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!

"The Laundromat" Review

When the trailer dropped for The Laundromat it was hard to tell what the largest surprise was: That it was a Steven Soderbergh film made for Netflix, that it starred Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Robert Patrick, David Schwimmer and more, or the crazy Dana Carvey-as-Hans (of SNL Hans and Franz fame) accent Oldman was working. Based on the Panama Papers, a scandal which exposed numerous celebrities and toppled several world leaders, The Laundromat attempts to explain the internecine and opaque world of off-shore shell corporations used for tax avoidance by the well-heeled and sometimes downright criminal element.

It opens with Meryl Streep and her husband (James Cromwell) setting off on a lake boat tour based on an actual accident when a rogue wave capsized the boat, killing 21 passengers. Presumably the tour operator's liability insurance would've covered the settlement, but due to a messy web of re-insurance companies and shell entities, it turns out there was no coverage.

Since her husband had provided sufficient life insurance to supplement the meager settlement, Streep plans to buy a Las Vegas condo overlooking the spot where she'd met her husband. But that is snatched away when the agent (Sharon Stone) informs her someone else had not only offered double the asking price, they wanted three adjoining units. Denied again, she begins to investigate how these Russians were able to swoop in and how the tour operator's insurance got so bollixed up.

The common factor is a Panamanian entity called Mossack Fonseca operated by Jürgen Mossack (Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Banderas), a mill which sets up shell corporations in various tax havens, utilizing "directors" who are merely secretaries or hired notaries of sketchy repute. The two serve as our narrators in some flashy visual sequences explaining concepts like money and credit.

If you're thinking this sounds like The Big Short, Adam McKay's 2015 film about the 2007-2008 financial crash which used celebrities like Anthony Bourdain, Margot Robbie, and Selena Gomez to explain arcane financial concepts in understandable terms, you'd be right, except Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (who also wrote Soderbergh's Contagion, Side Effects, and The Informant!) fail to stay focused, ultimately leading to confusion and disinterest.

Instead of sticking to the relatable Streep character's quest, things go wildly astray in the 4th chapter, "Bribery 101", as we are introduced to a mega-wealthy African magnate (Nonso Anozie) living in Los Angeles whose college graduate daughter (Nikki Amuka-Bird), whom he's throwing a massive party for, catches him dallying with her roommate and best friend. In order to buy her silence, he offers her $20 million in bearer shares to a company he owns. When everything blows up with the family, she and her mother (who also got paid off by her husband) go to collect their money and discover their $20M corporations had less than $100 in the accounts. Where did the money evaporate to? We never find out.

The final chapter, "Make A Killing", is based on an actual poisoning of a businessman by a Chinese Communist Party honcho's wife involving bribes and shell companies and by this point I was thoroughly lost as to what was going on. After the last two segments, it was hard to remember what the point of this story was and what exactly Mossack Fonseca were doing and even whether they were swindlers or just enablers of these schemes.

The movie ends up on a soapbox railing against the fact that the bad part of these schemes isn't that they're illegal, but that they're LEGAL and how the politicians who instituted these laws must be pressured to change them which is adorably naive and silly especially when the movie gets very meta and mentions Soderbergh has five entities incorporated in Delaware and Burns one, a weird flex, but OK. (For all the hammering on Delaware, they conveniently leave out who the Senator from there whose cokehead loser son was given a position with the largest bank in the state while Daddy had legislation favorable to them before him.)

Despite a brisk pace, some amusing moments and good performances, The Laundromat feels like a much longer movie than its 96-minute running time would suggest. As it runs astray in its back half and loses the audience in a fog of poorly-explained concepts, it stops making sense. Why are we spending time with this rich family just to introduce the idea of bearer shares only to not explain why there were no assets left? What does the Chinese murder mean to Streep's widow? We don't know other than a vague "the system is rigged in favor of the rich at the expense of the poor" which is cheap and hypocritical bumper sticker philosophy coming from a writer-director team with a half-dozen tax dodge things between them. How about less lecture and more divestiture, fellas? Show us the way!

Score: 5/10. Skip it.

"You Might Be The Killer" Review

It's a frequent and legitimate complaint about how there doesn't seem to be any creativity in movies anymore; it's nothing by sequels, remakes/reboots, movies based on comic book/videogame franchises, etc. Looking at the top 25 grossing domestic box office films of 2019 at this writing, only FOUR aren't in the aforementioned categories: Jordan Peele's disappointing Us at #7; Elton John biopic Rocketman at #19; Yesterday (man wakes up in world where no one has heard of the Beatles and he exploits their songbook for profit) at #24; and cheapie horror movie Escape Room at #25.

What originality that seems to be out there seems to be coming from odd sources. Rather than books or magazine stories inspiring movies, social media posts have been snapped up by studios, though nothing appears to have come from them. A Reddit post musing on whether a Marine battalion transported back in time with their modern weaponry could topple the Roman Empire sold in 2011 and was never heard from again. Ryan Reynolds signed on to produce a horror movie based on another Reddit post, but it's early in the process.

An exception is You Might Be The Killer, a movie I'd never heard of until it popped up on my cheap movies app, but discovered was based on a funny Twitter thread (you may want to skip it since it's basically the whole plot) I'd actually read when it happened in 2017. Sci-fi writers Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig had a deadpan back-and-forth where Sykes is asking for help about his job as a camp counselor and how everyone seems to be dying around him and Wendig trying to talk him through the situation and determine what's going on based on clues, ultimately realizing, Sykes may be the killer. It was hoot that took five minutes to read, but now it's been transformed into a 92-minute horror-comedy which has its moments, but is just too long for the concept to sustain.

Fran Kranz (the stoner from The Cabin in the Woods) is Sam the panicked summer camp owner and Alyson Hannigan (Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is Chuck (get the names?), the manager of a comic book shop, he frantically calls begging for advice on who's killing all his counselors. Since it's determined pretty early on that he's the killer - not a spoiler since it's the title! - the run time is padded out with flashbacks on how this came to be and how it turns out.

While there are a few laughs (e.g. the kill counter that starts with "LOTS") and a couple of decent bloody kills, there's simply not enough substance to the premise to draw it out to even a modest feature length. There's probably a concise 30-45 minute version of this story that'd work on an anthology series.

Kranz is good at conveying the freaked-out state of Sam and it's nice to see Willow Hannigan again, though all she does is play the horror movie rules expert from a Scream movie. The cast playing the counselors are all for the most part (literally) disposable randos with the exception of Brittany S. Hall who was Sam's former flame, but is best described as Supa-Hawt Black Girl Who Looks Like Young Angela Bassett Hubba Hubba.

While too long by at least a third, You Might Be The Killer is modestly entertaining, though if you read the linked Twitter thread, you've pretty much seen it all.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.(It's currently streaming on Shudder)

"Too Funny To Fail: The Life & Death of the Dana Carvey Show" Review

How often have you seen sports teams stacked with talent fail to make the playoffs or movies made by talented people with proven track records just fall on their faces? Plenty, probably. Even with that in mind, in retrospect it seems impossible that the short-lived The Dana Carvey Show couldn't have been anything other than a smashing success though as the Hulu Original documentary Too Funny To Fail: The Life & Death of the Dana Carvey Show aptly shows, talent, verve, and boldness wasn't enough and everyone involved realizes that they pretty much did it to themselves.

In 1995 Dana Carvey was a hot property. Between a brilliant run during Saturday Night Live's 2nd Renaissance where he created iconic, still-quoted characters as the Church Lady, Hans & Franz, Grumpy Old Man, defining impressions of George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot and saw him alongside Phil Hartman, Kevin Nealon, Dennis Miller, Jan Hooks and Victoria Jackson, later pairing up with Mike Myers as Garth to Myer's Wayne which led to two Wayne's World movies, he was The Man.

So when he and SNL writer Robert Smigel (who also created/performs Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog) were shopping a prime-time comedy sketch show, it's easy to understand why ABC eagerly agreed to air it and gifted it a golden time slot after the #1 show Home Improvement. They then went out and gathered a Murderers' Row of performers and writers including Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis C.K, Charlie Kaufman (writer of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), Dino Stamatopoulos (Star-Burns on Community), and Robert Carlock (showrunner on 30 Rock co-creator of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) to bring the party to life with a bold and innovative sketch comedy show.

Or at least that was the plan which exploded within minutes of the first episode's opening sketch which featured Carvey as Bill Clinton breast-feeding a baby (fake), puppies and kittens (real) after having eight functioning breasts added to his body. ABC thought they were getting Church Lady; they got....something else. Panic struck and sponsors bailed. While they tried to right the self-torpedoed ship, they were doomed.

With interviews with the biggest names involved - oddly, Carvey gets less screen time than Carell and Colbert - and lots of brief clips from the show, Too Funny To Fail memorializes the trainwreck. While it would be tempting to blame a timid network or the show being too ahead of its time, the participants freely cop to not understanding the environment they were airing in. (Smigel hadn't even seen Home Improvement until they'd been on a month and when he finally watched the show he realized just how catastrophically they'd erred and created an audience-banishing mismatch.)

If it had been on late at night or on cable, it probably would've lasted longer. As it was, it was impressive enough to those who saw it - a teen-aged Bill Hader bought a VCR just to tape it - that it launched Carell's and Colbert's careers with The Daily Show because producers loved a sketch they'd performed. Carvey himself is sanguine about the experience as it freed him to go back to his first love of standup and raise his two sons.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on Hulu.

"Cop Car" Review

While he is pretty much the undisputed King of the Universe with his stewardship of the 23-film (and counting) Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the things Kevin Feige has struggled a bit with is working with left-of-the-dial directors. While Ant-Man suffered greatly from the loss of Edgar Wright, James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy was a boundary-expanding entry in the MCU.

The art-house tag-team of Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck were a poor fit for Captain Marvel leading to a lackluster (and polarizing for it) movie, but somehow Feige spotted something about Jon Watts' second effort, Cop Car - which grossed about what Avengers: Endgame made on a single screen in an afternoon ($143K) - to hire him to helm the franchise-saving, Tom Holland-starring. Spider-Man: Homecoming re-reboot and its impending sequel, Spiderman: Far From Home.

While I've had the DVD for a while, I try to avoid DVDs like I avoid VHS tapes, but it popped up on Netflix in HD so it was time to catch up and after seeing it, I guess there's a reason why Kevin Feige has grossed over $2.5 BILLION and I'm not because I wouldn't have thought, "Hey, this guy should make Spider-Man movies."

While Kevin Bacon is the top-billed star, Cop Car is the story of two young boys, James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford, who we meet walking across the prairies of Colorado taking turns swearing as they're apparently running away from home. They come upon a vacant sheriff's cruiser in a glade and in poking around it discover the keys and decide to take it for a joyride. Many youthful hijinks ensue as they do donuts in the fields or wrap themselves in crime scene tape, but when they start messing with the guns it gets tense as you're sure they're about to shoot their eyes out, kids.

We then flashback to how the car came to be there as Bacon drives up and parks and then proceeds to drag a dead body from the truck off to dump down a well a distance away that must not have been accessible directly by the car lest the setup for the movie not occur. When he comes back to find it gone, he naturally panics because he's the Sheriff and losing your car is a bad look especially when you're a Very Bad Man who wouldn't want your deputies to know what you're up to.

The rest of the movie alternates between the boys being boys, so clueless at the risks they're taking, and Bacon's increasingly panicked Sheriff trying to catch up. A woman who spots the boys driving (Camryn Manheim) feels wedged in to allow Bacon to know what happened to his ride. Shea Whigham is another familiar face who enters late in the picture to up the stakes.

While the overall running time is under an hour-and-a-half, Cop Car feels a little too empty for the length. The boys are realistic, but not interesting; their haplessly veering into peril worries us, but you get that same concern when you see a squirrel on the curb and you wonder if the idiot is about to bolt in front of your car. Bacon is Bacon, awesome, and he deftly straddles the bumbling crook/serious threat line.

Ultimately, it's Jon Watts' thin script (co-written with Christopher Ford) which reduces Cop Car into a generally flat experience with occasional waves of excitement which mirrors the landscape it's set in.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" Review

Short Review: It's a John Wick movie. Liked the others? You'll like this one, too.

Longer Review: While the first John Wick movie was a magnificent example of ruthlessly efficient world-building and genre-redefining action - seriously, it's been five years and anyone still peddling shakycam and edit fu fight sequences is a hack - but I thought the attempt to broaden the scope in 2017's Chapter 2 left things feeling a tad flabby. It wasn't bad by any measure, but lacked the lean mean killing machine simplicity of the first.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum - the last word coming from the Latin adage "Si vis pacem, para bellum" (translated as "If you want peace, prepare for war"); also a type of bullet - begins immediately after the conclusion of Chapter 2 (though it's darker and rainier because movie needs atmosphere) with John on the run, trying to figure out how to handle his being excommunicated from the world of assassins for his killing of a High Table member who'd betrayed him, with less than an hour before a $14 million contract on his life begins with seemingly half of the population of New York City literally gunning for him. Sure, it's hardly a fair fight - for the people trying to get him, that is - but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

Despite the plot taking him to Morocco and back, it feels smoother and less shaggy than last outing. We get some more glimpses of his past life, where he came from, his connection to Halle Berry's character who owes him a favor, how the High Table deals with disruptions in the system via an Adjudicator (Asia ) who is tasked with punishing Lawrence Fishburne's and Ian McShane's characters, but the central focus is action, action, more ACTION, and MOAR ACKSHUNZ!!!

Holy cow, this movie has the action, all presented in series director Chad Stahelski's signature clarity. There haven't been fight sequences this elaborate and visceral in ages (since The Matrix perhaps, which gets several meta references) and I lost count of how many times the audience and I shared in a collective "Ooooooh!!!" at a particularly savage kill. (The digital enhancements to the practical action are seamless and only noticeable because it's simply impossible to shoot people in the head and throw blades into faces like this.) Sure, it's all ridiculous and the Cinema Sins refrain of "He survives this" rings in your head as glass walls alternate between being bulletproof and shattering depending on the needs of the fight choreography, but if you're watching these movies with that skeptical an eye, you must be fun at parties.

Keanu Reeves has always been an actor of.....let's go with "limited" range, but he's lucked into a middle-aged Renaissance with this series in which benefits from his taciturn mien which has a slight wry edge. He puts in the work and while he's no match for the sheer insanity Tom Cruise brings to his action flicks, he's a boss in this world.

It can be hoped that Berry gets a career boost as well; she was a Bond girl, yet other than the X-Men movies where she didn't do any hand-to-hand brawling or gunplay, she hasn't made an action movie since the disastrous Catwoman, but she's legit here and with Angelina Jolie effectively retired and Charlize Theron unable to make every action movie requiring a beautiful Oscar-winning badass, her phone should be ringing.

John Wick: Chapter 4 has already had a May 21, 2021 release date announced. Bring it on!

Score: 8/10. Catch a matinee.

"Always Be My Maybe" Review

Hot on the heels of the girlfriend-recommended Netflix Original movie The Perfection comes yet another of her, "Don't read anything about it," suggestions, the Asian-American-fronted rom-com Always Be My Maybe. She was so hyped up about one particular section that she told me the time index in case I didn't want to watch a rom-com, me being a manly man and all. But I decided to watch it from the beginning and it's a perfectly pleasant rom-com.

Starring and co-written by Ali Wong and Randall Park, Always Be My Maybe is the story of two lifelong friends who grew up living next door to each other in San Francisco. Because Sasha's parents were always at their store, leaving her home alone, she'd frequently come over to Marcus' to hang out and she picked up cooking from his mother, who tragically passes away because it's like a Disney movie and mother's don't live long in those, do they?

Ultimately they end up impulsively having sex one night in 2003 in the backseat of his Toyota Corolla which makes things weird between them. She leaves to eventually become a glitzy celebrity chef while he stayed home to work for his father's HVAC company and play with his band, doing little with his life. 15 years later, she returns from Los Angeles to supervise the opening of a new restaurant and when she has to have the AC fixed in her posh rental (doesn't the landlord take care of this stuff?), Marcus reenters the picture and they have the usual rom-com foibles before the obligatory murder-suicide which ends all of these movies. (That's what happens in rom-coms, right? I never watch them so I'm just guessing.)

OK, they don't end up dead. They fall in love because they were always destined to because IT'S A FREAKING ROM-COM! Since the template is so rigid, the success and failure of one's enjoyment of a rom-com comes down to the execution and it does well enough. Wong and Park are appealing, albeit not deep enough for the more dramatic bits, but have a believable chemistry. Their script is also notable for the amount of laugh lines they dish out to bit players; the biggest LOLs are throwaway gags, sometimes from these near-extras.

But the secret sauce is the Very Special Guest Star whose participation has apparently been a big meme on the parts of the Internet I don't notice and is given away at the end of the trailer, which is why it's not included here. (Same as with The Perfection. Stop it, Netflix!) If you somehow have missed the surprise, DON'T LOOK AT ANYTHING ELSE IF YOU PLAN ON WATCHING ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE! Especially IMDB in iPad which lists them first! The surprise is worth it, especially with the performance they deliver. (If you've heard about it and wondered if it's all that, it is.)

Some are making a big deal about almost completely non-gringo cast, but ignore that divisive crap. Just as Crazy Rich Asians was only different because of its cast, setting and economic bracket, not its core story, same goes for Always Be My Maybe. With only the most superficial of changes, this could've been made with white, black or Martian casts.

Score: 7/10. Worth watching on Netflix.

"The Perfection" Review

My girlfriend tipped me to check out The Perfection, one of Netflix's seemingly endless string of original releases. As she'd done a few years ago with Knock Knock, she'd warned me to not watch the trailer - she's not kidding; I usually put trailers at the bottom of these reviews, but this gives away so much and it's the thing that autoplays while you're scrolling in Netflix! - or any reviews, but to just watch it because it was short (90 mins) and entertaining.

OK, but same as with Knock Knock how do you review a movie where the surprises are the whole point especially when even warning that there are surprises ruins the surprise because you're always trying to figure out what the [heck] is going on? (see: watching any M. Night Shyamalan movie) Here goes nothing...

Allison Williams (Marnie from Girls; she'll always be Marnie) stars as Marnie Charlotte, a young woman whose mother has just died. After she leaves her mother's deathbed, she travels to Shanghai where we're somewhat clumsily told she used to be a cello prodigy, but had to leave her uber-elite music academy as a young teenager when her mother had a stroke a decade before and in caring for her, sacrificed her musical career. (No other family? No father?) She's been allowed by the school's headmaster, Anton (Steven Weber channeling Ron Rifkin) to come and help select a student for a scholarship to the school in Boston.

Literally looming (on billboards) over her is Lizzie (Logan Browning from Netflix's Dear White People), a cellist five years younger than Marnie who was coming into the academy as she was leaving and went on to a celebrated career and is the lead judge in the scholarship hunt. Marnie is tentative around her, but put at ease when Lizzie confesses to being a huge fangirl of hers and an inspiration to her playing. This rapidly sets them on a path of drinking, dancing and, of course, lesbian sex, because of course it does.

The morning after, a very hungover Lizzie prepares for a roughing-it trip into the interior of China as an adventure and invites Marnie along. However, it isn't long before her hangover seems to be taking a severe turn and her ill-feelings of intense thirst and nausea lead to the pair being tossed off the bus in the middle of nowhere where Lizzie begins exhibiting serious body horror symptoms. What is happening to her and what can she do about it?

And here is where the synopsis has to end about a third of the way into The Perfection's run time because this is where the twists and reveals begin. As mentioned above, I hate even knowing something is going to happen in a story because my mind goes into overdrive trying to guess what's coming, so I hate having to spoil the reader's ability to go in blindly, but as a critic one has to criticize as best as possible. (Again, I'm not kidding about not watching the trailer. They blow it all 50 seconds in.)

While I was genuinely intrigued as to which path the story was going to take in the build-up, after the Big Moment (which I called just ahead of confirmation) and subsequent revelation as to what really happened, I was able to anticipate pretty much most of the twists and turns, albeit not until right before they occurred as the drift became clear. The problem with this structure is that after repetition, it makes it even easier to spot the twists. Also, the last act, which is meant to be truly bonkers, gets so ludicrous that it got annoying and I say this as an avid Riverdale viewer.

Browning is the MVP here with some really heavy lifting done making what could've been a shrill or hysterical caricature grounded. Williams is doing that slightly chilly, overly-engaged-yet-aloof thing that was her stock in trade as Marnie and the temptress in Get Out, but it works.

Director/co-writer Richard Shepard's IMDB stretches back 30 years with a couple of "I've heard of, but not seen that" titles, a dozen episodes of Girls (thus Marnie), and his feature debut was The Linguini Incident, a 1991 trivia answer starring Rosanna Arquette and David Bowie. (I'm not sure how he keeps getting work considering his movies make squat, but someone likes him.) Assisted by some snappy editing by David Dean, Shepard's storytelling is initial engaging, but somehow manages to end up simultaneously going too far and nowhere near far enough. (As crazy as it gets, it should've both gone crazier AND reigned it in a bit.)

Score: 5/10. Worth watching on Netflix.

Trailer omitted because it really is a spoilerific thing, but if you just gotta see it, go here.

"The Dirt" Review

/taps microphone

The Dirt is a better movie than Bohemian Rhapsody. FIGHT ME!

Based on the autobiography of Motley Crue of the same name, The Dirt dishes the, well, dirt on the notorious 1980s metal band known for hits like "Looks That Kill" and "Dr. Feelgood" when they weren't committing vehicular manslaughter (singer Vince Neill killed Hanoi Rocks member Razzle while drunk driving in 1984 and served a whopping couple of weeks in jail), dying of overdoses (bassist Nikki Sixx, twice), marrying Heather Locklear (that would be Tommy Lee), and countless other shenanigans.

Using a brisk pace and multi-POV structure which lets each member have the spotlight (though guitarist Mick Mars gets less time because he was more restrained in his antics), The Dirt manages to cover the band's formation, rise to superstardom and then the obligatory valleys of despair as drinking and drugging take their creative, interpersonal and health tolls.

Director Jeff Tremaine hasn't appeared to have done a serious narrative film before - his previous oeuvre is the Jackass features and Johnny Knoxville's actually sweet-tempered Bad Grandpa mockumentary - but his anarchic CV lends itself well to depicting the chaos of the band's party all the time lifestyle  (the sequence where Tommy Lee runs us through a typical day is a hoot) while managing to slow down for the dramatic parts like Sixx's $1000-a-day heroin habit and Neill's young daughter dying of cancer, something I'd never known about.

So why is The Dirt is a better movie than Bohemian Rhapsody? Because while it condenses a 430-page book down to a 110-minute movie - my Facebook feed was awash in book-to-movie comparisons by musician pals - and has to leave lots of stuff behind, it gets the important events correct in the right places in history. None of the baffling shuffling of the songs and events that Queen fans spotted in an instant (and too many excused) for no reason other than because reasons. Sure, it glosses over the past three decades and ignores that it's been 30 years since they had a memorable album - quick: how many albums did they release after Dr. Feelgood? (A: Four) - but how many bands really stayed artistically potent after much more than a decade? The accuracy slows the movie down as dying children and drug debilitation aren't peppy subjects, but it's non-fatal.

The performances are pretty solid especially Douglas Booth as Nikki Sixx and Colson Baker (a.k.a. rapper Machine Gun Kelly) as Tommy Lee. Tony Cavalero has a great cameo as Ozzy Osbourne, Rebekah Graf is a double-take worthy Locklear doppleganger, and I don't know who Katherine Neff is but her resemblance to ScarJo was unnerving. Nothing against his performance, but Game Of Thrones' Iwan Rheon (he was Ramsey Bolton, last seen getting his face eaten off by his dogs) distracted from his Mick Mars and Pete Davidson (label A&R weasel Tom Zutaut) just did Pete Davidson; he's not Jimmy Fallon in Almost Famous.

While book-readers may complain about this not being a miniseries with all the stories, for causal and more involved fans of Motley Crue, there's plenty enough dirt to be found in The Dirt. Want more? Go read the book, kids.

Score: 7.5/10. Watch it.

"Mortal Engines" Review

Despite splashing Peter Jackson's name all over the marketing to leverage his Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit fame though he wasn't the director (that would be Christian Rivers), Mortal Engines ended up one of 2018's biggest flops, grossing a meager $83M worldwide against a reported $100M budget plus whatever marketing costs were. Based on the first of a quartet of dystopian future YA novels, there won't be any sequels, that's for sure.

Set over 1000 years in the future (the way they disclose this detail is cute) after the 60-Minute War eradicated most of humanity, the remnants live on moving cities and villages eking a hardscrabble existence with a watch on the horizon for predator cities like the mountainous London which run down and scoop up smaller cities for their resources.

After one such ingestion, a masked girl, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar, me neither), sneaks a weapon through refugee intake and it just so happens London's de facto boss, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving, the only name actor in this movie), is there and she wants to kill him because backstory vendetta. She manages to stab him, but is stopped by a young man, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan, also me neither and looks like Ian Somerhalder and Eddie Redmayne had a son) who attempts to apprehend her as she flees into the bowels of London. Before she drops down into a trash exhaust funnel, she explains to him that Valentine killed her mother and scarred her face, but when he tells Valentine what she said, he gets shoved down the chute himself.

Now on foot in the trenches torn up my London's massive treads, Tom learns from Hester all sorts of backstory and do you think perhaps these crazy kids may fall in love? Meanwhile, Valentine is building some superweapon up in St. Peter's Cathedral atop London with the intention of breaching the Shield Wall protecting what was China. (Gotta get that international box office bait these days.) Fighting from there is the Anti-Traction League including the wanted Anna Fang (Jihae Kim, who is so androgynous that I looked up whether she was transgender) who flies a wild airship.

While the story is adequate enough - it was adapted by Jackson and his LOTR co-writers - to make you care enough for the characters, what really held my attention throughout Mortal Engines was the eye-popping production and costume design and visual effects (check out the VFX breakdown reel below) which brought this somewhat ridiculous steampunk-cum-Hunger Games milleau to vibrant life. I'm genuinely surprised that none of these categories garnered Oscar nominations and I felt sorry for the armies of artists who poured their talents into environments that were barely glimpsed, but without the world would've been empty.

Visually exceptional, but merely OK otherwise, it's not a big surprise it didn't blow up the box office, but it's still worth watching in HD on a nice home theater.

Score: 7/10. Rent it on Blu-ray.

"Blurred Lines: Inside The Art World"

Most modern art is rubbish. Ever since post-modernism replaced the need for talent with a need to bamboozle, "art" is whatever a bunch of herd animals have been told it is by their grifter masters and does the saying about fools and their money ever apply here.

While the trailer (below) implies that Blurred Lines: Inside The Art World rips the lid off the uber-high dollar market with interviews with the biggest players on the artist, gallery, auction house and journalistic sides of the symbiotic scene, the end result is as superficial as the subject matter because no way are any of these people going to blow up the scam that has made them rich or influential in the first place.

When you see the paranoia about how much art is "worth" which overhangs the decisions underlying what works and how many artists create, what galleries and dealers showcase them, what they initially sell for, whether art fairs are good or bad because they allow the rabble to see things usually reserved for the oligarchs, etc. it makes the few ponderings whether all this money is a good thing for art as "ART" seem a passing concern since there's hella chedda to be made, yo.

Me, I'll stick to buying pieces from local artists that I find appeal to what I want on my wall; not what will impress shallow art snogs or what may be a good investment.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

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