The Empty Man (2020)

I will be honest, the main reason that I watched this film, a film that was released originally in October of 2020 and just now released on streaming in January was that it came from Boom! Studios. Boom! is a company that also puts out comic books and is the company that is responsible for one of my favorite, if not my favorite, comic of the last few years, Something is Killing the Children. I discovered that The Empty Man is another horror based graphic novel that was released by Boom! Despite its low reaction on Rotten Tomatoes, I was now intrigued.

What I got was a bizarre, overly-long, supernatural horror film that had some truly big ideas and an ending that I am not sure about how I feel.

The Empty Man started with four friends climbing in the mountains. One of them, Paul (Aaron Poole) heard a whispering and wound up falling into a crevice. When he friends found him, they discovered that Paul had slipped into a comatose state despite not having any apparent injury. The fearsome skeleton that also was in this crevice should have given them a clue.

Then, the next day, Paul found himself, somehow, on the edge of one of the cliffs, blowing into a pipe of some kind. Then, unexpectedly, his three friends kill each other and they fall off the cliff. I have to say that I was not expecting that and I immediately was not sure what this movie was going to be about. Then the title came up and I could not believe that this was just the cold open. It had been a significant amount of time, but we had not yet gotten into the meat of the story.

We then meet James Lasombra (James Badge Dale), a former policeman who had left his job to grieve the death of his wife and son, who had died in a car crash. A friend of his, Nora (Marin Ireland), called him when her daughter Amanda (Sasha Frolova) had disappeared. An ominous message saying that “The Empty Man made me do it” was written in blood on her bathroom mirror.

The police were little help, so James decided to do some of his own investigating, connecting this to a doomsday cult in which he was afraid that Amanda had fallen into.

The movie is very atmospheric and darkly imagined. The imagery of the movie certainly played like the scenes of a dark, horror graphic novel. It was disturbing and, at times, frightening. The mystery of what was going on during this whole time was difficult to follow but does have a distinct wrap up.

The performances were fine, but I would not say that anything was a true standout. The short appearance of Steven Root as the cult leader was appropriately creepy, but the rest of the film lacked any true standouts.

There is no doubt that the movie is just too long and could have stood to be shorted by a good 30 minutes or so. At 2 hours and almost 20 minutes, The Empty Man can be a slog at times to get through. There are some really good moments here, but it gets bogged down. The lengthy run time needed more character development to truly be necessary.

It does not end in a feel good manner, so if you are expecting that, you will be disappointed. That is never a deal breaker for me, but I have to admit that I wanted some optimism in the conclusion somewhere.

It was not an unpleasant watch, but I am not sure that it is what I was hoping for. Though stylistic, I think I wanted more substance in the middle, especially for the length that it was.

2.75 stars

Outside the Wire

Netflix had a huge year in 2020 with a list of great movies released on the streaming service. 2021 is not starting out well for them.

Outside the Wire is the new sci-fi/action film starring Anthony Mackie. Set in the future, a drone pilot Lt. Harp (Damson Idris) disobeys orders and he makes a dangerous decision that winds up getting himself into trouble and sent to a specific place as a punishment. There, he meets Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), an android officer, who is on his way for a mission to stop a Russian insurgent from getting nuclear codes.

While there are some decent action bits in the movie with some interest fire fights, there was little emotional depth to any of them, which tends to make them both hard to care about and easily forgettable. Typing this up right now just a few hours after watching the film, I cannot remember any specific action sequence worth the time in Outside the Wire.

Then, while Anthony Mackie is a charismatic actor with a remarkable screen presence, the film places him in a character that simply is not allowed to do that. There are a few flashes of Mackie’s charm here and there, but he is more of a hard nosed robot than a leading man. Damson Idris is shown in the first half of the movie in such an inconsistent manner that you’re never sure if you are meant to be rooting for the character or if he is meant to be the one learning about his own mistakes. He was very dislikable for much of the run time of the movie, which is not a good choice in the story that they are outlining.

The third act completely blows off the rails too. The first part of the film was dull and disposable, but the final half of the movie spends its time deconstructing just about everything that the movie set up in the first part. Without spoilers, there are some decisions made that make no sense and exist to simply give the narrative that twist that too many movies are expected to have.

By the way, there are not really any reason for the military to have these robots they called Gumps. In fact, much of the sci-fi aspects of this movie are extraneous and a waste of time. This does not have to be a sci-fi story. In fact, Anthony Mackie did not even need to be an android. All of the science fiction could be removed and the story could still work exactly as it is as a strictly action movie.

Unfortunately, this is a film that you won’t remember too long after you see it. I am sure that in December of this year, I will look at the title of the movie and wonder exactly what this was about.

2.2 stars

One Night in Miami (2020)

Regina King has been on a massive role recently with the projects that she has acted in, from If Beale Street Could Talk to HBO’s Watchmen. She has done a lot of television directing as well and this movie, One Night in Miami, was her feature film directorial debut.

One Night in Miami is a fictionalized story of one night in Miami when four black iconic superstars met together and discussed their lives and their place in history. The four icons were Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) [pre Muhammad Ali], Sam Cooke (Leslie Odam Jr), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) who were together in a hotel room on the night when Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the champion of the world.

This was another movie that was based on a stage play, this time written by Kemp Powers. There have been several successful films recently that have been base don plays and this falls right into the line with those. Because One Night in Mimi takes place mostly within the room with the four men and it features some stellar dialogue and discussions between these characters.

And that was great.

There were limited amount of action, and, truly, the plot was not the focus of the film either, the performances were wonderful and the drama between the four of them kept the viewers glued to the screen. I know I was fascinated to hear where they took it from here. The main conflict seemed to stem from Malcom X’s desire to have Sam Cooke do more than just record fluff musical pieces and the wish that he would do more substantive work for the Civil Rights movement. While Clay and Brown got into disagreements as well, the interactions between Malcolm X and Cooke were the main event.

The direction was stunning as well. Regina King does a fantastic job with the shots, giving so much more depth to the hotel room than what you would expect a director could. With the limited settings, King is anything but restricted with her vision of the evening’s activities.

One Night in Miami is smart, compelling and feels very relevant in the ways of power and how one may yield it to benefit everyone. All four actors give tremendous performances, especially Leslie Odam Jr. and Kingsley Ben-Adir, who go at each other with a ferocity unexpected. This is an amazing debut for Regina King.

4 stars

Possessor (2020)

Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David Cronenberg, brings this horror/thriller film from last year that I had not seen. I had heard a lot of positives about this movie, so I decided that it would be a good time to visit this film.

Andrea Riseborough played Tasya Vos, an assassin for a government agency, who is able to take over the body of a random person and use that person to be the killer. When she heads into a male man’s body (Christopher Abbott), there became problems with his life bleeding through into her life.

The film is extremely violent and bloody, with some distinct moments that jump out at the viewer.

Honestly, this was not my favorite film. I had heard so much positives about it that I found myself more disappointed by what was happening. I did not hate the film and there are some decent parts of the film, but I had a hard time getting into it.

There are some interesting concepts here and some themes that could be intriguing if you have some time to look at them. There are some sexual orientation ideas presented when Tasya entered the body of Colin. Some of the ideas of the character of Tasya was fascinating too, but I just did not love the blood, which felt overdone.

Perhaps if I took more time to look closer at the film, I would feel different about it. Still, Possessor was fine. Horror fans will probably love this. I thought it was passable.

Honestly, this was the first of two movies I watched in a row and I had a difficult time remembering exactly what the movie was about. That was not a good thing.

2.75 stars

Shadow in the Cloud

We are kicking off 2021 virtually and not in the theater. With any luck, the theater experience will feel less dangerous as the year progresses. Until then, as long as we continue to get the home releases on streaming, I’ll be happy.

That first release of 2021 is going to be Shadow in the Clouds, starring Chloë Grace Moretz as a WWII pilot Maude who has joined the plane crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress with a mysterious package and an unrevealed mission. As the plane is heading to its destination, there are some major conflicts that come into play endangering everyone on board.

First of all, this film has about three genres that totally crash together into the oddest amalgam of a film that I have seen in a long time. Originally, Shadow in the Cloud felt as if it were taking us in one direction, only to ram us into a different one. When the film took a turn toward Fast-and-Furious-type physics, I have to admit that I had no idea what I was watching.

It’s not really a spoiler since it was in the trailer, but I will label it so in case anyone has not seen the trailer. SPOILER. The movie suddenly goes from a crew questioning the reasons and motivations for Maude to be on the flight in the first place to an appearance of an actual gremlin on the wing of the plane causing malfunctions to the engines. It was a bizarre tone shift from what we had seen up until that moment and it did feel jarring. END of SPOILER.

Chloë Grace Moretz turned into a gigantic action star too, executing a couple of maneuvers that Dominic Toretto would have said were implausible. You absolutely have to suspend a whole bunch of disbelief to accept some of the physical stunts going on here. Still, it was a lot of fun in a shake-your-head kind of way.

The reveal of what was in the package was a huge unexpected reveal as well. That was not what I was expecting and the fact that the film was not afraid to do it speaks well of it. Honestly, it felt like the film drew a whole bunch of random plot points out of a hat from multiple genres and had to put them all together in the movie. Strangely enough, it worked.

The third act confrontation in the river was oddly satisfying and really kind of funny.

This was a mishmash of all kinds of types of movies and it was surprisingly entertaining. Moretz is great in the role, no matter what character type she was playing. Truthfully, she was like four different characters all rolled into one. The action was well done, if not completely insane and you certainly never see things coming.

Not a bad start to 2021.

3.4 stars