Tag Archives: Chris Pine

Unhappy Homemaker

Don’t Worry Darling

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

There’s drama, scandal, ghosting, possible spitting – Don’t Worry Darling is known for it all. And none of it’s even in the movie!

So, if you separate Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort behind the camera from its pre-launch baggage, what do you have? An absolutely gorgeous if somewhat superficial critique of how little progress women – especially married women ­­– have made in terms of agency and control.

Its main recommendation is Florence Pugh, which should surprise no one. Her performances are always fiercely intimate and human; Alice is no different. Lovely wife of Jack Chambers (Harry Styles), Alice cocktails with the ladies, hums while she cleans, prepares a mean roast, and enjoys a healthy sex life with her devoted Jack.

Jack, that’s a manly name. You know what else is? Frank. And manly Frank (Chris Pine) is the force behind the town of Victory. He’s the visionary, the gatekeeper, the Great and Powerful Oz – and Pine relishes every scene-chewing moment on the screen. He is particularly effective when sparring with and menacing Pugh. Their spark is so strong it only makes the rest of the cast appear dimmer.

But we know something is amiss in Victory because nothing screams “something is amiss” to viewers as quickly as a colorfully wholesome late 50s vibe. But man, does Wilde and her production designer Katie Bryon nail that vibe. It’s like Mad Men meets Better Homes and Gardens with cool cars and fabulous costumes to boot, all of it choreographed to flow like the synchronized dance numbers forever punctuating the narrative.

What Wilde shows us is slick, stylish and well-constructed. What she’s telling us is fine, too, it’s just that none of it is as profound as Wilde and screenwriters Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke seem to think it is.

They make salient points about testosterone-laden rabbit holes and the inequalities that many demand of a “great” America, but their hand is rarely subtle. And when it comes, even the Twilight Zone moment lands with more shaky logic than well-earned resonance.

But Don’t Worry Darling isn’t worthy of gossip column dismissal, either. There is talent spread throughout the community here, just nothing in the collective effort that’s truly memorable. And like those hot new developments built on remnants of old ones, the film ultimately feels like a shiny new makeover of familiar ideas.

Whack a Mole

All the Old Knives

by George Wolf

Blending a modern worldview with a slow-burn vibe, All the Old Knives reveals itself as a well-constructed thriller that often recalls those classic espionage yarns from the 70s.

The underrated Chris Pine gives another standout performance as Henry Pelham, a CIA vet who’s directed by his boss (Laurence Fishburne) to reopen a painful case from the past.

Back in 2012, they both were stationed in Vienna when counter-terrorism efforts to thwart a hijacking went tragically wrong. But new information has emerged that suggests the terrorists had help from a fellow agent, so Henry must revisit members of the team – including his old flame Celia (Thandiwe Newton) – to root out the mole.

Based on the best seller by Olen Steinhauer (who also pens the script), the film is admittedly heavy on dialog, but director Janus Metz (Borg vs. McEnroe, True Directive, Armadillo) proves masterfully adept at fleshing out important contrasts in past and present.

His camera remains purposefully static for the modern settings, while a more free-flowing approach to the flashbacks helps to offset all the descriptive recollections by pulling us into crisply detailed reenactments.

The ensemble (which also includes the great Jonathan Pryce) is top notch. Each actor digs in to the intelligent wordplay, picturesque locales and shadows of doubt on the way to crafting complex humans with something to lose.

The third act may bog down just a touch, with a hand that’s tipped perhaps a beat or two early, but none of that keeps the film from sticking its landing. There’s plenty of blame to go around in the often nasty business of global politics, and All the Old Knives makes that history lesson personal.

Gun for Hire

The Contractor

by Hope Madden

Chris Pine is Hollywood’s unsung Chris, isn’t he? Under-sung, anyway. Just because he’s not an Avenger. He is a dependable, charismatic presence in any film, though, which is why each of his efforts deserves a little optimism. Even one as seemingly unremarkable as The Contractor.

Pine plays James Harper, a Navy Seal with 5 tours under his belt. One shredded knee, one worthless lung and a host of other physical consequences from his time under fire mean that Harper is no longer of use to the US military. Debts at home have him entertaining offers he probably shouldn’t.

After too lengthy an Act I, The Contractor pivots to tight action thriller. Pine delivers vulnerability and honor as the damaged service vet, and director Tarik Saleh surrounds him with able support.

The great Ben Foster arrives about 20 minutes into the feature, and that’s never a bad sign. The film’s biggest draw is the chance to see Pine and his Hell or High Water co-star reunite. Foster is among the most effortlessly authentic actors working, every character’s backstory hanging on his face and haunting his eyes.

He and Pine have a lived-in camaraderie that goes a long way toward deepening the emotional underpinning of what is otherwise a blandly repetitive, unimaginative military action flick.

The real surprise is that Saleh — who began his career with the bizarre and amazing dystopian fantasy Metropia — couldn’t produce something a little more intriguing. The by-the-numbers script from J.P. Davis doesn’t help, but aside from a handful of decent fisticuff sequences, Selah does not prove himself as an action director.

Gillian Jacobs, Fares Fares, Eddie Marsan and Kiefer Sutherland — all underused — do what they can to bring nuance to underwritten characters, but it’s not enough to salvage the film.

Rather than elevate a bland picture, the performances feel wasted in this derivative and formulaic thriller.

Eighties Lady

Wonder Woman 1984

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

During a moment in time when a TV personality megalomaniac attains unprecedented and appalling power and threatens global civilization, it’s good to find a little hope in humanity.

Or at least a diversion, so let’s watch Wonder Woman 1984, eh?

Gal Gadot returns, lasso in hand, to defend the world from Eighties-style greed and fashion in a film that homages Reeve-era Superman while it straps some social commentary in shoulder pads, and lets loose with some thrilling fun.

Unburdened by the origin story of her 2017 original, co-writer/director Patty Jenkins is free to expand the hero’s narrative. 1984 finds Diana Prince as a Smithsonian anthropologist working with the socially awkward gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, a blast) when self-help ponzi scam artist Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, slimy perfection) brings Big Comic Book Villainy to the DC mall.

Lord is looking for a 4,000 year old artifact that grants wishes. But when the dream stone gives, it also takes, and Diana’s sleuthing finds that over the many centuries, entire civilizations have paid the cost.

While the last film weakened in the final third with an overly cumbersome finale, WW84 only gets better as it progresses, making that two and a half-hour running time seem much more palatable.

The story turns manage to find real hope in the face of overwhelming global selfishness and the destruction that comes with it. The Reagan-era spin is luminous—Whamtastic, even—and Jenkins displays a delightful knack for the Eighties-style action sequences.

Bigger! Bolder! With leg warmers attached to legs that ain’t afraid to kick a sexist pig where it counts.

Gadot’s easy grace creates a more wizened hero than the naieve goddess of the last go. Jenkins and her co-writers even find a perfectly reasonable and wildly welcome way to bring Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) back from the dead. The chemistry between the two actors again sparkles with endless charm while Pine’s “man out of time” deadpans fuel the funniest lines in the film.

And this film is funny, playful even. But more than anything, this episode is a bow to truth, and to the belief that the truth still means something. If it doesn’t, not even a superhero will be able to save us. And the truth is, WW84 finds a thoroughly entertaining, surprisingly touching way to point that out.

And stay during the credits for a welcome stinger.

Saturday Screamer: Carriers

Carriers (2009)

by Hope Madden

Chris Pine plays against type in this 2009 pandemic horror currently streaming on most platforms including Netflix.

Pine plays Brian, a hardened young man who believes he may be immune to the virus that has decimated the global population. But, just to be safe, he chalks his survival up to a handful of rules he keeps. He also enforces these rules with three fellow survivors: his girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo), his little brother Dany (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Danny’s friend Kate (Emily VanCamp).

Following Brian’s rules to the letter (or else), the four cross the country in search of the childhood vacation destination the boys feel sure is a safe, quiet place to ride out the apocalypse.

Writers/directors/brothers David and Alex Pastor tread some familiar territory here, but their even-handed approach and ear for authentic relationships make for an involving and ultimately moving horror. Character behaviors rarely challenge believability, and the performances suit characters who’ve been dealing with this problem and with each other longer than the audience is aware.

There’s a natural pull between Danny and Bobby: the desire to just survive and the dread of surviving alone, a reluctance to do the wrong thing and yet an even stronger reluctance to wind up the sole survivor.

Character relationships have a real lived-in quality, which gives the film an emotional heft you may not be ready for. Pine, in particular, excels in a role quite unlike those he’s more famous for.

The body horror is effective, but it’s not the real source of horror.

As in all outbreak/infestation/apocalyptic flicks from the earliest Romero to the upcoming Quiet Place 2, this film understands that desperate humans are at least as dangerous as the cause of the pandemic. Interestingly, run-ins with other survivors, both the good and the bad kind, are played in Carriers with a real mixture of terror and sympathy. It’s one of the many reasons that the film delivers a harder emotional punch than you might be expecting.

Across the Universe

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

by George Wolf

Should we really be surprised a spider-based franchise has so many legs?

It wasn’t that many years ago when Spider-Man 2 was the conventional wisdom pick for all time best superhero flick. Then last year, Homecoming erased the memories of some disappointing installments with a tonally perfect reboot.

And now, Spidey gets back to his animation roots with Into the Spider-Verse, a holiday feast of thrills, heart, humor and style that immediately swings to the very top of the year’s animated heap.

Teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore from Dope and The Get Down) is juggling a lot of teen drama. He’s trying to make friends at a new school, make nice with his dad (Brian Tyree Henry), and practice graffiti art with his cool Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), so he really doesn’t need to be dragged into an alternate universe with Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) right now, okay?

But, thanks to an evil plan from Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn), that’s just what happens. And before you can say quantum theory, Miles is meeting kindred heroes from all over the Spider-Verse, including another Spider-Man (Chris Pine), Spider-Man Noir (classic Nicolas Cage), anime version Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham, a hilarious Looney Tunes-style crime fighting pig (John Mulaney).

Writer Phil Lord follows his winning scripts for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie with an even bigger bulls-eye, one that manages to honor franchise traditions as it’s letting in some fresh, hip, and often very funny air.

In the hands of directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, the story bursts to vibrant life. The dazzling animation gives a big soul kiss to comic books and pushes nearly every frame to its action-following limit.

This Spider-Man is filled with everything you want in a superhero flick today. There are compelling characters and engaging conflicts within a diverse climate, and a vital, clearly defined message of empowerment that stays above the type of pandering sure to bring eye-rolls from a kid’s b.s.detector.

And man, is it fun. That still works, too.





Believing Takes Practice

A Wrinkle in Time

by Hope Madden

It was a dark and stormy night.

With this cheeky line, Madeleine L’Engle began an odyssey that entertained and emboldened, taught us to take responsibility for our own choices, highlighted the drawbacks of conformity and showed us how to be warriors for the light.

L’Engle’s novel, A Wrinkle in Time, though massively popular and never out of print since its 1970 publication, had its critics. Not Christian enough to be Christian, too Christian not to be, it was also among the first SciFi novels with a female point of view. This wasn’t taken super well by adults in 1970, but it was immediately and forever beloved by its intended audience.

A Wrinkle in Time was smart and groundbreaking, which, of course, makes it the ideal tale for Ava DuVernay.

Can the filmmaker who landed two near-perfect punches of social commentary in the last four years (Selma, 13th) bring this imaginative, vibrant, lovely classic of adolescent literature to life?

Yes and no.

With the help of scripters Jennifer Lee (Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia), DuVernay remains faithful enough to L’Engle’s vision without being limited by it. But she stumbles to translate some of the more dated concepts in the book, creating a conclusion that feels a bit rushed and confused.

Her picture looks glorious, though, conjuring images and movements vibrant enough to stand up to our own imaginations.

Of course, the casting is where DuVernay, with little fanfare and no disruption in the story, breaks the most ground. Storm Reid (Sleight) turns out to be the best choice the director makes, offering the perfect mix of adolescent self-loathing and smarts as our reluctant hero, Meg.

On the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of her NASA scientist father, Meg is called on a mission across time and space to find him. She’s joined by her genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe, perfectly precocious and/or creepy, depending on need), a cute (and, let’s be honest, needless) boy from school (Levi Miller) and three unusual women (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling).

Their adventure is colorful and beautiful. It’s also full of lessons that feel less like a sledgehammer than reasonable nudging. (“You can do this. You’re choosing not to.”)

The supporting cast—Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw—balance the fantastical with the heartfelt. Galifianakis is particularly impressive.

Yes, there are more than a few corny, too-precious moments, but it is a kids’ movie. DuVernay can be credited with keeping that audience in mind to create a lovely film unabashed enough to bear-hug L’Engle’s message of positivity.





Amazon Delivers

Wonder Woman

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

What with rumors of recuts, controversies over costuming and the recent hubbub caused by all-female screenings, Wonder Woman has caused quite a stir.

Of course, she’s been causing a stir since 1941.

In the hotly anticipated film directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster), the Amazon princess is compelled to leave her peaceful paradise when WWI American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands. Learning for the first time about the global destruction, she sees it as her duty to try to end the war.

Gal Gadot returns, after a brief turn as the highlight in Batman V Superman, this time shouldering lead duties in the role she seemed destined for. Her action sequences are convincing – two years in the Israeli military will do that. Playing a newcomer to “civilized” society, Gadot finds an appropriate balance of naiveté and self-sufficiency.

Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg (in his film debut after an arc of WW comics and years in TV) also strike an effective balancing act with the multiple elements at work in their film: period war drama, sweeping romance, action film and superhero origin story.

That origin story, with an inherent freshness unburdened by multiple reboots, is part coming of age, part fish out of water. As it introduces a new hero and questions if the world deserves her, Wonder Woman benefits from a bit of easy charm and the deft handling of some touchy items.

Chris Pine is the charm. As the dashing Capt. Trevor, he carries self-aware good humor and comfortable chemistry with the lead, and he delivers a few of the film’s best lines.

As for Jenkins’s handling, there’s much to be said for the minefield she inherited with this project: the costume, the lasso – hell, the cartoon Wonder Woman has an invisible jet. There’s plenty to ridicule here, or, for a fanboy, to revere.

Jenkins, finding middle ground between Marvel’s wisecracking and DC’s weighty seriousness, inserts light humor, occasionally reverses traditional comic book gender roles with success, and still manages to simply craft a solid superhero movie.

She can’t escape the genre penchant for excess, and by the third act, Wonder Woman starts feeling every bit of its two-hour and twenty-minute running time. But there is definite hope here, not only for humanity, but the future of the DC film universe.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Texas Two Step

Hell or High Water

by Hope Madden

Two brothers in West Texas go on a bank robbing spree. Marshalls with cowboy hats pursue. It’s a familiar idea, certainly, and Hell or High Water uses that familiarity to its advantage. Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) embraces the considerable talent at his disposal to create a lyrical goodbye to a long gone, romantic notion of manhood.

Two pairs of men participate in this moseying road chase. Brothers Toby and Tanner – Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively – are as seemingly different as the officers trying to find them. Those Texas Marshalls, played with the ease that comes from uncommon talent, are Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham).

Though both pairs feel like opposites at first blush, their relationships are more complicated than you might imagine. Foster, a magnificent character actor regardless of the film, is a playful menace. Though Pine’s Toby spends the majority of the film quietly observing, his bursts of energy highlight the kinship. Their often strained banter furthers the story, but moments of humor – many landing thanks to Foster’s wicked comic sensibility – do more to authenticate the relationship.

Likewise, Bridges – wearing the familiar skin of a grizzled old cowboy – makes every line, every breath, ever racist barb feel comfortably his own. Birmingham impresses as well, quietly articulating a relationship far muddier than the dialog alone suggests.

These four know what to do with Taylor Sheridan’s words.

Sheridan more than impressed with his screenwriting debut, last year’s blistering Sicario. Among other gifts, the writer remembers that every character is a character and his script offers something of merit to every body on the screen – a gift this cast does not disregard.

The supporting actors populating a dusty, dying landscape make their presence felt, whether Dale Dickey’s wizened bank teller, Katy Mixon’s spunky diner waitress, or a hilarious Margaret Bowman as another waitress you do not want to cross.

Even with the film’s unhurried narrative, not a moment of screen time is wasted. You see it in the investment in minor characters and in the utter, desolate gorgeousness of Giles Nuttgen’s photography. Every image Mackenzie shares adds to the air of melancholy and inevitability as our heroes, if that’s what you’d call any of these characters, fight the painful, oppressive, emasculating tide of change.

A film as well written, well acted, well photographed and well directed as Hell or High Water is rare. Do not miss it.

Verdict-4-5-Stars





The Frontier Strikes Back

Star Trek Beyond

by George Wolf

Kirk. Spock. Bones. Wisecracks, a villain, and some heroic space swashbuckling. We’re pretty familiar with the Star Trek setup by now, and three flicks into the J.J. Abrams-fueled reboot, the latest seems the most comfortable in its journey. And though Star Trek Beyond doesn’t quite boldly go, it is a fun, satisfying ride.

Three years into a five-year mission, the crew of the Enterprise stops for some downtime at an immense new space station. Kirk (Chris Pine) in awaiting a promotion, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is mulling a return home to Vulcan, and Bones (Karl Urban), good God, man, he has some fun needling Spock about a botched romance with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

The gang gets back in action to answer the distress call of a stranded crew, but falls into the trap of the Kahn-like Krall (Idris Elba), who’s after a very powerful artifact that Kirk just happens to be holding.

Fast and Furious vet Justin Lin takes over for Abrams in the director’s chair and, working with a snappy script co-written by Simon Pegg (“Scotty”), has the film feeling like a fun Trek TV episode beamed up to the multiplex.

Though the adventure is a little tardy getting its legs, things only get better as they go along. The banter is crisp, the derring-do daring, and the chemistry of the ensemble, so important in a franchise such as this, is undeniable.

Spectacular only in spots, what Beyond does best is honor its own heritage while planning for the future. The nods to its TV past run from cheesy to ingenious, even finding a clever way to acknowledge the effect the entire Star Trek phenomenon has had on popular culture.

After the trying-too-hard reach of Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond strikes just the right note. More of this? I’m on board.

Verdict-3-5-Stars