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"Sisu" Review

Sisu is a Finnish concept that doesn't directly translate as a word, but means an extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity, and courage that is presented typically in situations where success is unlikely. It is also the title of an awesome Finnish movie whose plot can be translated to "John Wick + Rambo versus Nazis during WWII."

Set in 1944 as the war is winding down; Finland has signed a treaty with Russia to cease aggression if they'll get their former German allies out of there. As the Nazis leave they destroy everything - roads, bridges, towns - on their way. The are the Bad Guys.

Far away from the fighting we meet Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), an old man prospecting for gold in the wilds of Lapland with only the company of his horse and dog. Bombers fly overhead and he can see the flashes and sounds of war in the distance, but he ignores them. One day his efforts are rewarded as he hits a rich vein of gold. He loads his bags with the haul and heads for civilization to cash in his score.

On the way he passes a platoon of Germans led by SS officer Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) and while some side eye glances are exchanged, they don't bother the old man. He's not as fortunate when he encounters a small group of soldiers down the road. They stop and search him and when they discover the gold, prepare to execute him. Big mistake. Aatami swiftly and brutally kills them all and takes off, but the sound of gunfire carried to the platoon and Helldorf turns them around to investigate. 

Upon finding the carnage and a gold nugget, he sets off after the man who killed his men, both to punish and to get the gold because he knows the war is lost for the Fatherland and he is likely headed for a noose, but that gold could buy him out of that fate. He chases Aatami into a mine field and with a bunch of soldiers and a tank versus one old man, he figures the odds should be in their favor. They are not in their favor. They are basically outnumbered. Whoops!

 I'm not going to deny you the joys of this over-the-top grindhouse murderfest by detailing the plot further. (The trailer gives away too much in my opinion.) But suffice to say it's Many Nazis vs One Old Man, trying to get his gold and him killing the everloving bejeebers out of them. The hilariously brutal kills ride the line between gory realism and Evil Dead-level preposterous, but never get revolting. Besides, they're Nazis. They're the baddies and deserve unpleasant fates.

The only German who gets a shred of character development is Helldorf due to his motivation not of just rapacious greed, but mercenary self-interest; he needs that gold to buy his life, so even when ordered by his commanders to stop chasing Aatami because he is a nearly-mythical warrior, as revealed by his dog tag which they retrieve, he sees no way out.

 As for Aatami, he's like the answer to what if Liam Neeson was even older and more grizzled and seemingly unkillable? He experiences injuries which should hobble or kill mere mortals, but just soldiers on. He's not a freak of nature like a Schwarzenegger, but the embodiment of the titualar sisu, he is fueled by determination and a simple refusal to die. This works due to Tommila's glowering performance which is virtually dialogue-free. Much as been made about how few words Keanu Reeves spoke in John Wick: Chapter Four (reportedly fewer than 700 in a nearly three-hour movie), but Aatami literally says NOTHING until the last 10 seconds of the film and in the English translation amounts to only TEN words. (Despite being a Finnish production, everyone speaks English until the final scenes for some reason and due to a glitch in the subtitles, the very last line didn't display for me. Not cool. Had to look it up.)

 Writer-director Jalmari Helander and cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos team up to make the barren Lapland tundra a character itself, a landscape of foreboding dark beauty pocked by scorched ruins left in the Nazis wake.

The lean and extremely mean 91-minute runtime also doesn't allow the story to bog down unnecessarily. It's kill or be killed (horribly) and if you're not adverse to gonzo kills in a stripped down tale not burdened with the complicated mythology of the John Wick universe, then Sisu is for you.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Mother" 4K Review

 For nearly two weeks the Writer's Guild of America has been on strike against the studios protesting the egregiously poor pay for writers, especially TV show scribes, in this current world of streaming service focused content. While I generally have antipathy towards unions, they have legit grievances which I hope are addressed. 

That said, after watching Netflix's latest original Big Deal Movie with Big Name Star, if you told me that writers don't deserve a penny when they type up forgettable, formulaic time wasters like The Mother, you wouldn't get any argument from me. And when I looked up who was responsible for this dreck, I was genuinely shocked. More on that later. 

Jennifer Lopez stars as The Mother, the never-named protagonist (just like the lead of Christopher Nolan's career-worst Tenet) who we meet as she's being interrogated in a safe house by the FBI concerning her involvement, romantically and business-wise, with two Very Bad Guys involved in arms trafficking. As one red shirt agent blusters at her, you know that [PEW!], yep, he just got shot. The house is under attack by bad guys who kill all the agents but one, Cruise (Omari Hardwick), whose life Mother saves.

Trapped upstairs she improvises a bomb and hides in the shower where she is found by Adrian (Joseph Fiennes), who after some figurative mustache twirling stabs her in her very pregnant belly, which we see for the first time. Whoa! He is a Very Bad Guy. Then the bomb goes off, setting the bathroom on fire and burning him.

Mother wakes up in the hospital, her baby alive and unharmed, but the FBI SAIC (Edie Falco, playing the same character as she did in Avatar: The Way of Water) is unhappy with Mother getting her agents killed and after rattling off some Basil Exposition infodump to let us know Mother was an ace Army sniper during the war, correctly notes that the daughter would be a walking bullseye to Adrian, who was mysteriously removed before the authorities arrived, and Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), so she demands Mother sever her parental rights so the girl can go into Witness Relocation with an adopted family. 

She agrees, but demands Cruise make sure she has a good life and family and to let her know on her birthdays that she's still OK. She then travels to Alaska where old war buddy Jons (Paul Raci) sets her up with a cabin in the woods where she stays for 12 years with no mentioned employment until one day the birthday update arrives with word from Cruise that some of Hector's henchmen were busted in Mexico and they had a photo of her daughter, named Zoe (Lucy Paez), with them so they've apparently found her.

Mother and Cruise stake out the park where Zoe and her adoptive mother, Sonya (Yvonne Senat Jones), are with Mother on sniper overwatch duty and Hector's men do show up and grab Zoe despite Mother shooting several. After narrowly escaping the goons and the cops, Mother and Cruise head to Cuba to find henchmen Tarantula (Jesse Garcia), who was at the snatch, rough him up and find out where she's being held. A quick raid later, they rescue Zoe who lashes out at Mother, but is happy to see Cruise.

However, on the long trip back to her parents - why they have to drive many many hours when there are international airports within several hours of anywhere is another unexplained mystery - very pale Zoe looks at very J.Lo Mother and realizes that she's her birth mother, which Mother denies, leaving her with Cruise to finish returning her.

Before they get home their SUV is t-boned at an intersection in the middle of farmland by Adrian and his goons. How did they know he'd be there at that exact moment and why didn't Cruise see the approaching cars across the barren fields? Don't know. Luckily, Mother shows up on a motorcycle she conjured from somewhere and rescues Zoe, getting away from the scene. She takes her up to her Alaskan cabin for some melodrama and training montages to teach Zoe the Way of the Warrior for the inevitable Final Showdown with Adrian's army.

It's hard to know where to begin with such an empty and formulaic waste of time as The Mother. It's getting to be a stock snark that Netflix is burning tons of money making supposedly theatrical-caliber movies for their home subscribers only to have them come and go like a fast food meal. (Seriously, have you rewatched Red Notice or The Gray Man or 6 Underground? Do you even remember what those were about?) But the rote Mad Libs structure of the story which doesn't break any old ground much less new is all the less comprehensible when looking up the IMDBs of the writers.

As the end credits rolled, I noted that three different writers were credited - not co-writers, but three different people wrote, then rewrote, then re-rewrote this thing into something that would get a C-minus grade from a community college screenwriting course. 

So who were these hacks? The story and thus original screenwriter was Misha Green, creator of the much-hyped Lovecraft Country. Next at bat was Andrea Berloff, Oscar-nominated co-writer of Straight Out of Compton. Whut? Batting last to strike out was Peter Craig, just Oscar-nominated for co-writing Top Gun: Maverick (a bad nomination) and previous writer of The Batman, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2, and Mr. J.Lo's The Town

These are not obviously untalented writers, but if you'd told me ChatGPT had vomited this script up, I would've believed you. A major sticking point in the WGA strike negotiations is the use of AI to create work for revision or to use AI to revise human writing, but if this is what humans of renown are typing up, then perhaps we should let SkyNet do it. Perhaps it'd be more creative in it's regurgitation of previous writing.

Director Niki Caro, who's last film was the unneeded lackluster live-action remake of Mulan, must've had far better 2nd unit directors handling the action on that because in the John Wick era action flicks, the sequences in The Mother are haphazard, shaky-cam and edit-fu slop Hollyweird still can't outgrow. With no substantive story or characters, there's little to direct.

Lopez is one of the select group of actresses who can turn the hat trick of beauty, talent, and plausibility as an ass-kicker (along with Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron) and she looks great at 51 (when it was filmed), but again with nothing to play, she can only simmer with angst against Paez's bratty kid. Only Raci (Oscar nominated for The Sound of Metal) really makes something of nothing, but is helped by looking like an old boot.

On the audio-visual front, paying for the premium tier gets you Dolby Vision and Atmos sound and you're missing nothing much if you've got the general HD tier. Audio is nothing special with no atmospherics and the visuals only show off HDR mildly in a couple of spots. 

Blah in every way that's not J.Lo's slammin' bod, The Mother is as generic and forgettable as its title.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"65" 4K Review

 The writing-directing team of Scott Beck & Bryan Woods had their breakout moment with their original script for A Quiet Place, which was rewritten and directed by John Krasinski into a growing franchise. However, after watching their leap into Big Time Directing with 65 I can't help but wonder just how much Krasinki's contributions made to making A Quiet Place the gem it was because 65 fails due to a mindless predictable trope-laden script.

 After clumsy title cards explaining that long before human history began there was an advanced planet called Somaris which explored space, we meet Mills (Adam Driver) on the beach with his wife, Alya (Nika King), as he conveniently explains that he's only taking on a two-year-long space mission to make enough money to treat their daughter Nevine's (Chloe Coleman) unspecified medical condition. (How an advanced spacefaring civilization doesn't have equally advanced medical technology and/or a socialized health care system that provides "free" care is only the beginning for the questions 65 will beg.)

 During his voyage, the ship encounters an unexpected asteroid field which strikes the ship (because the ship had no capability to steer around obstacles itself or have shields like in Passengers?) causing it to crash on an uncharted planet, losing all of its cryosleep chambers (Pitch Black did this crash better) in the process. What is this world? As the title card helpfully explains, it's Earth. 65 million years ago. Dun dun DUHN!!!!

Mills, who was not in a cryo capsule (so he was awake and alone while the human cargo slept?) discovers everyone is dead and sends a second distress message cancelling his request for rescue because what's the point? He's about to commit suicide when he changes his mind which is helpful as he discovers that one capsule survived along with its occupant. He locates it in the swamp his part of the ship crashed and finds a young girl inside it. 

He checks the manifest and learns her name is Koa (Ariana Greenblat) and sends a third distress call requesting pickup (unseen are the people at Space Command saying make up your mind, bro) and estimates her age as being about nine (because they didn't have a birthdate on the paperwork?) which if you're thinking that makes her a surrogate daughter figure for Mills like Newt was for Ripley in Aliens then you're keeping up on the Obviousfest 65 is.

 Convenient to their predicament is the discovery that the other half of the ship with an escape pod capable of escaping Earth's gravity survived on a mountain. Convenient for drama is that Koa doesn't speak Mills' language and his translator gizmo is broken, so he has to resort to speaking louder and slower for her to understand that they need to hike 10 miles to the escape pod. And, oh yeah, there are a whole lot of dinosaurs in their way who want to eat them AND the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs 65 million years ago is on its way, too! Better move faster than that leisurely pace you're on, folks!

No one expects a movie about an astronaut and a child on a planet of hungry dinosaurs to be much more than pulpy escapism, but 65 is especially burdened by too-familiar elements from better movies and being so predictable that almost every "surprise" was telegraphed well ahead of its arrival. Situations felt contrived, not organic, and the list of "Wait, what?" question begs just keeps piling up like how does the scalding power of the geysers not really seem to be a threat to Mills and Koa and how does the climatic battle between T. Rexes and their escape ship not result in catastrophic damage that would prevent their escape. And no, the "it's not supposed to be Shakespeare" excuse is not acceptable. 

Driver's performance is adequate, but he's wasted here; there's nothing that any competent actor couldn't have delivered and it's not like he's elevating the threadbare material. Greenblat's Koa is annoying and constantly doing dumb stuff, but that's the script, not her fault. The visual effects are top-notch despite the movie's SyFy Channel intellectual level and Beck and Woods do a competent job staging the action and plus points for shooting on locations in Louisiana and Oregon rather than doing it virtually on soundstages, but they not able to rise above their rote script. Perhaps they should've had Krasinski punch it up.

The movie's 4K HDR presentation is fine with sharp details and black levels, but the naturalistic cinematography doesn't present many opportunities for visual showoffery. Audio was clear with good surround usage, but again nothing to write home about. 

While a brief 90 minutes long, 65 simply doesn't do enough to fill it's runtime with much that we haven't seen done better elsewhere before.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

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