Paul McGuire Grimes from Paul’s Trip to the Movies gives us his review of two new movies out in theaters and a new show out on Disney+.
WHAT IF…? (Disney+)
Marvel has ventured into animation with their latest Disney+ series. What If…? continues to play into the idea of a multiverse that’s posed in Loki and teased in future Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. There’s a celestial being known as The Watcher that poses as the series narrator. He introduces the audience to alternate realities to some of our favorite MCU movies in a “What If” style fashion. The first episode poses a question as to what would have happened if Peggy Carter become the first Avenger instead of Steve Rogers. She jumped in and received the serum instead of Steve altering their relationship and the events of that movie. The second episode imagines what would have happened if T’Challa became Star Lord instead of Peter Quill. We get a look at what took him from Wakanda to outer space.
Each episode feels like an individual story not connected to the previous one. The overriding theme of a multiverse of infinite possibilities hints that this could all connect at the end of the season or lead to changes in Phase 4 of the MCU movies.
Being that it’s an animated series, it certainly plays into having a younger audience as its demographic. There’s more humor and the storytelling is a bit more simple and wrapped up in a quick fashion. It’s not nearly as philosophical as Loki, topical as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or as meta as WandaVision.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
THE PROTEGE (in theaters)
In 1991 Vietnam, a young girl named Anna is taken in by a hitman named Moody after she leaves behind a room of dead bodies. She clearly knows her away around a weapon. Thirty years later, Anna works as a hired assassin with her mentor, Moody, right by her side. As she reminds him, “We don’t send anyone away who didn’t have it coming.” She’s quick on her feet always a few steps ahead of her adversaries. By day, she works at an antique bookstore. Her latest customer, Michael Rembrandt, knows what he’s come in for, Anna herself. It becomes a cat and mouse game for Anna as Michael is connected to Anna’s past bringing her back to Vietnam where it all began.
The director knows how to shoot and execute fight scenes and there’s some terrific fight choreography with Maggie Q, Michael Keaton, and all his henchmen she’s forced to take down along the way. The violence is slick yet brutal and part of the fun comes from knowing Anna can get herself out of any situation with her cat-like reflexes.
This is the classic revenge hitman style story. The specific details within the story were less interesting to me and felt a little muddy in delivery.
I feel like the director and his cast know this as the film focuses more on elevating the trio of main characters with Anna, Moody, and Rembrandt and making sure the action sequences wow the audience. There were a few times when I heard audible reactions from the audience at my screening.
Maggie Q is terrific casting as Anna as it’s great to see representation like this on screen leading an action film. She’s book-smart, calm, and collected every step of the way. Maggie Q keeps her a bit of a mystery too as you keep you your eye out wondering what her next move is going to be.
She’s a good sparring partner for Michael Keaton, who’s no stranger to playing the bad guy. This time he doesn’t fall into a trap of resorting to the maniacal or nutty tendencies of the traditional action villain. Keaton continues to shake up this stage of his career playing a Marvel villain to dramas like Birdman and Spotlight to American Assassin which is in a similar vein to The Protégé. It’s fun to see him reunite with Jackie Brown star Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson is full of the attitude and humor we come to expect from him on screen.
I could see a follow up to the The Protégé with a John Wick style story for Maggie Q and Anna. There are a few twists here but they’re not as clever as the writer wants you to think as you can see them coming a mile away. At the end of the day, it’s a full-force action flick good for a two-hour escape.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
FLAG DAY (in theaters)
Sean Penn’s latest film finds him directing and starring opposite his daughter Dylan Penn in the true story Flag Day. It’s a complicated father daughter relationship for their characters, John Vogel and Jennifer Vogel. Dylan Penn provides Jennifer’s voice over narration recounting their relationship. He was in and out of her life making reckless, imperfect decisions every step of the way. She always preferred life at her dad’s as he made it exciting with their adventures at his cabin home. Life with her mom was filled with alcohol and her mom’s lecherous boyfriend. As the years passed, Jennifer got caught up in her own mess of drugs and alcohol running away and eventually moving back with her father. He continued to head down a dangerous path of get-rich-quick schemes, printing fake money, and years spent in jail after robbing a bank.
Flag Day is based on Jennifer Vogel’s memoir, “Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life” I’m debating if that would have been a better title than Flag Day. Vogel would go on to become a journalist in Minneapolis, which is covered in the film, and it seems like the narration is directly lifted from her book.
The film opens with Jennifer learning that her dad printed $20 million of fake bills. You’re led to believe this will be a story about a con man, a true crime type of story, but it transitions into this story about co-dependency between father and daughter.
The rest of the film is primarily a two-person story with Sean Penn and Dylan Penn. There’s an authenticity there with real life father and daughter playing that same relationship on screen.
Dylan Penn is stuck playing a complex character spanning many years of highs and lows, and she doesn’t quite have the knack yet as an actor to portray that. I felt her working hard to carry those younger years as the later part of the film feels a bit more natural given she’s playing closer to her real age. Another actress may have been able to match Sean Penn’s natural instincts as an actor.
Sean Penn always felt grounded in the simple truth of John Vogel in his spontaneous and combustible head space.
The film is set in Minnesota but doesn’t ever treat the geography or economy as having anything to do with John’s life and why John made the choices he did. There’s an angle there that could have been explored.
Sean Penn the actor delivers a strong performance, but it gets in the way of his role as a director.
The movie is well under two hours, and yet it moves at a glacial place. It relies too heavily on the intensity of their fights, the alcoholism, and drug use to provide the edge when it doesn’t have to do that. It almost feels like Jennifer’s story would play out better by reading it in memoir form than on screen.
RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS