August Movie Reviews: Alpha, Mile 22, The Wife, and Midnight Summers Dream

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Summer can be a rough few months for movies. Here at the San Diego Entertainer, we’re here to share our thoughts on the good and the bad. So, if you’re trying to decide what to see in theaters, we’ve got you covered. So far this month we’ve reviewed Christopher Robin (released Aug. 3), Dog Days (released Aug. 8), Slender Man (released Aug. 10), and Crazy Rich Asians (released Aug. 15). Plus there are four more movies recently released that we want to share our thoughts on.

Review: Alpha

“Alpha” is the latest big screen production to put a focus on man and his best friend. Though, this time around, the focus of this old fashion narrative is somewhat of an origin story. Set in Europe 20,000 years ago, before the Pantheon and tourist pandemonium, northern Europe consisted of rugged hunting tribes and endless jagged landscapes stretching as far as the eye can see — imagine David Lean on CGI steroids. Some of the razzle really is dazzle. What, with Albert Hughes’ immersive 3D technical bravura.

The extraordinarily special effects of starry nights and stormy skies are shot with heroic intensity and leap off the screen as if to give new meaning to the IMAX experience. Yet it’s the performances and story that doesn’t seem to pop. Beauty is no defense against boredom. Having opened to a Buffalo hunting expedition gone terribly wrong, our hero Keda (Kodi Mcphee) –a boy with sensitive skin and stoic instinct — has been launched off a cliff by the horns of one of the “beasts” and is left for dead. (This is darker than your average family picture).

If you have seen the trailers, you probably know that he is soon to make friends with a wolf (the ice age substitute for a dog), as they march through harsh vistas, lazy writing, and clunky pacing. What should have been a touching tale of pet sentiment, ends up becoming your cliche nature vs. nurture survival epic, just with a “dog” and one-note characters. It is a pure delight to tune into the first ever game of fetch, but I wish Hughes would have thrown us a bone and given me something to root for.


Review: Mile 22

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Well, the good news is that Mark Wahlberg has finally been given a character with enough sporadic combustive energy to match the ticking time bomb that was coked up Eddie Adams in “Boogie Nights”. The bad news is that his latest blockbuster “Mile 22” feels more like an exhausting marathon than blithe summer fun.

By mile 22 you will probably find yourself praying for the final four to pass by swiftly — they don’t. What we usually can count on in these Peter Berg (director)/Wahlberg (star) pictures is an inspiring true story, valiant patriotism with no shortage of American flags, and abysmal police response times. What we get is uninspired non-fiction doused in machismo heroism and hoorah explosions. The broad day shootouts and Iko Uwais’ martial arts never rise to explosive heights. Maybe this is because I was too busy being distracted by our CIA heroes’ nasty personas.

Lea Carpenter’s script features profane protagonists James Silva (genius but mentally unstable Wahlberg), Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan as a struggling mom throwing tantrums), Sam Snow (mean faced Ronda Rousey ironically getting K.O.d first), and Bishop (John Malkovich as an ordained macguffin). Having been assigned the transportation of a mysterious man with government secrets, the plot follows the operatives’ quest to get from point A to B without getting killed by Russian hackers or rogue policeman.

What follows is rapid-fire cuts amidst rapid-fire action, to the point where it is nearly impossible to distinguish one punch from the next. And with characters as uneven as the pacing, and a bombardment of bombs and pointless narrative twists, your headache may ring louder than the bullets. There’s tango in its surveillance, but no tango in its dance.


Review: The Wife

The biggest takeaway from Bjorn Runge’s “The Wife” is that writing isn’t easy. I should know, having drudged through this 100-minute melodrama centering the haughty makeup of the literary world. The world in which these shrewd heroes inhabit is one of high-lit black and grey hues — 1992 Stockholm to be exact. The streets are every bit as desolate and frigid as those who walk them.

The wife of the story is Joan Castleman (played by the great Glenn Close). You can’t take your eyes off Close here. Don’t be fooled by her reserved facial complexions, this is a towering performance, as every wry smile and held back tear exudes a tormented soul. This Hillary Clinton esque figure pushes past her husband’s affairs for the benefit of her career (Bill is even mentioned once or twice). Her orally and literary astute husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) has just won the Nobel Prize for literature. Though his credentials soon are called into question by a hammy reporter and his bratty son.

What follows is an investigation of whether Joe did or didn’t write his acclaimed novels. Are the two chasing a ghost or a ghostwriter? I didn’t find myself caring, since my patience began to wear as thin as Joe’s greying beard. Mainly because the film is devoid of feel and expressive touch. Coming off as bland and pretentious as the writers (particularly the males), it sets out to squib. As satisfying as the film’s twist, and occasionally its twisted temperament, the result, unfortunately, uses a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.


Review: Midnight Summers Dream

Far before Bergman and Tarkovsky jotted down their dreams to feed their idiosyncratic thoughts to the public, there was Shakespeare. His play “Midnight Summers Dream”, once thought of unplayable on the big screen, has finally found itself in the capable hands of first-time director Casey Wilder Mott’s.

Set in Los Angeles (the modern day Athens, I suppose), Shakespeare’s source material is converted to characters that are products of Hollywood, ranging from writers to directors to producers. Some may find that this telling of four star-crossed lovers wooed by the celestial powers-that-be has trouble deciding whether to be or not to be a rom-com, a fantastical drama, or an assault on Hollywood’s unforgiving class system. I found it to be the perfect mixture of the three.

Playing off the quote “all that glitters is not gold”, we find ourselves immersed in a tale of the lifeless upper-class searching for emotional connection in today’s digital age. The journey, despite low production values, is at once bizarre, boisterous, and occasionally brilliant. With no destination in sight, our alluring characters wander aimlessly about as if strutting to the groovy homesick blues of “California Dreaming”. The fluorescent tints and sunsets certainly give new meaning to “warmth in LA”.

The character’s personas are decidedly cold. And even if Shakespeare may frown when the juvenile body comedy makes an ass of itself, I am sure he would be pleased to see a film budding with imagination similar to (though nowhere near as good) as the work of Luis Bunuel. If we pulled up the curtains to find the characters in “The Discrete Charm of Bourgeoisie” stuck in their own world walking down an endless path, then here, we can simply click play on our Macs, and watch the unconscious Bourgeoisie saunter through life as if it were one long brunch by the beach.


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