Red Notice

Written by Taylor Baker

10/100

Netflix’s latest big-budget film Red Notice looks like a film, talks like a film, and acts like a film but is devoid of meaning, humanity, and sincerity. It’s reminiscent to the thin layer of laminate you often find on countertops and floors. Only brought to life by what lays behind it, which in this case are three of the biggest movie stars on the planet, forcing their persona’s as if they’re characters themselves into a shell of a screenplay. With awful CGI, continuity errors, and more drone cinematography than it knows how to use, it’s clear that Rawson Marshall Thurber bit off more than he could chew.

Rawson’s first film debuted over a decade ago in 2004, a perennially quoted comedy classic in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Between then and now he’s had varied success with We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence, and Skyscraper. The last two films were not only collaborations with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but also massive successes earning more than 150 million dollars over their respective budgets at the box office. It’s clear what Netflix saw in getting a project from Thurber and Johnson on their platform. It’s hard to argue they’re wrong, from a dollars and cents standpoint. But this Nazi memorabilia frolic through meaningless landscapes spanning different continents seems as frivolous as Netflix’s bigger films have ever been. 

The premise of the film is an art heist with a few double crosses, the likes of which we’ve seen on and off for at least the last 70 years. Dwayne Johnson’s John Hartley serves as FBI Profiler, and as the film begins he’s attempting to stop Nolan Booth played by Ryan Reynolds from making off with one of Cleopatra’s famed eggs. In the background is the faceless Bishop who tips off Hartley on Booth’s plan to steal the egg. But after an extended chase sequence which feels absent both excitement and consequences we see our hero gather the thief and the loot, only to be tricked by Gal Gadot’s Bishop and end up imprisoned in Russia with Booth. If this feels like a paint-by-numbers plot that’s because it distinctly is.

Michael Bay’s big budget Netflix behemoth 6 Underground (notably with a budget 150 million, 50 million dollars cheaper for those keeping score) that also featured Reynolds looked dazzling, had exciting moments, and felt steeped in real consequences. Sure, it was glossy and built around set pieces too, but it mostly like real humans going through those daring events. Red Notice shows endless streams of bullets flying thru the air toward a wall of baddies only to not hit anyone. And when they do get taken down it tends to be from something in the environment like when a rock wall dislodge a nameless baddy with the patented Star Wars scream sound effect.

The violence doesn’t just ring hollow but artificial. It seems as if earnings forecasts and algorithms comprise the very identity of the film. There’s an interesting real world correlation to Gadot’s Bishop hunting for the eggs of Cleopatra. Eggs which we may very well see again in her upcoming film with Patty Jenkins, Cleopatra. And early next year we’ll see her in Egypt for Branagh’s Death on the Nile. By the end of the film, it’s clear that the only chemistry that does exist is between Reynolds and Johnson. It’s hard to see how things get any better with the inevitable sequel that is set up in the falling action. I suspect that for the time being, we’re going to get more of these meaningless movie star films whether we like them or not.

Red Notice Trailer

Red Notice is currently available to stream on Netflix.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Retrospective Feature: Fast & Furious Saga

Written by Alexander Reams

What started out as a glorified Point Break ripoff has snowballed into one of the biggest action franchises of all time and also one of the biggest soap operas in history. A series spanning 20 years, 8 films, 1 spin off, and a countless array of cars destroyed. Before the newest comes out, join me as I briefly discuss each film, note important characters introduced and events in the film. 

Without further ado, let’s jump in.

The Fast and the Furious (2001) 

Dir. Rob Cohen

45/100

In the early 2000s, countless films wanted to be a part of the glory days of the 1990s action films. Then a street racing film full of relatively unknown actors released in the summer of 2001. While The Fast and the Furious is a fun summer movie, its style is far too frenetic and juvenile to warrant repeated viewings. Specifically the race war scene and the race between Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) are fun to watch. There was no plan for sequels when this came out, and despite this the groundwork was being laid for a massive franchise. Besides introducing Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Michelle Rodriguez, the film introduces the budding relationship between Jordana Brewster’s “Mia Torretto” and Brian O’Connor. 

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Dir. John Singleton

42/100

Before I even begin to critique the film as a whole, I cannot ignore the absolute stupidity of the title. There were so many different options to choose from, with the most obvious probably being the best one, The Fast and the Furious 2. Now, at the height of mid-2000s fashion, the newest Fast and Furious came out, and directed by John Singleton?! The same director from Boyz n’ the Hood and Shaft (2000). How could he make such a terrible film? The missing piece is Vin Diesel, the bond he and Walker formed in the first film is broken by the absence of Diesel and takes away a massive pull to watching this series. In the end it makes this one of the least rewatchable films in the franchise.

Groundwork laid: Introduction of Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Ludacris).  

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Dir. Justin Lin

61/100

After the critical and commercial failure of the previous film. Universal brought in fresh blood to direct, Justin Lin, who was coming off the critical success of Better Luck Tomorrow. As well as a brand new cast including Lucas Black, Sung Kang, and 2000’s icon Lil Bow Wow. This is also the first time that the series had shown real stakes in the death of Sung Kang’s “Han Seoul-Oh”. While also introducing another world of racing that had not been shown on film before. The style Lin brought to the film was similar to what had previously been done before, however it had more finesse of a better director which made the film far superior than the previous entries. The only connection to the previous films that appeared in this film was Vin Diesel in a cameo role at the end. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: Introduction of Han Seoul-Oh and Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). Also providing the catalyst for Furious 7 to start off from. 

Fast & Furious (2009)

Dir. Justin Lin 

35/100

Unfortunately the fun from the previous film would run out here. Widely regarded to be the worst of the franchise and deservedly so. There is not much I can bash about that hasn’t already been said about this film. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: To account for absences, this is set between 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Also the introduction of Leo and Santos. As well as the crime lord Arturo Braga and Gal Gadot’s Gisele.

Fast Five (2011)

Dir. Justin Lin

76/100

The first time that the franchise was truly celebrated by critics and audiences alike. A true reinvention of the franchise that was full of life and joy. As well as being one of the best heist films of the 21st century. Bringing together everyone that has been introduced in the previous films to form a crew who are all on the point of desperation. Dom, Mia, and Brian are all fugitives after breaking Dom out from prison. However with all of that added stress, Dwayne Johnson joins the cast as Agent Luke Hobbs chasing down the fugitives. Add in wonderfully choreographed action and an amazing finale and you have one of the best action films of the 2010s. 

Groundwork Laid: First time the team works together as a whole, introduction of Dwayne Johnson’s “Luke Hobbs”. Evidence that Letty is alive appears in a post credit scene. 

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Dir. Justin Lin

78/100

After the excitement of the heist in Brazil, the team go their separate ways until Luke Hobbs bring them back in to take down Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who has employed an amnesiac Letty to his crew. Yes, the franchise has brought in the very common soap opera trope of “amnesia”. Justin Lin continues his streak of filming the franchise very well, and still keeping the characters and the story first. 

Groundwork Laid: Introduction of the Shaws. 

Furious 7 (2015)

Dir. James Wan 

82/100

For the first time in 9 years, a Fast & Furious movie was not helmed by Justin Lin, but horror breakout star, James Wan. Wan brings a very new style to the franchise and a new way of shooting the film. His way of shooting action makes it more comprehensible for audiences to consume. While continuing the story of the team, it also introduces a new villain, and brother of the previous antagonist, Deckard Shaw, played wonderfully by Jason Statham. As well as shadow figure “Mr. Nobody” played by a gleefully weird Kurt Russell. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift takes place between Furious 7 and Fast & Furious 6. Showing that Tokyo Drift was a spinoff about what Han does after the death of his lover Gisele. It is also revealed that Deckard Shaw killed Han in retribution for what was done to his brother. Also the introduction of the hacker “Ramsey” played by GOT star Nathalie Emmanuel. 

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Dir. F. Gary Gray

68/100

The latest in the main storyline of Fast & Furious sees Dom go rogue for unknown reasons… until they are known. A trope that has been done before, but not to the extreme that happens here. The New York City sequence alone proves that. However this does revert back to putting action and set pieces before story and characters which does take away the stakes of the film and is frustrating to say the least. However it is still a fun watch nonetheless. 

Groundwork Laid: Introduction of “super hacker” Cipher played by a dreads wearing Charlize Theron. Also confirming that Dom had a son with former flame Elena (Elsa Pataky).

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Written by Alexander Reams

100/100

I’ve always been a fan of DC, their comics, TV shows, and film. Yes, even the highly controversial DCEU. Three, almost four years ago when Justice League was released most, including myself, were let down by the half baked film. Now after much campaigning from the fans we have Zack Snyder’s original, uncut version, much to the glee from fans and filmmakers alike. Especially after the numerous reports coming from the 2017 Justice League set in which Joss Whedon at best behaved poorly. This in conjunction with reports of Warner Bros. tampering with other DCEU films, Suicide Squad being a major example led many to speculate just how much more grandiose and joyful Snyder’s version might be.

    Martin Scorsese criticized superhero films broadly claiming they were like “theme parks” and not “cinema”. Zack Snyder’s Justice League seems to be the closest example of what a superhero film might look like after the advent of the Avengers that Scorsese may like. There is a clear vision and style to the film. Shot differently than most contemporary superhero films and brimming with a fantastic cast who work well together. Ray Fisher has long been a big campaigner for the Snyder Cut to be released. After watching this rendition of the film you can clearly see why, as he’s it’s heartbeat.

    There’s been talk about the runtime, 242 minutes is a long film, and the longest superhero film of all time, beating Snyder’s previous record with Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut. The runtime feels completely earned, at this point in the DCEU we had not been introduced to Aquaman, Flash, or Cyborg. So this is a continuation of Wonder Woman’s story as well as a sequel to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and an introduction to those respective characters. Something that’s easy to forget now, on the other side of those films release.

    By the end of the film, I was in tears, there are some of the best fan service moments I’ve seen. I don’t want to delve into spoilers but the last 80 minutes of the film are some of Snyder’s best filmmaking in his career. I hope to see the Snyderverse restored, expanded on, and continued in the future. This is better than any film the MCU has put out yet. I loved this film so much and I can’t say that enough. To me this film is perfection. 

#restorethesnyderverse

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Trailer

You can watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Wonder Woman 1984

Written by Anna Harrison

60/100

The first Wonder Woman was a breath of fresh air not only for the struggling DC Extended Universe, but for superhero movies as a whole. It was charming and oftentimes stirring (the No Man’s Land scene!), and despite its somewhat bizarre and bloated third act, the movie managed to succeed on almost every level.

Wonder Woman 1984, on the other hand… not so much.

The movie opens with a wholly unnecessary flashback to Amazon homeland of Themyscira, then reintroduces us to our hero, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who goes around stopping mall heists when she’s not working at the Smithsonian. She still longs for lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie, and while it’s been quite some time since Steve died—66 years, in fact—Diana still mourns him. I too would be sad for over half a century if my Chris Pine-looking boyfriend died, so no judgement there. Diana meets Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a fellow employee at the Smithsonian, though one much more awkward than Diana; Diana and Barbara meet Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a wannabe oil tycoon. The three of them encounter a strange stone that grants wishes, and then we’re off to the races.

Wonder Woman 1984 commits to its name, and the movie stays true to the time period in which it’s set: returning director Patty Jenkins populates the movie with vibrant 80s colors, Jazzercise, the good old Soviets versus Americans shtick, and, unfortunately, an increasingly ludicrous plot and cheesy writing, even for superhero movies. And we don’t even get any fun 80s songs.

The first act opens innocently enough. Steve Trevor mysteriously returns (and some dubious moral implications about the manner of his return remain largely undiscussed), giving Pine and Gadot a chance to reignite their chemistry from the first movie. Pine is great as the fish out of water in this movie, mirroring Diana’s journey in the first, and I could watch him marvel at parachute pants all day. It’s fun! It’s Chris Pine in a fanny pack! 

Then, unfortunately, the plot kicks into gear, and even good performances can’t distract from bad writing. 

There are interesting granules in there, to be sure. Maxwell Lord clings to the American dream by exploiting the Middle East, Ronald Reagan wishes above all else to have more nuclear missiles closer to the Soviets, a megalomaniac businessman amasses power through false promises and backstabbing to become a dangerous demagogue—but all of these elements remain uninterrogated or are turned into bizarre jokes and stereotypes, leaving me scratching my head at their inclusion in the first place. Instead, we are left with truly cringe-worthy lines like, “I wanna be number one. An apex predator like nothing there’s ever been before,” which even a game Kristen Wiig can only sell so well. (She then promptly gets turned into a reject from Cats.)

Still, there are some nice moments. Pedro Pascal has a great time slowly losing his marbles, and there is a fun and too brief scene where he and Chris Pine get handcuffed together. Shenanigans ensue. Gadot gets some cool action sequences (and some that really drag), albeit ones that would have looked much cooler from a seat in a movie theater and not from my yoga mat on the floor. Steve and Diana share a sweet conversation in a jet in what seems like the only real heart-to-heart they have in the entire movie. Diana soars through the winds as Adagio in D Minor from the (superior) movie Sunshine plays, because I guess Oscar winner Hans Zimmer couldn’t be bothered to write something original.

And yet.
Wonder Woman 1984 overstays its lengthy runtime, has a completely unbelievable ending even for the superhero genre, and ultimately hits many of the same character beats for Diana as her first solo outing did. Frankly, there seems to be very little point to its existence. I’m not expecting extreme intellectual rigor from superhero movies, and at its worst Wonder Woman 1984 is still fun enough. But is it too much to ask for more?

Wonder Woman 1984 Trailer

Wonder Woman 1984 is currently available to stream from HBO Max until 1/25/21

You can follow Anna on Letterboxd and her website