Boss Level: The Ultimate Action Game – Hulu Review

Frank Grillo, Naomi Watts, Michelle Yeoh, and Mel Gibson bring us a new take on time loops.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Roy Pulver (Grillo) is a retired special forces soldier who wakes up every day being attacked by a group of professional killers wielding weapons ranging from machetes to swords (wielded by the great Guan Yin (Selina Lo)) to helicopter-mounted miniguns and explosives. Having been stuck in this time loop for over 140 times, he has managed to figure out how to survive the attacks for longer periods of time, but inevitably dies every time. It turns out that his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts), was messing with things beyond the natural realm of science, and her boss, Col. Ventor (Gibson), is planning on using it to be a supervillain. Roy has to figure out how to avoid the assassins and stop the time loops, possibly with some sword lessons from Michelle Yeoh (who has a character name, but it’s Michelle Yeoh). Oh, and he kills just so many bad guys.

THERE WAS A FIREFIGHT!!!!!!

END SUMMARY

When people talk about “development hell,” they’re talking about movies like this. This movie was set to begin production almost a decade ago, then finally got shot in 2018, at which time it failed to get distributed. There was a free screening as a promotion at some point, but then it didn’t get sent to theaters and its studio just dropped the film, leading Hulu to pick it up and finally put it out. Admittedly, this movie might have been a little better if you saw it before the recent run of time-loop films, which it should have preceded by literal years, but I still enjoyed it.

These are some grizzled faces.

It’s weird that I can’t think of another movie that has casually drawn the connection between time-loops and video games. From the title to the opening shot to the opening narration, this film makes it clear that this situation is basically just a high-intensity action game that Roy has to beat. That makes some of the more ridiculous characters forgivable, because video games often have insane supporting casts and heavily styled bad guys (there’s a redneck with a harpoon, a little person explosives expert, twin assassins, etc.). It even justifies one of my favorite elements, that Guan Yin has a literal victory pose and phrase “I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this.” The movie even has Roy’s son Joe (Rio Grillo) into old-school video games in order to make it even more tied in. It’s not like the movie is actually taking place in a video game, it’s just drawing the comparison so that you can accept the conceit more easily. I also appreciate that the film tries to avoid having to devote half its budget to continuity just by saying that there are “slight variations” on each run-through.

She is Guan Yin, and she f*cking did this.

The main thing that makes this film work is that Frank Grillo is basically the modern version of an ‘80s action hero. That’s why he was so good as Crossbones, because he seems like the kind of guy who could tear through hordes of men on his own. Since he narrates most of the movie, he’s a little more of a wisecracking type action star, which gives the film a level of humor that is needed to get you through some of the more repetitive parts. It helps that there is a strong amount of character growth, particularly when it comes to Roy and his son. I admit that it helps that his son is played by Grillo’s actual child, which makes their scenes more genuine. The supporting characters, naturally, are pretty great, even though most of them are only there to kill Roy as quickly and humorously as possible.

And yes, there’s a small part with Ken Jeong.

Overall, I really thought this was a fun film. It might have needed a bit more editing, and it definitely wastes some of its better actors, but it gives you a decent ride. 

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The Professor and the Madman: An Intimate Biography of an Extraordinary Undertaking – Netflix Review

Mel Gibson and Sean Penn bring us the story of the creation of the Oxford dictionary.

SUMMARY 

William Minor (Sean Penn) is a former doctor who murders an innocent man, George Merrett (Shane Noone), while under the delusion that he’s being chased by a man seeking revenge. He is found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Broadmoor Hospital. Merrett’s wife, Eliza (Natalie Dormer), is left penniless with seven children. While in the asylum, Minor saves the life of a guard, leading another guard, Muncie (Eddie Marsan), to want to help him. Minor asks Muncie to help Eliza and to bring him books.

The beard shows the level of crazy.

At the same time, James Murray (Mel Gibson), an autodidact with a prolific knowledge of lexicology, is hired by Frederick Furnivall (Steve Coogan) to craft the Oxford dictionary after the previous commission had failed for twenty years. Murray decides that the only way to approach the project is to solicit quotes and definitions of words from the entirety of the English-speaking world and to edit the submissions. Minor finds one of Murray’s requests and dedicates his free time and library to the task of creating a massive number of entries. The two begin to correspond, with Murray initially not knowing that Minor is imprisoned for insanity, and the world is forever changed by their work.

END SUMMARY

I don’t think I could in good conscience begin this review without quickly reminding everyone that supporting art does not inherently mean supporting the artist. In this case, both Mel Gibson and Sean Penn have a number of incidents that do not exactly reflect well on their personal characters. Like, the domestic violence, racism, and occasional endorsement of dictators. Yes, that applies to both of them. In any case, I’m just saying that the fact that this was a good movie and that they’re both pretty good in it does not mean that I’m saying that I’m endorsing them personally at all. 

It takes a lot to win Oscars and still get blacklisted repeatedly.

Having said that, this actually wasn’t that great of a movie. It’s either too short or too long and it’s very weird that I can’t tell. It definitely drags at a number of points, but it also seems like there are a number of scenes that needed to be added to give some extra stakes to other scenes. For example, there is the weird subplot involving two of the people trying to get rid of Murray due to him taking too long to get the dictionary done, even though he’s apparently made more progress in two years than anyone has in decades. It’s designed to add an adversary and a ticking clock to the film, but it’s completely arbitrary and somewhat ridiculous. I know there were people advocating for a smaller dictionary in the real event, but the way the scenes between the “villains” play out is completely unconvincing. This is just a small example, but it adds like 15 pointless minutes to the film and is completely unnecessary. The film also spends very little on establishing time skips, so that the decade or so of the film passes very unevenly and without really properly showing the level of effort.

Some of the supporting characters get almost nothing to work with.

As to the leads, the performances are varied. Mel Gibson’s introduction as Murray is a reminder of why he was one of the most bankable stars for a decade. He has a level of gravitas that sells his character as a self-made man and unnatural genius. Sean Penn’s portrayal of the mentally ill Minor is captivating, but also so over-the-top at times that it borders on self-parody. Most of the supporting characters are great, including Jennifer Ehle as Murray’s wife who deals with her husband’s single-minded devotion with realistic frustration. Unfortunately, even decent acting doesn’t help too much.

I want the film where this is an immortal William Wallace in disguise.

Apparently, this film’s director, Farhad Safinia, took his name off of the film because the studio re-made it during the final cut. He and Gibson have both disowned the movie and refused to promote it. I’m not sure, therefore, how much of the trouble in the film is from bad directing and how much is from bad editing.

You’d think Gibson being a producer would have given him more authority.

Overall, though, it doesn’t matter much whose fault the flaws are, this story needs someone else to take a crack at it. It’s a great story and it’s a true one, but it’s not done properly in this outing.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.