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!

"Trigger Warning" 4K Review

Serving a sub-sub-sub-genre no one specifically asked for - action movies starring hot middle-aged Latina actresses - Netflix has come through with a pair of J.Lo-led entries within the past year (the terrible The Mother and the screamingly mediocre Atlas) and now the unexpected Trigger Warning (lame title with no relationship to anything) starring Jessica Alba in her first movie in five years and frankly her first since 2014's Sin City: A Dame To Kill For that anyone may've seen other than possible Mechanic: Resurrection, which I haven't even though I own it on 4K digital. Presumably because her kids are 6 to 16 years old and her suburban living company has made her very wealthy, she's decided to return to acting as a 43-year-old action heroine. Alrighty then.

Alba stars as Parker (no last name), a Special Forces commando (don't laugh) who we're introduced to in Syria in the middle of a chase which ends up in a morally gray area. She then gets a call from Sheriff Jesse (Mark Webber), her high school boyfriend, informing her that her also surnameless father, Harry (Alejandro De Hoyos), had died in a mine cave-in. So she returns home to Creation, No State Named to discover her father's death may not have been an accident.

 Harry lived in a mining building which was converted into a bar, so she mourns by walking around drinking straight out of liquor bottles. The bar's manager, Mike (Gabriel Basso), arrives and they hang out at another bar to drink and as they leave she notices a SUV with an assault rifle laying in plain sight in the back. She decides to follow the guys and witnesses them going to rob a hardware store. (In the middle of the night?) Conveniently, the back loading door is partially open (why?) and she's able to beat up all the robbers with her commando skills.

 The actual plot gets rolling when she discovers Elvis Swann (Jake Weary) is selling stolen military arms from a neighboring arms depot (convenient) and setting up a deal with a notorious domestic terrorist. It doesn't help that Elvis' daddy is Senator Ezekiel Swann (Anthony Michael Hall) who may as well have been named Baddie Whiteguy and given a Snidely Whiplash mustache. This puts Sheriff Jesse in the middle because he is also a Swann - a detail the script doesn't make clear early enough - and may be in on covering up Harry's death while he hooks up with Parker. (Awkward.) This leads to vengeance, death, and action.

As with every so-so movie the problems begin with the script which is maddeningly generic potboiler revenge thriller stuff. Writers John Brancato (co-writer of The Game, Terminator 3, Terminator Salvation), Josh Olson (A History of Violence), and Halley Gross (The Last of Us Part II videogame, ruh-roh) have decent pedigrees, but as with the indistinguishable from a ChatGPT product script for The Mother (despite Oscar-nominated writers there), there is nothing unique or distinctive here. There's something about Netflix movies which seems to homogenize screenplays into the dumbest common denominator.

Why don't Parker and Henry have last names and why name her Parker? What state is this? Is Swann a state or national Senator? (It's more implied Congress, but we can't be sure.) What happened to her mother who is only seen in a photo? Does she have no other family? Why is this bar in the middle of nowhere? How did the mine's tunnels happen to run all the way to the arms depot and have an access hatch into a container which allows for the thefts by Elvis's crew without the Army noticing? Why is her father's body laying out in the morgue instead of in a freezer? What was the back door of the hardware store open? Is there only one other deputy in the Sheriff's department and he's cool with what the Swanns are doing? This goes on and on because this is a TV movie-level script.

 Indonesian director Mouly Surya makes her English-language debut here and while she's lauded for her work in her homeland, there's nothing distinctive about the storytelling here, but the action is competently staged.

Which leaves Alba, who is actually pretty good here. For the bulk of her career as a starlet she's never been much in the talent department to go with her looks, but she apparently got some acting training in her 30s because her turn as Nancy Callahan in Sin City 2 was a night and day improvement over her performance in the first one. She also played the villain in the unseen Hallie Steinfeld vehicle Barely Lethal which was better than the material required. She's unlikely to suddenly become Academy bait, but she's respectable.

She struggles with the weak script to give her cardboard cutout character some depth, but is convincing in the action scenes. It's become a trope about how the tiny girlboss women kick the asses of big men who are physically larger and stronger, but the action choreography addresses this by showing her constantly being thrown around - she's 5'7" - but using jujitsu moves and improvised weapons and blades to even the odds. But she's not invincible: When she's badly beaten she passes out for three days and when shot in the arm, she doesn't use it, down to just one arm to fight with. She's bruised and battered like Charlize Theron was in Atomic Blonde's centerpiece stairway fight.

Despite the bad script and questionable direction which decided making all the guys look the same (short hair, beards) so sometimes we're confused as who's who other than her Army sidekick Spider (Tone Bell), who's black, Trigger Warning (seriously, what is that name supposed to mean) is a entertaining enough diversion that you're already paying for on Netflix, so it's not a total waste of time to watch.

As for the 4K Dolby Vision and Atmos presentation, with a few points where there are some bright highlights, there's nothing particularly demo worthy about the film's look and sound. If you're not shelling out for the top tier, you're not missing too much.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Remembering Gene Wilder" Review

If a documentary ever did what it said on the tin, Remembering Gene Wilder would be it. A pleasant overview of Gene Wilder's life and career with interviews with his frequent collaborator Mel Brooks (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein), Wilder's wife at the time of his death from Alzheimer's in 2016, Karen Wilder, Alan Alda, Carol Kane, Harry Connick Jr., Mike Medavoy, Rain Pryor (Richard's daughter), TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, and more, it fairly rotely runs down his life and career from while downplaying how his career continued despite minimal marketability for another decade after its peak.

It had occurred to me some time ago that for someone who was so lauded, his window of top work only ran just over a decade from The Producers in 1967 through 1980's Stir Crazy with his later works forgotten when he was in classics like Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and his Mel Brooks collaborations before moving on to teaming with Richard Pryor frequently even as Pryor's health declined due to MS.

While a lot of it was fairly familiar stuff even though I'm not a big fan, I was genuinely surprised at some of the details in his career like how his break came from co-starring in a short-lived Broadway play with Anne Bancroft and making the acquaintance of her then-boyfriend Mel Brooks. I'd always thought Young Frankenstein was strictly a Brooks joint, but Wilder actually created the premise and written a script then brought Brooks in. The real doozy of a story is how Carol Kane had received a Best Actress Oscar nomination - no, I'm not kidding! - and then didn't work for a year, but Wilder somehow saw a talent for comedy that no one else had noticed, casting her in his second directorial effort, The World's Greatest Lover

Luck seemed to smile upon him personally as well leading to his marriage to Gilda Radner after meeting filming Hanky Panky and his last wife while researching playing a deaf character in See No Evil, Hear No Evil.

Overall, Remembering Gene Wilder is a pleasant overview of a beloved performer's life and career. Whether you're a fan or a neophyte regarding his work, there's something to enjoy. It's just not super special in its execution.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable/streaming. (Currently on Netflix)

"Less Than Zero" Review

 After the horror that was St. Elmo's Fire, it was time to check off another Eighties checkbox, the 1987 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' 1985 novel, Less Than Zero. The sentient Wonder bread boy Andrew McCarthy stars along with James Spader, Jami Gertz, and the actual star of the show, Robert Downey Jr., in a tale of sex, drugs, more drugs, the eternal suffering of the spoiled rich kids of LA, and even more drugs.

 We open with a high school graduation ceremony where we're introduced to Clay (McCarthy), his girlfriend Blair (Gertz), and best friend Julian (Downey Jr.) who is celebrating the funding for his record label, Tone Deaf (so creative) Records. Everything is wonderful and they lived happily ever after.

 Six months later, Blair is calling Clay at his not a dorm where he's attending Unspecified East Coast University majoring in Who Knows What begging him to come home for Christmas. In a serious of B&W flashbacks, we see that when he went home for Thanksgiving he caught Blair and Julian in bed together which really toasted his Wonder bread.

 Clay arrives home at his family's very swanky mansion in Unspecified High Rent District in LA and hops into his vintage 1960 Corvette convertible to find the others. Julian is in deep trouble with his label already failed and his coke habit so bad that he's $50,000 in debt to Rip (Spader) who is leaning on him hard to repay the money or else get made to work for Rip in an unfun capacity. Blair is also a cokehead and Clay is still upset about her hooking up with Julian, but love conquers all, right, so they proceed to get their shag on.

As Julian's dire situation spirals out of control, he makes moves to clean himself up, but without much support from his fed-up family. Eventually it devolves into a chase where Clay and Blair try to rescue Julian from the pit he's put himself into. Will they live happily ever after? (Spoiler: No.)

It's nearly impossible to empathize with the characters here because who gives a rip about spoiled super rich kids making poor life choices? Boo-friggedy-hoo. The glossy representation of LA parties where houses look like art galleries with more TV sets than a sports bar is pure fantasy and unrelatable.

The exception is Julian, because Downey's nuanced performance brings his desperation to life as his life spirals down the drain. It also raises the question why RDJ chose to model his personal life as a drug-addicted loser breaking into people's homes and almost losing his career after Julian. Definitely not a scared straight success story.

But there is a single choice which completely torpedoes Less Than Zero even as a messy fantasia about shiny wealth and grungy drugs and it's making them high school graduates and not college grads. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking that there's no way 18-19 year-old kids would be in this situations just six months after graduating. We never see any trace of Tone Deaf Records existing; no way would Julian be in a position to open a club at that age; why would Rip allow Julian to go $50K in debt to him; and so on.

The cast was 21-26 years-old and there's nothing that requires them to be high schoolers; if fact, the studio added the graduation scene to make the characters more likeable and had the effect of wrecking the verisimilitude of the entire story. If they had just made them college grads and sent Clay east for a job, nearly all the problems nagging at the story would've gone away. Not that it would've been a much better movie, but at least it wouldn't be so implausible as to prevent suspending disbelief.

 Outside of Downey's performance and some slick visuals, there's not much more than zero to recommend in Less Than Zero.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"St. Elmo's Fire" Review

 While watching Andrew McCarthy's Brats documentary last night I realized I had some gaping holes in my Gen X filmography where I hadn't seen movies like The Goonies, Less Than Zero and especially the locus of the whole Brat Pack kerfuffle, St. Elmo's Fire. Sure, I knew the hit John Parr single ("Man In Motion") and David Foster's theme song, but I had never actually bothered to see the thing due to an utter lack of interest and apathy bordering on antipathy.

But in the interests of checking off another Major Cultural Touchstone checkbox (I only got around to seeing Saturday Night Fever a couple of years ago), that was the priority for tonight's viewing and as I suspected, my life for the past 39 years hadn't been negatively impacted in the least by missing this screaming mediocrity.

I'm not even going to bother trying to recap this hodgepodge of WTFery so here's the Wikipedia synopsis for those of you who didn't watch it 100 times in the Eighties as someone on Reddit told me. Suffice to say it's about a bunch of beautiful young people - Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy - and their awful grandma-dressing Plain Jane virgin friend, Mare Winningham, who graduate from college and pretty much mess up their lives shagging each other, having substance abuse problems, and generally being messes despite Georgetown degrees.
 Everything reminded me of my take on Allan Moyle's Empire Records where I noted that the movie had to be set on an alien planet because despite the characters looking human, no actual people actually behave this way. A perfect example is the subplot involving Estevez's character being obsessed with wooing a medical resident (Andie MacDowell) whom he went on ONE date with in college when she was a senior to his freshman. Ignoring that she seems to be living the lifestyle of an established doctor, his stalking of her would've been problematic 40 years ago, much less in today's hypersensitive times.

Desperate to appear more successful, he gets a job as an assistant to a wealthy Korean businessman so he can use the guy's home to throw a rager and invite her. When she blows him off to go skiing with her boyfriend, he abandons the house to his partygoers and drives to the mountains to make Say Anything look quaint. But does her boyfriend beat this weirdo down? Nope, he invites him in to stay the night before heading back tomorrow. (No, not to sit in the cuck chair to watch him rail Estevez's crush.)

I get that being young means having hyper emotions and making dumb mistakes (I was younger once), but everyone seems to be competing to ruin their lives the hardest and we're supposed to think it's adorable because they're all so darn attractive except for Winningham who dresses like a cat lady's cats in knitted outfits.

St. Elmo's Fire was director Joel Schumacher's first hit which he followed up with movies like The Lost Boys (he discovered his thing for sexy sax men here with an extended number with Rob Lowe), Flatliners, Falling Down, and The Client before wrecking the Batman franchise with Batman Forever (which I like despite itself) and Batman & Robin (nope). He directs the insipidness with style, but the script which he co-wrote is vapid.

Similarly to how I felt about Saturday Night Fever, I don't get how people got worked up over St. Elmo's Fire? It's not remotely as good as the overrated SNF and it just seems to coast on the association with the Brat Pack and being one of those Eighties movies with insanely stacked casts like The Outsiders (starring C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise) or The Big Chill (Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, JoBeth Williams), both from 1983, where almost everyone in a large ensemble went on to long careers individually. Even by the standards of the Eighties it's naff.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Brats" Review

 In June 1985, New York magazine ran a profile of the stars of the upcoming movie St. Elmo's Fire entitled "Hollywood's Brat Pack" - a riff on the old Rat Pack clique which featured Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., et al - which in a instant tagged, tarred and/or tarnished everyone in the movie and adjacent films with the shorthand that they were unserious, spoiled and/or untalented, well, brats. This had lingering effects on many of their careers even after the Eighties ended and though some soldiered on in their careers, others felt permanently damaged.

In the latter camp is clearly Andrew McCarthy - star of Pretty In Pink, St. Elmo's Fire, Less Than Zero and director of the documentary Brats (not to be confused with the slutty Bratz doll movies), which is based on his 2021 memoir Brat: An '80s Story. After musing to the camera in a precious manner about how the article messed up his career, he proceeds to call all his costars to talk about it, some whom he hasn't spoken with in over 30 years. (But he has their phone numbers?)

So off he goes for interviews with Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore (all from St. Elmo's Fire) as well as Lea Thompson and Jon Cryer from Pretty In Pink as well as its director (and Thompson's husband) Howard Deutch, and Timothy Hutton, winner of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ordinary People in 1981, for some reason.

Things get off very awkwardly with his interview with Estevez who looks at him with a mix of fear, pity, and embarrassment for him which prompted me to say the missus, "This movie is going to be Andrew working out his shit on everyone else, isn't it?" For the most part it is, though stars like Moore and Lowe who are still working and wealthy seemed quite relaxed about it. Money makes old hurts fade. Notably, Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald declined to participate, presumably because they want to move forward with their lives unless McCarthy.

 Interspersed with his therapy sessions, he sidebars into an interesting discussion with Lauren Schuler Donner, producer of Pretty In Pink and St. Elmo's Fire, and some casting directors about how the early-1980s represented a major sea change in movies as the works of John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as well as movies like Risky Business and Fast Times At Ridgemont High changed the focus from the Seventies serious auteur era of Coppola and Scorsese, then the blockbuster era of Lucas and Spielberg, to movies focusing on teenagers stories starring teens and near teens.

Towards the end, a big surprise is his sitting down with David Blum, the author of the article that ruined his life. Blum explains the origins of the Brat Pack moniker and that it wasn't even intended as an attack, but was the doing of a 29-year-old writer trying to be clever. (I've seen it mentioned that McCarthy is only mentioned once in the article and that's via a castmate making a crack about him, so all this angst is over what?)

 As someone who went through high school at this time when Fast Times and Breakfast Club somewhat bookended my tenure, Brats was interesting as a reflection upon that phase of Hollywood and young people's lives starring and watching these movies. It's nice to see how the rest of the gang seemed far more able to cope with a headline than McCarthy was, but you'll have to wade through some self-pitying cringiness in the process. The way the scenes are filmed with multiple cameras wandering into frame is distracting as well.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Hulu.

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