Tag Archives: Action

Angel Has Fallen

[2.5 stars]

Before 300, who would have ever pegged Gerard Butler (Hunter Killer) as the leader of action franchises? Since then he’s done a string of entertaining, but not particularly good, films. And this particular series is as uneven as they come. Olympus Has Fallen was surprising…but its sequel was just awful. However, it made enough to bring us this threquel, which is somewhere between the two in quality.

There are some things going for this story. First, embracing its aging lead and recognizing that a job that involves as many explosions and physical contact as Butler’s has a deteriorating effect on the body. Also, there are some great moments peppered throughout and, perhaps best, the relationship and by-play with Nick Nolte (A Walk in the Woods).

Unfortunately, these tidbits of good are bound together by some of the weakest mysteries, worst logic, and bad writing I’ve seen in a major in quite a while. Poor Jada Pinkett Smith (Magic Mike XXL) is saddled with a character that put the “feeble” in FBI. And Tim Blake Nelson (Just Mercy) is about as credible as a hedghog as the vice president.

Part of what worked against the movie is that its effects and stunts are top notch, making the B-grade script and story show its warts all the more. So, whether you see this one has to be up to you. I’ve seen worse, but I’ve certainly seen so much better. The script is so insulting to the audience that you need to disengage, yell at the screen till you’re too tired to continue doing that, or turn it into a drinking game. Choose your approach carefully.

Angel Has Fallen

Bad Boys For Life

[3.5 stars]

After 17 years, have the boys still got it? Well, yes and no. The story by trio Chris Bremner, Peter Craig (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay), and Joe Carnahan (Death Wish) is full of the humor you expect, plays on the fact they’ve aged considerably, and after a slow first half, finds its groove and ultimately delivers. And directors Adil & Bilall navigate the cast through the odd humor/action/bromance nicely. That rocky start is my reason for the equviocation.

But this franchise survives on its core team: Will Smith (Spies in Disguise) and Martin Lawrence (The Beach Bum). Smith is having a busy year.  Starting with Aladdin, then the technical marvel of Gemini Man, and now a solid return to his earlier days here. The two still have their interplay…that odd broken rhythm that shouldn’t work, but somehow does…but they’re joined by some new and returning folks to help reinvigorate their ageing world.

On the new side, Paola Núñez (The Purge), Alexander Ludwig (The Final Girl and the unrelated The Final Girls), and Vanessa Hudgens (Second Act) really stood out. Each brings a new kind of energy and humor to the story, giving the old guard something to play against. And Kate del Castillo provides a big bad who is up to the task, if not a little off her rocker.

The plot is, of course, a bit extreme, a bit absurd, and wholly unlikely, not to mention utterly forced at the end. But you don’t go for high literature to this series. You go to Bad Boys for the action and humor, and it manages to retain both nicely. If you liked the original two, you’ll enjoy this latest addition (and its forthcoming sequel which is already in the works). And, should you go, stay for the tag scenes through the first minute or so of the roll.

Bad Boys for Life

1917

[4 stars]

Some movies are just great rides, and this is one of them. What Sam Mendes (Spectre) has accomplished with his planning and directing is a movie miracle from a technological point of view. And, in this case, that’s enough to recommend it. The script he co-wrote with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Penny Dreadful), however, isn’t quite on the same level; it is more than a little forced. These aspects make 1917 an interesting duality.

There is no question that that is worth seeing and, in particular, worth seeing on the big screen. It pulls off what Birdman tried to but was too coy and self-conscious to pull off: making the one-shot completely invisible as a device. From the moment it begins, 1917 makes you walk alongside the young soldiers about to traverse a special kind of hell. George MacKay (Captain Fantastic) and Dean-Charles Chapman (Blinded By the Light) are perfect choices to lead our trip…they aren’t very recognizable, allowing them to be more believable. In fact, their lack of celebrity only heightens other faces we do recognize such as Andrew Scott (Lear), Mark Strong (Shazam!), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Current War), and Richard Madden (Rocketman). It is a purposeful effect, lending power to these small parts and diminishing even more the pawns we are following.

But here’s the tricky thing… their mission and the course it takes, in order to be dramatic, feels directed or manipulated. You may not know exactly what’s going to happen all the time, but you have a good sense since we’ve been on these rides before, just on more highly edited trips. MacKay, in particular, is simply a vessel for us. He is a complete cypher until the very end of his particular journey and then, well, it just isn’t enough.

1917 is a tchnologlcal monster in the way Gravity was in its year. In addition, it has an uncomfortable resonance, particularly now as we sit (yet again) on the brink of war. But despite all that, it isn’t a great story…which makes it only a solid movie and not a great one. Still, it will wow enough voters to get a Best Picture nomination and it may even sway enough to win. Certainly the editing, cinematography, and sound are worthy of notice. Directing as well, given the Herculean effort it took to pull it all off. But the story just isn’t there for me.

Part of my sense of the emotional gap is because of They Shall Not Grow Old, which never really focused on a single soldier, but which managed to create a more emotional journey for me. Part of it was the difference in scale. MacKay and Chapman spend most of their time in No Man’s Land. This sets them in an empty landscape surrounded by the debris of war but not in the midst of it. Those moments come, but the scope of it all was lost by the narrow focus, even as the beginning and end try to bring it back in. Though I fully admit the tension of the journey (one of many soldiers like these had to make) leaves you a wet rag as the credits role; physically, if not entirely emotionally, exhausted.

See this on big screen with big sound (Dolby definitely did this film justice on that level). 1917 is late to the race this year, but it is one you’ll be hearing a lot about over the next month or so.

1917

Cold Pursuit

[3.5 stars]

Coal-black comedy against a snow-white landscape. If only this movie had remembered what it really was, it could have been great. Despite the trailers you may have seen, this isn’t the standard Liam Neeson (Men in Black: International) revenge romp…it is something more like Boondock Saints in the Arctic. But as much as it wants to be a black comedy, it can’t quite commit to that path, though it punctuates the movie through to the very end.

Neeson is surrounded by a cadre of criminals, a bit of family, and a couple law enforcement officials. But they’re all just foils for the story. Most have no real life to go with them other than the immediate motivations needed to drive the tale. Emmy Rossum (Beautiful Creatures) is a marginal exception to that, having one of the more complete backgrounds and story of her own. Domenick Lombardozzi (Bridge of Spies) had an implied story, but without much depth. Even Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express), despite being the big bad, never really fleshes out, though a good deal is implied.

For a first script, Frank Baldwin showed considerable bravery in the direction he set for this satirical revenge romp. Unfortunately, director Hans Petter Moland just couldn’t find the rhythm and style to quite sell it to general audiences.

[This write up has languished for months while I kept promising myself I’d also screen the original, In Order of Disappearance – Kraftidioten. Sadly that hasn’t happened but it clearly has an equally capable, if very differently energized, lead in Stellan Skarsgård (Our Kind of Traitor, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote). At some point I will get to that as well, but for now, at least you get to hear about the remake.]

Mysterious Witchers Lost in Space

Each of these streamers deserves to be seen and to have their own write up. But that felt like overkill and, I suspect, many folks will have been ahead of me already. However, all are enjoyable, intelligent, and all are very different.

Witcher

Henry Cavill (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) was a perfect choice for the lead in this entertaining, if not brilliant, series. He captures the sarcasm and dry wit of the game character, not to mention he is the physical emodiment of Geralt of Rivia. He’s backed up nicely by Joey Batey and Anya Chalotra. There are other, more recognizable faces, such as MyAnna Buring (In the Dark) and Anna-Louise Plowman, but it is generally a lot of semi-familiar and unknown faces.

The series is challenging thanks to its narrative form (which is part of the secret of the first season, so I really can’t discuss it here). I think it could have been handled more clearly, but it ultimatley comes together in interesting ways and I appreciate that they didn’t treat their audience like idiots. Much like Watchmen, it lends itself to rewatching once you understand it all. I’m definitely on board for the next season, but that isn’t coming till 2021, so you’ve plenty of time to watch the series and/or play the games if you want beforehand.

Lost in Space 2

The first season reboot of this show surprised me completely. Netflix transformed the silly Saturday morning show into something richer and darker, if still with a child’s sensibility of adventure. And if you thought Dr. Smith was complex and dark in the first series, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Parker Posey (Cafe Society) has definitely found a role she’ll be remembered for.

This season is incredibly well constructed, even if some of the writing still takes too many character and plot short-cuts. Still, I admire the risks they were willing to take even if getting there has some flaws. And every major character gets their moment to grow and expand in some very nice ways. The new season pulls you along with barely a chance to breathe, making it a great binge show, but also means it is over too soon. Series 3 isn’t officially confirmed, but expect it to take another year, if for no other reason to complete all the f/x needed for the show.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

This wonderfully self-aware reconception of the cartoon classic is more Buffy than kid’s show. Conceived as a complete 2-season arc, and loaded with adult nods and layers of mystery, it is both wonderful nostaligia and entertaining distraction in 20-minute bites. It’s also loaded with surprise voice talent in major roles and guest roles. Give it a shot, you’ll know in a few minutes if it is for you or not.

Watchmen

[4.5 stars]

I know others have gotten out there before me, but I really hate writing up a show before a season is complete. There are just too many chances for a series to go off the rails after a great start. And with Watchmen, I was holding my breath as it started strong and just kept improving as it went…at least until the very end where it, perhaps, lost just a tad bit of steam wrapping it all up and prepping for what’s to come.

This series grows naturally out of its birthing material, without leaving behind the graphic novel or the movie. It does it without forgetting or forgiving what came before, which is a real gift. Those who love the original find all kinds of touchstones while those that are new to it sense the depth of the world and its underpinnings.

Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) is a powerhouse and full of complications. Her story and journey hold together the entire series. But she isn’t alone in the tale.

Some of the most interesting characters arrive later in the sequence. Jean Smart (Legion) and Hong Chau  (Downsizing), for instance. And Jovan Adepo  (Overlord) as the younger version of Louis Gossett Jr. navigates a world of levels.

Jeremy Irons (Red Sparrow) gets to play alongside the main plot for more than half the sequence before having direct impact. And with Sara Vickers (Endeavour) and Tom Mison (Parade’s End) supporting him, the trio have a wonderful plot of their own that is loaded with humor and horror.

This is a wonderfully constructed world, unafraid to go where it must. The story is both familiar and topical without having to be completely obvious. Well, not always anyway. And it manages to treat time and flow in a way that will surprise and even insist you go back and rewatch to catch everything; taking on some of the same challenges as Legion, but in a more grounded way.

I am not a huge fan of Damon Lindelof as a writer. But in this case, he took his time to craft something wonderful. It is full of ideas, adult humor, bleak forcasts, and complex characters. I can’t wait to see where he goes with it next. But even if there isn’t more to come (and Lindelof is admitting he has nothing in the pipe to do so), this works as a cycle on its own, with a few open questions to tickle your brain as you consider implications.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

[3 stars]

Thank god it’s finally over.

 

Seriously, there is no point in discussing the issues…like lousy editing, weak story, empy music, or the lack of an emotional release after a 42 year committment. You’re either on board for this or you’re not. Nothing I say is going to matter.

Jumanji: The Next Chapter

[3.5 stars]

Is it ever really possbile to match the excitement and surprise of first movie with a sequel? Admittedly, rarely, though this manages to come close.

The previous installment in this series was itself a sequel, though so far removed from the original that it’s hard to think of them as part of the same series. This latest installment is a direct follow-on of the previous and is, indeed, a solid, new story, but a lot of the surprise is gone. It’s in the title “The Next Chapter.” While this stands mostly alone, it is very much a continuation. To the movie’s creidt, the characters we knew got older and were affected by their previous experience, as well as having acquired some new aspects to their personalities and lives.

In fact our intrepid foursome, Alex Wolff (A Birder’s Guide to Everything), Madison Iseman (Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), Morgan Turner (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), and  Ser’Darius Blain (Charmed) have not only grown up, but got better at their craft. Even the core avatars are even better at making it clear they are inhabited by the players in this new story. Kevin Hart (The Upside) in particular does much better this round than he did the first. But Dwayne Johnson (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw), Karen Gillan (Avengers: Endgame), and Jack Black (Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween) also have improved this subtle part of the challenge, helping to sell both the story and the humor.

The additions of Danny Devito (Dumbo), Danny Glover (The Last Black Man in San Francisco ), and Awkwafina (The Farewell) were a good choice for the expansion, and Awkawafina just adds to her growing  cv of fun performances over the past year. And then there is the gift of Rory McCann (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) who does nothing new in this very stock character, but who is always imposing on screen, little or large.

Basically, this is a simple, fun flick that is safe for families while having enough for adults to chew on. It has a lot of humor and, even when it is predictable, it’s executed in a way that makes you smile for the success rather than be disappointed with getting ahead of it all.  A lot of the credit for that goes to returning director Jake Kasdan and his work with returning writing duo Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg. That they couldn’t resist setting up the next film, well, I can’t say I was surprised nor was I disappointed. And it looks like the third, which I’m fairly confident will get made, takes it full circle to the original movie that started it all. For some popcorn and holiday distraction that doesn’t come from the Mouse House, you won’t go wrong seeing this one.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

[3 stars]

OK, I am NOT the audience for this movie, but I was still impressed with the adaptation. Converting an educational children’s cartoon into a live action adventure was never going to be easy. But, with the name cachet and potential, it was inevitable someone would try.

Getting someone like director James Bobin (Alice Through the Looking GlassMuppets Most Wanted) to take it on was a smart choice. He not only found a tone to sell it, he was able to maintain the tone without blinking through to the end.

Bobin also cast it well. Isabela Moner (aka Isabela Merced) (Instant Family) is a perfect Dora. She is positive, open, guileless, fearless, resourceful, and still admits to her emotions and being aware of what others think of her oddities. She is a wonderful proxy for pre-teens about to head out more into the world on their own.

Dora, of course, has to have her posse. Jeff Whalberg (Don’t Come Back from the Moon) as Diego was an interesting choice and good foil for Moner. Madeleine Madden (Tomorrow When the War Began) and Nicholas Coombe fill out the group providing appropriate comic relief and questions.

The adults are all very broad and silly. Eva Longoria, Michael Peña (Extinction), and Eugenio Derbez (How to be a Latin Lover) are consistent, but not really believable. But, then again, the audience is kids, not adults. The adult influence in this story is decidedly in the background and they are there to be saved by the kid’s ingenuity. For that purpose they work, even if it narrows the appeal of the movie overall.

The biggest mistake, to my mind, was the inclusion of the CG characters Boots and Swiper (voiced by Danny Trejo and Benicio Del Toro, respectively). I understand they’re iconic, but it constantly broke the fragile reality of the adventure. Absent them, or had they been dealt with differently, the movie would have moved up a couple notches in my opinon. Honestly, neither character needed to be in the tale, which made their inclusion even more distracting.

To watch with young kids, this would probably been an enjoyable afternoon. As adult fare, it is a bit of a struggle, but the full commit of the entire production made it watchable, if not one I’d recommend generally. Frankly, I was just curious to see what they’d done with it, so I made the trek into the jungle for my own reasons.

Charlie’s Angels (2019)

[3 stars]

Girl power should beat out just about anything these days at the box office…in theory at least. Unfortunately, though it is entertaining, this third go-round for the Angels, sheapharded by Elizabeth Banks (Brightburn), is unevn and unfocused. The fault is really very much with Banks’s script and her control of the vision. I’ll circle back on this, but I want to be sure to give her cast their due first.

Her current angels were all pretty solid: Kristen Stewart (Lizzie) and Naomi Scott (Aladdin) were paired with relative newcomer (though she held her own well), Ella Balinska. Stewart is the bright spot here, spewing humor and action in equal measure confidently. We never entirely get to know her, but that is by design. She still becomes the glue for the trio and keeps the energy and pace up throughout the story.

Unsurprisingly, the men are in this tale to serve the women’s stories. This makes them all just a bit superficial, though each with moments. Sam Claflin (Their Finest) and Patrick Stewart (The Kid Who Would Be King) are the larger roles. Claflin is a bit broad in his delivery, while Stewart is a bit low in energy to carry his part. Neither is awful, but both could have been directed better.

In smaller, but fun, roles Luis Gerardo Méndez (Murder Mystery), Noah Centineo (To Al the Boys I Loved Before), Jonathan Tucker (Veronika Decides to Die) and Chris Pang (Crazy Rich Asians) really shine for their humor. Each also adds some unspoken depth to their bit parts.

So, back to Banks and her script and directorial choices. The script itself is frustrating in its flow. There are far too many failures and odd decisions for our heroes. The overall intention could have been worked out better and with a few more positives, particularly as Scott’s character is being pulled ever-deeper into the Agency. But that was the minor problem.

The larger issue was one of style. This movie couldn’t settle on whether it was an action movie with humor, a comedy with action, or a broad satire of the series. The first movie and it’s sequel found the  line they wanted to walk and tightroped it much more elegantly. Banks is all over the place and constantly mis-stepping by doing things like cracking jokes about someone who just died rather than allowing the moment to add a darker edge and reality to the fantasy.

It’s clear from the opening that the intention of the movie is to empower women. Charlie’s Angels is tailor made for that intent, but it needed a much stronger hand and a sharper script to succeed. That doesn’t mean this isn’t fun or funny, or even clever and exciting at times, but it whiplashes between intents leaving you unsure of what you’re watching and how best to engage with the story. That keeps you at an unfortunate distance without a chance to fully engage with the women and their triumphs and losses on screen.