Tag Archives: Action

Sleepless

Unlikable people doing unlikable things in stupid ways doesn’t add up to a good movie. We don’t even get an anti-hero to latch onto. Jamie Foxx (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Michelle Monaghan (Pixels) are simply just bad at their jobs, whether or not they are also bad/dirty cops.

To balance that, as inept bad guys we get Dermot Mulroney (August: Osage County) and Scoot McNairy (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), neither of which seems to deserve the empires they lead.  The only truly likable character in the entire film is Gabrielle Union, but she also pulls some stupid moves. Octavius J. Johnson (Ray Donovan), is mostly just a hot potato used to drive the action; his portrayal of the son has little depth and generates little sympathy.

To be fair, all these choices and lacks are the fault of writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) and director Baran bo Odar (Who Am I). The script is ill-conceived and poorly researched while the acting is relentlessly dark with few positive hooks for us to want to hold onto. Even an anti-hero needs to pull our sympathies in some way if we are to commit to them.

The cast was unable to rise above a bad foundation of this film. The idea that it could have a sequel (and boy do they set it up) was simply the bitter icing on the unpalatable cake at the very end. Basically, skip this one.

Sleepless

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Objectively, this film had a lot going for it in its conception. It had global scale and an established global cast. Unfortunately it also had a pedestrian script and a weak director.

Admittedly, I was never a huge fan of the first xXx (and no one liked the second). This was definitely the best of the three, with a more complex plot, but sadly also with about as much depth. It is neither James Bond serious, Suicide Squad bizarre, nor Kingsman comic-bookish but has aspects of all those approaches. It can’t quite focus on whether its humor is ridiculously arch, as Toni Collette (Miss You Already) does it, or whether it is deadly serious. Director Caruso’s (I Am Number Four) pacing is all over the place keeping the various aspects from coming together seamlessly.

More frustratingly, while the action is wonderfully conceived, the filming, by design, never really caught a lot of the action (literally, they wanted it to feel like the camera just couldn’t keep up with it). And isn’t that the reason we go to films like these?

The cast is an extraordinary collection of talent. In fact, outside of the Expendables series, probably the densest collection of stars put together for an action film. Vin Diesel (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) of course heads the gang of adrenaline junkies, but he has added two of the top martial artists in the world, Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa (The Protector 2).

Into that mix he sprinkles in Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter 2), Deepika Padukone, Nina Dobrev (The Final Girls), Game of Thrones’ Hound, Rory McCann, and Chinese sensation Kris Wu, not to mention UFC’s Michael Bisping and real-life footballer Neymar. And (yes, more “and’s”) let’s not forget Samuel L. Jackson (Kong: Skull Island). Seriously, there is someone for everyone in this punch, drive, shoot, explosion, free-fall fest.

In watching the extras, you get a real sense of what it was they thought and hoped they were creating. In many ways Vin was trying to evolve the xXx series as the Fast & Furious had, but with a bit more actual story. But it lost its way despite some excellent schematics to get it there. International audiences were kinder to the film (on the order of 7x the domestic box take), probably due to recognizable faces for them in the cast and a general emphasis on action over dialogue. Vin may be able to pull this out yet…he had the right idea, he just needs a better director and script.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Sense8 (series 2)

The first series of Sense8 was a mind-blowing experience. Its scope and inventiveness blazed new ground for the small screen. It challenged its viewers on many levels and managed to set up a world and set of conflicts that had you begging for more. Even if it wasn’t new material for readers of folks like Theodore Sturgeon, it was the best depiction of those ideas I’d ever seen in visual media.

Then came the holiday special, which was an important story bridge, but which also indicated a potential shift in quality. So it was with no little trepidation that I dove into the long awaited second series.

One of the first things that is immediately obvious is that one of the rich aspects of the show, the 8 languages, has been shifted to all English. It is a subtle change at first, but as the show goes on it definitely feels diminished and less credible. One of the fascinating and wonderful aspects to Sense8 was the multi-cultural breadth of the characters. It is part of its core message that people of all countries and creeds can work closely together, can love one another. Now, not only does it all sound the same, but some of the actors are struggling with the language, and subtleties, such as using English as a way to make others feel dumb or less, have been lost.

The scale of the show has also been pulled back. In some ways this was anticipated. Sense8 is not one of Netflix’s most successful shows in terms of sheer force. It will work for them for years, I’ve no doubt, but budgets aren’t typically planned on that hope. So I can forgive this, especially if it means we get more. However, there was at least one great addition to the cast (which I can’t discuss without blowing surprises), but I will say that Doctor Who fans will be pleased.

While Straczynski (Babylon 5), and Lana and Lilly Wachowski (Jupiter Ascending) are all still very involved, I was sad to see Tom Tykwer (Drei/3)disappear from the creative staff. There was a magic with all of them that seems just a little less without him there. And the rules of this world are somewhat fungible at this time… this could be because our main characters really are still learning about what they are or it could be that the writers are not staying consistent. Time will tell on that, but it does need to clarify how Sensoriums can reach out to one another and when/how someone can take over someone else.

OK, all of that said, this is still a fascinating and brave show. It is doing things and dealing with themes that no one else really is, and certainly not in this way. The end of this series, of course, sets up the next and it has definitely raised the stakes again.  So, yes, I am anticipating the the next series already. I hope it gets renewed and I hope it comes with a bit more of the original series feeling back into it.

[Updated 1 June, 2017: And this is why fans have such trouble committing to great shows: Sense8 is officially cancelled]

Sense8

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Oh yeah, summer is here! James Gunn (Super) gave it a heck of a kick-off with GOTG Vol 2. If it isn’t quite as surprising as his first, it is still one crazy roller-coaster of a tale, retaining its unabashed and unapologetic sense of fun. The original movie was the origin of the team. This second go round is about fixing all the relationships and tying up the loose ends as we head into the Infinity War. In many ways it is what Fast & Furious wants to be, but has never had the writing and acting to match.

From the moment the movie starts you are set up to understand that the action will always be secondary to the characters and the fun this round. While not nearly as perfect as the opening to Deadpool, it comes close in its intention for setting the first frame. Admittedly, the rest of the movie tries just a bit too hard on all counts, but I suspect it will even out with rewatching. And, yes, I will be back watching this again.

In an effort to keep my promise and avoid spoilers, I can’t really go into much. I will say there are a couple fun cameos, such as Ben Browder (Farscape) who pop up. And Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) did  a very credible Tilda Swinton/Cate Blanchette as one of the many challenges the Guardians face this round.

However, I will say, nay beg, Gunn to get rid of the Howard the Duck references. They are really jarring at this point and, frankly, pull me out of the movie every time. I get it is an 80s nod, but who really cares anymore?

Start your summer off right. I have no idea how the rest will go, but I’m glad it began with the crazy, psychedelic joy that is the Guardians. Sure it is sugar for the brain, but sometimes, that’s just fine!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Marvel’s Iron Fist

This is by far the most disappointing of the Marvel Universe series that Netflix has produced, which is why it has taken me so long to complete the run. It is the weakest writing and the least stylistic. It is, however, steeped in the mythos of the other tales: Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage. These aspects make it more interesting than it has earned, frankly.

Iron Fist, as a character, has somewhat nebulous powers and rules, and his backstory is only marginally interesting for most of the series. Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) manages a sweet demeanor, and the somewhat lost vibe of a young child in the world, but he is also just plain dumb as a character, making foolish choices. If this is the absolute best that Kunlun has to offer, they need a bigger population. And how did this simpering, whiny, tantrum throwing kid make it to Iron Fist anyway?

More generally, motivations for all the characters are hard to believe and understand. Tom Pelphrey (Banshee) and David Wenham (Lion) are all over the map on their choices and drives. Sure all of the men, including Jones, have some intense backstories, but I’d expect a clarity of purpose to be driving them so I can understand when things change.

The women fair a bit better for most of the series. Jessica Henwick (Star Wars: Force Awakens) has nice levels and some obvious secrets. Jessica Stroup (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) is a tough character but hard to pin down because she is unevenly written and used. By the end of the sequence, they have squandered her completely and weakened her unforgivably.

It is really the two returning characters are best served because they have actual history to draw on: Wai Ching Ho (Daredevil) and Rosario Dawson (Gimme Shelter). Both are easy to understand and, in the case of Ho, we finally get to learn a lot more about this enigmatic kingpin.

There really is only one reason to watch Iron Fist, but you’ll need to see the whole series to understand why and, even then, you’ll have to make a logical leap beyond their unearned finale. Marvel was due a weak delivery after all its high powered hits. And, to be clear, this isn’t awful, it just isn’t in the same class as its colleagues. Better writers and directors would definitely help. Some more time in the writers’ room to break out the episodes and season more interestingly wouldn’t be amiss either; creator/producer/writer Buck (Dexter) just didn’t hit his mark. I am hoping that as the story carries forward, the Iron Fist will find more solid story-telling.

Image result for iron fist

Assassin’s Creed

Well, it is certainly a pretty film. Yep, that’s about it.

I hate seeing potential unrealized, especially when a good idea (not making a movie of a game, but the base concept) and a truly talented cast are brought together. Michael Fassbender (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Marion Cotillard (April and the Extraordinary World) are usually hypnotic on screen. They are masters of hidden depths and small gestures. This script gave them no quarter despite their efforts. Even the additions of Jeremy Irons (Man Who Knew Infinity), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), Brendan Gleeson (Song of the Sea), and Michael Kenneth Williams (When We Rise) couldn’t help it over the top to something good.

I get the sense that Fassbender brought in his previous Macbeth collaborators to save his passion project; Kurzel to direct and Leeslie to rewrite the script. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the work by the writing team of Cooper and Collage (Allegiant, Transporter Refuled). The characters have shifting motivations and the tale has incomplete logic and massive gaps. And, frankly, no one you really care about in the story.

Generally, there isn’t enough for lovers of the game series, nor enough to bring in those that have no previous investment in that universe. That pretty much makes it a pointless couple of hours and a dead end for what should have been a solid franchise. I know a number of you will still want to ignore these comments, as I ignored other’s, and will sit down to watch it. Just remember, I tried to stop you.

Assassin

Power Rangers

Okay, let’s be clear, this isn’t a movie for adults. It is fun, entertaining, and adults won’t be bored, but it is aimed squarely at the tween and teen set. Oddly, many parents brought very young kids to my showing, but none of them freaked out. However, I bet there were some interesting questions and conversations afterwards as well. Definitely a PG-13 kind of movie.

As an origin film, it is really well thought through, taking its time to build the characters and, generally, the relationships. There is nothing overly complex about any of the characters or their worlds, though much is suggested. But, like the magic/tech that drives the Rangers, there are a lot of leaps in logic and action without a heck of a lot of explanation or groundwork. Frankly, that’s alright in this case. Power Rangers knows what it is and revels in it. We know what it is and accept it. I will say that there is a lot more character and emotion in the movie than there ever was in the show.

One of the real wins they had with this flick was the cast. The actors are young, and a mix of experience, but they gave it everything they had. Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott (Terra Nova), RJ Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), Ludi Linn, and Becky G. work well together and do manage to build a team over the course of the movie.

Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) is suitably absurd as their nemesis, or perhaps a bit too much so. And, as their support and guides, Bryan Cranston (Kung Fu Panda 3) and Bill Hader (Inside Out) are just paternalistic and silly enough to make it work.

Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) definitely found the balance he needed for his audience. And writer Gatins (Flight) respected his characters as having brains rather than just trying to move along the action or hit the Ranger moments that most of the audience was anticipating.

I have no idea how they go forward with this story in an interesting way. As a one-shot, I was satisfied, due to the amount of time devoted to story over action. However, given its success, there will be others and with the ground work done it is likely to focus on the action going forward. Can’t say that would be a big draw for me. However, this first one out, if you have any memory of the show, is worth seeing it big screen.

Power Rangers

Kong: Skull Island

Ok, this is the nth reboot of this tale, so let’s admit there is only so much new they can bring to it, especially as they are consciously rebuilding the monster universe that dominated the latter half of the 20th Century.

And who would have suspected that Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer) would be the one to take it all on again, especially as his second feature? I do have to say, though, that despite a rather stellar addition to the writing team  of Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) to Max Borenstein (Godzilla) and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed), the ultimate tale was mostly just set up for whatever is coming next (and if you stay through the credits you’ll know what that is).

Still, they got some things right. The framing of the story is interesting, sweet, and new for the franchise. They also didn’t hold back the monkey till late in the film… he’s right there near the top. Get it out of the way, we all know what Kong looks like anyway. Smart. They also did some nice greatest hits of Kong through the film and avoided the ape meets girl silliness.

The only big ape really going for the girl is Tom Hiddleston (High-Rise) getting to know Brie Larson (Room). Both did fine jobs in limited roles. And John C. Reilly (The Lobster) brought some much needed levity to the survival story without totally devolving into slapstick. However, John Goodman (Ratchet & Clank) and Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan) were just, frankly, bad. It isn’t entirely their fault, their stories were weak and relatively unsupported. They worked hard to get us to believe, but it was all just so cheap. The rest of the cast has some nice standouts, such as Shea Whigham (Radio Free Albemuth), but are generally interchangeable and forgettable. Even folks like Toby Kebbell (A Monster Calls) just fade away in what is demonstrably an action flick where life is cheap and the point is the visuals.

So, is this one worth it? On its own… maybe, sorta. As part of whatever is getting built up, it may become more meaningful and interesting. For now, it’s a good ride and loaded with pretty pictures, but not what I would call ground breaking story or genre busting caliber.

Kong: Skull Island

The Mechanic: Resurrection

Looking for some brainless, low-rent Bond or, perhaps, Transporter with a slightly better script, even if not as well directed? This film could distract you for a night. It isn’t great, but it has some rather entertaining moments.

Unfortunately, it is also cookie-cutter predictable and thin on script logic. Though it did manage to win one award: Most Egregious Age Difference Between the Leading Man and the Love Interest.

But, honestly, that was the least of the issues in the movie and not one that actually bugged me. Jessica Alba (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) is no shrinking violet in this film and if she wants to fall for a seriously fit guy like Jason Statham (Furious 7Safe), yeah I could buy it. Why they didn’t also take advantage of Michelle Yeoh’s (Morgan) physical chops, I’m not sure.  At least Tommy Lee Jones (Jason Bourne) got to have some fun.

But all that aside, this is simply an escapist bit of action. It wasn’t a complete waste of 90 minutes, but I won’t ever need to see it again.

Mechanic: Resurrection

Logan

This is the Wolverine you’ve been waiting for. This is the Logan we deserved. Definitely the best of the stand-alone Wolverine movies, and very nearly the top of the X-Men series as a whole (absent Deadpool, which is a class unto itself). It is also a great completion to Logan’s cycle and saga; it is told with heart, humor, action, and even with a bit of real honest-to-god literacy. There are psychological levels to this story that are subtle but very much thought through.

Logan, the character, has always brought a darker edge to the candy-ass PG universe we’ve certainly enjoyed, but was always “lite,” if you will. Logan, the film, is everything you’d expect from this particular storyline, full of pathos and bathos, and a tad of dark humor along with its emotional impact and carnage. And the more adult rating allows it all to feel just that much more real.

Hugh Jackman (Eddie the Eagle) will be able to proudly wear the mantle of this character through the rest of his career without cringing. And Patrick Stewart (Ted) brings out aspects of a 90+ year old Xavier that are great. Completing the main cast, Dafne Keen, in her first major role, kicks some serious butt and shows incredible range for a young actor. 

Director/co-writer James Mangold wasn’t an obvious choice to run this final outing. With the Kate & Leopold script behind him and Knight and Day as director there isn’t a direct line to this kind of production, despite having directed The Wolverine. (His fellow writers Frank and, particularly, Green had more on point, but still not expected matches.) But, without question, he pulled this off well. What we get to experience is something more akin to The Professional or Gloria than the typical tale from this universe. There are high stakes and big evil plans and mutant powers, sure, but they are the window dressing for the plot and I mean that in a good way. There is substance on screen, not just pretty lights and pictures.

If you’ve never cared about Wolverine, this probably isn’t the place to start as so much of it depends on Logan’s baggage. But if you ever liked him, you really can’t miss it on the big screen. It is worth every minute in the seat and Mangold gave it all room to develop and breathe.

[If you want a long, detailed, and spoiler-rich discussion of the source material, “Old Man Logan,” there is a good one over at Vulture. There is also a nice overview of the character’s movies and impact over at Fandor.]

Logan