Tag Archives: Action

Hotel Artemis

[3 stars]

This had so much more potential than it achieved. The idea, an odd mash-up of The Purge and John Wick: Chapter 2, is loaded with talent, just not with a script or director.

The emotional core of the story, such as it is, rests with Jodie Foster (The Beaver). Her characterization and efforts are filled with promise, but don’t fully pay off even if they drive the tale. The fault here is the script, not Foster, who brings a lot of subtlety and physicalization to her Nurse.

Foster is assisted by an oddly devoted Dave Bautista (Escape Plan 2: Hades). There isn’t anything new on screen here from him, but he serves his purpose. Likewise for Jenny Slate (Venom), who swings into the story late, but with nice complications.

Staying in the hotel are an unsurprisingly motley crew. Sterling K. Brown (Predator) leads that list, continuing his breaking out onto the big screen by leveraging what he does best. Brown’s intensity combined with his ability to remain vulnerable always makes him interesting to watch and relate to. He helps anchor Foster’s storyline with his own. Brown is joined by a lithe, bitingly cold, but not particularly surprising, Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond), and an absurd Charlie Day (Pacific Rim: Uprising). Each has aspects to add to the overall plot, but neither feels entirely grounded or real (by choice or presentation).

And then there were the smaller, but linchpin roles by Jeff Goldblum (Le Week-End), Zachary Quinto (Hitman: Agent 47), and Brian Tyree Henry (Widows). Each one is a domino to fall in the interlaced tales that drive the Artemis. None is particularly believable, though Henry doesn’t really misstep so much as not have as much to work from in the script as the other two. They all try to wring what they can from their characters and situations despite the shortcomings.

Like I said, loaded with talent. So what went wrong? Director and writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) never quite gets the pacing right, nor was he able to balance the emotions in a way that sells the situation and the characters. From the outset, the movie is off on the wrong foot with stupid choices made by supposedly practiced criminals. Setting it against a city-wide uprising was an interesting choice, but that reality was a story convenience that never did more than force the plot rather than enrich the tale or issues. When you start with something as obvious as naming the hotel for the goddess of the hunt (and, to a degree, chastity), you sort of know where you’re headed and where you’re not.

I’m not saying this is entirely a waste of time. Some of the performances, Foster for instance, are interesting to watch. There are some good fight scenes. The cinematography and production design are engaging. It just isn’t what it could be and it isn’t particularly good. Depending on your mood and what you’re looking for, it may work better for you than it did for me.

Robin Hood (2018)

[3 stars]

If you want the short version: this is a empty romp with a lot of problems, from production design to script choices. However, it does manage to entertain and have some good action scenes. If you’re looking for a great movie or a solid reimagining of the myth, look elsewhere.

Now for the longer version.

Robin Hood is one of the most remade tales in movies. Part of that is that it’s public domain. But a very real part of it is that it resonates with people, especially in times of great inequity. This is certainly one of those times and, done well, it should have been a break-out hit. With affable talent like Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and Jamie Foxx (Baby Driver) there was appeal and ability displayed on screen. Support from Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One), Eve Hewson (Bridge of Spies), Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan (The 9th Life of Louis Drax), and the redoubtable F. Murray Abraham (Isle of Dogs) didn’t hurt either, though not all of these actors had substance to work with.

Director Otto Bathurst, in his first big-screen credit, is better known on TV; not easy TV either. Having directed the first Black Mirror episode National Anthem, I would have expected a more astute political mind at the helm. Robin Hood, instead, is all over the place. It isn’t just an action film, though there is plenty. It isn’t a political statement, like V for Vendetta or even Ben Hur, which it makes nods to. I mean, it quotes Hillel the Elder, but can’t seem to follow-through.  Instead we’re left with some weird half attempt at both while committing to neither. In other words, a very unsatisfying movie.

Writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly are both newbies to this level. They needed someone with a bit more experience helping them to pull this story off. The fact is they had an interesting place to start. They ask us, literally, to forget everything we know about Robin Hood and launch into a nice revision of the story that has potential… and then they devolve into the story we know, but with a framework that doesn’t work. We don’t even really connect with the characters or the populace because we’re never given that chance in this, admittedly, fast-paced tale.

Add to these plot questions some of the most embarrassing production choices I’ve seen in a major film, and it gets even more frustrating. I don’t normally focus on costumes, but when you can see machine seaming on clothing and modern leotards on characters, not to mention perfectly forged metals, it tends to throw you out of the Middle Ages. I think there was a thought to pulling something of a Guy Ritchie and saying “screw the era, I want them to see themselves in this film.” Well, it failed on that level too.

So, yes, you can feel justified missing this if you want. It certainly isn’t great. It won’t translate to small screen well, but you can wait for it if you don’t care about that. On the other hand, if you can get a cheap seat or really love these actors, you’ll have a diverting couple hours. Just go in knowing they are trapped in an inferior reboot and are going to do the best they can. Yes, that was the long version.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

[2.5 stars]

What a bloody mess this movie is.

Director David Yates (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) tried to make up for the lack of script by going with lots of pretty effects, which are impressive, but often add little to the story. And even a lot of that eye candy was hard to watch and took very little advantage of the technologies in Atmos or big screen. What story there is from JK Rowling, is practically impossible to follow.

I’ll admit that I didn’t have much hope going in. The first Fantastic Beasts was a visual feast, but not a great movie either; it was really just all set-up. This second of the five planned chapters had to kick it up a gear and get things really rolling. I had hoped for at least a fun distraction and the next chapter in the story, but instead got a half-baked idea full of plot holes and pointless characters. Just a ridiculous waste of time. Even though the cast gave it their all, the story and the final cut did them no service.

Jude Law (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Johnny Depp (Sherlock Gnomes), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) all bring their talents to bear. Admittedly, none bring anything particularly new to screen, but certainly they do well. However, other returning characters added nothing to their stories. Even Ezra Miller (Suicide Squad) was practically a prop, with no appreciable moments despite being at the center of it all.

But you may have noticed that there are no women in that list. This movie, despite the current cultural wave and a female demigod of entertainment at one of the  helms, is driven entirely by men. Worse, the women that were strong in the first movie are made into weak ones in this. Zoë Kravitz (Kin), Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant), and in particular Alison Sudol (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) were all made into side characters or dumbed down into thin representations. And the one gift character, Claudia Kim (Avengers: Age of Ultron), despite her power, was just window dressing.

Here’s the thing with successful franchises like Harry Potter: If you want to continue the stories, you have to continue those stories or risk losing your rabid following. Such was the risk with Fantastic Beasts when it left Potter, if not Hogwarts and all the characters, behind. [Need proof? Search for Harry Potter on Netflix and Fantastic Beasts doesn’t even appear, though it does eventually on Amazon Prime]. It can be done, but it takes excellent writing and some patience. And I certainly understand Rowling’s desire to not be hemmed in or defined so narrowly that she can leave her pseudonyms and write something new under her name, even if it is derivative of her best known opus. But she clearly needed more time to craft this new epic. The first movie was tolerable and had promise. This second plays like half an outline that was rushed out. And there was so much potential given where the world is at present. FB2 is neither a kid’s film nor an adult one. But, hey, on the up side, it is also long.

Seriously, this is for die-hards only. It will probably continue on, but hopefully Rowling will realize she needs help and the studio will insist on getting her some going forward. Because, if this is the quality we’re going to get for the rest of the series, they might as well quit now.

 

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

[2.5 stars]

When Stieg Larsson died in 2004, he left us all hanging on the intended fate of Lisbeth Salander. His first three books weren’t the entire journey he’d envisioned. His fourth book will never see the light of day due to legal stupidity and family greed. And the final six lived only in his head. However, his remaining legal family licensed out the characters and commissioned more books, starting with The Girl in the Spider’s Web. I refused to support the ongoing book series, but I couldn’t resist checking out the movie. I wish I had.

Despite some real effort on the part of Claire Foy (First Man), this is a hollow movie with no heart at the core. The gap is in the plot and the script, which assume you know the previous stories (and are willing to forget parts of it as well). The story also veers radically from the central drives for Salandar and her relationships in the world.

This is most notable with Sverrir Gudnason (The Circle), who does a fine job of acting, but he isn’t Blomkvist. He’s far to young and pretty. And he has no emotional thread to grasp; though one is indicated in the script, the story isn’t there. He is a complicated man with complicated relationships, not just a foil or convenience with which to move the plot. Even the usually entertaining hacker Plague, Cameron Britton (Mindhunter), was somewhat flat in this story.

Three new characters were introduced into the series. Stephen Merchant (Logan) probably had the most levels to play with because the writers had to give him a story; we knew nothing about him from the beginning and it is his actions that start the plot. On the other hand Lakeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You) is OK, but sort of cookie-cutter American NSA from a European point of view. The writers assumed actions would obviate the need for character on his part. They were wrong.

More surprising was the lack of a character for Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049) playing Lisbeth’s sister. Forgetting how this and the rest of the revised/ignored backstory affects the series canon, there were rich possibilities for this woman, none of which were plumbed.

Director and co-writer Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) did a beautiful visual job with the film. He also managed to capture the Swedish emotional sense with a lot of the characters. But he failed to recognize the weaknesses in the script and fight for better. And he allowed cliche to triumph over effort by some of his cast.

So the core issues of this come back to the script by writers Steven Knight (November Criminals) and Jay Basu. It feels like they took a passing knowledge of the books and decided to take those characters and throw them into a standard story. There is a small nod to the core of Salander’s, saving women or reacting to injustice, but that is simply there as a short grace note before dropping her into a Bond-like story that just isn’t a good fit and doesn’t further her purpose. However, and in some ways worse, some of the law enforcement research is awful, making the Swedish police and secret service into idiots.

So, to sum up, this is a somewhat mediocre action film and a very poor continuation of the Millennium series. Foy does a game job capturing the character, but never really gets to emotionally explore or expand her. As a stand-alone flick, without any knowledge of the base tale, you’d be watching a rather empty action movie with some clever bits to it. And there are some good moments and aspects, but this could have been a triumph, especially in the current climate. I’ll leave it to you whether or not to spend you time with it.

Overlord

[3 stars]

If you were somehow lucky enough to miss all the ads and trailers for Overlord, stop now and just see the movie blind. Honestly, the studio really did the flick a disservice by telling you what it was about. Part of the fun of the film is watching it all getting revealed, and they took that from me in spades.

OK, from here out I’m assuming you’ve seen the trailers and the ads. You’ve been warned.

Sure this is nothing but an update to Resident Evil by way of Dunkirk, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. It is, in fact, fairly well done and full of good moments, surprises, and the kind of splatter that combination would suggest. There is also a real sense of a good war film here that goes, shall we say, quite sideways. It is well shot and really rather well acted by most of the leads.

Jovan Adepo (Fences) is our way into this band of brothers…and it is very much a bro film. But Adepo gives it both heart and sense of danger. From early on it is clear that no one is safe in this story and that registers clearly for him, and through him to us. The machines of war quickly begin to eat up the people we meet.

Alongside Adepo fight a mixed batch of characters that each bring different levels and layers to the story. Wyatt Russell (Ingrid Goes West) is the seasoned veteran there to run the mission. John Magaro (Carol) is the smart-mouth jackass who nevertheless proves his mettle. And Mathilde Ollivier, in an early film for her, gives them something to fight for and just a touch of badly needed estrogen in the film. In a smaller role, but fun to see, is Iain De Caestecker (Lost River, The Fades) who does a great accent and has a bit of fun.

Arrayed against this motley gang are the Axis. Only a single Nazi stands out worth mentioning in that bunch: Pilou Asbæk (Ghost in the Shell). While it is a somewhat scenery chewing depiction of a German officer, he manages to find some balance, though not any heart. He certainly finds the creepy, which was his purpose in the tale.

Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) delivers a very watchable, enjoyable, and surprising movie for his Sophomore outing. Sure it is of a particular genre, but he doesn’t treat it that way. He treats it like a film about war, people, and the horror of what it takes to win and survive. Part of that success was the script from an unlikely pairing of Billy Ray (Hunger Games) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant). Both writers have a wide range of styles, but of very different sensibilities. Playing off the real events of Operation Overlord gave the two a solid underpinning for the story and its drives that allowed their talents to mesh well.

This was originally rumored to be a Cloverfield universe film. It is, in fact, designed much like those movies…slowly unrolling layers that end with unexpected aspects. But it isn’t part of that franchise in any other way. I wish the studio had believed in the quality of the film and allowed it to surprise and gather an audience. I get that it would have been challenging given the genre mash-up. Folks going for a war film would have been pissed and those showing up for pure horror would have been confused and angry that it doesn’t really become that till more than halfway through. But the story is compelling, well-paced, and nicely delivered. Definitely worth the big screen if you like either mashups, splatter horror, or both. And Avery is definitely a director you’re going to be seeing again, regardless of how Overlord legs out or not at the box office.

The Bodyguard

[3.5 stars]

A six part series that can keep you off balance to near the end is a rarity. The Bodyguard delivers on this point. Richard Madden (Oasis) is the largest part of that success. He brings painful and unexpected layers to the character willing himself between ice block and utterly vulnerable.

In addition to Madden, UK mystery/suspense stalwarts Keeley Hawes (High-Rise), Gina McKee (Line of Duty), and Pippa Haywood (Scott & Bailey) each bring different kinds of strong women to the tale. There are some other familiar faces, such as Stuart Bowman (Versailles), but despite a male lead, this is a heavily female-driven tale. One real standout is Anjli Mohindra (Bancroft) who has really grown up since the Sarah Jane Adventures.

The finale episode is this show’s only real stumble. The breathless rush to the ending confrontation is well orchestrated but is done primarily to (hopefully) keep you from noticing the bad plotting and choices. It works emotionally, but it is utterly wrong technically. Squint a little and you’re fine. It frustrated me mainly because up to these moments it had been so well done. The show as a whole is still very much worth the viewing time, but it is a slightly flawed resolution.

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