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Spiderhead

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Every time I see a good Miles Teller movie like “Top Gun: Maverick”, I hope against hope that he’s done with throwaway material like “Spiderhead”. But here we are.

The funny thing is, this movie is directed by the same guy (Joseph Kosinski) who brought us the aforementioned visually spectacular box-office hit “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Miles Teller. So, what happened here?

Synopsis: In the near future certain prisoners are brought to an Alcatraz looking incarceration facility for voluntary drug trials. In this facility, the prisoners, one of them being Jeff (Miles Teller) are allowed to walk freely, wear regular clothes and have access to a ping pong table. At least once a day, a “good cop” character named Mr. Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) takes two prisoners and puts them into an observation room together, where a drug is voluntarily administered to them. This drug seems to make the two instantly fall into a state of hyperactive love. But as these trials move forward, we see that there are other drugs; drugs that push the recipients to the extreme edge of a single emotion.

Okay so, the acting is clearly the best thing going for this film. Let’s get the lone positive critique out of the way first.  

A fairly simple sci-fi premise, “Spiderhead” is set up to be quite easily digestible. Visually the setup looks to be mimicking some notable social experiment that we learned about in psychology class.

The soundtrack is a series of 80’s pop hits that are annoyingly on-the-nose, but this can be forgiven if you enjoy these songs.

The plot is very much predicated on the promise of a big third act twist, similar to something from M. Night Shyamalan. It’s just turns out to be simply not as creative.

The movie is bogged down by many things. It’s too long, it feels like something we’ve seen a million times and it’s built upon a terribly unfunny script (written by Rhett Reese, based on a short story by George Saunders) that so badly wants to be a dark comedy. Not to say that humor cannot exist in sci-fi. Of course, it can. And not to say the likes of Chris Hemsworth can’t deliver this form of humor, because he very much can: see any of his films, it’s kind of his thing. It’s the humor in this movie in particular. The humor in “Spiderhead” is akin to being trapped in a conversation with a person who thinks they are funnier than they are. There are moments of reprieve by way of action, but not enough to keep from cringing every time a character tells a joke or does an actual pratfall.    

Final Thought: I really want to be done with talking about this movie, but I must touch on one more thing; the direction. Kosinski can direct. If you’ve seen “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Oblivion” or “TRON: Legacy”, then this statement seems more than obvious. That said, the direction in “Spiderhead” is uninspired and dull. Looking back, I can’t think of one memorable moment. And unfortunately, as the plot twists happen and reveals are made (some silly, but others that are meant to be powerful) they all fall flat because everything leading up to it has been made to feel like such a who-cares-fest. What a shame. “Spiderhead” is a completely forgettable movie. But to be fair, if “Spiderhead” was just a little better it could’ve been considered something likened to a completely forgettable episode of “Black Mirror”. So, there is that.

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Hustle

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

There is definitely a huge market for movies like these. Ones which lean hard into the underdog/inspirational/feel good stuff. And yes, afterword I did want to go outside and shoot some hoops, which does mean “Hustle” succeeded in its basic sports movie obligation. But with nothing really new to offer, a by-the-numbers storyline, speeches that never quite become inspirational and a couple of Rocky-esque montages that were never going to be as good as the real thing, all praise must go to the filmmakers for understanding how to make this story into a film that was more entertaining than it had the right to be.

Synopsis: Middle-aged disillusioned scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) discovers a diamond in the rough, street ball player in Spain named Bo Cruz, who he believes might be the next big thing in the NBA, and also Sugerman’s ticket off the road and into the NBA coaching job of his dreams.  

Director Jeremiah Zagar saved this movie from becoming background noise, by both using handheld camerawork, giving “Hustle” it’s gritty feel, and more importantly giving Netflix audiences what they came to see from movie like this; don’t bore us, get to the chorus. “Hustle” is conventional, but also is never not moving forward.

And if all you came to see was NBA superstars, “Hustle” has got you covered too. This is a basketball film that would like you to know that it spent a lot of money on numerous NBA cameos. Cameo’s ranging from Shaq, to Charles Barkley, to Dr. J (Julius Erving) himself. There are also plenty of current players in this, the two who get the most screen time being Juancho Hernangomez of the Utah Jazz, who plays Cruz, and Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who plays a highly sought-after college superstar, the Apollo Creed of this film and the antithesis of Cruz. As first-time actors, Edwards and Hernangomez give performances that are good enough not be distracting.

But Adam Sandler is the lead here. And love him or hate him, Sandler is a charismatic actor who can act when he wants to, and he is good in this. Queen Latifah, who plays his wife, does a wonderful job in regards to making their relationship seem believable. But the real standout performance comes from Ben Foster, who plays the evil and spoiled billionaire Philadelphia 76ers owner. He’s not even in that many scenes, but his presence is felt as someone we should love to hate.    

Final Thought: “Hustle” is no “He Got Game”, but is entertaining enough to get the job done. Also, you don’t have to know basketball to enjoy it. In fact, during the gameplay sequences where the majority of Bo’s opponents are substantially shorter than him, it might be better if you’ve never witnessed a minute of professional basketball.

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Top Gun: Maverick

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Capt. Pete Mitchell aka Maverick (Tom Cruise), who after more than thirty years as a naval aviator, playing by his own rules, is ordered to return to the infamous flight academy Top Gun, for one last job. There he must lead a class of young hotshot pilots on a mission that has previously been deemed unachievable.  

If you saw this movie or are planning on seeing this movie, it was/is undoubtedly for the stunts and/or the nostalgia. So, let’s get into it:

The Stunts: Before the movie begins, Cruise literally pops up on-screen, basically telling audiences that what we are about to see is real. “Top Gun: Maverick” is worth buying a ticket to see on visuals alone. From jets doing backflips, to the many sequences where a camera is fixed on an actor as they attempt to maintain control of said jet, it all looks pretty damn real. There were a few times where it looked as though Cruise’s life was very much in danger, so kudos to the entire film crew for that achievement. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) “Top Gun: Maverick” is one of those movies where it’s quite obvious that the actors had to go through extensive training to pull off what was done on-screen; even with millions of dollars of movie magic at work. This style of stunt focused filmmaking was definitely a choice by Cruise and producers, that does pay off. That said, much of the more irresistible action sequences don’t arrive until almost an hour and a half in.

The Nostalgia: At this point we’ve all heard and seen multiple reactions to this film, all of which have been pretty positive; even by those who weren’t in love with the original. So, when talking about the first chunk of this movie, it’s easy to see where the focus was going to be. “Top Gun: Maverick” walks into the room nostalgia first. This is a film made by filmmakers who love 1986’s “Top Gun” and display this fact early and often. Right away and for the first two-thirds, we are smothered with sequences that pay visual homage to the original; sequences solely for people who have seen the original. We walk into a room and are introduced to overconfident characters who all have nicknames and speak almost entirely in quippy one-liners. Even the story is predictable in a very comforting way. Again, that said, this is the section of the film that may take some time to acclimate to for those who have never seen the original or are not used to 80’s style dramatic camp. Honestly, I don’t think it matters if you were a huge fan of the original, but more so if you’ve seen it at all.   

Final Thought: While it co-stars Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly and Jon Hamm (with a heartwarming cameo from Val Kilmer) this is clearly a Cruise vehicle. Not only because he is in every scene, but also because his perfectionist touch is all over this movie. It’s easy to recognize why he is a box-office draw and an action superstar to this day. “Top Gun: Maverick” has its flaws, but if the point of the film is to appease with a healthy dose of nostalgia and wow-factor visuals, it delivers.   

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