2020, A New Year & Spring Are Here

I’m a little bit late to the party, as I’ve been on a self-imposed hiatus from cranking out studious review after review, but 2020 has come and with it more climate change, a near-pandemic corona-virus, and many many movies. January and February are often dumping ground, however, as Hollywood becomes hyper-focused on tentpoles above all else, there’s no room for dead months in the calendar anymore. From a long-awaited sequel like Bad Boys For Life to DCEU actioner Birds of Prey, not to mention Universal’s Me-Too reboot of The Invisible Man and a big-budget dog movie in Call of the Wild, the first two months of the year have been chock-full of high-energy products from every studio attempting to get a head-start on a hopeful one billion-dollar year. They’ve been largely enjoyable if not always financially successful. It’s the smaller films, mostly streamers, that have left a bad taste in my mouth.

Troop Zero (Amazon)

Viola Davis does what a great actor does, but she’s no miracle worker. This is a half-baked, often boring, southern-fried fable about Birdie Scouts in the 1970’s. Allison Janney continues to make good villainy, this time as an uptight product of the 50’s, a woman beholden to mid-century patriarchy. Though fitfully entertaining thanks to a game cast of young actors, it’s a coming of age story that trots out tired tropes in service of a plot of mixed metaphors about life and, oddly enough, the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the universe.

Grade: C

Jay & Silent Bob Reboot (VUDU)

A mostly unfunny yet somehow occasionally charming ultra-meta-comedy that’s intended to serve as Jay and Silent Bob’s coming-of-older-age. Jay learns he has a daughter and must come to terms with his life up until now. A cleverer-than-thou-but-not-really attempt at resurrecting the old days. Judging by the relative lack of pithy one-liners, Kevin Smith’s writing has really fallen on hard times, but the guy still has a few tricks up his heart.

Grade: C-

A Fall From Grace (Netflix)

Tyler Perry’s a smart guy, a deft businessman, and not a bad actor (see Gone Girl for proof), so I have only one question…for someone so savvy, and with so much power, why does he continually settle for bad actors and/or bad performances? He could have a who’s who of black Hollywood at his disposal, a cadre of performers to elevate his daft soap operas, and he opts instead for newcomers like Bresha Webb. A Fall From Grace, daft soap opera that it is, could have been a so-bad-it’s-good potboiler with the right people in front of the camera. Instead it’s a mind-numbing exercise in what Perry deems entertainment. That being said, I’m excited to see what Mehcad Brooks does in the upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot. He cuts a magnificent bastard here as a comically terrible boyfriend.

Grade: D-

Fantasy Island (In Theaters)

I knew nothing about the classic series going in, and I came out of it not caring to find out more. A Twilight Zone-ish quasi-horror movie with melodramatic trappings, Jeff Wadlow’s tropical thriller is so bad it’s kinda fun for an hour until the silly melodrama sets in and we’re supposed to believe a particular character is a preposterous mastermind. Occasional humor helps, but every actor here is the poor man’s somebody. 

Grade: D+

The Last Thing He Wanted (Netflix)

Anne Hathaway gives it her all and Ben Affleck is ably cast as a smarmy quasi-spook, but Dee Rees’ follow-up to Mudbound is a messy, essentially incoherent narrative about criminal and political happenings in South America. Well, I think it is anyway. It’s hard to decipher what’s happening half the time. Regardless, Dee Rees has an eye for cinema and her roaming camera is quite invigorating. It’s a mystery as to why she chose this non-essential true story. You get the feeling she cared more about the minutiae and peripheral elements than the actual plot. 

Grade: C

The Call of the Wild (In Theaters)

I don’t typically do this, but…

The Call of the Wild is a story better suited for a film more adult, more brutal, more realistic, not a CGI-laden adventure for children. Harrison Ford is trying for once, and for what? Another late-winter dog movie that successfully pulls at the heartstrings while otherwise failing to muster excitement or genuine pathos? 

Listen, I’m a dog lover, so these movies are catnip for me. Yet, with a few exceptions, I was left pretty stone-cold throughout. Primarily, I assume, due to the fact that Buck is not a real dog. He’s a computer-generated dog and a poor rendering of one at that. Somehow, Buck’s effects work pales in comparison to the other dogs on his sled team. How did that happen? Gorgeous scenery (some of which was shot on location) and Ford’s performance go a long way toward forging a bond between audience and movie, although even the scenery has its limits when director Chris Sanders eschews atmosphere for doggy hijinks. There are one too many moments where I sat in my chair thinking “ah, this moment here is for the kiddos.” 

It’s insulting to an adult audience, and to kiddos too, when Buck behaves like a human or precocious child. It’s almost as if he can read minds or understand the English language in detail. Kid’s flick or not, it’s simply preposterous. Still, I love dogs and I love nature, and I especially dig movies about man and dog in nature. 

Grade: C+

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