Mark Wahlberg stars in the fact-based action adventure film Deepwater Horizon although it seems strange to a film about a devastating ecological disaster and deadly oil rig explosion “action adventure”. Hardly seems like an adventure a person would want to take. The full environmental effects of the explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 are still unknown. Peter Berg’s neat and tidy storytelling is effective if not inspired. The focus is on the events, the little details – a shaking valve, a tipping glass that told the tale that – and the massive blast thirty miles offshore, the meat of the matter. Precious little is offered character wise except that Wahlberg is, as ever, the everyman turned saviour who literally bounces off the screen with movie star charisma. The supporting characters are flat but they do what they need to do and that’s move the action forward. It’s interesting that Wahlberg’s wife, nicely played by Kate Hudson is distraught but not in the least surprised on news of the explosion. That is the burden she carries when he leaves her to go to work. Danger is always just under the surface. Deepwater Horizon a “thrill ride”, aided by an extremely clever crew of CGI and special effects artists. Be sure to see it in IMAX.
Operation Avalanche is the second feature from Canada’s iconoclastic filmmaker Matt Johnson (The Dirties). It’s a highly entertaining what-if story in which Johnson plays Matt Johnson, a filmmaker hired by the CIA to spearhead the covert production of a movie faking the US moon landing. NASA scientists have discovered that the US cannot actually land on the moon, despite announcing to the world that it would and soon. Before the Soviets. And the shame of failing to deliver on its grandiose plan is not on. The Faked Moon Landing is a long standing conspiracy theory usually told as Stanley Kubrick’s baby. Johnson references him by going on his set to steal the footage but ultimately opts to make his own. A sandbox, a spacesuit, a willing stooge/partner (Owen Williams) a selection of background graphics and voila! It’s audacious and wink-wink ironic at first until Johnson’s well –placed paranoia sets in. He’s taking enormous chances and assassins seem to be behind every bush and STOP sign. Johnson’s 1967 period art design is spectacular but the real payoff is watching Johnson going deeper into unknown territory; he’s hypnotically energetic, somewhat irritating and never dull.
In the same vein of way-out-there we have the documentary The Lovers and the Despot and it’s one for the books. Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee, a famous South Korean filmmaker and his equally famous wife and glamourous leading lady vanished in 1978. They were kidnapped and held as prisoners of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. He was a huge fan of Hollywood films and of Choi and Shin. The couple were forced to make film after film, seven in two years, in order to fulfill Kim’s dream of creating a North Korean film industry to eclipse Hollywood! Interviews with Choi, now 89, are riveting. She reveals that the estranged pair rekindled their love under these dire circumstances and detailed their hair-raising escape years later. Terrific archival footage and present day interviews also shed light on the current North Korean despot, Kim’s son Kim Jong-un and the world and family of his birth. Remarkable.
Masterminds stars Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis and Leslie Jones, the current A-list of comic actors. A naïve armoured truck guard is roped into a $17M criminal caper by the girl he loves. He takes all the risks and hands his new gang friends the money and of course, they stiff him and run. He’s forced underground, a place an innocent should never be. Zach’s the king of ditzy but well-meaning and faux philosophical stooges and he does it again. His familiar shtick may wear thin for some, but if you like FX’s Baskets, this may be okay. The thing is the film was kicking around for two years before getting a release.
Rogers Shomi streaming service has closed its screens for good and that’s bad. It offered a great alternative and more choice than Bell’s Crave service. But take heart. We still have Acorn TV, Netflix, Amazon and I hear BBC will begin streaming here soon. Shomi, we hardly knew ye. RIP.
Woody Allen returns to TV! After forty five years he returns to his roots and he rocks. Allen’s Amazon Prime series Crisis in Six Scenes is a hoot and raises the bar for television content, tone and language. It’s set in the turbulent 60s but TV writer Woody and his marriage counsellor wife (Elaine May) know little about it, living cushy lives Connecticut, going to book club, doing nothing extraordinary. The one night in 26 years he forgets to set the house alarm and Miley Cyrus breaks in with a gun and a bad attitude. She is the daughter of friends and demands they let her stay there for a while. She is a dedicated revolutionary and fugitive from the law, having just bombed and robbed a bank and shot a security guard. Her presence divides the house. May is fascinated by her charismatic rebellion but Woody is aghast. He doesn’t want a revolutionary (he didn’t win a Purple Heart because he has a Yellow Streak) to upset his cosy life and make him a federal target. Plus she eats all his Fig Newtons and navel oranges. A young law student staying in their home falls in love with her and plans to move to quit law school and move to Cuba with her. Problem is he’s meant to marry a rich and bossy WASP. Allen and May (who was Mike Nichols comedy partner in the ‘60’s) are forced to help her escape and they’re hysterical – two elderly, arthritic intellectuals running money drops and jumping across Brooklyn rooftops to escape the feds. May’s book club of octogenarians plus Joy Behar falls under Miley’s spell and they become serious followers of Chairman Mao, Lenin, Stalin, and the Black Panthers. The final episode in which everything converges is LOL worthy, I was crying with laughter.
HBO Westward stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Evan Rachel Wood in a spooky sci-fi drama in a dystopian future. Mainstream television is crammed with dystopian future these days. Hopkins is the silky mastermind who creates a Wild West theme park peopled by artificial beings. I could swear footage was swiped from Magnificent Seven it looks so authentic. Except that it’s fake and the creation of Hopkin’s dastardly overlord. “I designed every blade of grass”! He says. The robots may have actual intelligence, so look out humans. Haven’t heard that one before. Cough, cough.
And Netflix’ Fuller House Season 2 launches globally December 9, 2016 featuring veterinarian D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron-Bure) who is recently widowed and living in San Francisco with a house full of multi-generational people. The reboot last year was a phenomenal success so here we go again. Its corny stuff and folks love it.