Tag Archives: Action

Blitz

[2.5 stars]

Despite a lot of potential, this is a middling action film masquerading as a police procedural…and not with a very good costume. The result is somewhere between a BBC mystery drama and Taken. And the problem is that neither is entirely believable, though the violence is definitely visceral and the cast fairly well put together (which is what got me here in the first place).

Jason Statham (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) is at center stage. He’s surrounded by serious talent here. And he needs to be the way he’s written. There is almost no real emotion to his character, who’s circling the drain as a burned out detective. In his nearest circle, he has Paddy Considine (The Death of Stalin) as his partner and Zawe Ashton (Velvet Buzzsaw) as his suffering mentee.  But a step away you have Mark Rylance (Ready Player One), Luke Evans (Murder Mystery), and David Morrissey (The City & The City). And then there’s Aiden Gillen (Bohemian Rhapsody) aligned against them all.

That is a pile of possibility…all of which director Elliott Lester, on the whole, squandered. To be fair, the script wasn’t particularly great, which was a little surprising. Adapted by Nathan Parker (Equals), I expected, or at least hoped, for more. I will grant that the pacing is pretty relentless.

Up to you on this one. I watched the whole thing, but would have happily missed it to rewatch the equally flawed, but way more fun, Transporter for my Statham action fix.

Blitz

Rim of the World

[3 stars]

Kid’s films are hard. Getting the balance of humor, action, language, not to mention age appropriate plot is a delicate balance. Zack Stentz’s (X-Men: First Class) script delivers a tween-level tale and language. Just enough action and language and challenge to sate a 13-year-old’s sense of adventure. Director McG (Three Days to Kill) pushed a bit hard on the broad humor, as he often does, but for this audience, he probably did good.

The result is an amusing, if utterly improbable, kids save the world adventure, with some nice bends in the typical characters. For example the main kick-ass in the group is the miniscule Miya Cech (The Darkest Minds). She also delivers almost all the best lines and keeps her wits about her to keep the group going.

The rest of the gang is the typical rag-tag Goonies-like group. Jack Gore (Ideal Home) takes the main focus. He has the only fully realized character in the movie, and the fullest arc, but it isn’t the most sparkling (which is Cech). He’s joined by Alessio Scalzotto, in a thin role covering the LatinX community, and Benjamin Flores Jr. covering the Black community. Flores, in particular, should slap McG silly for how he had him attack his character. It’s beyond painful at times.

But all of the weaknesses aside (and they are legion) the movie somehow remains entertaining and engaging. It has good production values, a high octane plot, big stakes, and makes adults look helpless. What more does a tween want in an adventure film where they get to be heroes? What’s a shame is that it could have been so much more if they’d approached it in earnest rather than in satire.

Rim of the World Poster

V for Vendetta (redux x)

[4.5 stars]

Still relevant…and increasingly prescient.

I’ve seen this film a dozen times or more. It never fails to amaze and recharge me. It provided me hope and entertainment when it first came out and, in the midst of the horrors of what has happened over the last few years, it provides me some glimmer of hope now.

But, I admit, this rewatch was particularly spooky; pandemics, economic crisis, social unrest, and authoritarian governments out of control all map eerily to today (even the death counts). With the nationwide marches rising up,  it is even more on point. However, this is a movie about taking back power and making government again afraid of its people, not the other way around. It’s a message we all need to hear and believe right now.

Hugo Weaving (Mortal Engines) delivers that message with an amazingly subtle performance, and without ever once showing his face. Natalie Portman (Vox Lux), as the unexpected heroine, was divisive in the role, but some of that was the foreshortened story in the Wachowski’s (Sense8) adaptation. The film is also loaded with UK talent: Stephen Rea (Greta), John Hurt (Jackie), Stephen Fry (The Hippopotamus), Rupert Graves (War of the Worlds), Roger Allam (Endeavour), Sinéad Cusack (Marcella), and Tim Pigott-Smith (Victoria & Abdul).

I recognize it isn’t a perfect movie (particularly regarding its lack of diversity). However, if you need an escape and a boost, it’s hard to beat this movie and its message as the delivery method. The end still practically brings me to my feet shouting in joy and with tears in my eyes as it did the first time. And, just let me say, I’d love to see one of our internet billionaires make the ending of this flick come true…that could be an amazing use of some of their windfall, and a way to unite a splintered populace.

V for Vendetta

RocknRolla

[?? stars]

It’s all a question of style. This 2008 Guy Ritchie (Aladdin) comedy-heist film is pure Ritchie. His natural voice and approach have a clear signature. It is a dark sort of comedy, with a lot of quick cuts, dry delivery, and violent action. And, for whatever reason, and despite its relative success and following, I just could not make it through this one at this time. Perhaps it’s the pandemic, perhaps my tastes have shifted, but people being that awful to each other for no other reason than greed, and no character having truly redeemable qualities, just isn’t an escape for me right now…it’s a horror show.

I realize this probably says more about me than the movie. And normally I wouldn’t even have written this up because I don’t believe this is a fair reflection on the effort…but that’s why I also didn’t actually rate it. If I were being paid for this effort, I’d have forced myself through and found a way to be unbiased, but since this is purely a labor of love, the hell with it. Life is to stressful and short right now to waste time on something that isn’t engaging me in any kind of positive way (which isn’t to say it has to be a positive movie…I love dark comedy).

So, with apologies to the most excellent cast and even to Ritchie, I’m passing on this one. I wish I’d seen it long ago when my mood may have allowed me to enjoy it, the way I have many of his earlier films. Maybe someday I’ll come back to this and be willing to take the ride. But not today.

RockNRolla

6 Underground

[2.5 stars]

Has there ever been an  explosion, car chase, quick-cut, battle, or inappropriately stupid joke Michael Bay (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) didn’t like? The answer is “no” to all these (again) in this hyper-charged action/adventure that went straight to Netflix.

Now the truth is that you’ve likely already seen this one…I know I’m way behind the curve. As much as I was looking forward to Ryan Reynolds (Pokémon Detective Pikachu), having Michael Bay in the driver’s seat was not encouraging me. And, as I expected, the result was uneven and beggared credibility at just about every turn. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining, particularly if you just wanted to turn off your brain and watch some very long and spectacular car chases and fights, but it wasn’t a great movie or one that required more than a single viewing.

The sign of a good action/adventure is that you want to see it over and over again, not just for the visuals, but for the personalities (if not also the story). Compare this to the even more recent Extraction on the same streamer. Sure it was action-heavy, but even with a less complicated plot, it has more complete characters; people we want to see again. And, in fact, that movie has a sequel in the works.

Adding to 6 Underground’s challenges, forgetting how it was handled by Bay, the script was surprisingly weak given that it was from the same team that brought us Zombieland: Double Tap and two Deadpools, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. Then again, they also brought us Life. Bay’s primary weakness is that he doesn’t recognize issues in the scripts he’s using because he’s just focused on the next big visual. He creates a pastiche rather than a story, from which he hopes we’ll knit together a narrative in our own minds while he worries about the pretty pictures.

Reynolds, though the binding thread of the story, is really part of a ensemble. Mélanie Laurent (Now You See Me), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Bless Me Ultima, Widows), Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody), Adria Arjona (Good Omens), Corey Hawkins (Kong: Skull Island), and Dave Franco (The Little Hours) complete their gang. While each, generally, has an amusing and entertaining character, there is little connection between them, even when they are being physically intimate. They’re just “types” and sounding boards for the plot and action.

Against them are a pair of brothers. Lior Raz plays a suitably horrid dictator, with his moderate brother Peyman Maadi (A Separation) as the semi-willing pawn being pushed into place.  These two probably have the richest characters in the entire movie. They have levels, conflict, and history. Heck, they even get actual endings and evolution, which is more than I can say for the good-guys team.

For a night of empty entertainment with some very expensive action gags to carry it along, this could be your go-to. If you want an actual movie, you probably want to look somewhere else.

6 Underground

Extraction

[3 stars]

If you’re looking for a nearly pure action distraction with just enough story to fig-leaf it as a movie, this isn’t a bad choice. It has high production values and solid, if somewhat repetitive, fight choreography. Think Black Hawk Down meets Taken or an alternate version of Mile 22. Basically, the movie is a nearly real-time view of a hostage extraction from overwhelming odds.

Stunt coordinator turned director Sam Hargrave does a fair job for his first feature outing, especially given the scope. But the adapted script from Joe Russo, who is better known as a director (Avengers: Endgame), is just too predictable and thin to support the two hours of action.

Chris Hemsworth (Men in Black: International) toplines this movie and brings a number of layers to his broken-down mercenary. He has both motivation and emotion between his bursts of necessary violence. There are only a couple other characters of note. The young victim is nicely played by relative new-comer Rudhraksh Jaiswal. It isn’t a breakthrough performance, but he gets a few beats are impressive…but he’s otherwise there as a foil/prop for Hemsworth’s battles, internal and external.

Two smaller roles are add some depth to the mayhem. Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson) has a small supporting role from which Hargrave manages to wring a good deal of information with her just looking silently. But David Harbour (Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein), delivers what he can with a ham-handed character; the script did him no favors.

Is this worthwhile as a film?…well, it isn’t a great film, but it is a well-made distraction if you’re in the mood for what it has to offer. It does show what Netflix is starting to become capable of as they start putting lots of daylight between them and their nearest competitors while we’re all locked away. Enjoy it for what it is. There are much worse of this genre out there, but it still hasn’t quite reached the quality on all levels I’d like to see the streamer achieve in the feature category. But it is getting closer.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

[2.5 stars]

Such promise and such lost opportunities. And what a waste of wonderful production design. I had such hopes for this, but Harley Quinn is a sidekick and she works best as a foil and commentator. As a main character, she is a challenge. A challenge the filmmakers failed to meet.

Christina Hodson’s (Bumblebee) script starts off appropriately hyper-frentetic, but never really finds a focus. And director Cathy Yan was very much out of her depth, taking this on as her first feature gig. The main issue doesn’t even quite become apparent till the final moments of the film, which plays into the title and the effort. But it is at that point that the issues crystalize.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Margot Robbie (Bombshell) isn’t entertaining. She isn’t brilliant, but she’s fun. And Rosie Perez (The Dead Don’t Die), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Gemini Man), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (True Blood), and newcomer Ella Jay Basco all deliver entertaining, if disconnected, performances to support Robbie and the movie. (Though I do have to call out that, though not an actor in her retinue, what a total waste of a hyena!)

However, the men are a bit less helpful. Ewan McGregor (Doctor Sleep) as the main big bad just never quite worked. His performance was forced and without the tense terror that Joker brings to his mayhem (pick your actor for that one). As his sidekick, on the other hand, I must admit that Chris Messina (Ira & Abby) surprised. He is barely recognizable as the bleach-blond Zsasz, and is suitably creepy as evil gopher and knife man. But their story, both together and as plot drivers, is nebulous and unclear at best. We get the bones of it all, but there is no sense of the power dynamics in the city, especially given what we know of Gotham.

So, if you really must see this, do it for the design (costume, sets, and cinematography are all wonderful) and for the one-liners or moments. Run with that and call it a win. But, honestly, you can put this way down your list and wait till its free.

The Magicians (series finale)

[4 stars]

I honestly didn’t think Magicians was going to survive the transition from season 4 and the exit of a major character. Not because they were such a great character but because they were a central lynchpin for everything else around them. It was part of what made the finale last season so effective. But where do you go from that?

The answer is to shake it all up. The loss is still there as an emotional ghost driving the machine, at least as a starting point. Characters all deal with the loss in different ways. But, smartly, the show has gone deeper into those remaining characters and, more importantly, even upset the seasonal structure. This round has a unique shape and, possibly, one of the best time-loop stories ever put together; certainly one of the best in a very long time.

This final season managed to be two seasons in one, packing a huge amount of story into the 13 episodes. And the last two episodes manage to wrap up a bundle of threads that leave it all very satisfying without closing off potential. The creators always knew this might be their last, so they worked hard to make this a season as well as a series finale, should it have to be. There is none of that lingering bitter aftertaste of incomplete tales.

The Magicians, overall, is a nicely arc’d five seasons. Sure it is loaded with angst and gratuitous sex and violence (and occasionally forced and overwrought), but all to make it feel different. This isn’t a pretty fantasy world, it’s dark and real and messy. Actions have consequences and people (and gods) disappoint… often. But it is ultimately satisfying and fun, even if it drifted so far from the original book material as to be practically unrecognizable to Grossman fans.

21 Bridges

[3 stars]

Director Brian Kirk’s first feature after decades of solid TV work is impressively put together from a visual, editing, and pacing point of view. In fact, the opening has one of the nicest visuals I’ve seen…I had to rewind and watch it again. But the script, from Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z) has several credibility gaps that, while attempts are made to provide reasons, made my procedural skin crawl. But let me come back to that. It wasn’t that the ride wasn’t entertaining, I think I just wanted more given the cast.

With Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) in the lead on the cop side, there is a solid sense of upright justice and drive. We trust him implicitly, even as we wonder at his naiveté at the overall aspect. With JK Simmons (Klaus), Victoria L. Cartagena (You) and others backing him, we watch the improbable and absurd plot spin out, violating more rules than are easily quantified here. So the trick is to just pretend and go with it…cause, why not? You put this on to escape, not think. (And after this week, when NYC is actually contemplating a city-wide lockdown due to COVID-19, perhaps I’m rushing to judgement.)

The targets and patsies of this fantastical heist and cop movie are Taylor Kitsch (American Assassin) and Stephan James (If Beale Street Could Talk). The two spin out their portion of the tale nicely as they, too, have to unravel what the heck is going on and why. A nice cameo by Alexander Siddig (Atlantis) helps all that along.

Now, back to that script: It is obvious there is more going on from the beginning, so that’s not a spoiler (and if it is, you really weren’t paying attention). However, none of the reveals are surprises, so the action feels drawn out beyond patience for the results. The entertainment value really lies in the various confrontations and reactions to the reveals rather than the information itself. Is that enough? Well, it wasn’t for its general release, but as a rental, it’s more than adequate to the task.

21 Bridges

Dotor Who (series 12)

[3.5 stars]

Honestly, I don’t know whether to be excited or infuriated by this latest series. There are so many possibilities and answers and openings, and yet it was executed a bit ham-handedly and, ultimately, rushed.

Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch) continues to grow her sense of the Doctor…and does so with aplomb. Our intrepid companions are evolving, though they have been pushed more to the side as the Doctor has gained confidence and energy. The dynamic of the foursome isn’t always smooth from a story point of view, but they all work well together. I think when Chibnall really gets a feeling of the reins, he could equal Davies first few seasons. But first he really has to get some guidance on what building an arc really means.

This season is very reminiscent of Moffat’s disastrous series 8 as show-runner; fractured and confused. Though I think Chibnall’s overall quality is significantly better than Moffat’s awful season. But Chibnall has struggled with the overall arc and flow. He also allowed the series to get “in your face” preachy about too many issues. The ideas, and even presentations, were fine, but the expositions were painful. The same ideas could have been imparted without stating it all out in detail. In other words, he didn’t trust his audience enough. Even kids would have understood the implications without the pulpit speeches. At least, I do think Chibnall has the sensibility of Dr. Who correct (unlike Moffat much of the time). I just wish he’d be a bit more Torchwood and a bit less Saturday morning kid’s show.

Overall, it wasn’t an unengaging season, and it has some things to chew on, but I’m hoping next round will have more control and shape.

And now, the play by play as the series aired, if you want to understand how I came to these statements.

By the episode (with spoilers): 

Spyfall (parts 1 & 2)
As a sendup of Skyfall, this Bond-like episode has a lot of fun and opens up some new avenues. However, I missed not having a stand-alone holiday special rather than just launching into the 12th series. In part I was also very, very frustrated with the revelation of the big bad. Not that Sacha Dhawan (Iron Fist) isn’t entertaining (if not exactly a Master I can get behind quite yet), but I really felt like that thread had been tied up ever so nicely during the Capaldi years. I suppose, however, that Chibnall just couldn’t resist trying to tackle one of the primary enemies and put his own stamp on it. What these episodes brought us, however, was the shape of the upcoming season with the reveals at the end. Was it worth it? I guess we’ll see.

Orphan 55
This episode starts off interestingly, but devolves into the worst kind of preachy science fiction that just doesn’t work well. Surprising as Ed Hime wrote one of the more challenging episodes from the previous season, It Takes You Away. It’s a shame as there were missed opportunities and, certainly, some fun riffs on Damnation Alley that could have taken the story in different directions. For instance, what if the Dregs were the results of virus infected terraforming tech that Kane was using. But, as it is, it’s one of the weakest episodes they’ve had a in long while. At least it was well directed and acted. And it was fun to see Laura Lane (The Loch) and Lewin Lloyd (Judy) in some different roles. Perhaps this is the one really weak episode this season (there’s always one)…and we’re getting it out of the early rather than late.

Nicola Tesla’s Night of Horrors
Well, I’ll give them this, Edison was portrayed at least a bit like the ass he was. The episode as a whole was OK. It’s another high octane, hand-wavy adventure in history, though this time on American soil with Goran Visnjic (Beginners) and Robert Glenister guesting as Tesla and Edison respectively. Fun, sure, and nice to see Tesla sort of get his due. it was also somewhat clever (and perhaps disingenuous) that Who elevates his ideas, even if the tragic aspects of his life remain.

I do have to wonder, after setting up the larger arc in the first episodes, why have we not even touched on it again yet? There aren’t that many eps to play with so waiting seems like a bad idea to me.

Renegade of the Judoon
Now this is what I’m talking about! This was the best and most complex episode of the season so far. It picks up the opening mystery and explodes it with two major reveals of multiple time lines and the delightful return of John Barrowman’s Capt. Jack Harkness. As a mid-season pivot, it’s wonderful. Why they dropped the thread for a couple eps escapes me as there is clearly a lot of material to work with. The mysteries should have at least been tagged into the intervening episodes to keep it more alive. But we’re here now…hoping the momentum continues and it’s a sprint to the finale.

Praxeus
Really? They couldn’t just keep focusing on the main thread? We had to have yet another “we’re destroying the planet” PSA? And, by the way, they’re getting a bit much and far too preachy in the writing. I know this is aimed at kids, but they’re smarter than the script allows for as well.

The episode is definitely an energetic and entertaining one. It even brings in Warren Brown (Good Cop), who gets to recap a lot of his characters in this one, but with some nice twists with the help of Matthew McNulty (The Paradise). But we just left off a huge revelation and there isn’t even a hint of that in this story.  There are only four episodes left and a hell of a lot to wrap up. Chibnall needs to get a better grip of his seasonal arcs and learn how to weave a whole cloth.

Can You Hear Me?
This fast-paced and energized adventure is great fun and sets up…something. Not sure what yet, but I don’t think this will be the last we know and see of these newest “monsters.” But the story is almost entirely off thread from the main series arc. At least it certainly appears to be stand-alone. What is clear from this episode is that we’re headed to some sort of change-over in, at least, the companions.

The Haunting of Villa Diodati
OK, here we are again with another view of the night Frankenstein was created (the most recent being Mary Shelley). Admittedly, this is a fun and unique use of that infamous (though more likely apocryphal) night. And it gets us back on the main arc…though with more questions than answers by the end.

With only two episodes left in the series, and the stakes and issues all finally at the forefront (although a continued aversion to discussing Jack or the other Doctor), I certainly hope they are both about wrapping all this up. This particularly story is fine, but because of the many recreations of this night, the trappings frankly felt a bit tired to me despite the creative concepts.

Ascension of the Cybermen
Talk about a long lead. Finally we are closing the loop begun in the first episode. This is an action packed story that raises the horror of the Cybermen another notch. While not an official two-parter, the resolution won’t come till next week’s finale. Frankly, not much really happens in this episode other than some adrenaline-based setup and the pulling in of at least some of the open threads. Mind you, there are still far too many left untouched, but I suspect that will change. I just hope the final episode of the series is super-sized so they don’t have to rush the resolution or, worse, leave it unresolved until the holiday special or next season. In other words, this was a fun and exciting episode, but not a complete or satisfying one on its own.

The Timeless Children
As I feared, this episode ended up rushed and, ultimately, open-ended. That said, at least we finally have an answer to Matt Smith’s regeneration from a few seasons back (that infamous number 13) which was never explained. You can buy into that or not, but at least Chibnall has attempted to provide an answer without shattering the canon. However, the depiction of The Master here, both by Sacha Dhawan and as written, is just over the top and weakly supported…and it flies in the face of the most recent incarnations. Sure The Master was always a bit off his nut, and a lot of that was due to his personal competition with The Doctor, but it needed more foundation and explanation throughout the series to get him onto a new path. And the one thing this episode never explained is how The Master survived the end of last season.

And, finally, the tag was more than a little angering. While it pulled back in aspects of the opening episode nicely, it leaves us utterly hanging at least until much later this year (with a possible special). I would have much preferred a conclusion and then a bridging special with tag into the 13th. It felt like a desperate attempt to get folks back after a mixed-result series.

Doctor Who