Tag Archives: Action

Predator (2018)

[3.5 stars]

The first Predator was popcorn malicious monster mayhem. Then there were a few…let’s just say misfires with a brief the amusement of AVP.  Shane Black (The Nice Guys) and co-writer Fred Dekker (Monster Squad) bring back the action and enhance the humor to bring us a silly romp with lots of fun and, actually, moderated gore despite all the violence. They even open the story with clear nods back to the first movie to anchor us before it starts to veer off. The resulting plot is very much a sequel, but with a reboot feel.

The latest collection of misfit commandos are led by Boyd Holbrook (Logan), who brings brains and brawn to our defenders. But, of course, they are defending against monsters of both alien and human-kind. The latter led by Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther) who chews and chews the scenery until it is a fine, pulpy mass. Fighting alongside Holbrook is a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of souls.  Thomas Jane (AXL), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Trevante Rhodes (Song to Song), Keegan-Michael Key (Why Him?), and Augusto Aguilera are all more than a little forced (for humor, more than anything else) but they do entertain.

And then there are the outliers that try to broaden the plot and give it a bit more meat. You’ll have to decide for yourself how credibly that is achieved. Jacob Tremblay (Book of Henry) and Yvonne Strahovski (I, FrankensteinHandmaid’s Tale) are each fine in their roles as Holbrook’s semi-estranged family. Tremblay is a bit inconsistent, but Strahovski gets in some good levels. Finally, there is Olivia Munn (Ocean’s 8) who gets to kick some butt and have some fun, but not really much of a purpose. And this is where the movie lost some of its rating for me. There are a lot of intentions toward a complex plot, but not much delivery, just lip service.

Basically, the trick with this film is to not look too closely. Despite many attempts to bring story and explanation to the tale, and some very self-conscious exposition (purposefully done), the story doesn’t really hold up to close inspection. That said, when do they ever? This is entertainment, pure and simple, with a sequel setup and the likely event of there being more to come. It does manage to recreate the fun of the first film again. I laughed, I flinched, and I enjoyed the heck out of the hunt and tech. But this isn’t groundbreaking, just entertaining (which, honestly, can be enough).

The Predator

Peppermint

[3 stars]

There is definitely some fatigue on the vigilante vengeance front. Even with Jennifer Garner’s (Love, Simon) effort, quietly resurrecting aspects of her Alias persona, the entertainment is all pretty standard in this movie. Some great choreography, a few good moments, and a cathartic climax. Also worth noting, while Garner has the attitude to carry off her character, and the moves, she didn’t have the physique, which was distracting. But though the talent was there to help the story succeed, with John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane) and John Ortiz (Nostalgia)…the movie just sort of floats over the plot with the intention of focusing mostly on the action. To be fair, The Commuter wasn’t much different. And while The Equalizer 2 was an anomaly in its approach, and a little divisive, its first outing was similarly standard.

Over the last year there have been a few female action flicks. Proud Mary, Atomic Blonde, Unlocked, or even Breaking In, just to name a few. They have succeeded and failed in different ways. None has yet found a formula that rivals Liam Neeson’s run or the success of John Wick. Some of that is due to the writing, but I imagine a fair amount is due to the audience expectations as well. No one has given us a female assassin that grabs the imagination in quite the same way and that is unique in both her efforts and her gender. We’ve had kick-ass women in movies over the years: Gloria, Alien, uncountable side-kicks or secondary leads (Wonder Woman and Valkyrie are a different genre and discussion). But society doesn’t seem ready for a real female vigilante. We end up, instead, with folks like Harley Quinn or Imperator Furiosa; strong but broken women seeking restitution.

It is notable that, with the exception of Garner, the only female character of note is Annie Ilonzeh. Is it commentary that it is Garner versus a sea of men or more of the same cultural lag of putting women in lead roles of power and action?

Director Pierre Morel (From Paris with Love) was surely handicapped by his writer, Chad St. John (London Has Fallen), on the story side. But it was his choice to accept the script and direct it, so he has to take some of the blame. And neither of them, nor the studio, were strong enough to do the actual ending the film demanded. That said, this is entertaining, just not a breakaway.

Peppermint

Escape Plan 2: Hades

[2.5 stars]

The first Escape Plan was silly at best, but it boasted the buddying up of Stallone (Creed) and Schwarzenegger. This sequel dropped Arnold and added Dave Bautista (Blade Runner 2049), sort of. The two headliners are really more in the side action than the main plot.

The real focus of the story is Xiaoming Huang. He certainly has the martial arts chops for the role, but he isn’t the most emotive. Established as Stallone’s protege, he spends portions of the film “hearing” Stallone in his head. Let’s just say that Stallone’s voice isn’t the most mellifluous nor the most understandable inner voice to listen to as Huang’s companion.

Wes Chatham (The Expanse), along with Jesse Metcalfe (Dallas) are the primary players fighters alongside Huang. And Chenying Tang is there to add some level of story to it all…admittedly not much of one. The biggest, and oddest, surprise was Titus Welliver (Bosch) in a small but pivotal role. I’m guessing he took it for the action opportunity because, despite trying to add some depth to his character, there just isn’t much there to work with. Basically, a waste of his talents.

Stallone clearly sets this up for a third installment (Escape Plan 3: Devil’s Station now in post-production), in some kind of a weird trilogy. If they can get some better writing and not wait too long between releases, they might pull this story back on track. However, I suspect it will continue to diminish over time given that this went straight to video and it is the same writer again.

If you just want some clever ideas and occasional moments of nicely choreographed fights, it isn’t an intolerable 90 minutes, but you could do much better.

Escape Plan 2: Hades

Mile 22

[2.5 stars]

Oh, Peter Berg (Battleship), you always promise so much and deliver so little. This bit of what amounts to terrorist porn is certainly full of action, but bereft of character. While Mark Whalberg (Ted 2) may have created a fast-talking and somewhat entertaining team leader, he isn’t a person, he is simply putting on an interesting idea.

And while there are strong female parts, they aren’t much in the way of characters either. Ronda Rousey (Furious 7) doesn’t really get to explore what she had to work with. And Lauren Cohan (Chuck, The Walking Dead), who is certainly a tough-as-nails fighter, overplays the mother side of what was written. Not because a kick-ass military person can’t have family and emotion in their lives or even care that much, but because she came off as schizophrenic rather than as competent; and she’s meant to be Wahlberg’s protege.

Iko Uwais (The Raid 2) shows off his skills as a fighter and, to a degree, as an actor. To be fair, he really just has to look enigmatic most of the time rather than plumb any serious levels. And John Malkovich reprises his Unlocked gig, which isn’t saying much for a man with such talent.

Where this movie really goes wrong isn’t so much in its conception or even its subject matter. Even the basic plot is intriguing. Where it goes wrong is the framing, which is, essentially, a solipsistic treatise excusing government funded murder as necessary, even to be celebrated. For some audiences that will work just fine. In the world we live in now, even while admitting I was mildly entertained by the action and well paced suspense, I found the message rather off-putting at the end. Nearly the same plot could have been used without the commentary and it would have worked better. As it is, you go for the action, blood, and gore, if you go, but not for the story or any cogent political awakening.

Mile 22

The Meg

[3.5 stars]

You can’t do a shark movie without invoking Jaws. It’s just not possible. When you understand that and can embrace it, as The Meg does, it becomes a non-issue, even when they copy shots. The Meg is both homage and riff, satire and step-brother of the 1975 classic that cleared a 1000 beaches. Though, to be fair, this is a bit more Piranha than Jaws in its sensibility, and that’s OK too. Delivered with conviction by the cast, and guided by Turteltaub’s (Last Vegas) direction, it manages to thrill, scare, and entertain in just the right measures for a late summer entertainment.

Jason Statham (The Mechanic: Retribution) and Li Bingbing (Resident Evil: Resurrection) are not the most natural couple on screen, but they each deliver performances that work well for the story. And the young Sophia Cai does an admirable job of getting between them. Rain Wilson (Backstrom) is probably the most perfectly cast of the group, riding the line of bastard and benevolent Billionaire to fund and push the story along. And it is always fun to see Ruby Rose (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) and her smart-ass ways. The only bit of writing that made my skin crawl was for Page Kennedy (Backstrom), who was turned into a very uncomfortably-close-to-racist stereotype. It isn’t throughout, but it definitely was ill-considered and it was clear they had no idea of why Kennedy’s character was even in the mix.

The movie is a bit less humorous than the early trailers would have led you to believe, but not by much. It injects just enough humor to keep the absurdities from being too apparent. And, of course, it is full of action and visual candy. In other words, this is a great piece of escapist silliness with just enough edge to sell the suspense and action.

The Meg

American Assassin

[3 stars]

There is a lot that this movie gets right. A lot that it gets close. And a few things it just gets very wrong. But, overall, it is a very surprising and intense spy thriller.

From the beginning of the movie, you know you are in for something a bit more raw than what the genre usually delivers. This isn’t the slick of Mission Impossible or Bond, this is a brutal attempt to put you in the position of experiencing terrorism first-hand. And Dylan O’Brien (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) really comes into his own and out of his teen years with this part. Helping the young O’Brien cross-over into an adult role is where director, Michael Cuesta (Homeland), did some of his best work with his actors.

Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming) also delivers some nice moments and, generally, a good performance. But there aren’t a lot of women in good roles here. Sanaa Lathan (Now You See Me 2) is strong, but never really feels in control. Her effect on the action is minimal since no one is really listening to her orders a good part of the time. And when they do, you don’t often get the feeling it was because she held control so much as they were going to do it anyway.

On the other hand, some of the men are equally underwhelming. Taylor Kitsch (Battleship) is a bit forced in his psychosis. The script didn’t help Cuesta or Kitsch on that point. And a small bit by David Suchet (Agatha Christie: Poirot) is simply a throw-away and waste of his talent.

Cuesta, in an attempt to keep things visually clear, also makes his covert ops folks some of the worst and obvious surveillors in history. They all stick out in a crowd like pustules on an infant rather than blending in, which rather weakens the credibility of their capability. And then there is the finale, which is both brave and impressive, but also with a couple things quite wrong. I won’t spoil it here, nor ruin your enjoyment of it should it not be obvious, but it did bug the heck out of me even while I was enjoying it.

This is a good ride of a movie. More violent than many American spy films, but within reasonable boundaries. I’m not sure what I expected going in, but it gave me a layered story and enough surprising moments to keep it flowing along. As O’Brien’s transition film, he really was the big winner here.

American Assassin

Extinction

[3 stars]

Extinction was originally intended to land on the big screen this August…and then Netflix bought the rights from Universal and dropped it into their library. As it turns out, that was probably a rather shrewd move on both sides.

The movie is far from straight forward and is intriguing, though it takes time building steam. The script also isn’t nearly as complex or intriguing as Eric Heisserer’s other sci-fi epic, Arrival, but it isn’t your typical science fiction fare either. What starts as a rather standard plot evolves over the course of the story. To be fair, Heisserer came in late and rewrote other people’s work. Also not helping is that the final delivery by director Young is a bit over-compressed and under-paced for the big screen. Even with these issues, it manages to maintain your interest.

But the result is that Extinction ends up feeling more like a great pilot, a la Babylon 5: The Gathering, than a major motion picture; offering up a rich world with solid potential for a series. And this is why both sides of the purchase won. Universal avoided another box office embarrassment and Netflix got their hands on a solid property to further exploit.

It was also great to see Michael Peña (Ant-Man and the Wasp) in a role that was bit more sedate and natural than the broad characters he’s better known for. It isn’t his strongest performance, but it shows a side of him that was unexpected. Lizzy Caplan (Disaster Artist) plays well opposite him too. They make an unlikely pair, but it works.

There aren’t many others notable in the cast from a story point of view. Israel Broussard (Happy Death Day) stands out with an integral performance. And Mike Colter (Luke Cage) plays the hand he’s dealt well, but he wasn’t given all that much. The focus is really on Peña and Caplan and their family.

If you like good science fiction, or something a little more involved than standard alien invasion stories, make time for Extinction. Much like Netflix’s previous big screen purchase Bright, the execution is still imperfect, but they’re starting to do better on that front. With luck, they’ll get their feet under them and continue the story.

Extinction

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

[4 stars]

The MI series is known for huge stunts, dry humor, and cheap emotion. This sixth installment is no exception on that front, though writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation) does something a little special this time around. Fallout is brings back in Ian Hunt’s past and nods to several previous MI movies. It also manages to give a little more story time and weight to the rest of Hunt’s team, taking some of the pressure off of Tom Cruise (The Mummy) and enriching the series.

I have to admit, I was a bit worried as the movie started. Some of the choices and moments were less than nuanced and the “secrets” were bloody obvious. But it (mostly) gets past all of that by the end. Henry Cavill (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is suitably odd in his role, though I struggled with him at time. Ving Rhames (MI:5) actually got to out screen Simon Pegg (Ready Player One) this round in many ways. And the return of Sean Harris (Macbeth) was a nice touch to keep the world alive. Finally, though in a small role, Wes Bentley (Pete’s Dragon) does subtle and nice work that is almost all throw-away, but great to watch.

While this is still a heavily male dominated series, there were several strong female characters, each with their own stories as well. Rebecca Ferguson (Greatest Showman) gets to reprise her role and continue her and Hunt’s odd dance, as does Angela Bassett (Black Panther). Frustratingly, Bassett is the least credible of the characters thanks to the writing. The return of Michelle Monaghan (Sleepless) was an interesting choice by McQuarrie to flesh out Cruise’s life as Hunt. The addition, and far too little screen time, of Vanessa Kirby (The Dresser) was a nice treat too. I imagine we’ll be seeing much more of Kirby in the the next installment…and that installment is inevitable given the praises and dollars this movie has already garnered.

If you like the MI series, this fast-paced 2.5 hour adventure is a worthy addition to the collection. In many ways it is the best movie of the bunch, if not always the best MI story. Much like Equalizer 2, Cruise and McQuarrie are revitalizing the series by making it more personal while still holding onto most of the bare bones of its origins. Things still go wrong, spectacularly in some cases. The stakes are ridiculously high. The tech is important, but not always the answer. The world is mostly unaware of the craziness going on around them and shaping their lives. But deep underneath it all are a group of increasingly more human agents trying to do the right thing for the right reasons despite the politicos and evil-doers around them.

As escapist adventure with a bit of heart, this is probably the best popcorn film of the summer. And that’s what summer movie going is often for: escapism. So go, gasp, and escape for a couple hours.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

The Hurricane Heist

[3 stars]

The plot of this popcorn heist is clever and, mostly, well thought through. There are short-cuts and dumb plot choices at times, though nothing so bad as to totally destroy the movie. It is however enough to make you groan on occasion.

Maggie Grace (Lockout) is the standout in this actioner. She is barely recognizable as a tough and damaged military guard. Everything from her voice to her bearing make over the actor, who more typically plays on her looks and elegance over any physical skills.

The emotional through-line, however, is through the semi-estranged brothers, Toby Kebbell (Kong: Skull Island) and Ryan Kwanten (Flight 7500). The effort is clumsy and only marginally believable. Both actors are fine in their particular roles, but there is little connection between them. They also end up stealing some of Grace’s thunder in the plot, which is a shame. It would have been a more interesting film if she had owned it utterly.

But the real star of this film is the storm itself. The depictions of its destructive capability are often showstopping, mostly because the movie itself just doesn’t sustain.

Director Rob Cohen (Alex Cross) keeps the tension and pace driving forward, building on each previous event to go even bigger in the next. With a bowl of popcorn and something to lower your inhibition to suspending disbelief and you’ll have a fun ride. It isn’t that you haven’t seen a lot of this before, but it is certainly repackaged for entertainment.

The Hurricane Heist

Equalizer 2

[4.5 stars]

Straight up, this is the best film I’ve seen yet this summer. There are other films out there which were more pure entertainment (Deadpool, Avengers), but Equalizer is also just a damned good film.

This is both Denzel Washington’s (Roman J. Israel, Esq) and Antoine Fuqua’s (The Magnificent Seven) first ever sequel, and they chose to do it together. And damn if they didn’t make a good choice.

The first installment of The Equalizer was fun, but frankly it was a riff on the old TV series and a bit of a money grab with some cheap emotional content. This sequel is much more personal, much more unique, and one hell of a suspense-filled ride. Richard Wenk’s (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) script is clever and tight. In Fuqua’s hands it sails through its 2 hours with its hands at your throat. This isn’t a Liam Neeson Commuter kind of romp. Our man McCall is active and purposeful, and, in this movie, driven to improve the world. The story is filled with layers, complexity, and metaphors. They could have called it The Oncoming Storm if that wasn’t already taken by Doctor Who.

Melissa Leo (Furlough) reprises her role with a bit of glee and sharp wits. Her partner, Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle), expands that aspect of Washington’s world and brings in a new perspective. There are some other nice performances and side stories, but it is the interplay of these three that bring it together.

In the current times, where the rule of law and accountability seems to have vanished at the highest levels, a story about someone applying justice is compelling. It comes at a high cost in the film, but it also provides payment. There are a couple dropped threads in the story overall, but it is a great ride, fully satisfying, and should leave you catching your breath by the final scene.

The Equalizer II