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!

"Monkey Man" 4K Review

 When the trailer for Monkey Man dropped a few months ago, it caught everyone off guard because not only did it look like "Indian John Wick" but it was also produced, co-written and directed by star Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, the excellent but overlooked Lion). Also sporting a misleading "produced by Jordan Peele" credit (Peele championed the finished, but abandoned by original distributor Netflix, picture to be picked up by Universal, but had no input in its making; he should be an executive producer) there was great anticipation. However, when it actually came out, reviews were favorable, but mixed, and this is about to be another one of those.

Patel plays Kid, a struggling young man whose mother was killed when his village was destroyed on the orders of Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), a cult leader-tinged spirtual figure tied to a political party, who sent corrupt police chief Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher) to do the deed. Kid is fighting in an underground boxing club run by Tiger (Sharlto Copley, District 9) where he's being encouraged to throw his matches. He wears a monkey mask which relates to an opening story about the Hindu god Hanuman his mother told him.

He learns Singh is a regular at a luxury club/brothel called Kings operated by Queenie Kapoor (Ashwini Kalsekar), a cruel piece of work. After a ridiculously complex pickpocketing scheme puts her wallet in Kid's hands, he returns it to her at her office and begs for any job he could have. She reluctantly hires him as a dishwasher and uses that toe in the door to sidle up to Alphonso (Pitobash), the diminutive gopher who supplies the drugs, etc. for clubgoers and soon is working the VIP floor where Singh and other power players partake in hookers and blow.

 Eventually, he creates an opportunity to kill Singh and finds wanting revenge is a lot harder than exacting revenge. Barely escaping with his life and freedom, he is taken in by a commune of hijra - enuchs, transgender, and intersex people - led by Alpha (Vipin Sharma) who helps Kid recuperate and train for one last assault on Kings (sort of literally).

To audiences outside the territory where a movie is set, political allegories can sail over the heads of viewers. Done properly, as with District 9, it doesn't matter though to people who do catch the references it provides an extra layer of nuance. With Alphonso Cuoron's Roma, the peripheral story of Mexican civil war in the 1960s didn't click. Apparently there is some serious debate about how Patel references India's political terrain and a rising Hindu nationalist movement, but since no attempt to explain it to non-Indians is made, it's just generic bad guy stuff with a curry flavor.

With the political and spiritual stuff just kind of being there, it makes the movie feel sluggish from the parts that anyone can appreciate, the badass fight scenes. As a basic revenge story, the story is really basic with no depth to the villains beyond "You killed my mother!" but Patel has an action director's eye that is remarkably sophisticated in contrasting the way the ultra-wealthy and slum dwellers coexist in very close proximity in the fictionalized version of Mumbai called Yatana. The pickpocket scene is a true Rube Goldberg construct where the wallet changes hands many, many times before ending up in Kid's hands as we see it chasing through the cramped neighborhoods. The fight scenes are equally well-done with some seriously gnarly kills which would make John Wick go "Whoa."

While Monkey Man doesn't quite deliver on its trailer's promise of straight up revenge kill action, it's still an impressive debut from Patel that with some judicious editing would've landed more of a punch.

From a technical standpoint, the 4K HDR presentation offers solid rich colors that convey the stylized cinematography by Sharone Meir (Whiplash) with deep reds, blues and golds. Sound is appropriately bass-heavy to give the punches heft.

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

"The Bricklayer" Review

Coming out around the same time as The Beekeeper it would reasonable to wonder if The Bricklayer was part of a Hollyweird shift to macho action movies with odd job categories as titles, but while the Jason Statham killfest was about an imaginary super secret spy agency, this is about the plain old CIA and their highjinks.

After a former CIA asset, the imaginatively named Victor Radek (Clifton Collins Jr.), who was presumed dead is connected to the murders of three journalists, each of which implying that he will expose CIA shenanigans which will have Major International Ramifications, the Agency drags in his former handler, Steve Vail (Aaron Eckhart), and asks him to go to Greece to bring him in. He refuses, but after a pack of assassins try to unalive him at his bricklaying job, he grumpily catches the flight accompanied by plucky CIA analyst Kate (Nina Dobrev).

 Upon arriving in Greece, he promptly diverges from her plan by meeting his old contact who sets the pair up with a more upscale cover as a shipping tycoon and his wife - when she objects, he tells her, "You're too old to be my girlfriend." (Eckhart is 56, Dobrev is 35) - with a snazzy customized Mercedes. While they try to figure out where Radek is, he's steps ahead in his scheme and whacks another journalist, further raising the stakes.

The plot then becomes another one of those dumb stories where we're supposed to guess who may be a mole, who may be dirty, who's putting one over on who, but the more it tries to twist, the less you care because it ceases to be a puzzle you can try to solve and reduces the viewer to someone waiting for the nonsense to end. (For what it's worth, the missus guessed who the mole would be. I didn't care enough to try.) Screenwriters Hanna Weg (nothing you've heard of) and Matt Johnson (Torque, Tracers, Into the Blue, the last only remembered for Jessica Alba in a bikini most of the movie) are working from a novel which may've sold the twists better, but it doesn't translate.

Director Renny Harlin - to quote Ben Kenobi in Star Wars, "Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time. A long time." - was quite the guy in the 1990s with Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and his best, Cliffhanger, but checking his IMDB I see that The Bricklayer is his 14th movie since the last one of his I saw literally 20 years ago, Mindhunters, which I reviewed the DVD of and can only remember that Christian Slater gets killed in a cool (literally) way early on.

So how is he doing after all these years? In a word, workmanlike. The action scenes are OK, but not up to the current John Wick state of the art. The first big fight scene in a rainstorm has some interesting staging, but you have no idea which of the brawlers is Eckhart (or his stuntman) or the attacker because of similar clothing and darkness. Other scenes lack clear geography. 

On the performance side, everyone is fine. When is someone going to cast Eckhart, Thomas Jane, and Jon Cena as brothers? Dobrev is spunky, but in a rejection of the current girlboss women-are-betterer-than-wimpy-men trope, she gets whomped when she tries to fight as she finds training insufficient in the real world and they must not have taught that you don't let opponents get so close if you want to keep your gun.

The Bricklayer is an adequate throwback to the fare they used to churn out regularly in the late-20th Century. It's passable & forgettable, but at least the time spent isn't regrettable.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable/streaming. (Currently on Netflix.)

"Knox Goes Away" Review

There seems to be a run of movies lately riffing off the theme of the 2003 Belgian movie The Alzheimer Case (aka The Memory of a Killer) which was remade as a 2022 Liam Neeson vehicle called Memory and told the story of a hitman who was losing his faculties to Alzheimer's disease. Now there's a Russell Crowe movie hitting streaming called Sleeping Dogs about an retired police detective with Alzheimer's just in time to be compared to Knox Goes Away which stars Michael Keaton, who's also making his directorial debut, as a hitman who has.... Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, which is a fast-progressing form of dementia which is basically turbocharged Alzheimer's.

Keaton's John Knox is informed of his dire condition by his doctor and told to get his affairs in order sooner than later. He makes arrangements to liquidate his holding in stolen items and cash to distribute to a short list of recipients. While we've seen him blanking in the opening scenes, things really go south when he accidentally kills his partner (Ray McKinnon) after he whacks the target and a woman who was in the shower with him.

Confused as to what happened, he hurriedly stages the scene to make it look like the target returned fire, but he knows the setup won't withstand scrutiny for long since all the bullets will match to one gun. He's right as the lead detective investigating the case, Ikari (Suzy Nakamura), immediately wonders who turned the shower off when everyone was dead and the ballistics prove it was a single gun.

Complicating matters is the knock at the door that night from his estranged son, Miles (James Marsden), who he doesn't immediate recognize due to his condition and it's been many years since they'd spoken. Miles has a cut hand which he'd picked up when he murdered the older man who had groomed, seduced and impregnated his teen-aged daughter. Desperate, he comes to Knox since he figures someone like him who does what he does may have an idea of how to manage the situation.

 Knox then proceeds to come up with a plan to handle Myles' mess with his friend, crime boss Xavier (Al Pacino working just above phoning it in), helping to keep him on track lest he lose his mind before completing the scheme. As the plan plays out, we don't really understand what he's doing and when all the evidence instead directly implicates Miles to the point he is arrested for the murder, we're left to wonder if Knox messed up.

What makes Knox Goes Away a decent little film is the low-key manner Keaton directs the proceedings including his performance. Rather than make a splashy look-at-me-I'm-acting-and-directing-suck-it-Bradley-Cooper self-indulgent ego trip, he underplays the moments which a less confident actor may've wanted to swing for the fences. The staging and framing is unobtrusive and he gives his co-stars plenty of nice moments particularly Marcia Gay Harden as his ex-wife whom he visits one last time, telling her he's "going away", and Marsden who definitely breaks from his usual pretty boy roles (he was Cyclops in the original X-Men movies) with a raw nerve performance which actually makes him looked middle aged. (I see he's now 50, so it's about time he started looking like he's 40.)

 The script by Gregory Poirier is competent, including so quiet humorous moments to lighten the mood without turning it into a dramedy. Knox is definitely going to end up having gone away, but the trip isn't too much of a bummer. There's also a side plot about a Polish call girl, Annie (Jonanna Kulig), whose weekly visits serve as an indicator of Knox's decline and resolves in a somewhat surprising fashion.

There doesn't seem to be much market for mature stories about mature people that aren't directly targeted for Awards Season, so it's an oddity that a movie like Knox Goes Away that merely tells a quiet character story quietly exists. It's not a necessary story, but it's told well enough and won't waste your time.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

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