“Outside the Wire" stars Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Emily Beecham, Michael Kelly, and Pilou Asbæk. Released on Netflix on January 15, 2021, the film is about an android officer who teams up with a drone pilot to stop a global catastrophe.
The film is directed by Mikael Håfström, who also directed films such as “Vendetta”, “Evil”, “1408”, “The Rite”, and “Escape Plan”. Sometimes the best way to save the world is with the help of a half-human, half-cyborg being. No, I’m not talking about Cyborg from the DC universe. I’m talking about the Falcon himself, Anthony Mackie. Before we see Mackie team up with the Winter Soldier in the upcoming Marvel series for Disney+, the actor is taking on a different kind of action film for Netflix, which is hoping to start off 2021 on the right foot. How, you may ask? By becoming the Winter Soldier himself, of course, without the Hydra brainwashing stuff. This latest action film sees Netflix continuing their hot streak of releasing plenty of new content for us to watch every week since the pandemic hit us hard back in March, which is good because I need a lot of reviews to write this year in case the upcoming theatrical films get delayed again. The only thing I remember from the film’s director is that he’s responsible for reuniting Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the 2013 action film, “Escape Plan”, which spawned a trilogy in case you forgot already. Given the fact that “Escape Plan” was pretty enjoyable in my eyes, I should assume that this film will likely get that same treatment as well. With that in mind, let’s see if it’s functional enough to prove my point.
The story follows Lt. Thomas Harp (Idris), a disgraced drone pilot who is sent into a U.S. base in Ukraine as punishment for disobeying an order. There, he’s assigned to work for Captain Leo (Mackie), a military officer who is actually a top-secret android super-soldier. They team up in a race against time to locate a pro-Russian terrorist named Victor Koval (Asbæk) and prevent him from using the nuclear missile silos to wipe out humanity. Netflix has a pretty good track record when it comes to delivering some serviceable action films. Some of them, like “Extraction” and “The Old Guard”, were able to blew my expectations with their heart-pounding action sequences and invigorating stories. Others were basically generic due to the executions of their concepts. “Outside the Wire” just happened to fall into the latter category. If you go into this film expecting nothing but a bunch of gunfights, CGI robots, war, CGI robots, bloody violence, and…you guessed it, CGI robots, I believe that you’ll be mostly impressed with the final result. However, if you’re hoping for it to have an Oscar-worthy story about the casualties of war from a drone pilot’s perspective and the dangers of artificial intelligence, you might as well pack your bags and head on home to be a family man because this film didn’t have that type of programming in its system. To be fair, the film did represent those types of topics, along with some well-handled moments like the action scenes, the gritty setting, and its third act, but they were easily overwritten by its formulaic screenplay and its so-so characters. If you’ve seen the other action films that has two different people saving the world from a bad guy, then you already have seen “Outside the Wire”. I don’t mind a film following the same formula as the ones from before as long as the execution is good, which is one of my personal rules in terms of reviewing movies. Unfortunately, the execution here was anything but good. It’s a conventional sci-fi action film that lacked any strong interest in its themes as well as the main characters themselves. It also didn’t help that the plot took itself a bit too seriously at times, especially for some viewers who want the film to be both fun and serious. As for the cast themselves, I thought they were all right. They’re not complete show-stoppers or anything like that, but they did the best they could in spite of its flawed script. Anthony Mackie continues to impress me with his performance and his stunt work as Leo, resulting in him joining the list of actors finding success outside of their Marvel roles alongside Chris Hemsworth. Along with providing some humorous moments, Mackie knows how to make his character as badass as one might expect from him. Damson Idris, who is known for appearing in films like “Megan Leavey” and “Farming” as well as the television series “Snowfall”, delivered a performance that wasn’t able to come close to matching Mackie’s. Even though I had a soft spot for Idris’s character’s redemption arc, I felt that his acting was a bit dull during a couple of scenes. The action sequences were also pretty enjoyable at times, along with some passable visual effects. While they’re not as energetic as the ones from “Extraction” due to some choppy editing and Håfström’s direction, I did happen to find some amusement seeing Mackie beat the crud out of the bad guys and destroy some bad robots. Gotta take what I can get, I guess.
Overall, despite some entertaining moments, “Outside the Wire” has several bugs in its system that makes it incompatible for modern warfare. Half of the stuff that was in the film were fine enough to keep me engaged, such as Mackie’s performance and the action scenes, but the rest of them were just as rusty as a pile of junk. Due to its cliched screenplay, average characters, and its inability to provide strong depth in its themes, the film wasn’t able to make it out of the war zone alive. It’s watchable for people who enjoyed Mackie in his Marvel Cinematic Universe films as well as people who just want to watch an ordinary action film. For those who want an award-worthy action war film, not so much.
“Charming” stars Demi Lovato, Wilmer Valderrama, Sia, Ashley Tisdale, G.E.M., and Avril Lavigne. Released in Spain on April 20, 2018, followed by a Netflix release on January 8, 2021, the film is about a prince who attempts to break his curse by finding true love.
The film was written and directed by Ross Venokur, who also directed “A.C.O.R.N.S.: Operation Crackdown” and is known for his involvement with the 2004 series “Game Over”. You can already tell how desperate I am to seek out some new content for me to review this year. In fact, I am so desperate that I had to rely on Netflix to find some recent smaller films that people are unfamiliar with. I managed to find one that caught my attention and boy, do I have something to say about this. This latest animated film comes from Vanguard Animation, the production studio that was founded by John H. Williams (the producer of the “Shrek” franchise) and Neil Braun. The studio was responsible for creating some below-average animated films like “Valiant”, “Happily N’Ever After”, and “Space Chimps”. I haven’t watched those films that often, but I do have some fond memories of seeing them for the first time during my middle school days. This is also the third animated film from Vanguard to be released on Netflix, following “Gnome Alone” in 2018 and “Fearless” in 2020. I haven’t seen the latter, unfortunately, but I did happen to watch “Gnome Alone”, and from what I can remember, I thought it was a pretty decent kids movie. Not perfect, but tolerable enough for me to go back to whenever I have nothing else to watch. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The film was able to debut in theaters in Spain in 2018 (less than three years ago), followed by Europe and Africa throughout that same year and in the United Kingdom a year later. It didn’t get a United States release until Netflix was kind enough to acquire the distribution rights to the film and release it on the service last weekend. It was met with a pretty poor reception from critics as of this writing, which tells me that I’m going to have a lot of fun talking about this one. With that said, let’s see if this film is worthy enough to deserve its “happily ever after”.
The story follows Prince Philipe Charming (Valderrama), a prince who is cursed by his father’s former partner Nemeny Neverwish (Nia Vardalos) to be instantly attractive to every woman in the land until his 21st birthday. As a result, he wound up proposing to the likes of Cinderella (Tisdale), Snow White (Lavigne), and Sleeping Beauty (G.E.M.) despite them not knowing that they’re engaged to the same man. In order to rid himself of this curse, Charming must go on a dangerous quest to find the truest of true loves. There he meets a cunning thief named Lenore (Lovato), who may be the answer to his prayers due to her being the only woman who resisted his curse. Similar to “Shrek” and “Happily N’Ever After”, the film takes the fairy tale concept and flips it around like it was a pancake on a frying pan. “Shrek” managed to make this fresh take work by providing a well-told story and lovable characters. “Happily N’Ever After”, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate in terms of its critical reception and box office failure. “Charming” could wind up falling in either direction. It could end up being the next “Shrek” or the next “Happily N’Ever After”. After having the guts to watch it for myself, I can safely assume that it ended up being the latter. When you have something that first came out in a different country and it took a couple of years to appear in the United States, that’s usually not a good sign when it comes to the quality, and “Charming” just happened to become one of the films that prove this theory. To its credit, however, it did provide a suitable message for the kids about what it means to love. Unfortunately, that message has been bogged down by the film’s plot, which severely lacked the charm and energy that the other animated films are known for. Even when the film attempted to be charming and energetic during a few moments, it quickly fell face first on the ground and never recovered. As for the animation itself, I wouldn’t say that it’s downright awful. It definitely had some passable perks like the lighting and the okay-ish character designs, but they weren’t enough to make the style look as appealing as the title character himself. Plus, the animation for the characters’ mouths didn’t exactly match the dialogue at times, and to me, it’s very distracting, so I’m going to give it a point deduction for that. Aside from those two really tiny pros, the film is a forgettable and extremely generic kids film that completely squandered its interesting concept. While the film did have an impressive lineup that have experiences with both acting and singing, I’m afraid to say that their vocal performances weren’t able to deliver the charismatic appeal to their respective characters, who weren’t exactly that memorable to begin with. One of the main things I learned from watching animated movies or shows is that you need to have characters that are engaging and magnetic as well as the voice cast that fit those descriptions. Sadly, this film did not have that. Demi Lovato was able to put some effort into her role as Lenore, who is best described as the female version of Flynn Rider from “Tangled”, but not by much. My only problem with Lenore is the character herself, who obviously forgot the main qualities that made Rider a beloved character. I believe she would’ve been a good character for me to invest in if the writers expand her own perspective on love a bit. On the bright side, Lovato was at least a bit more tolerable than Wilmer Valderrama, who delivered his weakest performance of his career as Philippe Charming. The way he delivered some of his lines were immensely bland and poorly-directed. I’m not even sure if he was the right choice to voice someone like Charming, to be honest. I’m sorry to say this, Valderrama. You’re very talented, but I don’t think this film was right for you. Heck, even the screenplay by Venokur was very weak as it was filled with dumbed-down dialogue and imperfect attempts at poking fun at the fairy tale cliches. Of course, you can’t have an animated musical film without a song or two…or three. To be honest, I thought they’re okay. They’re not great songs, but they’re bearable enough for me to listen to. The first song, “Trophy Boy”, was my personal highlight because of its catchy tune. The other songs, though, ranged from “all right” to “meh”.
Overall, unlike its title character, “Charming” is a charmless and painfully mediocre shell of a prince that didn’t show any love to its intriguing concept. The animation was all right for the most part, and it did offer a fitting message for the kids. Nevertheless, those things don’t mean a gosh darn thing when the storytelling is as dull as watching paint dry. Filled with a lackluster plot, forgettable characters, unconvincing voice performances, and an unbearable screenplay, this so-called “fairy tale” doesn’t even come close to earning its “happily ever after”, resulting in it being not only one of the worst animated films I’ve seen, but also the first bad film of the new year so far in my eyes. It tried to copy the same success as “Shrek” when it comes to spoofing the fairy tale formula, but it lacked the main ingredients that made that film an animated classic in the first place despite the fact that John H. Williams (the producer of “Shrek”) was involved with “Charming” as the producer. Those main ingredients were the story, the characters, the charm, and the humor. This film is nothing but a worthless successor to that beloved animated gem because of the absence of those ingredients. If you’re actually brave enough to watch this film, it’s available on Netflix, and it’s worth watching for the film’s message and its so-so songs. Otherwise, you’re better off watching “Shrek” or reading an actual fairy tale book.
“Shadow in the Cloud” stars Chloë Grace Moretz, Taylor John Smith, Beulah Koale, Nick Robinson, and Callan Mulvey. Released on January 1, 2021, the film is about an air force service woman who battles a gremlin on a bomber.
The film is directed by Roseanne Liang, who also directed “My Wedding and Other Secrets”. The new year is once again upon us, which means more new movies for me to review. Although this year tends to be a little bit different due to us still sitting around at our homes waiting for things to get back to normal, myself included. Right now, I couldn’t find the right time for me to go back to the cinema to see a few films that I miss, so how about I take a look at something that’s available to watch on demand instead? I usually start off the new year by reviewing a horror film, which happens to be a pretty bizarre tradition since 2016. Fortunately for us, this year will be different. I decided to break this cycle by reviewing an action film that was just released last weekend. That’s right, no more of me suffering through a bad horror film this month. Well, at least until next January. The film I’ll be looking at today made its first appearance at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival back in September, where it earned the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness and some pretty decent reviews. I discovered this film was coming out thanks to the trailer I watched a couple of months ago, and when I found out that it is available to watch on demand and has a $20 rental price tag on the side, I figured that I would give this one a shot. I mean, what else am I supposed to do while I’m waiting to see the rest of the award-worthy films? Watch Youtube videos all day? Anyway, let’s see if this film is worth paying the rental price for.
Set during World War II in the 1940s, the story follows Maude Garrett (Moretz), a female Flight Officer who is tasked to deliver top secret documents to Samoa. What are the documents about? No one knows, because they’re top secret. The only way to get there is to travel in the air by riding the B-17 bomber. Unfortunately, the bomber’s crew didn’t give her the proper welcome she deserved, except Walter Quaid (Smith), the Staff Sergeant who befriends her. During the trip, Maude discovers that a mysterious creature has hitched a ride as well and has a thirst for blood. Not only that, but the Japanese fighters are also on the bomber’s tail. Trapped in the turret with no way out, she will have to use her wits to outsmart the beast, evade the enemy planes, and get to her destination in one piece. The story is pretty much a combination of a war thriller and a creature-involved B-movie that somehow took inspiration from the famous “Twilight Zone” episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. Not only that, but it also offered some small bits of social commentary that involve the treatment of women during the World War era, especially those who serve in the air force, as well as the fact that air force members use gremlins as an excuse for their mistakes and their psychological behavior. While I will give it credit for showcasing the fact that women can get their hands dirty as well, the screenplay by Max Landis and Roseanne Liang seemed to focus more on delivering a thrilling and nonsensical experience for those who are in need of some pure escapism. Even though it would be nice for it to expand a bit more on its commentary, I was able to find some amusement in “Shadow in the Cloud”. The film is told from the perspective of Moretz’s character with the main locations being the bomber itself and the turret. It gave viewers an opportunity to experience certain things the same way she’s experiencing, whether it’s dialogue from the supporting characters or seeing a huge furry creature demolishing the plane. This type of storytelling has been done several times before, but it’s done in a way that’s not only engaging, but also enticing and a little bit claustrophobic. As a director and a co-writer, Roseanne Liang was given the task to make sure the main character is just as important as the thrills, and for the most part, she managed to accomplish that mission, especially during the first and second acts of the film. Those scenes alone were nicely-directed, investing, and pretty intense, especially when all of the aerial dogfights are shown from the inside of the plane. It just goes to show that you can have an intense action film without wasting money on a couple of big CGI sequences. Chloë Grace Moretz also played a big part on how properly executed the first two acts were. She’s starting off the new year right by providing some respectable depth to the character of Maude. Moretz is no stranger to starring in action films as she had already appeared in the “Kick-Ass” films and “The 5th Wave”, and this film is no different. Her solid performance as Maude shows that she can handle this type of genre as effectively as she does with comedy and drama. It would be interesting to see if she can go for two for two with the upcoming “Tom & Jerry” film. Taylor John Smith also did pretty well with his performance as Walter Quaid. As for the other characters, all I can say is that the supporting cast did fine in their roles, even though I didn’t really care that much about their characters. They were there to be big jerks towards Maude and that’s about it. Despite the film being a fun and silly ride for me, I felt that it relied a little bit too much on the latter during the third act, which can hurt the film for those who are expecting it to be like the first two acts: a realistic and claustrophobic war thriller that happens to feature a gremlin. The third act kind of flipped itself over by making up some of its own rules. There were definitely a couple of moments that require viewers to suspend their disbelief, which makes sense since it does resemble a B-movie. While those moments were both entertaining and completely bonkers from my personal perspective, the final act in general was a bit of a step down from the first two acts in terms of its tone and storytelling. Even the people who want logic in their films may not be impressed with how silly these moments can be.
Overall, “Shadow in the Cloud” is a pretty effective action film that’s as thrilling, crazy, and fun as one might expect based on its concept. The beginning and middle parts of the film were suitably riveting thanks to Liang’s direction and Moretz’s performance, while the final act is a flawed and idiotic experience that can be enjoyable with the right mindset. Personally, I thought it was decent enough to please my desire for something that’s action-packed and a little bit silly. If your desire is similar to mine, then feel free to check this one out.