Screen critic: Adrenaline fuelled action and heart-pumping adventure movies

Apr 07, 2023
Mario gets to work in The Mario Bros. Movie (Universal); Russell Crowe faces Satan in The Pope's Exorcist (Sony); The joke's on Noah in History of the World: Part II (Disney). Source: Supplied

The fascinating story behind the Air Jordan sports shoe phenomenon is given its due in Air, a highly entertaining film about how a determined Nike employee landed a deal that changed merchandising history.

Looking considerably less lithe than he did during his Bourne days, Matt Damon plays Sonny Vacarro, an out-of-shape executive who in the early 1980s saw potential in young basketballer Michael Jordan both as a player and as an athlete around whom Nike could design a specialized shoe for the masses.

Energetically directed with plenty of humour by Ben Affleck (who also plays Nike boss and co-founder Phil Knight) the film features a top ensemble cast including Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker and Chris Messina who does an especially good job as David Falk, Jordan’s hot-headed agent.

Of all the executives Vacarro has to win over with his crazy idea, his toughest challenge turns out to be Jordan’s tough-minded mum Deloris, superbly played by Viola Davis.

We all know how things turned out with everybody making a mint out of the deal, so there’s not all that much dramatic tension in the story. Still, it’s a fun tale celebrating business savvy and the payoff that comes by persisting with a vision nobody else can quite understand.

It’s Russell Crowe versus The Devil in The Pope’s Exorcist, a pretty good by-the-numbers horror show that dutifully contains all the things you’re entitled to see in a movie that has “exorcist” in the title.

These delights include possessed people strapped to beds; kids growling the words of Satan; human levitation; priests being thrown across rooms; cracking bones; flames from Hell; and, of course, plenty of projectile vomiting. 

Crowe plays a Vatican-approved exorcist tasked by the Pope to help an American mother and her two children who start showing signs of possession after they inherit a church-like house with bad lighting and plenty of hidden corners. 

Crowe has fun with the role, injecting gags and sarcasm, but when it comes to casting out the evil he brings out his big acting guns. Lotsa fun.   

Those who love their fantasy adventures big and cheesy will instantly warm to the mega-sized shenanigans of Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, a hugely appealing lark that has all the visual heft of a Lord of the Rings film, but none of the heavy dramatics.

Chris Pine (Star Trek) plays a single father who leads a team of renegades on a quest to rescue his daughter (Chloe Coleman). She’s in the clutches of a duplicitous villain, played by a scene-stealing Hugh Grant, who makes a pretty good case that she’s actually better off with him.

Along with some top-shelf action – including a memorable battle with an overweight dragon – there are some very funny sequences, the best being the visit to a graveyard where the team have to exhume bodies and speak to the dead.

After the catastrophe of 1993’s Super Mario Bros. – a film Bob Hoskins openly said was the worst thing he’d ever done – it’s easy to understand why the execs at computer game giant Nintendo were reluctant to send their beloved characters into another film.

So good on them for giving the green light to The Super Mario Bros Movie, a fun-filled family-friendly animated fantasy in which Mario and Luigi are transported from the “real” streets of New York to a candy-coloured alternate universe.

While Mario lands in the plushy Mushroom Kingdom and falls for Princess Peach, his brother Luigi ends up in the hands of the giant Bowser who wants to invade the kingdom. Turns out, though, the big bad guy is just a romantic fool at heart.

As fun and frivolous as the film is, some scenes do have a dark edge and there’s even a nasty interrogation scene so be cautioned that very young kids might find the film scary.

Still on the computer game front, but on a more serious bent, Tetris explores the Cold War intrigue, double-crossing and battle for control over the Russian-made game that came out in the 1980s just as the world was falling in love with 8-bit entertainment.

The ever-versatile Taron Egerton (Rocketman; Kingsman; Robin Hood) plays Henk Rogers, a struggling game designer who stumbles upon Tetris at an industry expo. He sets about acquiring the rights but soon finds himself in a quagmire of politics and confounding legalities that threaten to destroy him and his family.

The clever use of old-style animation early in the film deceptively signals a comedy, yet Tetris soon turns out to be a pretty involving drama with very high stakes. Check it out on Apple+.

While we shall be forever grateful to Mel Brooks for blessing us with Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Producers and various other works of comic brilliance, even his most devoted fans will find the eight-episode sketch show History of the World: Part II a very patchy offering indeed.

A sequel-of-sorts “inspired” by his rather mediocre 1981 film History of the World: Part I, there are some good laughs hither and thither, the best coming from single-shot sketches that joke about such things as Jesus, Noah, Kublai Khan, Rasputin, the invention of fire and (of course) Hitler.

But too much time is wasted on meandering sagas about the Civil War and the Russian Revolution, where the laughs are very thin.

The show (on Disney+) was written and produced by a coterie of comedians alongside Brooks, who try hard to honour his low-brow style, succeeding a little too randomly over the four hours.

Still, there are nuggets of gold amidst the dross: a fashion photographer at Yalta tries getting Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill to love the camera; Christ and his disciples have one last jam session, a la The Beatles; and a wonky salesman spruiks his new business dedicated to removing historical statues that are suddenly deemed offensive.


For more visit with updates on Twitter at @jimschembri   



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