Del and Mladen review ‘The Creator’

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

“The Creator” stars John David Washington as Joshua, Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie, Gemma Chan as Maya, Allison Janney as Colonel Howell, and Ken Watanabe as Harun. It is directed by Gareth Edwards, has a run time of 2 hours and 13 minutes, and is rated PG-13. See it in theatrical release.

Del’ take

“The Creator” did not create a box office phenomenon. In fact, it landed with a thud, earning only $30 million in its opening weekend compared to an $80 million production cost. The experts at Looper attribute its failure to the following:

The movie lacked well-known stars. John David Washington (“Tenet”) and Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) are the two highest profile actors.

The SAG-AFTRA strike prevented the cast from promoting the film.

The film presents a sympathetic view of AI at a moment when AI technology is under fire for multiple affronts, from displacing human workers to plagiarisation and creating disinformation.

The marketing may have misled the public as to the movie’s true plot.

I would add a fifth: Meme-loving, McDonald’s-eating, Trump-voting Americans are so risk-averse they’re not willing to take a chance on an unknown entertainment quantity.

That’s a shame because “The Creator” is a decent movie. Special effects are top notch, acting is terrific, and the movie’s sweep is epic.

The plot is complicated, so bear with me: An AI entity is blamed for detonating a nuclear weapon over Los Angeles, killing millions of people and prompting the United States to undertake a pogrom to erase the algorithmic scourge from the face of the earth. A giant and impregnable space station called NOMAD orbits above a faraway land called New Asia, a haven for AI sympathizers, and blasts suspected hideouts with nuclear missiles. John David Washington’s character, a special forces dude named Joshua, infiltrates New Asia and marries the daughter of the Nirmata, or Creator, who is working to make AI even more powerful. Joshua’s mission is to identify the location of the Nirmata so that NOMAD can end the menace of AI once and for all. But Joshua’s new wife, Maya (played by Gemma Chan), is the actual Nirmata and has created a superweapon, an AI child based on her unborn baby. The child (“Alphie,” played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles), has amazing powers that could bring down NOMAD.

“The Creator” clearly has Biblical overtones and if anything, its Adam-and-Eve subtext may be too on-the-nose. It portrays AI-endowed robots as an oppressed minority who face persecution similar to that endured by Jews, African Americans and members of the LGBTQ community. The robots await the arrival of a savior who will deliver them from the persecution of Americans and the West – shades of Neo in “The Matrix.”

“The Creator’s” virtues are many. It’s a beautiful thing to look at. We saw it in IMAX and Dolby stereo, which showcased its visual and audio drama. John David Washington – who I did not know was Denzel Washington’s son! – Ken Watanabe and Allison Janney are very good in their roles. Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alfie, the AI weapon, was excellent – this was her debut movie.

I agree with criticism the movie seems to use material from other films. At times I felt I was watching “Blade Runner,” “Platoon” or, as I said above, “The Matrix.” According to the film’s Wikipedia entry, “Edwards cited (sic) Apocalypse Now (1979), Baraka (1992), Blade Runner (1982), Akira (1988), Rain Man (1988), The Hit (1984), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Paper Moon (1973) as this film’s sources of inspiration.”

“The Creator” has received generally favorable reviews from critics, who laud its spectacular special effects and grand sweep. But they simultaneously downscore it for lacking depth and heart. Said Christy Lemire on

“Rich in atmosphere but short on substance, director and co-writer Gareth Edwards’ film has the look and tone of a serious, original work of art, but it ends up feeling empty as it recycles images and ideas from many influential predecessors.”

I’m not a Gareth Edwards fan and was unimpressed with some of his previous efforts, like “Godzilla” and “Monsters,” which I hated. But I feel I should defend “The Creator.” It’s an enjoyable science-fiction movie that at least tries to say something more than “superhero” or “Trust the Force.”

In other words, it’s not a fast-food meme, and there’s not one awful comb-over in its 133 minutes.

I give “The Creator” a B+ grade.

Mladen’s take

Strangely enough, I agree with much of Del’s “The Creator” review. The world building in this film is epic. The AI-driven simulants were fully merged with human society in New Asia. Megacities were bleak, countryside green. Cyborg and man shared everything (and it looked like it) and that produced the film’s most interesting idea, that AIs had found religion. The AIs prayed, just like humans. The AIs buried their dead or cremated them on pyres, just like humans. The AIs married each other and humans. The AIs needed a supernatural savior, just like humans.

My reaction to the notion of godliness-infused robots, which, frankly, had never occurred to me as I thought about AI? Something like this, “Holy fuck, how can beings that are supposed to be more intelligent than the critters that created them also believe there’s a ghost in the sky or a kinsman or Buddha watching over them?” My thought was all the more resonant because the only thing above New Asia with the power of Almighty was the $1 trillion space battlewagon NOMAD. Good god, God, NOMAD launched tac-nukes from an effing carousel straight down at its target, killing everything. Women, men, children, gone. Nonhuman women, men, and children, gone. Boom. Again and again. Take this and this and this, New Asia. Where are your gods when you need them most? Bah ha ha.

As Del bellyached about how little interest “The Creator” has drawn from moviegoers, I came up with an idea for a new marketing campaign. The movie is titled “The Creator,” so sell it as a creation tale extolling Creationism. “Joshua” and “Maya” are Adam and Eve because their unborn Child serves as the blueprint for a savior’s soul. What is Alphie saving? Humanity from itself. Perfect. All the world’s major monotheistic religions are dedicated to saving humans from themselves. The film’s slogan will be, “Every species needs a god.” If that doesn’t draw Del’s “meme-loving, McDonald’s-eating, Trump-voting Americans,” who also tend to be religionists, to “The Creator,” I don’t know what will.

One more thought about AIs practicing religion now that the movie has spurred me to think about it. A few weeks ago, that is before I saw “The Creator,” I developed a new definition for AI. AI does not stand for Artificial Intelligence. It stands for Apocalypse Intelligence. The AIs in “The Creator” are religionists. The “Apocalypse” is in the Book of Revelation. Duh. Of course, AI will imbibe religion. AI is already an agent of the Apocalypse, amplifying Mankind’s worst impulses and hatreds even as I write this.

One problem that Del didn’t mention is that “The Creator” is too long. Its story of undying love, redemption, hope, and the happy ending could’ve unfolded in less than 2 hours with a bit of good editing. Also, I had to keep the bile down when, amid a very cool and noisy scene featuring behemoth armored vehicles, a squad of good guys with rifles failed to hit a bad guy at near-close range. Who did the smack down? Joshua with a pistol while lying on his back protecting a wounded Alphie. God Almighty that was irritating.

But, it took no time for the film to re-envelope me with its stunning visuals after an annoying scene. This A- wonder must be seen in an IMAX or Dolby theater. The spectacle and sound are striking. I will buy it on 4K disc. I will play it at scale at home on seven speakers and a powered subwoofer but it ain’t going to be the same as the bazillion IMAX speakers and hyper-wattage that I enjoyed on a Saturday afternoon.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang. Directed by James Cameron. 3 hours, 12 minutes. Rated PG-13. Disney.

Del’s take

You will emerge from “Avatar: The Way of Water,” a changed person – a senior citizen, to be exact. It’s that long. It would take less time to read the U.S. tax code, and who’s to say which is more fun – those amortization tables can be very sexy.

If only the rest of the world loved Pandora as much as James Cameron.

“The Way of Water” is as beautiful as it is tedious, which is to say it resembles a Nat Geo documentary about the Great Barrier Reef, cleaned up and made pretty by Disney Studios. The sights are breathtaking – water with the clarity and color envied by chambers of commerce the world over, teeming with alien life. Too bad the story is the aquatic equivalent of a swimming pool at Motel 6.

These are the broadstrokes:

When we last saw Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in “Avatar,” he had joined the Na’vi, the native race of the moon Pandora, in expelling the evil earthmen who had come to wreck their Gaia-like ecosystem in a greedy quest for unobtanium. 

Now, Sully is living the life of the noble savage with his Na’vi wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and a passel of kids, until one day the evil earthmen return, this time in force. They want to claim Pandora as their own because mankind has made a mess of things on Earth. It only makes sense to relocate to a planet with a poisonous atmosphere and hostile natives.

Sully leads the Na’vi in a guerrilla campaign of harassment until the earthmen introduce a new weapon – a squad of Na’vi-adapted commando soldiers led by Quaritch, the Type A head of security who was killed by Neytiri in the first “Avatar.” His consciousness has been downloaded to a Na’vi body so that he may accomplish a specific mission – kill Jake Sully.

The commandos target Sully’s family. After a harrowing close call, Sully relinquishes his forest-dwelling tribe and takes Neytiri and clan to the land of the water people, Na’vi adapted to live in Pandora’s lush tropical ocean. There, they must learn the water people’s ways and fit in – until the earthmen come calling.

“The Way of Water” is a towering achievement in both concept and special effects. Cameron has created an entire biosphere with breathtaking attention to detail, and the FX are simply the best of any movie ever made. It must be seen in a widescreen theater, although some of the bigger 4K OLED TVs may do it justice.

The story, however, is less ambitious. It is a metaphor for Europe’s arrival in the New World, told from a Native American’s viewpoint, and while it shifts in focus from act to act – at first centering on Sully himself, then enlarging to include his children and how they mesh with the water people culture, then shifting back to Sully and his antagonist, Quaritch – the overall theme remains the same: good vs. evil, and the sacrifices that must be made to serve the greater imperative. At times the Sully character deviates from the archetype established in the first film, but never fear: Events will set the character arc back on track.

Overlooking the plot, “The Way of Water’s” most mention-worthy negative quality is its length. Three hours-plus is a long time to ask an audience to sit in a theater, especially when they’ve seen so much of it before. Expect multiple bathroom trips, dozing, sneaked looks at mobile phones, and maybe a pricey box of buttered popcorn to fend off starvation pains as dinnertime approaches.

Cameron belongs to a special cadre of directors – George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, Robert Wise – who tell the big stories, and tell them in big ways. Three of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time are James Cameron films. Undeniably he is one of the best, if not THE best, director working today. “The Way of Water” is an excellent movie, despite its shopworn plot and excessive length.

I grade it an A-, and I award the minus only because I found it to be oddly unsatisfying. Perhaps you will feel differently.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“The Adam Project” Starring Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Zoe Saldana, Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. Directed by Shawn Levy. 1 hour, 46 minutes. Rated PG-13. Netflix.

Del’s take

“The Adam Project” is a perfectly calibrated popcorn flick that pushes all the right buttons. It features a precocious young actor who does not fear the camera, a leading man who can laugh at himself, a leading woman who is tough as the proverbial nails, and a villain as despicable as people who vote a straight party ticket.

In fact, the whole contraption is so finely tuned and calculated that I found myself missing the pop and fizz of 45-rpm vinyl, which is to say it’s a little too polished for my tastes. Oh, it’s a terrific movie and you’ll like it a lot. But the next day you’ll struggle to remember much about it except that you probably should have sprung for a Diet Pepsi to wash down the popcorn.

The story is about the titular Adam (Ryan Reynolds), who steals a spacecraft and wormholes into the past to prevent a tragedy. Unfortunately he overshoots his destination and arrives at the location and time of his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell), whom he enlists in trying to save the future. In the process Adam bucks up his long-suffering mom (Jennifer Garner), revisits his dad (Mark Ruffalo) and reunites with his future wife (Zoe Saldana), all while thwarting the evil machinations of his former boss, Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener).

What follows is a thrill-park ride of battling robots right out of “Lost in Space,” dodging anachronisms and revisiting the good old days, none of it very demanding of deeply embedded cognitive skills. And you know what? That’s OK. Sometimes a movie is meant to do nothing more than entertain and “The Adam Project” does that and does it well, like successfully parallel parking an Edsel.

Reynolds is perfection as the wisecracking, flummoxed-when-he-should-be Adam, but more impressive is young Scobell, who matches Reynolds snark for snark and even looks like Reynolds, maybe if you squint. Garner is effective as the suffering mom, and Ruffalo is pretty funny in his role as the absent father who must re-learn his priorities if young Adam is to avoid the awful fate of growing up to become old Adam. Less effective, I thought, was Saldana as Adam’s future wife, Laura, who seems perpetually pissed-off. I mean, the fate of the world hangs in the balance and everybody’s trading witty remarks except ol’ buzz kill Laura, who just wants to stab things.

As a story “The Adam Project” keeps its focus on the action, not the novelty of time travel. “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Back to the Future” both staked their claim on nostalgia – cars with tail fins, ’50s music and fond memories of the people who created and financed those movies. But in “Adam” nostalgia remains a sideshow to the primary conflict between Adam and Maya, and Adam’s desire to reconnect with his wife. It’s nice to see Mom and Dad getting along.

Predictably the movie has received high marks from the public. It’s one of those stories that requires nothing more of its audience than an hour and 46 minutes of their time, a big tub of buttered popcorn and maybe a healthy tolerance of the absurd. Nothing wrong with any of those things, except maybe the popcorn. Pop a Zantac and you’ll be fine.

As I watched it, however, I felt like I was taking a ride through a Universal Studios attraction, where every twist, turn and visual is calculated just so by mountains of data, algorithms and public feedback. Can you complain about a movie being too perfect? Maybe I should just shut my mouth.

I’m giving “The Adam Project” a B+. It’s funny, entertaining, and every now and again touches the heart. It’s a Diet Pepsi in lieu of champagne.

But then, who drinks champagne with popcorn?

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Amazon Studios.

“The Tomorrow War” Starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, Sam Richardson, Keith Powers, Betty Gilpin, J.K. Simmons and others. Directed by Chris McKay. Too long (2 hours, 20 minutes). Rated PG-13. Amazon Prime.

Mladen’s take

“The Tomorrow War” would be an A if I could look past its derivative plot, two smulchy scenes (one on a beach and the other amid a ferocious battle with an alien matriarch), it’s PG-13 rating and that it’s a product of juggernaut Amazon, which is more of a threat to Earth than the beasts portrayed in the movie would be.

But, I can’t, so this film gets a B-, though the acting is good and the movie’s pacing decent despite its 3,000-hour run time.

Here’s the plot summary, which Del will correct: An intergalactic pet transporter carrying really mean quadrupeds that remind me of the creature in “Cloverfield” crashes in the past on our planet near the North Pole. Global warming thaws the tentacled critters, which also remind me of the mimics in “The Edge of Tomorrow,” aboard the spacecraft in the future. They proceed to nearly take over the planet after eating all its meaty life, including people. Flash to the present and the future, “Tenet”-like, comes to us via a time travel device because Future Humanity needs Current Humanity to help our species survive. How? By Current Humanity conscripting its people as soldiers to fight with Future Humanity against the carnivorous alien invaders. The now‑soldiers are transported in waves to fight in the Tomorrow War by the time travel machine.   

The good thing about “The Tomorrow War” is that the time travel paradoxes created in the film are comprehensible.

The bad thing is that the director uses the time travel to insert a who-cares subplot about our protagonist, Dan Forester played by Chris Pratt, and his family. What’s hard about making a sci-fi action yarn without encumbering it with people relationships? I didn’t like Forester any better because he was frustrated with his life as I am with mine. I didn’t like him any better because he was a father as am I. Just give me a story that focuses on what would come naturally to most of us if animals tried to eat our children (and us). We’d fight until one or the other side wins.

If you like the other movies I mention above and masterpieces such as “Alien,” “Aliens,” and “The Thing,” you’ll enjoy “The Tomorrow War.” But, for a sci-fi guy like me, this movie is just one of many stopgap measures between the good stuff.

I also can’t shake the feeling that “The Tomorrow War” was put together somewhat hastily to make Bezos even more money. I don’t know, maybe he underestimated the cost of flying to the edge of space in his personal rocket and “The Tomorrow War” will help him pay the unexpected bills.

Del’s take

Mladen goes on about how he doesn’t care about people, but he really does. Beneath that so-called shriveled turnip of a heart lies the soul of a man who is not ashamed to messy-sob after hearing Netflix changed the ending of “The Notebook.” So I don’t take anything he says very seriously, especially when he fusses about relationships sullying “The Tomorrow War.”

If you removed the relationships from “The Tomorrow War” you’d be left with something like a documentary about ants in the Amazon. Not much fun there. I’d rather be blowing up spaceships and squabbling with my dad about shaving off that Unabomber beard.

“The Tomorrow War” is a perfectly adequate summer escapist movie, in the spirit of “Independence Day,” “Edge of Tomorrow” (a vastly underrated film) and “Battle: Los Angeles.” It is long on action, short on logic, and more entertaining than its length might suggest. In fact, I was shocked to learn it was 2 hours and 20 minutes. It didn’t feel like a two-hour movie.

Mladen summed the plot and you’ve likely seen much of the movie already through the ads. My advice is to turn off your brain and enjoy the cool special effects. The story offers nothing new, but then the drive-thru at McDonalds is always around the block so “new” is not high on the list of America’s entertainment palate. And Chris Pratt is, in my opinion, a huge miscast … but hey, there’s always another “Guardian of the Galaxy” or “Jurassic Park” to fall back on.

My gripe with Pratt is that he does not, in this time or any other, evoke the brawn and swagger of an action hero. He’s more teddy bear than Terminator, a plump Pillsbury Doughboy with a machine gun.

I’m a fan of J.K. Simmons but his role as Pratt’s father is reduced to an algorithmic cipher, just another piece in the blockbuster puzzle that appears to work but doesn’t. Simmons plays the role with a strange lack of emotion that made me wonder if he too wasn’t giggling about the absurdity of it all.

As the movie explodes and gore-sprays to its predictable conclusion you’re left wondering how much money this thing will put in Jeff Bezos’ pocket. From what I hear it was originally earmarked for theatrical release by Paramount until Uncle Covid and the Pandemics arrived in town, and somehow fell into Amazon’s pocket. At least they didn’t charge extra for Prime clients.

Hey look, the movie’s fine for what it is – two hours of mayhem and a chance for mankind to vent his violence on something other than the environment or himself. Don’t expect anything new or different; it’s as predictable as that glowing menu at the Mickey D’s drive-thru.

I agree with Mladen; the movie is a B-.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“The Last Journey of Paul W.R.” Starring Hugo Becker, Lya Oussadit-Lessert, Paul Hamy and Jean Reno. Directed by Romain Quirot. 1 hour, 27 minutes. Unrated. Hulu.

Del’s take

“The Last Journey of Paul W.R.” is a visually arresting but spiritually obtuse commentary about many subjects, some personal, some cultural, some even scientific. But the viewer will decide if any of these arguments have merit and if the movie is as steeped in layers as it would have you believe.

Based on a short film by French director Romain Quirot, “The Last Journey of the Enigmatic Paul W.R.,” which premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, “Journey” tells the story of Paul W.R. (Hugo Becker), who is the only man who can save the world.

In the near future, man’s meddling with climate and his despoiling of the environment have led to catastrophe. Rising temperatures caused by fossil fuels have transformed the earth into a desert hellscape. France now resembles Morocco, where “Journey” was actually filmed.

Salvation arrives in the guise of a planetoid called “the red moon,” which contains a mysterious substance, Lumina, a highly energetic mineral that promises to solve mankind’s energy crisis. Unfortunately, the mining of Lumina has provoked a hostile response, a powerful electromagnetic barrier that surrounds the red moon and sends it on a collision course with the Earth.

Only one man, Paul W.R., for reasons unspecified, can penetrate the electromagnetic barrier and destroy the red moon. But hours before he is due to begin his mission, Paul W.R. flees, hiding among the thousands of climate refugees that populate desert France. He connects with a disaffected teenage girl, Elma (Lya Oussadit-Lessert), and together they embark on a quest to find a forest Paul remembers from his childhood, one that may hold personal salvation.

Bound up in this hegira is Paul’s father, Henri W.R. (Jean Reno), who in the American style neglected his sons and his dying wife to ensure mankind’s access to Lumina, and Paul’s brother, Elliott W.R. (Paul Hamy), who attempted to pierce the red moon’s veil and failed, coming away from that near catastrophe with a psychic ability to compel suicides. Elliott is pursuing Paul, ostensibly to bring him back for his flight to the red moon. But it is obvious a degree of sibling rivalry may result in a different outcome.

The movie is visually beautiful. Quirot composes scenes the way a poet might arrange quatrains. But lost in the images of desert and firestorms is a sense of purpose as Quirot struggles to decide which imperative will drive his movie – the larger issue of mankind’s demise or the dysfunctional dynamics of Paul W.R.’s family. Add to this muddle the presence of Elma, clearly a symbol for innocence, and the red moon itself, which may be a metaphor for Paul W.R.’s late mother, and the result is a film going in several different directions, none of them working with the other.

“Journey” is a European movie – a French movie – though at times it does lean toward the American sensibility for gunplay and fistfights. In the end it becomes a commentary about the power of the individual, and how one must remain true to his or herself. Or perhaps not.

I give this movie a grade of C+. It has lofty ambitions and beautiful scenery, but its lack of focus means few will appreciate whatever it was Quirot tried to say.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. and Toho.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Shun Oguri and others. Directed by Adam Wingard. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theaters and HBO Max.

Del’s take

It’s quite the compliment to the Florida Panhandle that “Godzilla vs. Kong” opens with the king of the kaiju unleashing radioactive hell on the Apex Cybernetics facility in Pensacola, though I doubt the Chamber of Commerce is holding mixers to revel in its newfound celebrity. Still, it’s cool for us nerdists and might help the next Pensacon recruit some real celebrity muscle.

Meanwhile, that maiden salvo of destructo-porn sets the pace for this third installment of the “new” Godzilla, who in my book looks a lot less charming or even convincing than the original guy in the rubber suit. Freshened up with modern FX and a 21st century sensibility, Godzilla stomps onto the screen as an avenging angel out to punish mankind for making such a sloppy mess of the Earth. But then he’s always done that.

Next you’ve got Kong, the giant ape, who has received an updated and politically correct sentience PLUS a sense of morality to boot. When the two square off it’s not a clash of titans but a clash of value systems, with an evil corporation – yes, there’s always an evil corporation – operating as the fulcrum for the conflict.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” is the story – well, it’s three stories really – of Kong’s attempt to finally go “home,” Godzilla’s attempt to make sure he remains at the top of the apex predator heap and Apex Cybernetics’ attempt to obtain a new and powerful energy source that will allow them to engage full-throttle in various evil, shadowy, corporation-y things.

The particulars are a lot more confusing and I will go into them only to the extent of setting the stage: The Apex Corporation has discovered a new source of energy in a hollow realm at the center of the Earth and needs this energy to adequately power a “project” it is working on. It hires expert Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to lead an expedition there, assisted by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her hearing-impaired daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who are studying Kong. Apex needs Kong to show them the source of this new energy. Meanwhile, Godzilla, responding to its natural imperative to be the biggest and baddest monster of ’em all, senses the presence of Kong and goes on the offensive, much to the chagrin of Monarch Project scientist Mark Russell and his monster-attuned daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). She teams up with conspiracy investigator and podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to investigate Godzilla’s newfound aggression and whatever link that might have to Apex, and drags along her buddy Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) as comedic ballast.

Did I mention it was complicated?

Suffice it to say that all three storylines converge and loose strings are tied after some romp ’em stomp ’em, bad-ass kaiju/Kong butt-kicking. Some of the resolutions are happy while others are merely satisfying. The point is, the viewer will have been entertained for two hours and Legendary Entertainment and Warner Brothers will have earned another $200 million, which should keep the lights on over the next few weeks.

The performances are all good. I would single out young Kaylee Hottle as Jia, the remaining member of a tribe that was extinguished on Skull Island by a natural disaster, as the showcase of the lot. She and Kong were kindred spirits in loss, and her performance effectively portrayed that subtextual link in their relationship.

The rest of the movie was not as compelling. The original “Godzilla” exhibited a kind of primeval ferocity that has endured over the past 66 years and inspired countless sequels and remakes, most of which traded the animal nobility of the original for cheap yucks and self-parody. The modern iterations – “Godzilla,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and now “Godzilla vs. Kong” – exchange parody for politically correct, touchy feely emotional imperatives that are no more satisfying to the palate than a quivering plate of tofu prime rib.

What saves “Godzilla vs. Kong” are the spectacular special effects, the fight scenes between Kong and Godzilla, and Kong’s humanity, which worked a lot better than it should have. It really felt like Kong was one of the characters and not merely a CGI-generated killer ape.

If the story had been as strong as the acting and special effects, I’d give the movie an A. As it is, “Godzilla vs. Kong” gets a B. It’s better than some other B-graded movies but not as good as others, and I think that’s fair. I can’t advise you to see the movie in a theater in the middle of a global pandemic, but I expect it’s a visual spectacle on the big screen.

Mladen’s take

“Godzilla vs. Kong” is a bonkers movie. Del’s modulated review of the film is, ah, too modulated. Because “G v. K” is utterly bonkers, the film deserves an extreme grade, A or F. But, because I saw the movie at an Imax theater my perception has been distorted. Let me tell you, Imax sound makes my fairly sophisticated, newish AVR-driven, 7.1 surround-sound system sound like an AM broadcast from 1930.

“G v. K” is an F, if you’re interested in a story that links the Monsterverse’s previous three movies to its fourth. I was insulted by the film’s flimsy, disingenuous effort to make it seem part of a continuity. Particularly distasteful was the improper dose of homage to the name of Serizawa. Depending on my mood, I may even characterize it as insulting. The physics of Hollow Earth is bonkers. Godzilla and Kong balancing while they fight on a ship that’s, I don’t know, a magnitude lighter and significantly less wide than the beasts are tall is bonkers. G and K fall overboard to fight underwater and the humans try to help Kong by launching Hedgehog-like depth charges to disorient the reptile and it worked. Bonkers. Why wouldn’t Kong get disoriented, too, and continue on his merry way to drowning? Huh? If the Kong whisperers were worried about Godzilla sniffing out Kong if the ape left his Skull Island containment facility, why would they transport Kong by boat across the Pacific? Godzilla is amphibious. Godzilla lives in the ocean. Godzilla has, apparently, extrasensory power to detect an Alpha interloper. Transport by water was bonkers. Hell, a few scenes later, the humans are moving the ape to Antarctica via sling and a lot of helicopters. Bonkers storytelling to the left of me. Bonkers storytelling to the right. I bonked my head a few times to orient myself to the insane worldbuilding, the deconstruction of the storyline in the preceding three Godzilla films, or the uselessness of the daughter of the bad guy. What the hell happened to the eco-terrorist dude in “Godzilla: King of Monsters” who bought a severed Ghidorah head from some down-on-their luck fishermen?

In the areas – vision, plot, script writing, directing – that make or break a movie, “G v. K” is sheer F-ness. Really. No joke. I’m serious. The fact that the visual and sound effects are so good augments the F-ness. It’s clear that producers and the director thought they could substitute coherence and the internal logic an impossible movie premise must generate for a lot of spectacular FX fighting and some damn fine sound effects. The soundtrack is good as is most of the acting. Where Del the modulator gives the kid in the film kudos, I bow to Rebecca Hall’s Andrews. Her delivery of lines and an assortment of gestures help mitigate the harshness of the dys-reality of the realm created in G v. K. Hall did for “G v. K” what Mila Kunis’s Jupiter did for “Jupiter Ascending,” plausibly explain or soften the absurdity of what unfolds on the screen. 

Yes, I’ll probably see “G v. K” in an Imax theater, again. Yes, I’ll buy the movie in Blu-ray format when it becomes available. But, listen to me, “G v. K” is crappy, unless you’re sound-o-phile.         

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“The Midnight Sky” starring George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Caoilinn Springall, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Tiffany Boone, and others. Directed by George Clooney. Runtime 118 minutes. Rated PG-13. Netflix

Mladen’s take

Rank the essential components – acting, directing, score, cinematography, and script – of “The Midnight Sky” individually and the results vary from good to very good. Combine the essential components of this Netflix production and the result is mediocrity.

It’s not that “Midnight,” despite its Adam-and-Eve ending and a twist that turned out to be, what, a terminal-cancer-driven hallucination, is entirely disappointing. It’s that its subplots weren’t particularly absorbing. Nor were its way-too-many characters consistently worth caring about.

In “Midnight,” the year is 2049 (maybe that’s a nod to 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049”) and the jig is up for humanity. Actually, it’s the end for anything that breathes air as we know air today – mostly nitrogen, some oxygen, and a little bit of carbon dioxide, i.e. not enough to poison us. Before our planet’s atmosphere turned into a swirl of unbreathable toxic gases, mankind mounted an expedition to a newly discovered Jovian moon that could support complex life. The crew of the vessel was on its way home from a recon of moon K-23 when Mother Earth, reacting to our abuse of her, transformed into Serial Killer Earth. Augustine, portrayed by George Clooney, and accompanied by a young girl, has to make way for a weather station that likely has the capability to communicate with the spaceship returning to Earth. He wants to warn the crew that our planet is no longer habitable and offer a suggestion – return to Jupiter’s moon to re-plant our species on a pristine solar system body.

Why cosmologist Augustine feels he has to alert the crew of a spaceship built to probe a moon for signs it can support life that Earth is unsafe for them is beyond me. As the spaceship approached Earth, it was clearly visible to its crew that the planet’s atmosphere, now a green-yellow, had changed since they departed two years earlier. I’m no astronaut, but a discolored home world would have me saying something like, “Ensign, give me scans of the planet in UV and IR. What’s the spectroscopy saying about chemical composition of the atmosphere?” 

The spaceship has a crew of five, one of them Felicity Jones’s Sully, a pregnant communications specialist. As the spaceship’s sub-story unfolds through a course deviation, collisions with space rocks, and an assortment of personal anguish, one crew member dies, two decide to return to Earth the Stomper of Life via a lander, and two slingshot back toward K-23.

I predict Del will like this movie, giving it a B+. He’s like one of the dudes in “Midnight” who decides to go home, though home will kill you for sure. Del will strain to find the positive in “Midnight” like the movie’s Earth returners hoped to find family still alive. Don’t be fooled. “Midnight” ain’t that good.

The best you can expect from “Midnight” is a few bits of good storytelling backed by consistently good acting. The film’s score is sturdy, if not exceptional. It helps the tale by setting up moods. The visual effects in “Midnight” are very good. I enjoyed the cinematography the most when it conveyed the austere and stark blue whiteness of snow cover and ice pack in the North Pole. But, even that simple joy was harassed by an achy nagging at the back of my brain. As mentioned above, “Midnight” takes place in 2049. Ain’t no way there’ll be any ice pack or glaciers anywhere on Earth in 28 years. Want ice then? Place your glass beneath the ice dispenser on your refrigerator.

“The Midnight Sky” gets a C+ from me. Del, on the other hand, will likely nominate it for a best picture Oscar.

Del’s take

Merry Christmas, you old coot. Sounds like you’re sipping more of the “nog” than the “egg.”

You think I liked “The Midnight Sky”?

Piffle. Do I like any movie?

Folks may think I’m a serial hater but trust me, there are movies I adore – “Being There,” “Doctor Strangelove,” and “Die Hard” to name a few. “Midnight Sky” ain’t one of them.

Not to nerd out on all three of our readers but “Midnight” lost me at the opening narrative where we are informed mankind has discovered a “new moon” around the planet Jupiter, one that has the ability to support terrestrial life.

Oh, sweet Jesus, somebody hand me one of George Clooney’s barf bags.

To put it politely, that’s a preposterous crock of ca-ca. There is no more an undiscovered moon of Jupiter capable of supporting “The Property Brothers” than the Earth is flat, climate change ain’t happening and Donald Trump was an effective and cordial president.

(Yes, I did have to get my Trump bash in.)

With all the space probes we’ve sent to Jupiter – hell, we’ve got one there right now photographing everything from moons and lightning bolts to Jupiter getting out of the shower – the chances of a large moon escaping our carefully studied inspections are nil. Not almost nil. Totally, completely and incontrovertibly nil. Nil nil nil, as in where have you been the past 30 years and you’re an idiot for even suggesting such a stupid departure from reality.

Seriously, it isn’t written in stone that a movie’s science must be accurate. Obviously the science of “Star Wars” is so far off the mark it qualifies as fantasy, and let’s not talk about movies like “Godzilla” and “Transformers.” But if you, the moviemaker, present the science as a pillar of the film’s premise, then you must make sure it’s consistent – or at least plausible – with what we already know. Had the makers of “Midnight” consulted a single astronomy buff they could have adjusted their ca-ca premise.

OK, enough nerd stuff. I can see two of our readers are asleep. Suffice it to say the scientific implausibilities that I mentioned, along with those Mladen noticed even in his nogged-out state, pretty much ruined the movie for me.

The rest of “Midnight” is a depressing pastiche of tropes and science fiction clichés interspersed with scenes of George Clooney throwing up. Was anybody else grossed out by the vomit in his Unabomber beard? Funny, the ca-ca Hollywood thinks people want to see. As for Mladen’s “consistently good acting,” I’m sorry but what the hell was he smoking? Clooney’s narcoleptic performance failed to impress despite the bombastic promotionals. The only actor who showed the tiniest sign of life was Kyle Chandler, who uttered one laugh-out-loud line. The plot consisted of a series of contrived and impossible cliffhangers. The script seemed inspired by “A Recipe for Seduction” in terms of silliness and the movie as a whole struck me as Frankensteined from bits and pieces of “Gravity,” “Interstellar” and other mediocre SF films.

By the way, “We messed up” is not sufficient explanation for the end of the world.

What’s good about “The Midnight Sky”?

The special effects are pretty. Sound of crickets chirping. I can’t think of anything else.

What irritates me is “Midnight” could have been an excellent movie. The problems could have been fixed easily enough so that grouchy old bastards like Mladen and me could go back to grumping about our prostates. It’s just sloppiness and laziness, and as a storyteller myself it pisses me off.

I’ve recommended a lot of Netflix movies lately but if you miss this one you haven’t missed much. I give it a C-.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“The Block Island Sound” Starring Chris Sheffield, Michaela McManus, Matilda Lawler, Neville Archambault, and others. Directed by Kevin McManus and Matthew McManus. 99 minutes. Unrated. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

Del warned me to avoid spoilers when I recapitulate the plot of “The Block Island Sound” because the film relies on keeping the source of the troubles endured by our protagonists secret.

So, here are a couple of sayings to help you meander through this review while I try to explain what the sci-fi-like, horror-ish “The Block Island Sound” is about without giving away the neat ending. To appreciate the ending, by the way, be sure to pay attention to the beginning of the movie. It’s the scene between mother and daughter talking about studying animals.

I’m borrowing the first indirect explanation of “The Block Island Sound” storyline from a couple of Star Trek movies: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” I believe that’s a Spockism.

Then there’s “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” I have no idea where that saying originated.

The movie also portrays and warns about doing onto others, in this case marine fish, what you wouldn’t want done unto you. That truism is derived from the Bible or some other piece of historical fiction.

“The Block Island Sound” is a slo-mo film that constantly has the viewer wondering what the hell is going on. By slo-mo I mean action is limited and the story unfolds through the tension of a family that doesn’t get along. There are a couple of drunkards, the father and the son; a smart and altruistic sister and her cute daughter; an unempathetic and punitive sister; and a dead mother.

Other characters in the film are the gossip and law enforcement attitudes of a small, somewhat isolated community. A kook expounding all sorts of conspiracies about the Government, parasites, and I can’t recall what else is in the movie, too.

Semi-mass dyings of fish and birds and an apparition are also parts of the story.

“The Block Island Sound” takes place in the American Northeast, somewhere in the vicinity of Nantucket. The sea is blue-gray, as is the sky. The movie’s moodiness is similar to “The Vast of Night” or “Cosmos.”

The acting is good, even if the smart sister seems to be dumb occasionally though she’s a scientist. Chris Sheffield, playing emotionally tortured Harry, executes again and again some one of the finest examples of walking catatonia, the vacant stare and slackened face, the blank expression, a hypnotic state, describe it as you wish, I’ve seen in a movie.

Be patient watching “The Block Island Sound.” Everything is tied together at the end in pretty cool fashion. Disregard, to some degree, the family dysfunction that’s regurgitated throughout the film. It annoyed me, but I hung on until the credits rolled to see what caused the strangeness on the island and its local waters.

“The Block Island Sound” earns a B, just scraping past a B-, from me.

Del’s take

I won’t be as charitable as Mladen in grading “The Block Island Sound.” The movie was a tad schizophrenic for my tastes.

To amplify Mladen’s plot summary, the story is about a man caring for his Alzheimer’s-stricken father at the ancestral home on an island somewhere in the Northeast. His sister, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency, returns to the island with her daughter to study a series of bird and fish kills. When the father turns up missing and then deceased, another daughter, the bitchier of the two sisters, joins her siblings for the funeral. The brother resents his sisters for abandoning him to the care of their father. And now he’s seeing things. He’s drinking heavily. He’s falling apart.

For the most part the movie is competently made, and casting and script are fine (faint praise). My gripe is with the metastory. There are two stories at work here, and the McManus brothers do a much better job of telling one. The second story is not original in content or presentation.

Most interesting is the interaction between the siblings, all finely drawn by the actors. Sheffield does a good job as Harry, the suffering son who has remained behind to take care of his dementia-addled father while his two sisters pursue their lives unencumbered by familial obligations. McManus and Heidi Niedermeyer are equally effective as the two sisters who have left their ailing father in the hands of their brother, then snottily fault him for crumbling under the pressure of caregiving. The interplay between these three is sufficiently interesting to compel a watch, despite the fact that none of them is very likeable.

And the second story? It emerges slowly over the course of the action, until sometime in the second act when the climax is telegraphed, resulting in an anti-climax to wrap that branch of the narrative and the movie itself.

As many character studies go, the pacing of “The Block Island Sound” is slow, abetted by a depressing color palette of grays and steely blues, always cloudy skies, and a choppy Atlantic Ocean that does not give up its secrets. Likewise the tone is dark and funereal. You are watching the dissolution of a family as much as a mystery about dying fish and crows flying into windshields.

My sense is the overarching thematic imperative is one of loss – loss of soul due to the escalating infirmity of cognitive decline, loss of life on the part of those in the caregiver role, loss of empathy for those who have shirked their responsibilities and in the end, loss of humanity.

That’s a lot to digest in a movie that’s pitched in its trailer as being about something more congruent with a horror movie. Who wants to be entertained by grim reality when there’s a fun universe of exploding heads to be explored?

If the McManus brothers had left out the fish kills, bird kills and all the nonsense that followed, “The Block Island Sound” would have earned a B+ from me. As it is, the movie gets a C.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

“Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula.” Starring Lee Jung-hyun, Dong-won Gang, Re Lee, Ye-won Lee, Hae-hyo Kwon, Kyo-hwan Koo, and others. Directed by Sang-ho Yeon. 115 minutes. Rated PG-13. Amazon pay-to-stream

Mladen’s take

There I sat, wavering. It was about three-fifths of the way through the South Korean movie “Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula.” My qualms included a meditation on the film’s weird title, which was clearly an example of success exploitation marketing. Was this semi-sequel to the excellent film “Train to Busan” worthy of a good grade or does it deserve a bad grade? And, then, came the straight-faced line: “Let’s get Mom.” Poof, I dropped into the “Better than Average” column, but only just.

Before I sum the plot, you’re owed a warning. Del the zombie-phile will praise this movie, maybe even slip it an A-. He’ll be wrong. The movie is one full grade lower, but worth watching. It cost me 55 cents to lease a 48-hour viewing window on Amazon.

Recall that “Train to Busan” introduced us to some very good action horror with an unremarkable plot very well executed. A bioengineering laboratory accidentally releases a contagion that transforms people into something akin to the rampaging quasi-dead hungry we first met in 2010’s “28 Hours Later.” In “T to B,” the story was driven by a father trying to keep his daughter alive, if I recall accurately, as the infected multiply and the state rapidly loses control of law and order. “T to B” possessed stunning special effects. The locomotive slowly motoring along while zombies clinging to the back of the machine pile on each other to make a squirming, yet flowing tail of organic debris was something else.

That “something else” was missing in “Peninsula.” The computer-generated special effects lacked believable physics of motion. The vehicles bulldozing through zombies, jumping roads, or smashing into each other seemed like Matchbox cars running the gauntlet of a plastic race course. Also, at times, “Peninsula” seemed very “Casshern”-like or “Alita: Battle Angel”-ish. The difference is that “Casshern,” a 2004 Japanese movie, and “Alita” of 2019 intentionally deployed the tinge of anime as part of the storytelling. “Peninsula,” which imagined quarantined South Korea four years after the “T to B” virus was unleashed, often portrayed dilapidated urban terrain or action scenes with the patina of a video game that had mated with anime to create an almost-cartoon. In short, the visual effects in “Peninsula” were surprisingly crappy.

Oh, the plot. A South Korean soldier loses his sister and nephew to zombie-itis, but manages to save his brother-in-law. A few years later, the pair gets sucked into returning to South Korea to retrieve a truck load of American dollars for an American gangster based in Hong Kong. If they and a couple of others succeed, they get half of $20 mil. That’s money that would get them out of the political limbo of being microbe-induced refugees. Naturally, the return to the Peninsula, get it, goes astray. Dong-won Gang, playing South Korea Army Capt. Jung Seok, gets pulled off a zombie dinner plate by feisty, hard-driving teenager Jooni, played by Re Lee, and her younger sister Ye-won Lee as Yu Jin. They flee to their hideout, where Jung meets resourceful, determined, and very pretty Min Jung. Min is played by Lee Jung-hyun. She’s the mom in “Let’s get Mom.” While Jung, Min, and the girls are good and likeable characters in the film, most of the bad guys are all pretty much clichés and fail to be unlikeable. The exception was Captain Seo, nicely portrayed by Kyo-hwan Koo as desperate and scheming to the end. He has no trouble shooting the old man and Mom to get the hell off the Peninsula. 

The soundtrack in the film is good enough. There was a moment when I thought I heard a few stanzas, verses, whatever you call pieces of music, that sounded like an adventure tune in the video game “Halo.”

OK, Del, take it away with your take. Please don’t let the blubbery family scenes in “Peninsula” color your judgment as they did when you watched the last film we reviewed. We owe it to our growing readership to assess correctly the merits of a film.

Del’s take

It was I who recommended to Mladen that we review “Peninsula.” It was not I who recommended that he tap the cooking sherry before writing his review.

He’s correct when he describes the putative prequel to “Peninsula,” “Train to Busan” as excellent. I remember foraging through Netflix one night, searching for something to watch, when I stumbled across “T to B.” Another hokey foreign zombie flick, I warned myself, before clicking the “play” button. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a modern classic in science fiction-horror, one I’ve added to my DVD collection. “T to B” is that good. I would rate it up there with the Zack Snyder remake of “Dawn of the Dead.”

So it was with great expectations that I forked over my 99 cents to watch “Peninsula.” (I’d like to know how Mladen managed to do that for 55 cents. Did he get the cooking sherry discount?)

To put it succinctly, I was not impressed. For these reasons:

1. It’s derivative. Take the premise of “28 Weeks Later,” throw in some “Escape from New York” and using crude, Frankensteined stitches graft on any road chase sequence from the “Mad Max” movies and you’ve got “Peninsula.”

2. Mladen was right about another aspect of the film – the special effects. They weren’t just bad. They were cartoonish, on par with “Speed Racer.” They completely ruined the movie for me because I’ve seen car chases and motorized mayhem done right – all that metal-crunching comprises a story of its own. You want a car chase? Consult George Miller. You don’t hand it to the CGI folks, and that’s what the creators did with “Peninsula.” Those scenes screamed “Fake!” and threw me out of the zombie-infested universe Sang-ho Yeon sought to create.

3. Many of the major characters were unlikable. As Mladen explained, the point of this group’s return to zombie-infested South Korea is to recover a truckload of American dollars. The deal is a small group will find the truck and drive it back to an Inchon dock, where it will be loaded aboard a ferry. The group gets half the $20 million and the crooks get the other half. Ahem. Of course. The crooks will most definitely abide by their end of the deal. Have you never heard of honor among thieves?

The movie is really about Gang Dong-won’s character attempting to redeem himself after refusing to help a family in need during the initial, hyper-frantic days of the zombie outbreak. As subtexts go it’s about as subtle as a Mar-a-Lago powder room and Jung-seok is such a weak and altruistic tormented-soul type that by mid-movie you’re hoping one of his putrid antagonists makes a snack of him.

4. Nitpicks. Why does a director spend a considerable chunk of screen time building tension and setting a deadline, and when that deadline arrives the director allows his characters to engage in long, deadline-busting soliloquies and dénouements?

How is it that a car will start after sitting idle four years?

Why are children always precocious and infallible?

Why are the elderly characters always expendable?

Why does a highway choked with wrecked and abandoned vehicles always have a lane open?

Why was South Korea simply abandoned? Is its net worth beneath the scope of recovery?

5. The version I saw was not subtitled. It was dubbed. Have I ever told you how much I hate dubbing? When you can see the character’s mouth moving while the dialogue track stopped three seconds ago?

Enough fussing. Bottom line: I was hoping for a movie that matched the off-the-rail entertainment punch of “Train to Busan” and what I got for my 99 cents (Really, Mladen? Fifty-five cents?) was something altogether different and, dare I say, less everything. I could wax all movie-review poetic and talk about the film’s emotional core or its resonance to the genre template but this is not a thirst trap for pretty words. Suffice it to say “Peninsula” was a disappointment.

For much better fare about the undead try “Cargo” or the unbelievably good series “Black Summer,” both on Netflix at no extra charge. For an even weirder take on the zombie genre try Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Maggie,” which you can find in some DVD bargain bins.

“Peninsula” gets a grade of C from me.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Project Power” Starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, and others. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, 113 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

I watched “Project Power” a couple of weeks ago and, because the film isn’t worth re-watching, I’m writing this review from memory. Don’t misunderstand, cantankerous Del. “Project Power” is fine for a one-time seeing. Its plot is decent. The acting is good. Visual effects are good. I appreciate the effort the directors made to convey some of the movie from an artsy perspective like the basement room brawl and shootout. Hell, there was one scene toward the end of the film that made me chuckle, though it was a take on the old, “No, your other left.” And, I don’t care that one of our protagonists melodramatized the strength of the strike of a mantis shrimp. Or, was it the pistol shrimp? Or, are they the same species of Odontodactylus?

In “Project Power,” a rogue defense contractor/pharmaceuticals company disallowed to trials test a powerful physiology-altering drug that either kills you or infuses you with a unique power starts selling it as street smack. To gather lessons learned, collect proof of its discovery’s potential to the rich and connected assholes of the world, and elude mainstream press coverage, the pharma moves from city to city using pre-screened drug dealers to push its wares. Where pharma’s potion draws coverage, it’s snippets reported by the local media. One such unbelievable story was the claim that a suspect outran a police car on foot. Toss in a father’s (portrayed by Jamie Foxx) search for his kidnapped daughter, a smart young woman’s (portrayed by Dominique Fishback) need to raise money to help her mother with medical bills, and a New Orleans cop’s (portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) urge to protect his city and “Project Power” becomes a movie with too many anecdotal, though tolerable, moments.

The principal trouble with “Project Power” is its blunt-force-trauma wokeness. Blending so forcibly and pedantically the prejudices faced by blacks into a sci-fi thriller, paradoxically, weakened the message all of us non-Trumpers, anti-McConnells, and Baby Gaetz-Jerkoff Jordan-Supplicant Nunnes haters want reinforced. Racism and lack of economic opportunity for blacks is disgraceful, immoral, and illegal, but you have to be careful about whining because it’ll trigger those among us who’ll happily respond to Black Lives Matter by flippantly saying all lives matter as though there’s no history of, oh, slavery and Jim Crow in this country. In “Project Power,” unfortunately, the wokeness takes the tone of a dry, set-piece lecture.

One of the film’s strongest points is the clever and authentic way it melded the story of “Henrietta” into its script. From the ACLU website: “In 1951, doctors harvested cells from Henrietta Lacks while she was receiving treatment for cervical cancer and discovered that her cells had an amazing capacity to reproduce. ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,’ which aired … on HBO and is based on the book of the same name, tells the dramatic story of how scientists used the ‘HeLa’ cells in research for decades without the knowledge of her family.” As it turns out, Foxx’s character in “Project Power” is chasing pharma because it kidnapped his daughter to study and weaponize her superpower to heal. Neat.

Fishback, who plays Robin in the film, is very good. She does a wonderful job creating her character, a spunky and smart high schooler caught in an untenable dilemma. To help her mother buy health care, Robin pushes pharma’s power pill to drug users. Foxx as Art goes smoothly from appearing to be a bad guy to showing himself as the good guy, after all. Frank, Gordon-Levitt’s role, is a smart-aleck cop who pops a power pill to don his special attribute, very tough skin and/or bones that can absorb a 9-mm round to the temple from pointblank range with only bruising. He just wants to save New Orleans from itself and grifters with links, if I recall correctly, to the federal government. That subplot got a little blurry for my aging brain. Wonder if there’s a pill for lapsing mental acuity?

“Project Power” is sprayed with violence, car chases, and such. All of it good. The CGI approached to top-notch, barring the flaming dude at the beginning of the movie. He looked like he was engulfed by flaming paper streamers or one of those eerie two-story-tall inflatable marketing tubes that bop and wave at you as you drive by. I can’t remember the score, suggesting it was unnoteworthy.

Shit, I don’t know. Maybe “Project Power” is worth a second viewing. I’ll think about it. You, meanwhile, feel free to enjoy this solid B of a movie for its fairly common sequences of good moviemaking. Del, how about you getting off your ass to see this film, so that we can satisfy our loving readers with yet another good review by me and whatever it is that you slap together?

Del’s take

Yes, Mladen, there is a pill for lapsing mental acuity. It’s called Prevagen and I gave you a bulk gift basket from Sam’s Club for Christmas last year. Or have you forgotten?

I watched “Project Power” because Netflix flogged it as “No. 1 in America,” the trailer had cool special effects and it starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of whom I am a big fan. I know. Those are judgments based on the book cover principle. But let’s not be coy: We all judge books by their covers, regardless of aphorisms and scolding admonitions. The “Project Power” looked cool.

I thought it was an OK movie. Not great; not terrible. An acceptable use of almost two hours of my entertainment ration. Gordon-Levitt and Foxx are excellent. Dominique Fishback is exceptional. The special effects were terrific and the script was airtight. Plus it was nice to see New Orleans as the setting; I’ve been there many times and it is a unique city, unlike any other in the country. In some ways it reminds me of Spain (a tactic urban planners could adopt for future American developments – cultural design).

I didn’t have as much a problem with the “wokeness” as Mladen put it, though I would agree the delivery of that important message was clumsy and heavy-handed. It leaned more toward telling, not showing, a cardinal sin for all storytellers.

My big problem with “Project Power” was this: They took a big idea and married it to a small story.

Imagine being able to take a pill that would give you a superpower for five minutes. Imagine the potential, not just for warfare but crime, sports, law enforcement, even entertainment? Imagine such a capability in the hands of a rogue player – North Korea, or a school shooter? With this technology you have the ability to completely revolutionize society, and in the process tell a big, world-spanning story. Instead, “Project Wastes” it on drug deals and a man trying to find his daughter. It’s like discovering a cure for cancer and using it to clear up those unsightly liver spots on your hands.

Also, was I mistaken or did the movie suggest taking this drug exacted a physical toll from the user? Because some of the folks looked a little worse for wear following their excursions into the world of superpowers. I don’t believe that aspect of the story was explored to any depth.

Believe it or not, Mladen, I agree with your grade of B for “Project Power.” It has big ambitions but wastes them on a small story that, in the end, doesn’t really change anything.

If you’re looking to invest two hours of movie-watching time in a gritty, science-fictiony universe, catch “Project Power” on Netflix. But unlike its magic pill, your mind will not have been expanded after the experience.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.