I almost skipped posting a trailer because in the last three years, probably everyone who comes to this site has seen a trailer for this film several times.  Surprise! the film is finally in theaters after being bumped from the schedule six different times. Many people have taken that as a sign that Sony had no faith in the film and as a result, there has been a high level of low expectations for the movie. This is a Marvel Film, but it is in the Sony  Galaxy of the Marvel Universe, you know, that part of the Multiverse where Venom lives and Spider-Man visits.  The film looks more like Venom than an MCU Spider-Man film, and that may be another reason that so many are skeptical about it.

There is no gentile way  of saying it, “Morbius” is not a very good film. In spite of the fact that it is not very good, that does not mean it is bad or garbage. For people who are looking for an hour and a half of mildly entertaining comic book action with a dark flare, it works well enough to justify your time. If you have no interest, you will not lose anything by skipping the movie, but if the idea of a living vampire, engaging in battle with evil forces while knocking holes in the city around them  is something you can get behind, then this is fine. 

Actually, the first half hour or so of the movie is a pretty good origin story that sets up the main characters for the story, the exigencies that lead to the scientific cross pollination of blood and DNA, and the setting that it all takes place in. Things don’t start to go off the rails until we get on the boat where the main transformation takes place. I can’t say it was intellectually sound, but it makes as much sense as the “Spider-Man” science. The problem with the story at this point is that it has to develop some place to go. Batman and Spider-Man have motivation, Superman has enemies, Iron Man and Captain America have political objectives. “Morbius” is a creature created without a reason for being. We get a Jekyll/Hyde figure who is not really conflicted so much as distracted. An enemy is created for him to be in opposition to, but that feels like a mechanical step to simply fulfill the expectations of the genre. 

In aesthetic and story, the film feels like a throwback to Spawn, The Fantastic Four, and Judge Dredd. Sometimes they look cool, but in a way that a drawing or painting holds your eye, rather than an organic story. The concept itself can’t be the movie, you have to have something to make the audience care, and this film for the most part lacks that spark. Jared Leto as the lead is perfectly fine, with the right look for a dark character and convincing in the early segments as the infirm doctor looking for a cure to his own blood disease. Frankly, the biggest drawback to his performance is the manbun he adopts to keep his long hair out of the way when he is in the lab or clinic. Matt Smith as his childhood friend suffering from the same disease, is never as convincing in that role, but as his part evolves, he is a lot more animated than the lead is, and that is not always for the best. The tone of his performance and the character arc might work well in a different movie, the question becomes which film are they making here? Is this a dramatic brooding vampire’s story or is it a comic book action film?  “Morbius” can’t quite make up it’s mind.

The film also feels like chunks have been taken out of it to make it lean, but those chunks contain exposition that might have clarified some of the things that are happening or they could have added more character to the lead roles. Either way it leaves the movie feeling undercooked, and the set ups in the end credit sequence make no sense in light of what we saw before. There is a desperation to the effort to connect this to the Spider-Man/Venom part of the universe and it does not do the movie any favors. Al Madrigal as Agent Rodriguez provides a little bit of humor, and Tyrese Gibson is trying to inject a little bit of gravitas to the proceedings, but those ingredients are not sufficient to lift this movie out of the classification of mediocre. 

Those of you who expect to hate this probably will, so stay away. Those who think it is going to be fun stupidity like the Venom films, be prepared for a letdown. But those of you, who like me have no preconceptions about the movie, will tolerate it at times, enjoy it for some moments and then forget about it until we stumble across it on cable or streaming and wonder what it is that we have forgotten. 

House of Gucci

If the person who assembled the trailer above, was responsible for editing the movie, this would be a more positive evaluation. The trailer emphasizes the key ideas in the film, but does so more efficiently than the actual film does. So the trailer is more fun to watch and it moves with a sense of purpose, building to a withheld climax. The film, tells the story more completely, but it lingers over material that is not essential to the plot and the dynamics of the characters are a bit inconsistent. Director Ridley Scott seems to be aiming for an epic, when what he has is a melodrama with some goofy and off-putting characters.

The star of the show is Lady Gaga, portraying Patrizia Reggiani, a young woman who meets Maurizio Gucci, heir to a portion of the family business, and subsequently marries and manipulates him to become the head of the company, at the expense of other members of his family. She is not quite Lady Macbeth, but her ambitions are what fuels the narrative in the film, and her abilities to push in the right direction using her romantic relationship with Maurizio are the means by which she accomplishes her goal. Lady Gaga has established some creds as an actress and she acquits herself well in a role that she is properly cast in. She is youthful, sexy in a non conventional way and ambitious as hell, just as the character in the film she plays. Criticism of the accent is beside the point, the film is not looking for authenticity, the verisimilitude is provided by her smirk, eyes, and body. The dialogue occasionally contributes but the Italian Accented English is simply typical of films of this ilk. 

The cast of the film is impressive. Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons have a great scene together and the two aging lions play it more subtly than you might think. Irons is Rodolfo Gucci, father of Maurizio, and brother of Pacino’s Aldo Gucci. Rodolfo Gucci is ill and aging in the film and Irons looks like he is going through the process himself, I hope it is mostly acting and makeup that accounts for his condition in the movie. His best scene is with Jared Leto, who plays his nephew Paolo Gucci. Both father and Uncle have distain for Paolo, for reasons that are comically depicted here. The verbal takedown of Paolo by Rodolfo is the most fun scene in the movie, and oddly it generates some sympathy for the craven Paolo who is the butt end of nearly every comic moment on the film. Leto is flamboyant in the part and unrecognizable in the make up and costuming he has been given. Obviously he has been portrayed this way as a counterpoint to the taciturn Maurizio, who is brought to life by current hot actor of the moment Adam Driver. The son of Aldo Gucci, Driver plays his character almost as somnambulant in the early part of the film, and he only exhibits occasional moments of  personality when he is with Patrizia. The character is a key element in the events that takes place but Driver is so passive in the first two thirds of the movie that when his character eventually tries to switch off his wife, it comes as something of a head turner, how did he become that character all of a sudden?

Similar turns in the characters are found in other places in the script as well. Aldo goes from doting to controlling on Maurizio, Paolo goes from sniveling to conniving to repentant, and not with much explanation. Gaga’s character has the clearest path that explains the turn she makes, although to get there, she has to develop a relationship with a oddball psychic played by Selma Hayek. The climax of the film depends on the third act working, and there were some shortcuts taken that probably needed some explanation. The sudden appearance of a romantic rival, and the absence of any story concerning the developing love affair, makes the transition to the third act very jolting.  This was another opportunity to take the satiric route suggested by the trailer, instead of the epic path the film tries to follow. Scott and writers Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna and book author Sara Gay Forden, insist on playing it straight when a mocking sarcastic tone would have helped make the movie come alive. 

The film looks marvelous with expensive locales and lush furnishings and artwork distributed throughout the interiors. The timeline for the story is suggested by title cards but there seem to be gaps in time that can cause confusion. The soundtrack of contemporary music used to set scenes or make transitions is fitting for the times although not necessary accurate as to when the music was released. That is a minor criticism, but those of us who lived through the era will probably be the only ones who notice it, and no one will or should care. Although based on real people, the film plays like a soap opera but does not quite embrace the high camp that can make a movie like this entertaining. This is the second Best Ridley Scott Movie of the year, but it is the one that is more successful. Sometimes it is the material rather than it’s execution that matters.

the little things

Crime procedurals are a dime a dozen on television. In forty minutes we can get a set up, surprise reveals, a fake lead, a new piece of evidence and the case wrapped up with a soul searching song over the titles. So why do we need a movie like this? There are a couple of reasons and they start with the main leads. You have three good actors who can make the story work without feeling as if you are being rushed through things. These three men bring something to the table that you will not get in episodic television.

The main star is Denzel Washington, who adds gravitas just by showing up. Of course Denzel never just shows up, he invests himself in his roles. Here he is playing a pretty conventional character, the world weary detective who is burned out by the years of exposure to the horrors of the world. Writer/director John Lee Hancock adds an ambiguous backstory to layer the morality of Officer Joe Deacon’s mission. On the same track but many years behind, hotshot homicide detective Jimmy Baxter overlooks the warnings he gets from former colleagues of Deacon’s, in order to get a handle on a case that has him stymied.  Rami Malek is all wide-eyed intensity as he starts to see the case from the old timer’s perspective. The third side of the triangle is provided by a suspect, who screams his guilt without ever providing any evidence. The way Jared Leto smirks as Albert Sparma, the suspect who denies killing anyone but acts as if he knows everything about what is happening, make you want to punch the character yourself.

Our story opens with a crime being executed but blocked along the way. That sequence is suspenseful and pulls us in, but in the big picture it has little to do with the main process. It comes up at one point, mainly as another complication for the investigators rather than a piece of the puzzle that will answer their key questions. That sort of thing is the main thrust of the story. Lots of little things point to the involvement of the subject,  but all of them leave the case short of a definitive outcome. The leads are not false, they simply stop short and that is what is driving the two investigators to the edge.

There is a turn, with the last act, that requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Up to that point, there were plenty of standard moments to draw us in, point at guilt, and start to care about the characters and their past and future selves. However, when the plot device shows up, it smacks us in the face to remind us that this is a work of fiction. Characters can be made to do something that any rational person would know is not a good thing. The trap has been set but I did not think that the need of the target had been built up enough to go for the bait that was being offered. If we decide to go along with what occurs, the movie ultimately works at fleshing out the moral struggle of the police officers. If we keep thinking about what happened and we can’t accept it, the whole thing falls apart. I was willing to accept it but it did diminish the film in my eyes and I wish the resolution could have been arrived at without resorting to the theatrics of that last plot deviceAs in all films of this type, the “criminal” is smarter than he would ever be in real life. The politics of the police department are impenetrable. The main detectives are flawed in ways that undermine their position but also makes them good cops.  Once again, my hometown of Los Angeles, provides an atmospheric background for the story, with assists from Kern county, Ventura, and one wordless shot at an Alhambra restaurant, that fills a modern story (one set in 1990) with depression era noir tones.  In the process of baking this, the cake fell and it doesn’t come out as well as it should, it is however still tasty.