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"The Fall Guy" 4K Review

 The 2024 Summer movie season started with a thud as the hotly anticipated big screen reboot of the old 1980s TV series The Fall Guy starring Ryan Gosling (fresh off of an Oscar nomination for Barbie) and Emily Blunt (fresh off an Oscar nomination for Oppenheimer). Retooled as a rom-com action caper, it was expected to kick things off with a bang. Instead it was a damp squib grossing only $34M its opening weekend leading to it's being rushed to streaming after only 19 days in release while still in theaters. It had decent reviews and the stars are well-liked, so what went wrong?

Well, for starters, it's not a particularly good movie with a bad script, but since when has that been an impediment to financial success for Hollyweird?

Gosling stars as Colt Seavers, ace stuntman who's having a fling with Blunt's camera operator Jody Moreno. He's the lead stunt double for a-hole movie star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), but things go very wrong on a stunt and his back is broken.

18 months later, he's out of the business and working as a valet when the call comes from producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham, Ted Lasso) that she needs him to fly to Australia to double Ryder after his stunt double is injured. He's reluctant, but when he hears the director is Jody, making her debut, he hops on the plane, arriving on the set jet-lagged, but glad to see the stunt coordinator is Dan Tucker (Winston Duke, Black Panther). Less glad to see him is Jody who subjects him to repeated takes of a fire stunt while discussing their failed relationship over a bullhorn in transparently veiled terms.

Gail tells Colt what he's really needed for is to locate Ryder who's gone missing from the set, presumably on a bender. She tells him that unless he finds the wayward star and returns him to the set, the movie will be shut down and Jody's big break will be ruined. So of course he heads out to find Ryder, but instead finds what appears to be Ryder's corpse in a tub filled with ice which leaves Colt the prime suspect.

There are so many problems with The Fall Guy's script that it's hard to know where to begin, but since it's a rom-com/action flick we should begin with the childish relationship Colt and Jody supposedly have. Writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Hobbs & Shaw, Hotel Artemis) seems to never been in a relationship with an adult as every chemistry-free exchange between the two mistakes coyness for banter and they're so silly that I began rooting for them to not get together as is pre-ordained by these sorts of movies.

The caper plot is wildly convoluted and requires so many outside players that it'd never hold together, but what really stuck out was how many things would never happen even by the loose reality standards of silly popcorn movies. Jody would never advance from camera operator to director. Cinematographer or 2nd unit director, sure; operator, never. Colt's injury ended his career and we see him putting some electrical stimulator on it, but as he is repeatedly beaten, hit by cars, making high falls, etc. he never seems to suffer any ill effects.

Most egregious is the aforementioned scene where Jody repeatedly has Colt set on fire then thrown on wires into a rock (back injury, remember?) as obvious retribution for his falling out of her life after the accident. She is openly making it clear she's doing this to punish the man she supposedly feels for, but instead of being cute and romantic as Pearce imagines, it comes of as cruel and would be career suicide. Michael Bay wouldn't get away with enacting a personal vendetta against a stunt player - the stunt coordinator would step in and the studio would whack him - so there's no way a rookie female director would work again especially if Colt was injured.

There's a character of Ryder's assistant, Alma (Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All At Once), who appears out of nowhere, participates in an action sequence, then vanishes without a trace and the movie within the movie's starlet, Iggy Palmer (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies), has a wild fight scene with Colt that makes no logical sense. The movie feels like it's missing chunks of plot to make it a still too long 2h 5m runtime.

While the script may be problematic, the greater problem is that David Leitch is not good at balancing tone in comedy and basic storytelling mechanics. Frankly, every movie he's made since "co-directing John Wick" has been inferior to the John Wick sequels directed by Chad Stahelski. Ive seen them all, so let's run 'em down:

Atomic Blonde - Very good except for having one too many twists at the end - seriously, drop any one of them and it's a better movie; having them all trips it up - and the fatal flaw of telling the story as flashbacks so there's never any tension because we know she survives. (Steven Soderbergh made the same mistake with Haywire.)

Deadpool 2 - The humor too often felt forced and mean-spirited compared to the original. Drags on too long.

F&F Hobbs & Shaw - More forced humor as it makes the fundamental mistake of trying to be a buddy action movie in which both leads get to be the funny guy. 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon had odd couple pairings, one wild man, one straight man; H&S had both Rock & Statham playing for laughs which Idris Elba was in a different, more serious movie, then stopped everything dead for Ryan Reynolds & Kevin Hart cameos.

Bullet Train - More tedious blathering "humor" with Brian Tyree Henry's endless nattering on about what Thomas the Tank Engine character various people represent. Who talks like this? No one. Once again, cool action fights wasted on clunky storytelling.

Leitch can stage and execute action well, but when it comes to telling a story or doing comedy - which is an art that comedy directors often struggle with (looking at you, John Landis) - he messes it up more than not. In The Fall Guy he makes a fatal mistake in shooting long rom-com banter scenes as single-take oners. Comedy is about timing and editing can make it sing, but when there's nothing to cut away to then you just have people babbling tediously.

 All the actors do what they can with the weak script and poor direction - Leitch, being a former stuntman both gets into the nitty gritty of how stunts are done and also shows patently unsafe or impossible practices - but poor Blunt really suffers from the weak writing. The missus proposed that someone like Rachel McAdams (The Notebook reunion!) may've been better, but I don't anyone could've overcome the structural issues of script and direction.

And if Hollyweird doesn't want to keep losing money, they need to stop letting Leitch make mediocre movies.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.

The opening and closing bits on the street and screening room aren't in the actual movie.

"Romeo Is Bleeding" Review

Because I'm not great about maintaining this site, I never wrote a review for Romeo Is Bleeding when we watched the DVD in February 2021, but looking back I see I drafted the first paragraph of a review:

"I couldn't remember much about the 1993 noir crime drama Romeo Is Bleeding other than one shot (which is one of the great foreshadowing bits in movies), that co-star Lena Olin was hot, and that it was a pretty good movie. After revisiting it for the first time in easily 20-plus years, only the first two points hold up."

 I gave it a score of 5/10. After rewatching it at the behest of the missus, I was being too generous. 

Gary Oldman stars as dirty cop Jack Grimaldi, who supplements his detective income with doing favors for Mob boss Don Falcone (Roy Scheider) via his middleman Sal (Michael Wincott). He's married to Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) and they have a cute house overlooking a cemetary. He also has a ditzy waitress side piece, Sheri (Juliette Lewis).

 After providing the location of a Mob informant (an uncredited Dennis Farina) to Falcone, the informant and the FBI babysitters all get whacked by hitwoman Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin). Jack isn't happy about fellow lawmen getting killed and when she's arrested Falcone orders Jack to kill her. Conveniently, he gets assigned to transport her to a safe house hotel and she immediately begins to seduce him and because he's clearly not the sharpest bulb in the henhouse (I never really mastered idioms) he goes along with it only to be interrupted by the Feds arriving to pick her up.

Displeased by his failure, Falcone gives Jack two days to kill Mona. Mona counters by offering him a pile of money to help her fake her death, but of course there are going to be double-crosses and twisty turns of plot as Jack's double life unravels.

What's notable about Romeo Is Bleeding is how stacked the cast is. In addition to the previously mentioned actors, Will Patton, Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos), James Cromwell, and Ron Perlman all have bit parts. What's also notable is how mediocre the whole thing is as it borders on parody of what a noir crime story is with obligatory jazzy score heavy on double bass and wheezing saxophone. A year later Pulp Fiction would nuke the old ways the same as how Star Wars made the previous year's Logan's Run seem like something 20 years older.

Screenwriter Hilary Henkin has only a few credits with the wild context of her previous film being co-writer of the original Road House and her sole subsequent (and final) credit being the brilliant Wag The Dog for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay with legendary playwright David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables) who I'm fairly certain did the heavy lifting. From the voiceover narration to the spoiler opening which tells us Jack's never in mortal peril. Director Peter Medak (that Species II may be his most known film speaks volumes) tries to jazz things up with some unique camera choices, but can't overcome the script.

(MEMO TO SCREENWRITERS/DIRECTORS: When you tell stories in flashback & we're supposed to be concerned whether the protagonist will survive perils, the fact they're alive in the present tells us they won't die, so no tension. Offenders: Atomic Blonde, Haywire, Romeo Is Bleeding)

Considering the thinness of the rote boilerplate plot, the actors don't really have characters to play as much as tropes and cartoons. Oldman is sweaty and panicked, Olin is exotic & loves being a killer in inappropriate outfit, Sciorra is cute, but Lewis is stuck as Jack's bimbette Sheri who is so dumb that when he stops by to see her after shagging Mona, I snarked to the missus, "This is like going finishing a fine steakhouse dinner then deciding to hit Taco Bell on the way home."

After finally writing up a review for Romeo Is Bleeding I hope I can finally remember that it's not as good as I remembered and stop watching it again. Spare yourself having to remember yourself.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

This trailer's music is utterly unrelated to the film's tone. WTF?

"Abigail" Review

The elevator pitch for Abigail is a model of brevity: An ersatz group of criminals kidnap a young girl and are to hole up in a mansion with her for 24 hours until a $50 million ransom is paid. The problem is that they are locked in without their cell phones and the girl is a VAMPIRE who begins knocking them off! (Not a spoiler, literally the selling point in the trailer.) Hijinx ensue.

 There's not much more to recap than that and just as with Damsel spending too much time vamping its first act as if we don't know where it's going (again, the trailers sell the twists), we get to spend over 40 minutes meeting the crew assembled by mastermind Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito). There's obvious Final Girl Joey (Melissa Barrera, Scream V & VI) who seems wrong for a life of crime; twitchy hard case Frank (Dan Stevens, Downtown Abbey!); dumb French-Canuckian muscle Peter (Kevin Durand); sniper Rickles (Will Catlett); annoying hacker chick Sammy (Kathryn Newton, as annoying as she was in Lisa Frankenstein); and creepy wheelman Dean (Angus Cloud, Euphoria, who the movie is dedicated to as he died of an OD in 2023).

The time is spent fleshing out who these strangers to each other are - the names are dished out my Lambert based on the Rat Pack - and it's interesting, but drags out too long as we wait for the vampire action to begin. But when it does begin, it's off to the races with some killer kills & some plot developments that weren't obvious and kept things fresh as Abigail (Alisha Weir) whips between pretending to be a helpless little ballerina and the monster she truly is.

In thinking about Abigail's above-average quality where the results transcend the premise, I thought about Ready or Not, the 2019 Samara Weaving-starring movie about a bride who spends her wedding night being hunted by her new in-laws in a demonic version of Family Game Night and that turned out to be an apt comparison because directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett helmed that lean mean thriller and subsequent Scream reboot movies. They know how to do "trapped in a mansion" horror well, so I was surprised to see that Abigail was a box office disappointment, most due to a weirdly high budget for a few name stars horror flick.

Other than the first act being twice as long as necessary - we know what the twist is; quit trying to drag things out, filmmakers - Abigail is a bloody good time with good gallows laughs to go with the oceans of blood.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on cable.

Trailer gives away too many good moments. The review sets the premise and is all you need.

"The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare" 4K Review

Guy Ritchie has had a wildly uneven career, qualitatively and successfully. After breaking out at the turn of the Millennium with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he face-planted with the Madonna-led flop Swept Away (which led to their marriage and her sucking his talent away) and followed with a pair of movies so mediocre,  Revolver and RocknRolla, that I demanded he be blocked from making more movies.

He caught a reprieve when 2009's Sherlock Holmes (5/10, cable) was able to ride Robert Downey Jr.'s post-Iron Man Renaissance to box office gold, but then followed with a trio of disappointing efforts in the sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (didn't see), the bland The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (3/10, skip), and the disastrous King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (DNS), which killed a planned half-dozen movie franchise. (Memo to studios: Try making ONE good and successful movie before planning on making a bunch of them.)

But like a phoenix he came back with the last big Disney live action cash grab before the world ended in 2020 with the Will Smith-fronted Aladdin (DNS). Given a new lease on career, he then promptly reeled off a string of yawners and duds beginning with The Gentlemen (5/10, cable - the new Netflix series has good buzz, not that I buy it), Wrath of Man (4/10, skip), Worst Title Ever entrant Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (5.5/10, cable), and Guy Ritchie's The Covenant (haven't seen it yet, heard good things). Which brings us to his latest flop which only grossed $20 million worldwide on a $60M production budget, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, his latest exercise in working so hard to seem cool that he forgets to make it very interesting.

Based on an actual true caper called Operation Postmaster pulled off by far less attractive people than our stars here, TMoUW stars  Henry Cavill as Gus March-Phillipps (who was reputed to be one of Ian Fleming's inspirations for James Bond), a bit of a rogue who is tasked by Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) via Brigadier Gubbins (Cary Elwes), also known as M (another Bond reference), to assemble an off-the-books raid to disrupt the Nazis U-boat supply chain in early-1942.

Because the German subs are sinking half of the ships traversing the Atlantic, England is being starved of supplies and the Americans are reluctant to enter the war in Europe. If the supply ship which brings CO2 scrubber cartridges (which allow the subs to stay submerged undetected for long periods) were to be sunk in its port on a neutral island of Fernando Po off the African coast, it would force the subs to be on the surface enough to be spotted and taken out. 

Gus assembles a crew including Alan Ritchson (Reacher), Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians), Hero Fiennes Tiffin and sets off on a fishing vessel with a stop at Nazi island base where Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer) is being held and interrogated. After a super easy, barely an inconvenience raid to free him, they head for the ship. Since it's an secret mission, if the British Navy catches them, they'll be arrested, and of course the Nazis will be less friendly.

Concurrently, a second team of a Heron (Babs Olusanmokun, the doctor on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and the Freman that Paul kills at the end of Dune Part 1), who runs a casino hall on the island and has connections to additional forces and weapons, and Majorie Stewart (Eiza González) travel to the island to reconnoiter and set up distractions to cover the raid. Majorie catches the eye of SS commander Luhr (Til Schweiger) and proceeds to play a high stakes game of seduction considering she's Jewish.

Along the way complications arise including the supply ship's departure being moved up, the hull being reinforced with armor, and a mole in the Ministry (20 points to anyone who gets that reference) making anything less than total success for our crew not an option.

While slickly made, Ritchie once again manages to drain the energy out of the story with leisurely pacing and an inconsistent tone which feels like a mashup of war movie and Ocean's 11. Are you making a war drama about a desperate mission upon which the survival of England hangs upon opening the seas or is it a jokey action comedy?

Everyone wears plot armor and barely gets a scratch while hordes of Nazis are mowed down. Characters are flattened into a pretty two-dimensional picture without much internal motivation beyond the most superficial like Marjorie's natural antipathy to the Nazis attempting to exterminate her kind. Compare this to something like Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds which was a revisionist war fantasy film and Ritchie and his three co-writers really come up short.

Cavill has an impressive beard and swagger, but other than the quiet comedy of him cleaning out the good cigars and booze while being ordered on the mission, he's just another one of Ritchie's shallow gentlemen like, well, The Gentlemen. The rest of the cast is fine, but not really challenged.

In counterpoint, the missus really enjoyed it more than she expected and I'm sure the presence of hunks Cavill and Golding had nothing to do with it. To be fair, González is a dish, especially when she shows up in a Cleopatra costume and asks if the dress is OK, to which I remarked, "It's not the dress."

The 4K presentation has good colors and balance, but not much in the way of demo-worthy HDR grading. It looks good on good TVs. Audio is fine; nothing outstanding.

Score: 5.5/10. Catch it on cable.

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