The Oscars happened, and award season is finally over. Now we’re on the cusp of a return of Summer movie season. Get ready for that, but for now, enjoy some new reviews. This set of write-ups includes a Tom Clancy thriller, a great animated effort, a courtroom drama, a space-based drama, a nice comedy-drama, and a lackluster superhero comedy. The following features reviews for Without Remorse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Percy vs. Goliath, Stowaway, Together Together, and Thunder Force.
The Setup: An elite Navy SEAL (Michael B. Jordan) uncovers an international conspiracy while seeking justice for the murder of his pregnant wife. Joining forces with a fellow SEAL (Jodie Turner-Smith) and a shadowy CIA agent (Jamie Bell), the plot thickens as covert forces threaten to push the U.S. and Russia into war.
Review: Working as an origin story for the popular Tom Clancy action hero John Clark, it is commendable to see Jordan in this type of role, presumably a franchise starter. Without Remorse may not deliver much in the way of an original plot that hasn’t been seen dozens of times before, but his physicality and screen charisma transfer well onto this character, just as it has for Creed. Similarly, director Stefano Sollima may not have made the Sicario sequel into anything special, but he certainly put his stamp on the action-based moments.
Perhaps the problem is writers Will Staples and Taylor Sheridan. That’s a shame, as Sheridan has certainly proven himself when it comes to muscular action vehicles that rely on characters who operate in a grey area. In Without Remorse, however, the film is so straight-ahead in its line of thinking that there’s never much of an opportunity for the film to provide any level of sly commentary on what’s being presented. Not that the film needs to be self-aware, but it feels as though a movie like this could be above casting Guy Pearce and trying to make his role in the film seem like a surprise. Instead, the film primarily serves as a reminder of the 90s’ R-rated action fare.
With that in mind, the action is slick and intense. The use of long-takes and some extended fights/shoot-outs allows for a fine level of brutality matched by physical performances from all involved, including Jordan and Turner-Smith. The build-up to several tense scenarios is effective as far as recognizing the film intends to do well by these set pieces, and the execution is appreciated. As one who’s played a few Rainbow Six games and enjoyed a few Jack Ryan movies, I may not have the most glowing things to say about Without Remorse’s plot, but I would not mind seeing further adventures of Jordan’s John Clark.
Where To Watch: Available on Amazon Prime Video on April 30, 2021.
The Setup: Finally ready to head off to college and be with people like her, Katie (Abbi Jacobson) reluctantly embarks on a road trip with her proud parents (Danny McBride and Maya Rudolph), younger brother (Mike Rianda), and beloved dog to film school. However, the trip is interrupted by an uprising of electronic devices, which come to life with plans to enslave all humans.
Review: Each one may not be a knockout, but Sony Pictures Animation is the primary animated studio I look to when it comes to pure irreverence. That’s largely due to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who serve as producers on The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Having turned Cloud with a Chance of Meatballs into a non-stop gag machine and helping to deliver on one of the overall best Spider-Man films, having their voice as a part of this family-themed adventure film (featuring robots) certainly proved they know what kind of people to partner with when it’s not a Star Wars film.
Written by Jeff Rowe and Mike Rianda, who also directed, there’s a real sense that this movie that celebrates oddballs and embracing the nature of a dysfunctional family comes from people that learned to do just that. It certainly fits into the realm of creations from Lord & Miller, but rather than focus on a town that spews food from the sky or the craziest LEGO creations that toy with famous IP, we have a family-centered comedy that remarks on the way technology has taken over. And even with the “robots take over the world” plot, it never loses focus on the familial relationships.
Yes, there are messages to take away from The Mitchells vs. The Machines, and the recurring beats allow them to play well when the payoffs come, but the film is also hilarious. This is the kind of animated comedy where re-watches are a great benefit thanks to all of the different sight gags and layered jokes that come fast and furious at the viewer. All of this, and the film never needs to stoop down to certain levels to appeal to different kinds of audiences, beyond clever jokes built to be picked up on in different waves. While it’s nice to have animated features with serious intentions, it’s plenty great to have something not only broadly funny but excitingly clever in how it makes that level of humor work.
Where To Watch: Available on Netflix on April 30, 2021.
The Setup: Based on the true story of Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken), a third-generation Canadian farmer who was sued by a corporate giant for allegedly using their patented seeds. An up-and-coming lawyer (Zack Braff) and an environmental activist (Christina Ricci) joined forces with Percy to fight a monumental case that led up to the Supreme Court.
Review: The only thing missing from Percy, in the realm of well-intentioned courtroom dramas about one small party versus a giant company, is a scene where Walken, Braff, or Ricci pulls a Mark Ruffalo and yells, “They knew!” Seriously, given the work done to dramatize this true tale of a man striking back at Big Agriculture, I would have been happy to get more big moments. As it stands, while not the most dynamic or involving film of this kind, having a solid cast very much works in its favor.
I don’t know how many more times we’ll get to see Walken as the lead of a feature, so I was happy to welcome a movie where he’s in almost every scene, playing into the subtitles of Percy. As a salt-of-the-earth Canadian, the stress of his situation is never too overwhelming, but the dramatic stakes are established, and we certainly want to root for the man. Roberta Maxwell comes through in the right moments too, as Louise, Percy’s wife and one of the few who see him for who he is.
Director Clark Johnson doesn’t overwhelm this story with too many additions or frills. This is actually a pared-down version of the actual legal battles Percy went through. Still, reliable work from a sympathetic Braff and a determined but understanding Ricci play well for keeping this just above TV movie-of-the-week territory.
I would have liked to hear more from Adam Beach’s character, let alone the fellow farmers that see what Percy is going through and have mixed emotions. Of course, as a biopic trying to better establish the legacy of the real Percy (who passed away in 2020), it’s decent enough, even if the results are never much in question.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters, on digital, and on VOD on April 30, 2021.
The Setup: A three-person crew on a mission to Mars faces an impossible choice when an unplanned passenger is found aboard, having accidentally stowed himself away. With limited supplies to account for the extra shipmate, the lives of everyone on board are now in jeopardy.
Review: I’ve got to hand it to Netflix; they did well on their latest sci-fi drama relying on a small cast and a minimal number of locations. It helps that the bones of this story are solid and filled out well by what’s around them. Space is naturally a great place to generate a survival story from. As long as the story isn’t too scattered to have one question the film’s logic, a reliance on the authenticity of space travel (or whatever people want to complain about) won’t get in the way.
Director Joe Penna previously delivered a survival drama with Arctic, starring Mads Mikkelsen. Fun fact, that film was originally set on Mars, taking place in the same universe as this film. Regardless, Penna explores similar themes here but works with an expanded cast and a different scenario this time around. It is now less about the dangers of physically traveling and more focused on the psychological and moral stress from the unforgivable math telling these people that all four cannot survive this trip.
Making things more difficult is the genuine nature of these smart individuals. The original crew is composed of Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, and Toni Collette as a smart team of astronauts who may be complicated individuals but also trust logic. Shamier Anderson plays the unintended fourth passenger, an impossibly nice person with a sister who needs care back on earth and plenty of intelligence to understand that he’s a burden.
This is not a mean-spirited film, but you can feel the tension rise as it becomes clearer that little can be done to keep each of these people together, yet none of them are cold-blooded enough to want to make a drastic decision. Perhaps this film could have hit on some of its ideas a bit stronger, but for what it is, Stowaway is quite effective.
Where To Watch: Now available on Netflix.
The Setup: Anna (Patti Harrison) is hired as the gestational surrogate for Matt (Ed Helms), a single man in his 40s who wants a child. The two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries, and the particulars of love.
Review: Despite the prickliness and awkward nature of getting to know someone, let alone figuring how to interact with them in a friendly manner, one of the best things about Together Together is how warm it is. That means no matter how funny the sharp quips are or how alienating certain moments can be in the context of what’s taking place, this is a very inviting film thanks to how well these main characters seem to go together. As an early feature for writer/director Nikole Beckwith, that’s a great thing to have control over.
From the start, I got a good sense of the vibe this movie was after. The dialogue exchanges between Matt and Anna were funny without feeling like well-crafted punchlines. The awkward conversation rhythms felt true to life, allowing for the unique scenario they both became part of to make a good sense of sense. Also important – it was evident this wasn’t going to be a story about a mid-40s man and a mid-20s woman getting together romantically. An agreement is made. A relationship is formed, but the film does a terrific job exploring what friendship and love can mean without pushing that sort of boundary into a more melodramatic area.
Together Together is also just funny. Helms and Harrison are both delivering great work on a dramatic level, but their comedy chops are well served too. Plus, Nora Dunn, Fred Melamed, Tig Notaro, Sufe Bradshaw, and a particularly funny Julio Torres all come in to further show how effective they continue to be as comedic utility players game for these kinds of supporting roles. That does a lot for a film like this, as it can get by on treating a low stakes premise with a nice level of comedic energy, so when the dramatic beats do come along, it’s not so much a major tonal switch as much as one that feels appropriate as a way to break up the flow. Given how these characters constantly question how they fit together, that makes Together Together a winner winner.
Where To Watch: Now available in theaters and on digital on May 11, 2021.
The Setup: Two childhood best friends (Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer) reunite as an unlikely crime-fighting superhero duo when one invents a formula that gives ordinary people superpowers. Together, they can finally be the first superhero team set to take on the super-powered Miscreants, led by “The King” (Bobby Cannavale).
Review: It’s not that I want to put this film down, but I really wish the joy McCarthy and her husband/director Ben Falcone were having with their friends on the sets of these various movies would transfer over better to their films. Thunder Force has a pretty dynamite premise for the times we are in. What if a couple of middle-aged women were given superpowers? That’s an easy enough way to secure a place on Netflix’s roster, only for the film to lean into being a comedy about friendship and bonds.
Nothing wrong with burying the theme within a genre, but it’s immediately apparent that writer Falcone just didn’t really think his world through. This doesn’t need to be the most creative or freshest take on the concept of superheroes, but when the premise can fall inside itself, it doesn’t really help. Having some notable laughs is all well and good, but the comedy construction should come out of the story just as much as the asides and tangents the characters go on.
Yes, McCarthy knows how to deliver some good punch lines. Spencer is game to have fun, even if her own bits don’t amount to much. The relationship she has with her daughter, Tracy (Taylor Mosby), is actually worthwhile in terms of low dramatic stakes. That leaves the villains to ideally save the film, and they almost do. Cannavale, Jason Bateman, and Pom Klementieff are tasked to provide some of the film’s best moments, which either stems from them casually being villains or from Bateman’s crap-man character having an odd romantic interest in an equally compelled McCarthy.
Perhaps if this film really leaned into the weird, there’d at least be more to say. As it stands, Thunder Force never really strikes with lightning. It’s largely just scattered showers of minor jokes.
Where To Watch: Now available on Netflix.