Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Maestro" 4K Review

 It's Prestige Movie Season & Netflix's big Oscar-bait entry this year is Maestro, the biopic about legendary composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein that could've been titled Bradley Cooper Demands You Give Him All The Oscars! as the preposterously handsome & talented Cooper follows up his 2018 A Star Is Born re-re-remake with a checkbox-checking biopic that is highly likely to earn him four Oscar nominations personally for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Original Screenplay (with Josh Singer, Spotlight). (UPDATE: It didn't get Director, but it got the others as well as Best Actress, Cinematography, Makeup & Hairstyling, and Sound.)

 Told in three time periods (in a row after a brief late day prologue; not the jumbled cross-cutting Christopher Nolan relishes to his stories detriment) it opens in 1943 when a 25-year-old Bernstein gets the call to fill in for a New York Philharmonic performance, where he's an assistant conductor, after the guest conductor falls ill and the main man is out of town. Despite the no notice substitution, he becomes an instant star in a time when you could become a star for conducting. Since the performance isn't shown, we just have to take their word for it.

Elevated into society's upper echelons, Lenny meets Felicia (Carey Mulligan), an actress at a party and they become smitten with each other which is bad news for his boyfriend David (Matt Bomer). Being the 1940s when no one was openly gay, it was common for gay men to marry and have children, so Lenny and Felicia do just that, well aware of what he is.

The film then jumps ahead to the late-1950s where the couple are being interviewed for a television show and in sly Basil Exposition manner we're caught up on their career successes, especially Bernstein's in the wake of composing the score for West Side Story. But strain is showing in their marriage as his boozing and cruising begins to offend Felicia. As the story moves into the late-1960s, she gets very angry that the gay man she married is seeing men still and that the kids are beginning to catch wind of it, though he fends off his eldest daughter Jamie's (Maya Hawke) concerns by saying it's petty jealous of his unbearable talent.

Though their relationship turns cold, they remain married and he supports her through her losing battle with breast cancer, passing in 1978. The film then bounces to a coda in 1987 where we see him conducting, teaching, and dancing with men to the music of Tears For Fears.

Cooper attempts to do something different with the stock biopic template by dropping in to various waypoints of Bernstein's life as fame and recklessness test his marriage, but as a result almost all of what Bernstein is remembered for - the music - is curiously sideline with the exception of a showstopping recreation of the legendary performance of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony in 1973 which Cooper says he spent six years learning to mimic Bernstein's movements to actually lead the orchestra. [UPDATE: As John Mulaney joked at Cooper at the Oscars Governor's Awards ceremony he hosted, "We wouldn't have known if you hadn't."]

Ironically, he also doesn't really lean into the sexual aspects very explicitly which leaves us with a movie about a gay musician whom we don't really see making much music or being gay. Cooper said in an interview that he wanted to bring something more than the usual stuff of biopics and that audiences would be familiar with his music, so didn't need to see it rehashed. This is a tactical error of the screenplay because as hard as Cooper and Mulligan work to convey their underlying love even as their marriage disintegrates because, well, dude was gay (which wasn't a surprise), it always feels like we're denied seeing why he's legendary. Biopics shouldn't be deep cut trivia for superfans.

While the script is disappointing, Cooper's direction is superlative. [UPDATE: He deserved to be nominated over three of the actual nominees; the ones not named Nolan or Lanthimos.] He executes some location transitions in a fresh way such as when Lenny and Felicia race in from a patio, viewed from overhead, emerging in a theater balcony. He stages their courtship using the dancer sailors from On The Town, which he'd scored, as a backdrop.

But more than using aspect ratio changes and shifts from B&W to color - Matthew Libatique's cinematography is on point with early scenes a luminous 1.33:1 B&W to evoke the feel of old movies in the 1940s; later ones in color and 1.85:1 widescreen with addition color grading tweaks - which has been used by the likes of Christopher Nolan and Wes Anderson to indicate different time periods, Cooper calibrates the performances to mimic the style of acting in those eras. The 1940s scenes are enunciated crisply with rat-a-tat-tat Mid-Atlantic accents (even Sarah Silverman fits in as Bernstein's sister) then become more like Douglas Sirk in the Fifties and even more naturalistic in later times. I wonder how many people didn't even catch these subtle shifts?

Mulligan is practically the lead as the long-suffering Felicia - she's top billed over Cooper - and she makes us understand why she persists in this partially sham marriage even when she could've walked out, though her bitterness at not wanting to tolerate what she tolerated for two decades is her own fault.

Cooper is also excellent. Like Brad Pitt, he's generally been underrated as an actor because he's so damn good looking and he's been nominated four times for acting [UPDATE: this is #5 for acting and he's up to 12 overall!] I'm generally down on imitation performances because there is so much reference footage to work up an impersonation from, but here he sidesteps it by omitting all the stuff there'd be footage to copy and he almost completely disappears underneath the makeup, mostly looking like himself in the early years, totally unrecognizable as the lifelong chain smoker with leathery skin in his later days.

About the makeup, because everything in this timeline is stupid and people just aren't happy unless they're outraged about something, there was some squawking about his prosthetic proboscis being anti-Semitic, playing off the "Jew nose" stereotype, but fercryingoutloud, Bernstein had a prominent honker and King of the WASPs Cooper doesn't. It's not a hate crime to look like the subject. (Was Gary Oldman buried under a fat suit and prosthetics to play Winston Churchill in his Oscar-winning role in The Darkest Hours "fat-shaming"?)

While well-executed from performance to visuals to tone, Maestro feels more like a companion piece to a more factual documentary on Leonard Bernstein than a satisfying portrait of one of the 20th Century's leading classical lights.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Dream Scenario" Review

Sometimes a movie has an intriguing germ of an idea, but not enough of that idea to tell a satisfactory story and the latest example of that sort of thing is A24's Dream Scenario which takes a very good, restrained Nicolas Cage performance and an intriguing premise about as far as it can go before wandering off lost in the woods because there is no real point to be made.

 Cage stars as Paul Matthews, a college biology professor for whom the term "nondescript" implies much more pizazz than he exhibits. He's got a wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson, Mare of Easttown), and two teenage daughters, Hannah (Jessica Clement) and Sophie (Lily Bird) and lives in a very nice home, but his students don't really pay attention in class and he's feeling professionally disrespected, if not ripped off by a colleague who seems to be basing her work on his concepts. But being a dull man in an oversized parka with a fuzzy fur collar, who cares, right?

 Things get more interesting when he notices strangers looking at him more than seems called for even without the coat, but the reason isn't known until an old girlfriend of his, Claire (Marnie McPhail Diamond), approaches him and Janet after seeing a play, telling them that Paul as been appearing regularly in her dreams. She asks if she could write about this odd occurrence on her blog and he agrees, but wakes up shortly thereafter to have 100+ messages on FaceSpace from people who found his profile and shared that they too have been seeing him in their dreams.

Regardless of what the dreamer's scenario is - teeth falling out; being chased by a monster in a surreal landscape; trapped in an earthquake; holding a dying friend - the common element is that Paul appears, but says and does nothing and seems disconnected from the situation. Of course the media hops on this curiosity and Paul immediately goes viral.

However, sudden fame has its downsides as a mentally unbalanced man breaks into the family home and tries to kill the man from his dreams. Trying to make a produce stand out of these dreamy lemons, Paul takes a meeting with a branding marketing startup called Thoughts? run by Trent (Michael Cera, not at all like he used to be) who wants to use Paul's fame to influence dreamers into drinking Sprite. Paul wants a book deal, but for a hard science book, not some instant fame cash-in, so there's not much agreement to be found.

 After the meeting, he goes for drinks with Trent's assistant Molly (Dylan Gelula, who played Xanthippe, Jane Krakowski's hot surly daughter on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) who confides in him that she had a really hot sex dream with him and wants him to come over to reenact it. This goes about as well as you'd expect for a guy who wears that coat, but things in general take a very dark turn as the multitudes who have Paul in their dreams start to find him to be an increasingly hostile visitor and the backlash begins.

At the center of Dream Scenario is a very good performance from Cage who has been tinkering with the balance between paycheck gigs to actual acting roles lately with a wrongly Oscar-snubbed performance in Pig and his self-deprecating take on himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. With a male pattern baldness coif and those dad clothes, Cage's Paul is a decent, but weak man, who tries to ride out an increasingly bizarre situation that is wholly out of his control yet entirely not of his making. He didn't purposely intrude on people's dreams, he doesn't control what they experience, yet the whole world holds it against him.

There are several concepts that Norwegian writer-director-editor Kristoffer Borgli attempts to play with - the fleeting fickleness and shallowness vapidity of viral fame, the semi-emasculated condition of some men at the hands of conniving women, the way today's snowflake Zoomer generation can't cope with the slightest adversity - but he never plunges wholly into any of them with much teeth or gusto. If only he'd picked a topic nailed its absurdities.

It doesn't help that when the dreams stop and the concept of a gizmo which allows people to enter other's dreams - BOUNDARIES, ANYONE?!? - which becomes just another influencer marketing racket (hot on the heels of the latest South Park episode mocking this), it all fizzles out into a underdeveloped last movement which reveals that Borgli had a good idea, but that idea just couldn't prop up a satisfying feature-length narrative. (It's like so many Saturday Night Live sketches which just trail off because they can't write a button for it.)

Just as with Netflix's Leave The World Behind a few weeks ago which stretched a Twilight Zone episode's premise over a 400% longer runtime, Dream Scenario also feels like it would've been a good Twilight Zone episode in the 45-minute-long range. As it is, it's not a nightmare but just a dream that ends just as it could've gotten good.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.

"The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" 4K Review

After The Hunger Games tetralogy (what Alien fans know as "quadrilogy" after that 4-film DVD release) wrapped up in 2015, it's been quiet in the young adult dystopian future business after the Divergent series flamed out one movie short of its conclusion. (Divergent was the GoBots of Hunger Games books/movies. I tried to read the first one and bailed halfway through because the writing was so bad.) So when the trailer for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes dropped, my reaction was puzzlement as to where this came from and who exactly was asking for a prequel movie about President Snow, who was played by Donald Sutherland in the original series? Apparently series author Suzanne Collins had published this in 2020 and here we are.

 Set 64 years before the events of the first Hunger Games film, BoS&S (not typing that full title) tells the story of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blythe in a star-maker performance), the 18-year-old son of General Crassus Snow whose father was killed in the civil war between the Capitol of Panem and the Districts. He lives in poverty with his sister, Tigris (Hunter Schafer), and Grandma'am (Fionnula Flannagan) while attending the Academy, but any hopes of attending University ride on winning the Plinth Prize scholarship.

But on the day he expects to be named winner, a whammy is dealt in the form of an announcement by the Academy's dean and creator of the Hunger Games, Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage sporting a goatee that doubles his body mass), that the Plinth won't be awarded to the top student as Snow expected, but there would be an additional judging criteria, namely the 24 students would be assigned mentorship roles to one of the tributes from the Reaping for the upcoming 10th Hunger Games.

Adding to the pressure is the appearance of current Head Gamemaker, Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis, eviling it up), who complains that the ratings are down and the citizens of Capitol are bored of the Games, so ideas for boosting ratings would be appreciated. Meanwhile, Highbottom has saddled Snow with the girl tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a musician whose reaping may've been rigged by the Mayor of the District.

 Snow comes up with a proposal for people to sponsor the tributes and donate funds which could be used to supply food, water, medicine, etc. to those in the arena and visits Lucy at the zoo where the tributes are held prior to the Games. While visiting the arena to plan strategy, rebels set off bombs which kill several tributes and mortally wounds the President's son.

But the Games go on and while Highbottom instructs the mentors to concentrate on making their tributes entertaining, Snow wants to keep her alive, which he does by providing assistance which when discovered leads Highbottom to expel him from school and sentence him to 20 years as a Peacekeeper in a District. Initially assigned to District 8, he bribes someone to ship him to District 12 in hopes of finding Lucy.

 Which he does and begins to have a surreptitious relationship with her, but her possible involvements with the rebels along with his friend Sejanus (Josh Andres Rivera) seeming to go native to the cause puts Snow in a bind between friendship, love, duty, and wanting to get back to the Capitol or escape with Lucy to freedom in the wilds.

BoS&S has an odd three-part, but not three-act, structure with each chapter given titles - The Mentor, The Prize, The Peacekeeper - and contributes to a 2h 37m runtime that feels like half of a sequel has been appended onto this prequel. Previous installments had structures with the first half leading up to the Games and the second showing the Games with the 2nd and 3rd films ending on cliffhangers to pique interest. I didn't note the time, but it felt like there was another 45-60 minutes of story after the Games conclude and what happens didn't really illuminate what turned Snow from an empathetic young man into the cruel monster Sutherland embodied.

The hook of the Star Wars prequels was we would learn how a little boy would grow up to be a Jedi Knight only to turn to the Dark Side of the Force and become Darth Vader. Since we know where he ends up, in an walking iron lung, the trip is everything as he is meant to be a tragic fallen hero. But we know he wasn't always bad because Obi-Wan Kenobi mentioned that Luke Skywalker's father was a good friend (while hiding the connection to Big Black Badness until The Empire Strikes Back) so we go in knowing we'll see a good guy break bad. What was the hint that President Snow had a softer side when he was young?

Still that we're even interested in this superfluous tale rests on the performance of Blyth who handles the spotty script's turns ably. The missus was taken by his resemblance to David Bowie, even calling out his closing costume as a direct homage to Station To Station-era photos - someone book the biopic stat! - while apparently the Internet found his buzzcut Peacekeeper look more Eminemesque. I have no idea if they're going to make more Hunger Games Snow Saga movies, but they've got the right guy for the job.

Zegler's performance is more problematic - not because of her off-camera antics being a spoiled brat and mouthing off so much about Snow White that she's cost Disney untold tens of millions of dollars to reshoot their cursed live-action remake to undo the damage caused by their woke take on the material and her unhelpful comments - but because she plays Lucy with a syrupy twang that sounds like a modern girl mocking Dolly Parton. She has a great singing voice - she was Maria in Steven Spielberg's unnecessary West Side Story remake - but Lucy is written too thinly and cryptically for her to embody what it is that makes Snow go to such lengths to save her then try to be with her only to, well, you'll see.

Dinklage is money, as usual, making us wonder why he seems to have it in for Snow while constantly reminding us how he was his father's best friend. The revelation of just why he visits the sins of the father on the son is a twist at the end.

Davis chews the scenery as Dr. Gaul, reveling in the "muttations" she makes for the Games like the titular snakes and the living tape recorder jabberjays. It's a coin toss as to which villain Davis plays - Gaul or Suicide Squad/Peacemaker series' Amanda Waller (which is basically Oprah right down to the murdering) - is the bigger bad, but she's having a ball. 

Honorable mention goes to Jason Schwartzman who plays "Lucky" Flickerman - presumably related to Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman in the original films - the weathercaster who also hosts the Games broadcast. He is our representative of the vacuity of Capitol's residents.

Director Frances Lawrence, who directed the last three Hunger Games movies, does a good job with the material and it's interesting to see how modest the early Games were with combat in a rather small enclosed arena (not the massive outdoor environments we're accustomed to) and the tributes held in a zoo pen to be gawked at instead of styled and showcased like contestants on Panem Idol before being sent to die for the entertainment of the Capitol. But with small scale games and way too much intrigue in that third chapter, there's not much he can do for excitement.

While an odd cash grab telling an unneeded story, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes isn't especially bad, but bloated and unfocused, paying too much attention to some things while short shrifting others. But if there was another installment, I'd give it a look, so we'll see if the franchise's odds are in their favor.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.

"Christmas Bloody Christmas" Review

For some reason the missus didn't want to watch any of the usual Christmas movie fare this year, but suggested the Shudder Original Christmas Bloody Christmas which was described as "robot Santa goes on killing spree on Christmas Eve." Not very reasony for the seasony, but OK.

Riley Dandy (Netflix's That's Amor, and reminds me of Gillian Jacobs) stars as Tori, the owner of an independent record store in a small California town. It's Christmas Eve and she's planning on a Tindr hookup, but is talked out of it by her employee Robbie (Sam Delich), who's attracted to her. He convinces her to go to the bar with him instead and on the way they stop at the toy store where their friends Jay (Jonah Ray) and Lahna (Dora Madison) work. 

Also at the toy store is one of the robot Santas (Abraham Benrubi, ER) which an opening news report informs us are being recalled because there have been reports that they're reverting to their original firmware programming. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that these Santas were repurposed military combat droids - basically Terminators in red suits and white beards. What could go wrong? A: Everything, which is why we have this movie.

 While the overall production feels low budget from the occasionally questionable casting to the budget special makeup effects to the luridly lit cinematography which I mistook for cheap digital freaking out over all the red, green, and blue neon lights (it's actually film!), there's one aspect which elevated this basic story above your general slasher flick ilk: the writing. (No! Yes!)

 The banter between the characters, especially Tori and Robbie and their friends then later with a bartender, is elevated in a movie chatter style, but doesn't get into the "everyone talks like Kevin Smith and is an expert on comic books" territory. The characters are distinct and we get to know them beyond mere two-dimensional cartoon archetypes awaiting their inevitable slaughter so when they start getting whacked, he feel their loss.

The ending Final Girl vs. RoboSanta battle drags on a bit and the final shot is poorly considered and leaves the viewer on an unsatisfying note, but overall Christmas Bloody Christmas is a pleasantly surprising option for those unable to decide whether they want to watch a horror movie OR a Christmas movie. Why not both?

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable/streaming. (It's on Shudder.)

This trailer pretty much gives away the whole movie, so skip it if you plan on watching the movie proper.

"Silent Night" Review

 You probably didn't notice, but it's been 20 years since legendary Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo - who made his name with action-packed crime dramas like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled then had a decent run in Hollywood with Broken Arrow, Mission: Impossible II, and the best, Face/Off - has made a Hollywood movie, 2003's Paycheck. He's been working back in China, most notable the two Red Cliff films, but now he's back with Silent Night, a unique premise for a Christmas-set movie that was met with middling reviews and audience disinterest, resulting in a rapid trip to streaming in a few weeks.

 Silent Night is about Brian (Joel Kinnaman), a grieving father whose son was killed by a stray bullet when a rolling gun battle between rival gangs passed their home. When he tried to chase down the participants, one gang banger, Playa (Harold Torres), who sports a questionable face tattoo choice shoots him in the throat, robbing him of his voice and providing the movie its hook: There is almost no dialogue spoken by anyone.

After a month in the hospital, he returns home with his wife, Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace), where he becomes withdrawn, spending his days guzzling straight booze in the garage. After a few months of this, he decides to do something with his life. He gets a calendar, writes "KILL THEM ALL" on the block for December 24, the anniversary of his son's death, then gets down to training to do this. While in the beginning he can't do a single pull-up and seems to hit the ceiling of the range more than the target with his gun, as the deadline nears he gets ripped and on target.

 However, in one smart nod to reality, the first time he tries to use his new combat skills learned off YouTube against someone other than practice dummies, he is almost killed because someone is actually fighting back. He's not Rambo and theoretical practice only gets you so far. That said, his night of vengeance sees him up his game, especially driving and shooting, though never to John Wick level, naturally.

 At its core, Silent Night is a bog standard revenge flick which I'm normally friendly too, but here the conceit is the only distinguishing factor and the gimmick is distracting because it's so unnatural. Other than radios giving dates to mark the passage of time (as if the calendar couldn't provide that) or police chatter, there is no reason why no one else speaks other than the gimmick. This makes for a lot of free time for viewers watching at home to provide their own MST3K/Rifftrax commentary such as when Brian goes into his son's untouched bedroom with stuffed animals strewn on the floor and I cried, "Oh no! No one fed the animals for four months and they starved!" Yes, it undercuts the emotional intent of the scene, but we make our own fun at times.

Kinnaman has one gear for most of his performances - glowering - and he does that here as well with a side of grief. Moreno has little to do but grieve and Kid Cudi as the silent police detective who is peripherally involved does what he can with what little there is to do.

As for Woo, he still has it in his mid-70s and checks a couple of his signature move boxes (yes to shooting with two guns, but not while diving; yes to slow-motion donning of a coat; no to doves scattering in the middle of a gunfight) and there are a couple of really gnarly kills, but this all seems like an experiment which at 1h 44m is much too long for what it does. 

If you want good vengeance, stick with the John Wick series. If you want a violent "Christmas" movie full of bloodshed, but you've seen Elf too many times, check out Violent Night (currently on Prime Video).

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Leave The World Behind" 4K Review

 It's Prestige Movie Season which means Netflix is putting its big awards bait movies in theaters for brief runs before bringing them home to streaming. This week's arrival is the adaptation of a 2020 novel Leave The World Behind starring Oscar winners Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali, Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke, and Kevin Bacon in a film written and directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail. So prestige. Much stars. Wow.

Roberts is Amanda, a brittle misanthropic advertising exec who wakes up her college professor husband Clay (Hawke) one morning with news that she'd booked a rental of a luxurious home out on Long Island for them and their two kids - 16-year-old Archie (Charlie Evans, who looks like a more butch Timothee Chalamet) and 13-year-old Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). They head out and arrive and settle in before going to the beach where their sun and sand are interrupted by a massive oil tanker running aground right where they were sitting.

 Already rattled by that, the WiFi and cable TV at the house goes down and there's no cell service which really irritates Rose because she's been binging Friends and was about to watch the final episode and can't wait to learn what happens. (She gets off the plane, kid. SPOILER ALERT!) With little else to do, the kids turn in while their parents stay up when there's a knock at the door.

They find a talk black man in a tuxedo and a young woman in an evening dress and they claim they're G.H. (Ali), the owner of the house and his daughter, Ruth (Myha'la). They were in NYC for a Philharmonic concert, but there was a blackout and with G.H. unable to climb 14 floors of stairs to their Park Avenue Manhattan home, they decided to come to their Long Island place. Amanda is extremely suspicious, but with no way to bring up their emails and G.H. conveniently having left his wallet in his checked coat, there's no proof of their identity. (More on this later.)  Ultimately, Amanda and Clay agree to let these folks stay in their own home, down in the basement in-law suite, after G.H. give them $1000 cash refund on their rental.

 The next day, there is still no communication with the outside world so Clay tries to go into town to get a newspaper and see if anyone knows anything while G.H. goes to a neighbor's a couple of miles away to see what they know and what they find is confusion and horror involving leaflet-dropping drones and crashing passenger planes. Meanwhile back at the ranch, animals are acting very weird and deafeningly loud noises which crack windows and tablet screen increase the feeling of unease.

While Leave The World Behind seems to be a decent premise (more on that later as well), its failing is due to too few details stretched out over a way too long runtime (2h 21m) with so many superfluous scenes and ultimately no point it's trying to make. Is it about racism as the wealthy white couple (who can afford $2000+ for a weekend lark) is suspicious of the even richer black people? Is it about our dependence on technology for everything and how the moment the system crashes, we can't survive such primitive lives like they were way back in, say 1995? Is it about some evil people triggering societal collapse for power? Is it about how we mistreat the environment? All or none of the above or somewhere in between?

The problems begin with Esmail's script. There are too many scenes which could've been cut without being missed beginning with an encounter Clay has with a Mexican woman who doesn't speak English and we spend a couple of minutes with her frantically speaking to his uncomprehending ears before he drives away. A scene where Archie tries to freak out Rose with the proposal someone was watching her room from a shed in the woods is more suited for a younger child and not a 13-year-old who watches The West Wing but "only the Aaron Sorkin seasons." And the scene where Amanda, who was being nasty to G.H. minutes before, and he dance to an R&B song culminating in their having to proclaim they love their spouses so this moment couldn't go on is both telegraphed and out of nowhere. 

He never seems to want to land on a firm point either. With the film executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, you'd expect some heavy-handed moralizing about how extremely wealthy black people are the real victims here, but Esmail limits the race-baiting to some snark from Ruth. There's an irony that the one character the audience is supposed to see as a someone to look down on, G.H.'s contractor, Danny (Kevin Bacon), a Doomsday prepper stereotype who probably votes for not Democrats is the one they run to for help since he's exactly one of "those people" who can handle the end of the world. 

But even more basically, it does what The Walking Dead always did to drag out tension and distrust which is to have people refuse to do or say basic things which would diffuse distrust. How many times on TWD did various groups fear each other because no one bothered to ask, "Hey, what's your story?" Nope, it was always six episodes of glowering and suspicion. Why didn't G.H. just say something like, "In the music room is a wall of vinyl albums and on the leftmost column about eye level, in the Ds, is a copy of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew signed by Miles reading, 'Stay cool, G.H.'" Because we would be denied 10 minutes of Amanda seeming racist or paranoid.

Then there's Esmail's direction. While he uses a few of his Mr. Robot framing tropes, he seems to have watched David Fincher's Panic Room and decided to see how many impossible camera shots he could include as the camera moves through floors, walls and windows with the magic of CGI. When done properly, the viewer probably doesn't even notice the impossibility of a movie camera to pass between railing spindles or a coffee pot handle. 

In Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, there's a 2-1/2 minute scene where the camera follows a minivan careening down a highway while the camera circles around and through the vehicle but the viewer is so riveted by the drama they may not realize what they saw was impossible to film as shown. Here Esmail wants the viewer to notice every time he uses these tricks like when the camera passes through a doorwall then the CGI glass appears then the reflection in the glass. Suddenly you're not paying attention to the story, you're distracted by the technical showoffery.

There's also a question of the geography of the location. Presumably they're in the semi-rural east end of Long Island, but everything seems to be more like farm country where houses are miles apart, except there's another mansion a short walk through the woods. But some shots towards the end make it look like they're just across a river from the City except you'd have to be on the west end where Brooklyn and Queens are. Everything is very close or extremely far at random.

The performances are solid across the small cast with Ali delivering his usually solid work as a man who gradually realizes he may've been more forewarned then he realized. Hawke is OK, but you pity that he's married to Robert's one-note harridan. There's a scene which tries to explain why she hates everyone, but it's like everything else, too little, too who cares?

But the biggest problem is that pretty much the entire scenario was told in two whole fewer hours in a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (S1E22) which is about a cul-de-sac which experiences a power and communication outage and after a kid says he read in a comic book that aliens may be behind the event and that they send advance scouts who look human to blend into the neighborhood, everyone immediately goes DEFCON 1 and suspects each other with disastrous consequences. It's a very memorable episode and it only takes 25 minutes to tell its tale. (It's on Amazon Freevee if you'd like to watch it.)

 While I can't recommend Leave The World Behind it's probably the highest-scoring Skip It movie I can recall. Nothing about it is especially bad, but it's simply not very good, especially at this runtime. Movies running too damn long is a chronic problem and it really needs to be addressed by Hollyweird. If it was chopped down to 100 minutes, it'd be far more effective by still be four times as long as The Twilight Zone's version.

Technically, the Atmos sound mix (limited to those in the most expensive Premium tier) has some cool overhead effects with planes flying around and the positioning of sounds around the environment. Visually, the Dolby Vision doesn't offer much bright highlights, but helps with shadows and color.

Score: 5/10. Skip it. Watch The Twilight Zone instead.

"Bullet To The Head" Review

 After the tedium & vacuity of Killers of the Flower Moon, we needed something less pretentious and quick, so it was time to catch up on Bullet to the Head, the 2013 Sylvester Stallone-topped crime drama which also co-starred Sung Kang (Han from the Furry Fastness series), Jason Momoa (Broseidon), and Sarah Shahi (Sex/Life).

 Sly is Jimmy Bobo, a career criminal and hitman whom we meet with his partner, Louie (Jon Seda), as they pose as cops to gain entry to a New Orleans hotel room where they execute their target, Greely (Holt McCallany). While checking for witnesses, Jimmy finds a hooker in the bathroom, but doesn't kill her because he's a nice hitman. They go to a noisy bar to have a post-murder drink, but when Jimmy goes to the bathroom, Keegan (Momoa), fatally stabs Louie and almost gets Jimmy, but since we're only a few minutes into a 91-minute movie, he survives and Keegan gets away.

 At the police station, Washington D.C. detective Taylor Kwan (Kang) arrives and announces he's interested in the hotel killing because Greely was his former partner, a cop gone bad and fired, but still his ex-partner. He learns that Jimmy was a known associate of Louie, a suspect in the Greely's death, so goes after him.

Meanwhile, Keegan, at the behest of the shady developer Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Mr. Eko on Lost) and his lawyer Baptiste (Christian Slater aka Young Jack Nicholson in everything), is dispatched to retrieve the blackmail dossier Greely had passed to a local mobster and the scene where he does so while killing at least a dozen guys is some John Wick-grade stuff.

As for Kwon, he finds out the hard way that the Crescent City's cops aren't that honest and ends up with a bullet in his.....shoulder. Rescued by Jimmy, he's taken to Jimmy's daughter Lisa (Shahi), who runs a tattoo parlor and thanks to a convenient year of med school, can also patch bullet wounds. After fixing him up Kwon reluctantly agrees to team up with Jimmy as he tries to find out who set him up and is trying to kill Kwon. Buddy cop movie hijinx ensue.

There's not much to discuss with a movie like Bullet in the Head. There's lots of violence and, you know, bullets in heads, and Sly wisecracks in an over-it mumble. Kwon isn't as cool as Han, but Kang does with it what he can. Shahi is hot. (Oink.) It's odd seeing Momoa as a clean-shaven babyface, but the missus likeyed.

Director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs., Streets of Fire) is an old hand at this hard-boiled tough guy buddy flick and he has a bit of 48 Hrs. bickering between Jimmy and Kwon and echoes the bonkers sledgehammer fight of Streets of Fire with a climatic fireman's axe duel between Jimmy and Keegan, but he's hamstrung by a fairly rote screenplay by Alessandro Camon, who I was genuinely surprised to see shared a Best Original Screenplay nomination for his previous film, 2009's The Messenger. (He works mostly as a producer.) There are few surprises and while entertaining enough, it's no John Wick.

 Bullet to the Head falls into the "something to watch when there's nothing else on" category, but considering the excessively long run times of today's prestige flicks - you could watch this almost FOUR times in the time it takes to watch Flowers of the Killer Moon and Leave The World Behind once each - it now falls into the desperately needed "movies that don't require a nap and a large coffee to get through in one sitting" category. 

Ultimately, it delivers what it says on the tin: Macho tough guy bluster and bullets to heads.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Killers of the Flower Moon" 4K Review

Let's get something clear right now: It doesn't matter how good an artist WAS in the past or how large a legacy they've amassed if they're recent work is subpar. Too often, critics grade on a curve, transferring the greatness of the past to the mediocrity of the present to varying degrees. I've repeatedly called out the immunity Christopher Nolan has earned from his run from Memento to Inception which has allowed everything since to be hailed as yet another "masterpiece" from a "visionary filmmaker" when they've ranged from screamingly mediocre to "Why is anyone allowing this clown to make movies?" (I haven't seen Oppenheimer yet because I'm not in a rush to spend three hours checking in whether he still sucks. UPDATE: Saw it and it's OK. Not terrible, but not the masterpiece his simps feel it is.)

The desperate equivocation over Tenet nearly broke some critics as they attempted to justify that blazing dumpster fire by transferring the greatness of The Dark Knight and mumbling about how maybe it'd make sense after repeated viewings. (Note: If you need to watch a movie more than once to understand the plot, it's failed at basic storytelling.)

 Which brings us to Martin Scorsese who has made some all-time classics in his 50-year-long career, but has devolved into a purveyor of needlessly excessively long movies which rack up tons of Oscar nominations for the past decade-plus. His last four films - The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence, The Irishman, and Killers of the Flower Moon - have and an average running time of 3h 9m and Killers is 3h 26m of mercilessly boring nothingness that expects us to swoon because Marty is working with his two most famous muses, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. [UPDATE: It worked as it raked in 10 Oscar nominations for  Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, Costume Design, Original Song,  Original Score, Production Design, Editing, and Best Cinematography. Oy vey.]

 Set in 1919 Oklahoma we learn the Osage Indians on the land discovered oil some time before and as a result have become very wealthy, but because racism they are deemed "incompetent" and must have their finances and savings managed by a white court-appointed legal guardian.

 Into this frontier comes Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) who returns from World War I looking to live near and work for his uncle, William King Hale (De Nero). Given a job as a cab driver, he meets Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone) and becomes smitten with her, eventually marrying her and starting a family.

However, on the side Ernest has been also committing robberies against the Osage with his brother Byron (Scott Shepherd) and King has been ordering the murders of Mollie's family members because the headrights - the rights to the valuable minerals and oil under the land - would accrue to the remaining family, eventually meaning only Mollie survives and as a diabetic, Ernest is given poison to put in her insulin to further weaken and eventually kill her, leaving the rights to Ernest.

The Osage realize they're being knocked off, but with local law enforcement in King's pocket they attempt to hire a private investigator and seek help from the Federal government, but those efforts are thwarted. Only when Mollie makes a pilgrimage to Washington D.C. and pleads to President Calvin Coolidge which brings a BOI (the original name of the FBI) investigator, Thomas Bruce Wright Sr. (Jessie Plemons), to town where the conspiracy is unraveled and Ernest put on trial along with King.

There is so much wrong with Killers of the Flower Moon that it's hard to know where to start, but let's begin with the running time. This is a two-hour movie stuffed into a 3-1/2 hour sack. For comparison, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull ran 10 minutes under and over two hours; Scorsese's pity Oscar winner, The Departed was 2-1/2 hours. Even the bloated Gangs of New York was "only' three hours. There simply isn't enough story to justify the runtime. [UPDATE: How the great Thelma Schoonmaker gets nominated for editing a movie which appears to have just assembled everything they shot into something sequential is sad.]

Yes, the indigenous peoples of these lands got a raw deal and that's why liberals refuse to observe Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, but I agree with Spike's take on the subject on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that we get it, MOVE ON! But even as a liberal white self-loathing hairshirt worn by Hollywood to preen virtue it seems more interested in the bad white guys stories than the Indians other than their being the victims of white genocide/land theft.

Then there's Leo's performance, if you can call grimacing as if he has a tummy ache for 3-1/2 hours a performance. [UPDATE: The fact that Leo was shut out for nominations by everyone while his co-stars were noted says it all as to how bad this is. When nominations are handed out like candy and he don't get none.] He's also a totally passive character, bossed around by King, doing as he's told even as it's harming the woman he supposedly loves. And he's simply waaaaaaaaay too old for the part. DiCaprio was 47 when filming this and he's looking his age. (Banging sub-25-year-old supermodels ages a man, I guess.) He simply doesn't read like a young man needed a job after a war.

Gladstone is OK as the suffering Mollie, though all she does is smile knowingly at Leo's flirting, be stoic, then spend hours crying and suffering. There's a lot of Oscar buzz around Gladstone, but sadly it seems mostly oriented about wanting to Make History and allow Hollyweird's liberal white guilt itch to be scratched by naming the first Native American Oscar winner now that they checked the First Asian Best Actress box last year with Michelle Yeoh. (It's racist and demeaning, but that's Hollyweird for you.) [UPDATE: While Emma Stone has been winning most of the awards for Poor Things as she should, Gladstone won the SAG Award and that may portend an upset at the Oscars. It would be another sad case of Hollyweird allowing their political preening to trump performance as when Sean Penn in Milk was gifted Best Actor over Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler in response to California voters atteHGmpting to codify opposite sex marriage in 2008. Penn's performance was excellent and was my runner-up pick, but even Penn knew he won because of politics.]

The surprise performance is De Niro's. He's been phoning in his performances for ages, lazily relying on his tough guy persona and outdated reputation as America's Greatest Actor (when his last Oscar win was in 1980), but here he actually shows up ready to play, probably to show Scorsese and DiCaprio who the boss was. King could've been a one-note cartoon, but De Niro trims his portrayal with enough humanity and manipulative charisma that you'd believe an idiot like Ernest would obey.

Part of the fawning over Killers of the Flower Moon is due to Scorsese's age (he's now 81) and how many more movies he has in him. (For comparison, Ridley Scott is 86 and currently making Gladiator 2.) But as I said at the beginning, past success is no excuse for current failure. If your favorite restaurant's quality has declined, would you keep going because it used to be good? Exactly. My favorite Scorsese movie is After Hours which was recently released by the Criterion Collection. That 1985 black comedy has a stacked cast, is simply bonkers in its storytelling, and clocks in at a brisk and satisfying 97 minutes. Scorsese should try telling meaningful stories in a concise manner because this does neither.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Lady Ballers" Review

 While there has been a recent resurgence in raunchy comedies in recent years, it seems to have been mostly limited to female-led films like Girls Trip, Rough Night, Joy Ride, and No Hard Feelings. Part of this trend is likely a "Why not let the ladies be pigs?" premise, but a lot of it is that comedy in general is crippled by fear and timidity due to the rampaging woke mobs who are seeking to be triggered and then cancel anyone who offends these snowflakes.

A movie like Blazing Saddles could NEVER be made today (and frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't been ordered destroyed by the government for being all -ist and -phobic). When Tropic Thunder was in production, there was a minor freakout over Robert Downey Jr. being in "blackface", but when it came out it was hailed as a genius performance and even garnered an Oscar nomination. (He may've even won if not for his competition being Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight, which no one was going to not lose to.) Nowadays, the performance probably wouldn't be allowed in the first place and the movie protested at theaters because no humor is allowed in the world unless it's directed at the only permissible targets: straight white male Christians. You can beat those monsters up at will.

So into this environment comes the oddball sports comedy from conservative news and nascent entertainment producer Daily Wire, Lady Ballers, a mashup of sports comedies like BASEketball and Dodgeball with a dollop of withering social commentary about the current fad of cheering men beating the hell out of women in sports if they "identity" as female and has led to many female athletes having their sports dreams sacrificed on the altar of wokeness. (Sorry, ladies, men are just better women than you!)

 Director, co-writer, and lower-case G lower-case K god-king, co-founder and CEO of the Daily Wire Jeremy Borering stars as Coach Rob, a three-time Tennessee state high school basketball champion whose last victory was in 2008 and is currently reduced to attempting to get kids at a rec center to put down their phones and play sports and stop stealing the catalytic converter off his car. He's divorced and his hot ex-wife, Dharby (Lexie Contursi), is now shacked up with a weird hippie, Kris (Matt Walsh), who has put "In this house..." signs and rainbow flags all over.

 One day while picking up his 8-year-old daughter, Winnie (Rosie Seraphine Harper), from school, Rob is horrified to learn that a "girl" showed "her" penis to her in the bathroom and the other woke trash that kids are being indoctrinated in these days. He then goes to apply for a job at a place he used to work 25 years before and discovers that it has been turned into a restaurant where all the servers are men dressed in drag (take that, Hooters!) including a former player from the 2008 team, Alex (Daniel Considine). 

When he realizes Alex still has good speed for his age, combined with Winnie's information about how men can be women, he decides to have Alex compete in a local women's sports competition to win the $5000 prize. Naturally, being a much larger and stronger man he mops the floor with the poor biological women and wins all his events, attracting the attention of a local reporter, Gwen (Billie Rae Brandt), who tells of this stunning and brave woman.

With a Global Games open competition coming, Rob and Alex decide to get the old team back together to enter as women. They then round up brawling brothers Jake and Blain Crain (hosts of Daily Wire's Crain & Co. sports talk show), center David Cone (who was a University of Michigan quarterback in real life and is also on Crain & Co.), and short team equipment manager/bullying target turned millionaire Felix (Tyler Fischer) and with Gwen handling the media exposure, march their way to the glory by walloping the female teams, garnering sponsorships from Bud Light (heh) and cosmetics companies and tons of social media followers. (Felix vlogging on her first day as a sports girl is wicked.)

 Evaluating Lady Ballers is a little complicated due to its origins and market targeting. At the most basic level does it do the core task of any comedy: Is it funny? Yes, it is, with many more laughs than the woeful Freelance (written by a Jimmy Kimmel Live writer, which explains the lack of funny) delivered. It mocks the sports movie tropes of inspirational speeches and montages set to cheesy power-rock tunes (by Will Borering, presumably a relative of the director) and the absurdity of big men clobbering women in sports to the cheers of people who either don't know this is ridiculous or are, more likely, too afraid to speak out against these travesties.

But while the liberal media is setting their hair on fire over Lady Ballers, falsely accusing it of being "transphobic" (really working hard there, hacks) and anti-Semitic (an absolute lie with the only trace of religion being noted Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro wearing a kippeh during his cameo as a referee), their hysterical reaction only confirms the truth of the joke "How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?" "THAT'S NOT FUNNY!!!!" Liberals are so humorless, uptight, miserable, and devoid of joy that they cannot allow themselves to laugh at anything, least of all themselves and their insipid woke ideology.

The joke of Lady Ballers isn't to mock those poor souls suffering from mental illnesses that cause them to reject their biology and seek comfort in mutilating their bodies to match their warped self-image, but to call out the inconvenient truth that the vast majority of "trans" athletes are men who can't compete against other men, so have invaded women's sports where even the top female athletes can't compete against the most mediocre men. William "Lia" Thomas was a mediocre men's swimmer until he declared he was a female and became the NCAA women's champion. (The fact that he has a fetish where he gets off walking around in front of women with a full erection of his lady penis and if the girls have a problem with it, they're the bigots, is just a bonus.) 

So when a female wrestler is picked up and slammed to the mat by a guy a foot taller (yes, that wouldn't happen due to weight classes), it seems absurd, but it also comments on how there have been "trans" MMA fighters who have fractured the skulls of bio-female opponents and bio-female volleyball players with concussions from having a dude spike the ball in their face. 

But off the court the mental pretzels people tie themselves into to go with the zeitgeist's demands that we applaud these men as braving and stun in dominating women is amusingly dealt with as we watch a pair of TV news anchors (Brett Cooper and Michael Knowles) go through so much sensitivity training that they transform into, well, you'll see. 

But beyond the meta commentary on gender and sports, there's a good set of character arcs about the various men learning what it truly means to be a winner. The "guy who never stops talking about how he won the Big Game in high school" trope is a stock story element, but resolved nicely. While Gwen is openly aware that she is a shameless journalist who will drive a narrative for her own purposes, she also gives a telling mini-lecture about the damage divorce does to children concluding, "Didn't you guys think to Google this before blowing the world your child lives on up?" While it's mocking AND succumbing to the apropos of nothing soapbox moments many movies shoehorn in where someone randomly spews statistics about some pet liberal cause ("Ma'am, this is a Wendy's.") it's also unique in the message coming from the Right encouraging parents to think of the children for a change.

Which leads to the next odd element of Lady Ballers, the casting. When they say it's a Daily Wire+ film, they mean it literally in that nearly every role is played by Daily Wire show hosts with those not in main roles making cameos. Apparently, when Borering was casting the film, actors who'd previously expressed interest in being in DW projects or had been cancelled suddenly got cold feet at the subject matter (genuinely surprised Gina Carano and Rob Schneider, who voices the father on the Bentkey cartoon Chilla Time don't appear) so it was all staff on deck supplemented by actors who are sadly probably going to be blackballed by Hollyweird for leaving the plantation.

But despite most of the lead cast (the Crain brothers, Cone, Walsh, Borering) not being actors, the performances are better than you'd expect, better say than the cast of Clerks. My girlfriend didn't recognize Borering from the classic Jeremy's Razors announce trailer and thought he was just some indie actor and he does a fine job in the lead role as a man struggling with his mantra of "Winners are just losers who win" and disgusted with what he's done to win.

Also a standout is Brandt making her acting debut as the conniving reporter. She's got a Halston Sage/Scarlett Johansson vibe and should be able to have a career except she's probably on a blacklist somewhere because to those who control Hollyweird, working for THOSE PEOPLE is like appearing in something called Why The KKK Is A-OK. Contursi is hot as evidenced by her five episodes as a Laker Girl on Winning Time, but her career is also likely dead as are the guys who dared participate in what will be portrayed as a "transphobic cinematic hate crime" by liars who own the Criterion Blu-ray of Some Like It Hot and are so irony-deficient as to not see what they're doing.

Which leads to the final question: Who is Lady Ballers for? Apparently an attempt was made to put it in theaters and no one wanted to touch it. But considering half the fun is seeing Daily Wire personalities on screen (especially What Is A Woman's Walsh as a hippie dippy twerp or Shapiro as a foul-mouthed over-it ref), would it land with as much with gen pop audiences? Probably, because it is funny enough and the total lack of familiar faces didn't damage Clerks. Also sports comedies, which were common in the 1990s and 2000s, seemed to go extinct after 2007's Blades of Glory (where Will Ferrell and Jon Heder became a male pairs figure skating team) so why wouldn't it be a potential modest box office success?

I have been critical of Daily Wire's strategy of confining their movies to the ghetto of their Daily Wire+ service because it allows the dominant liberal media to pigeonhole them as "trash for conservative rubes" and it puts content that politically agnostic audiences may enjoy behind a paywall that is too high for the meager movie offerings therein. Daily Wire is by its nature conservative-oriented and even though they have deliberately not made their movies particularly political - Run Hide Fight and Shut In were good small dramas; I wasn't very too fond of The Hyperions beyond its style - unless someone wants the video versions of their podcasts (which are available for free on X/Twitter) or the Jordan Peterson and Prager University stuff as well as the non-political Bentkey children's edutainment service (which was initially going to be called DW Kids until they realized the associating with the parent site would make it seem political), no one is paying for the handful of movies. (I just let my subscription run out because I never watched their content and their app didn't download podcasts, so what's the point?) If you know where to look online, you can find their movies (nudge wink), but why they aren't making them available to rent/buy on iTunes/Vudu/Amazon/YouTube remains a mystery. Disney just put out 4K discs of WandaVision and Loki, so don't tell me you can't sell streaming exclusives outside the platform.

The fact that all these sidebars, explainers, and digressions which complicate what should be a straightforward review illustrates the actual "problem" Lady Ballers has: It's a funny-enough sports comedy (though a bit too long as everything is these days; anything over 90 minutes is suspect to me) with surprisingly good performances from its non-thespian cast; a good story with well-drawn characters (as far as these types of movies go) and something to say about masculinity, femininity, and how there doesn't need to be a war between the sexes - there's a great scene where Rob cheers up Winnie by explaining that while men will always be bigger and stronger, without the civilizing influence of women, there would be no civilization, so who is really the most powerful - while rightfully lampooning the woketarded political correctness which currently controls our culture to the point where you can't even laugh at it without being called a hater.

But the fact that the uptight Anti-Humor Police are openly lying about Lady Ballers is also the point. It doesn't "punch down at trans people" (who are not a thing), but punches up at the cultural Marxists who demand we play along with the Emperor's New Gender Politics OR ELSE! As Rush Limbaugh said, it illustrates absurdity by being absurd, but it never really mounts a soapbox to scold the audience and in fact one character who genuinely seems to be having struggles with his sexuality is treated compassionately. It tells its silly story - one player is holding a team mascot hostage due to his PTSD from a college game - with sufficient laughs and a lack of mean-spiritedness some comedies trade in.

Like all art forms, comedy is subjective. I have never been more stone-faced that the times I attempted to glean what people appreciated about Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory and my near-total boycott of Adam Sandler for the past quarter-century is legendary, so if one doesn't laugh at Lady Ballers, they're not necessarily wrong; different strokes and all. But anyone who likes sports comedies and isn't emotionally crippled by liberal media diktats should gave have a good time with Lady Ballers.

Score: 7/10. Watch it however you choose to access it.

"Freelance" Review

 After the dour bummer of May December we were in the mood for something more entertaining and superfluous. Unfortunately, we chose Freelance as the follow-up.

Let's get this over with: Jon Cena stars as a former Special Forces operator Mason who was badly injured and half his squad killed when a mission to assassinate the dictator of fictional South American nation of Paladonia, Juan Venegas (Juan Pablo Raba), goes sideways after his chopper is shot down. Incapable of soldiering, he goes back to law school, marries Jenny (Alice Eve, playing mom roles already?), has an adorable little girl, and starts a small legal practice and generally hates his dull life. (Because being married to Alice Eve is a bummer?)

 One day, former Army buddy Sebastian (Christian Slater) shows up with a proposition. He's started a private military services company (read: mercenaries) and wants Mason to handle an easy personal protection gig for a reporter, Claire (Alison Brie), who is going to interview Venegas. Naturally, Mason isn't too warm on the idea of having to play nice with a man he blames for his lot in life, but with his marriage on shaky ground and Sebastian offering 20,000 reasons to take the gig, he reluctantly agrees.

Arriving in Paladonia, they are going to Venegas' ranch when they are attacked resulting in the dictator's men being killed and Mason killing all the attackers. A coup has been launched by Venegas' idiot nephew who's being puppeteered by Evil Corporate Forces after Paladonia's rich natural resources. Traveling on foot, Mason, Claire and Venagas have a series of wacky hijnks and near death scrapes.

The fundamental problem with Freelance begins (as usual) with a mediocre script by first-time writer Jacob Lentz (who was a writer for Jimmy Kimmel which explains why it's not funny) which doesn't know if it wants to be a bloody military action flick or a frothy bickering odd couple/fish out of water comedy. Compounding the tonal mess is the reliance on change-ups, double-crosses, sudden reveals and twists which get to the point where you don't care about the revelations because you expect another inversion to be right around the corner. The twists involving Venegas and the doomed mission and whether Sebastian was involved are also a mess. (I'm not even counting the silliness about how Claire was supposedly a disgraced journalist for not verifying what a source told her when the New York Times and Washington Post won and refused to return Pulitzer Prizes for their fictional reporting of the debunked Trump-Russia Collusion story.)

While the major selling point is that it was directed by Pierre Morel (Taken, District 13), it looks cheap like an episode of The A-Team and he can't balance the tonal goulash and the action sequences are dull. With not much of a script to work with, the performances are passable. Cena glowers, Brie bubbles, Raba is a chipper despot, Eve looks tired.

A more talented writer than Lentz may've been able to whip up a frothier adventure comedy - I kept rewriting scenes in my head as I watched - but we can only watch what they made and Freelance needs to be unemployed.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

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