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!

"Ava" Review

Alrightee then. It's going to be one of these reviews where you watch the trailer then we discuss. Start here, please:


OK, what is Ava about? Is it about Jessica Chastain playing the titular assassin, recruited and trained by John Malkovich, who has run afoul of Colin Ferrell's rules and wants her dead? Shooty shooty, fighty fighty, pretty girl gets mussy and she shoots him at the end? (Not a spoiler if you watched the trailer.) Also something with Common being an ex-boyfriend, too?

We'll you're partially right. Did you also notice the part about her incredibly toxic family (sister Jess Weixler and mother Geena Davis, who are so snarky that at one point I asked my girlfriend, "She's going to murder them, right?") and how singer sis is now engaged to Common having come together after Ava had bolted from their lives 8 years previously? How about how Ava is a recovering alcoholic and junkie and that big chunks of time are spent with her going to an AA meeting and thinking about drinking when she's not rescuing Common from his gambling addiction? No? Hmmm, wonder why?

It's as if writer Matthew Newton (whose Wikipedia page raises big questions as to how he's kept working with his track record of violence against women) couldn't decide whether he wanted to make a kickass assassin chick flick or a Lifetime movie about lousy families and addiction and decided to mash them together into a story that's half predictable thriller and half annoying melodrama. Perhaps he imaged it was a nuanced portrait of someone something overcoming demons blah-blah-woof-woof, but it's not.

The premise of there being Assassinations 'R' Us-type corporations with massive unseen infrastructures able to dispatch "cleanup teams" to mop up botched hits who have to knock off their best assassins is so hoary as to be as lame as wondering if the bickering couple with fall in love by the end of a rom-com. Just off the top of my head I can name La Femme Nikita, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and the John Wick series, but at least those had some buzzy style and didn't bog down in family drivel.

The thing is that trimmed of the entire family aspect, there may have been an interesting story to be told about an ace assassin who's always been verging on wobbly, finally annoying her masters too much with her existential angst. (You really need to pay attention to the opening credits because almost all of Chastain's backstory is conveyed via photos, news clippings, and screenshots.) This is mostly due to Chastain's usual brittle-shelled vulnerability that clues us into her inner turmoil. But it's all in service of a story that needed to pick a lane.

 Other than Chastain, Malkovich's performance is interesting if only he's not being his usual "I'm the new Christopher Walken; the guy who brings the weird to the supporting character tier" though his surrogate father figure purpose to Chastain is also threadbare. Davis is fine as an awful person with one scene clearly put in to justify her not being whacked. Ferrell is adequate in a cliched role. But it's Common who lives down to his moniker with yet another trademark wooden performance where he's only distinguishable from the sets by being the one wearing a watch cap.

While the fights are nicely choreographed and satisfyingly visceral - it's no Atomic Blonde, but that was directed by the guy who did John Wick and Deadpool 2 - and Chastain is plausible enough as an action heroine, Ava simply can't stand out from either of its genres to make it worth watching for either reason.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Project Power" 4K Review

The latest Netflix Original movie which looks like it could've played in theaters is Project Power, a glossy high-concept sci-fi action flick starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Dominique Fishback. Budgeted at $85M, it's hardly a TV movie, but despite an intriguing premise, it doesn't really pay off.

The movie opens with a group of New Orleans drug dealers being addressed by a clearly Evil Corporate Guy about how he was going to give them free supplies of a new drug called Power to sell. What does it do? It gives the taker five minutes of superpower, though there is no way to tell what that power will be. You may become invisible or super strong or bulletproof or you may explode, so caveat emptor. (But once you find your power, it's the same thing every time; the only question is answered with the first dose.)

Six weeks later, the Big Easy is awash in reports of freaky incidents of people outrunning or throwing cars as the Power spreads. We meet Robin (Fishback) in an abandoned amusement park getting jumped by a trio of customers. Fortunately, NOPD Detective Frank (Gordon-Levitt) is on the scene to break up the deal, arresting her and allowing the guys to leave. After they do, he uncuffs her and it's revealed that he's not only a cop, he's a customer for Power, seeking to even the odds against the Power-enhanced crooks. This is illustrated in a subsequent scene where he captures an invisible bank robber who shoots him in the head only to have the bullet bounce off Frank's Powered bulletproof skin. 

Meanwhile, Art (Foxx) is trying to find the suppliers of Power who also kidnapped his daughter. He tracks down one of the opening scene's dealers, Newt (Machine Gun Kelly, credited as Colson Baker), in a squalid tenement posing as a buyer. In a bonkers sequence that ensues, we get our first look at what Power does as Newt basically becomes the Human Torch from Fantastic Four. Art narrowly escapes, but retrieves a cell phone which is receiving texts from Robin, so he begins to track her down.

In the aftermath of the bank heist, Frank is suspicious of the dark-suited guys who showed up to take control of the robbery scene and pressures his Captain (Courtney B. Vance) to not suspend him for using Power so he can find out what's going on. Captain gives him a sheet with Art's photo on it listing him as "The Major" and the source of Power. This sets everyone on a collision course based on misinformation as to who's really in control and what the ultimate plan is. 

While the premise seems like something from a comic book, it's actually an original screenplay by rookie Mattson Tomlin (who is co-writer of the upcoming Matt Reeves The Batman reboot) and the lapses here raise some concern for the Caped Crusader. For starters, the five-minute time limit raises some logical problems namely what is the user's incentive to keep taking a $500 pill for such a short effective period. OK, you've taken the pill, you're now a fire monster or have bone spikes bursting from your body making you an ersatz Wolverine, but then what? You burn the house down or stab someone and then want to shell out $500 more? Seems like a pricey high even if you can throw cars for five minutes with your superstrength. 

But the bigger problem is that the concept is trapped within a very predictable trope-bound plot. The makers are a Very Evil Pharmaceutical Company using the users as paying lab rats intending to sell the Power to the highest bidder - get it? - who will then have what exactly? A fighting force of random X-Men for five minutes at a time? When Art demurs about what his power was, is it any question that the Big Star is going to uncork something uber-strong by the end? No, it isn't. 

On the plus side, directorial team Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3 & 4, Nerve reviewed here) shoot things with a shiny neon-lit eye similar to Nerve, focusing on the rundown areas of NOLA that don't appear on the tour brochures. You don't often see movies set with economically-deprived areas and characters. Of course it ladles in a dose of social justice wokeism on top of a cast where nearly all the villains are white with Levitt being the only "good one," but it's not sledgehammered and one scene flips the script a bit for laughs. The Power trips are well executed with top notch visual effects for the most part.

Performances are solid, though no one is really bringing their AAA game. The shocker was Fishback as the teenaged dealer with a flair for freestyle rap (written by Chika, who appears as Robin's classmate) because she's unrecognizable under her braids as being from The Deuce. (She's actually nearly 30 years old.)

On the technical side, the Dolby Vision version is a good showcase for your capable home theater, but the attendant Atmos soundtrack doesn't really utilize the height channels very much; mostly settles for low end hip-hop boom for the subwoofer.

Since there's nothing in theaters due to Hot Fad Plague 2020 and you're already paying for Netflix, Project Power is already waiting for you as The Old Guard was a few weeks back. While not as good as the somewhat underwhelming Charlize Theron actioner, it's not that bad. Just go in with appropriate expectations.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Howard" Review

This documentary's titular Howard is Howard Ashman, the brilliant lyricist who teamed with composer Alan Menken to power Disney's animation Renaissance with their songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, and Aladdin as well as previously collaborating on the cult musical Little Shop of Horrors in an impressive run before dying of AIDS in 1991 at age 40. He won two Oscars (out of seven nominations over just four movies), two Golden Globes, five Grammys, and numerous theater awards, but no Tonys despite four nominations.

Comprised of narrated photos and archival clips narrated by friends, family, and colleagues, it recounts his life story, his youthful forays into theater as an actor, his homosexuality and travels to New York City to establish a noted small theater company, eventually leading to his career as a lyricist which, along with Ashman, created the aforementioned blockbusters. 

Aimed more at musical nerd adults than children who enjoy the cartoons, Howard will mostly interest those interested in the gritty Boho days of NYC in the Seventies and pre-Guliani Eighties. While it doesn't lean too heavily into Pride wokeness agenda-pushing, it does candidly address his lifestyle which, while committed to his partners, still resulted in his untimely death. 

Score: 7/10. Catch it on Mouse+. 

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