting, but the camera picks up the slack.  Key close ups, dynamic angles, and a constantly evolving structure are the components that help bring this tale to life for me.  Once the sound editing and musical scores come in, that is when the scenes come together and paint the emotional tension of the film.

 

Quick Pace:  Can’t lie, biographies sometimes knock my energy out depending on how long and slow they go.  Like the train though, this movie moves at a very brisk pace, unyielding to the distracting tangents and keeping the film on pace.  As such, this film didn’t lose me and I got to appreciate the tale from start to finish.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Overdramatic opening:  The film starts with a glimpse back into the hero’s childhood days, which can be a tough time.  For me though, these opening moments were where the acting suffered the most.  Many of the teachers seemed to be overly grandiose in their negativity, their attitudes, and prejudice towards the kids.  During parent-teacher conferences, these discussions turned into absurd arguments that seemed more extreme than necessary and to the point of eye-rolling for me.  It’s all based on perspective, but the monstrous portrayal of these teachers either indicates action for their termination, or another example of movie magic gone wrong.

 

Piecemeal Presentation:  I liked the presentation at the start, the integration of the actual event, intertwined with their history.  So, I’m unsure why this concept was dropped a third of the way into the film and ditched for a different presentation. Even weirder, is that the movie felt very piecemeal to me, starting down one angle only to again drop it without any major resolution.  Eastwood’s team kept taking leaps and bounds across the story including: hastily finishing the kid story, dropping the challenges in training, and in many cases forgetting the other major characters.  Speaking of which…

 

One character vs. Three:  The trailers say the film is about the three heroes of the movie, and it starts out that way.  Then once again the other characters get pushed to the back burner, pretty much forgotten until halfway through the final act.  Were the other’s tales just that lacking?  Was it because only one of them did a lot of the physical work in the actual event the reason he was awarded most of the screen time?  Honorable as this may be, the false advertising didn’t impress me so much in the film on something that based its promotion on three characters.  Sorry guys, but the occasional shot of the friends doesn’t count as major storytelling.

 

Overhyped End:  Don’t get me wrong, hostile attacks in any form are intense, scary, and traumatic.  Yet, the hype the trailers placed on this movie was not fulfilled for me.  The tension was low, the theatrics were gone, and in truth it was over in the blink of the eye.  Again, I appreciate the realism, but a little magic at this point could have amped up the suspense and pulled me more into the story. I guess when you expect all three to have majorly stopped the incident, you expect bigger bang, so shame on me for that.  Still, not the most climactic thrills to grace the screen. 

 

 

The VERDICT:

 

            Eastwood is famous for biographies, but this one didn’t have quite the investment, heart, and dynamic his other works have had.  The 15:17 to Paris is certainly a more realistic movie, that keeps a quick pace and nice cinematography to tell pieces of a tale.  While I enjoyed the vacation, aspects presented in the film, the movie failed to unite the fragments together, leading to a very haphazard and unfinished tale for me to enjoy.  With all the hype, I expected more of Eastwood’s dramatic flair to take hold, but this film didn’t quite live up to what the trailers presented.  So, if you’re looking for a realistic, big budget documentary hit the theaters, but my opinion is to save this one for a legal home viewing. 

 

My scores:

Drama/History/Thriller:  5.5

Movie Overall: 4.0

Fate Smiles On Eight!

Fate of the furious

 

A couple of years ago, we had what we thought was the final chapter of the Fast and Furious legacy, ending with the montage of the fallen hero Paul Walker.  Sadly, it seems that the cinema world can’t let it go, and thus comes the subject of my latest review Fate of The Furious (or Fast 8 for short). After the fake, ridiculous of number 7 (minus the ending), I can’t say I was happy from the trailers for this film and how it looked even cheesier.  What is my verdict?  Read on to find out my friends.

 

LIKES:

  • Action more controlled
  • Comedy stays strong
  • Soundtrack
  • Story Is Much Better

 

Summary:  If you remember Furious 7, you remember how over the top the stunts were and the sheer ridiculous factor they had (e.g. superhuman feats, near invincibility, invulnerable cars). Fortunately, Fast 8 toned the action back to the baseline ridiculous of this action franchise, keeping things reeled in to a point of somewhat believability.  While this may tone down the action somewhat, this installment still packs plenty of punch with diverse sequences including: drag racing, gun play, martial arts, and of course car combat.  It’s suspenseful, it’s fun, and at times it is really funny, providing that popcorn flick entertainment value you like.  In addition, the stellar soundtrack contains both musical scores and music that fit well with the movie, (I myself enjoyed a few original R&B/rap songs near the end of the film).

Speaking of funny, Fast 8 doesn’t hold back on the comedic antics that the second film brought. Dwayne Johnson interjects his brand of corny insults and tough talk, establishing a banter rivalry with Jason Statham, who not only has a few clever quips, but finally redeems his pitiful character in this film.  Yet the main source of laughs comes from Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. This comedic duo performs plenty of stunts, deliver plenty of well-written insults, and put their foots in their mouths so many times to keep you chuckling through the entire film. All of the laughs keep things light and relieve the tension to help ground the film into a PG-13 environment.

            Hands down though, is the improvement over the story.  Fast 8 reaches back into its roots for our plot, bringing back the character development and crime element of the film that started it all.  Dom’s tale of deceit throws plenty of nostalgic shade at our leading hero, including some unexpected twists that help tie together SOME of the loose ends. Fans will find plenty of emotion in this film, and hopefully will enjoy the action built around the plot (instead of the other way around). In addition, the fact that Statham’s character is released in this film (making the plot of seven almost useless) was a good thing for all the redemption they brought with his character.  I give the group applause for the improved story element, despite how bad it looked in the trailers (guess you can’t judge a movie by its trailer…sometimes).

 

DISLIKES:

  • Still ridiculous at times
  • Some Cameos not worth it
  • Editing Still needs some work
  • There is going to be a number 9

Summary: Let’s face it, this installment is famous for how ridiculous Hollywood special effects teams want to push the limits of cars.  Fast 8 does not escape this curse, for it is still filled with absolutely hilarious (though somewhat impressive) stunts.  I don’t wish to reveal too much, but let’s just say the submarine racing them isn’t the most ludicrous thing you’ll see, nor the biggest stretch (bad guys can’t seem to aim) of the imagination. Still it is an improvement over 7.

As I said earlier, Fast 8 has some twists you might not see coming, which leads to some unexpected cameos (unless you look at the cast list cheaters!). Some these moments are impressively, or spot on timed to maximize their appearance.  Yet there are others that were wasted and could have greatly been expanded upon to further amplify their involvement. I can’t say much, but I will admit that almost all the guest appearances held pertinence to the story, they just needed more time.

Yet the biggest flaw is still the editing of the films. Fast 8 may have lots of excitement to keep the movie going, but there are plenty of moments that could have been left for the directors’ cut.  A random cousin at the beginning for an almost pointless race, an overdramatic taunt that gets lost in the scheme of the movie, and even a few punch fests just weren’t needed.  In addition, some of the characters felt a little robbed, until that one factor comes in where they are needed.  These sloppy moments feel disjointed, unnecessary, and dilute the story into those eye-rolling moments that could have been so much better.  Perhaps these moments will be strengthened in the next movie, which is a strong hint to come (a shame compared to how well this movie could have tied things up).

 

The Verdict:

 

      Overall, this reviewer liked Fast 8 much better than Furious 7.  With a much better story (strengthening the limitations of its predecessor), toned down stunts, and an atmosphere that feels much like the earlier installments, this movie is a step in the right direction for the impending sequels to come.  Yet, it still doesn’t reach the balance some of the previous films have.  The editing and character balance still needs some work so that all the characters feel absolutely necessary instead of convenient.  Still, it is a worthy theater film, and will provide the aisle stomping entertainment you are looking for. Let’s hope “Fate” smiles on the next sequels to come from this series…and hope they can keep the momentum going.

 

Action/Crime/Thriller:  8.5

Movie Overall: 7.0