Tag Archives: sequel

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

Samurai Jack (series 5)

After a 13 year hiatus, there was definite trepidation around how this magnificent series would revive; the dead so often don’t return with their souls intact. I needn’t have worried. Despite the gap in time (appropriate in some ways) and the move to computer graphics, Samurai lost little, if any, of its original sense and sensibility. Its minimal graphics were very much in its favor, and the return of Genndy Tartakovsky to oversee and run the result kept it on track. Even the loss of Mako as the voice of the great evil Aku didn’t slow it down.

In some ways, this is the best of the series. Before it was very episodic without much of a trajectory other than the increasingly scaling fights with Aku. The universe always expanded with new characters and ongoing interactions, but seasons never felt like they had a shape. This final series has a very definite shape and a eye to its ultimate ending.

If you like Samurai Jack, you have to see the end of the saga. If you somehow missed it before, discover it now and not have to wait over a decade to have your hunger sated for an ending. Samurai remains as good as ever and as beautiful and as poetic as it began.

Samurai Jack

Prime Suspect (1973)

Dame Helen Mirren (Collateral Beauty) cemented Jane Tennison as one of the bedrocks of British mystery, and one of the strongest and most complicated women to make it to screen. You cannot think of Jane Tennison without thinking of Helen Mirren in that role. The show had a much vaunted 7 series run (1991-2006) that still enjoys reairs today.

But how did Tennison become the ballsy, broken, insightful DS we bade farewell to 11 years ago? Since 2006 several other unforgettable detectives have been given the prequel treatment. Endeavour and Young Montalbano come immediately to mind as especially successful forays into that territory.  These shows provide(d) both a continuation of series when the original show either had no where to go or when the original actor was no longer available, and an opportunity to understand the characters in a new way. We love their quirks (good and bad), but rarely know how they came about. For instance, Morse’s love of Opera, Montalbano’s love of seafood, and, of course, their love lives and tendency to drink.

Tennison was definitely ripe for this treatment. However, while the casting physically wasn’t bad, with Stefani Martini (Emerald City) in the lead role, the writing by series creator, Lynda La Plante, and Glen Laker just wasn’t as complex and solid as their competition. Had this series come out five years ago, I think I would have been much more impressed. But what the other two examples manage, and which this missed, was the steady building up of the character we know. Every episode of Endeavour, for instance, adds one of his traits or clearly leads to it.

Compounding my frustration with the series, I just couldn’t see Tennison in Martini. Even by the end of the 6 episode arc, there is only the barest hint of the Tennison we followed for over a decade. Whether that issue should be laid at the feet of Martini (lack of research?) or director Caffrey, I can’t be sure, but the fault doesn’t matter so much as the effect. What I got was a good mystery, but not so much a peek into the driving formation of Tennison herself. Or, not as much as I’d have hoped over 6 episodes.

I am willing to give them another bite at the apple on this one. The story of this particular series was interesting. The cast solid, especially with Alun Armstrong (The Hollow Crown), Jessica Gunning (Pride), and slew of other recognizable faces. It isn’t bad and there is definitely potential and room for growth. I would hope they would look around and realize that these kinds of shows require something just a bit different than the typical Brit mystery. They have a legacy to support and an audience to re-engage.

I have to say that with all these prequel and existing series running, I now have a dream to have a cross-over that starts with Endeavour, goes to Prime Suspect, then into George Gently, and finally ends, years later, as a cold case for Vera. For fun, you could involve Montalbano somewhere in the Gently cycle as I think they’d overlap by the next Gently series. As long as each kept their own sensibility, it could be a fabulous romp. If you really want to go crazy you could bring in a few of the longer running, cozy mystery series as well, but I think that would shatter the illusion of a single world.

Product Details

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

Evangelion: 3.3 You Can (Not) Redo

OK, yeah, I’m done.

After 2.22 I was gritting my teeth, but wanted to finally, maybe, understand the story as it got beyond the original, epic and classic series. But while there is a bit of information and explanation, and it is just as pretty as ever, it has just gotten boring and repetitive. On top of the issues of plot, Shinji even beats out Harry Potter for whiny-ness and lack of ability to act. Sadly, unlike Potter, he doesn’t have any positive qualities that make me want to back him.

But this installment isn’t even the last… there is another (at least) to come. But, given who is left, I’ve frankly stopped caring if humanity survives… I’m not sure they should.

There are plenty of great, new anime to fill your time with; don’t waste it on this series retread. It isn’t visually enhanced so much nor that much more story that it is worth your time investment. If you haven’t seen Evangelion…then the choice is yours, but I think the original series, for all its flaws and incomplete ending, was more satisfying.

Evangelion: 3.3 You Can (Not) Redo

Bridget Jones’s Baby

I’ve admitted many times, I’m a hopeless romantic. I do require good stories and well-made presentations, but I like a good love story as much as I love good action, mystery, horror, science fiction, fantasy, etc. But love stories are a little different. They are designed to make you feel like things are possible, that life is surmountable, and we give them a bit more breathing room to make their points. They’re “good for what ails you,” as the saying goes. Of course, when done well, they become instant classics. When done middling, well, they have their moments and we tend to then forget them when the next one comes along. That said, I also cannot abide saccharine or gooey romances. I need more a sense of real life… aka humor and a bit of challenge.

The Bridget Jones series, while imperfect, falls nicely into that category. After a 10+ year hiatus, it has also finally resolved itself in a final burst of entertaining frustration and silliness. By now you know the rhythms and jokes, but this script doesn’t make the mistake of trying to make older characters pretend they’re younger… the story picks up more than a decade down the road from Edge of Reason. Of course, these are still the same people, they’re just older so the issues remain relatively similar, just with characters more sure of how they should go about mucking it all up. Bringing back director Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones’s Diary) helped with that as well.

Renée Zellweger (Bee Movie) recaptures Bridget solidly. This is a character that will stick to her career, seemingly, forever. And, of course, the redoubtable Colin Firth (Genius) is there as well. However, it is Patrick Dempsey (Flypaper) as the third line in the triangle for this finale, rather than Hugh Grant. It adds a nice freshness and avoids directly sending everyone to their well-known corners. Bridget’s friends are still in play, but the additions of Emma Thompson (A Walk in the Woods) and Sarah Solemani (Mrs. Henderson Presents) lift the rhetoric and amusement quite a bit. Thompson even had her hands in the script.

As a completion to the tale, this is a nice wrap-up. It is a bit frustrating as the tangles created take some rather forced moments and choices, but it is all within the bounds of character and rules of the story. If you enjoyed the previous two, you should see the wrap-up. If you have never found this sort of silly rom-com palatable, this isn’t the film that will change your mind.

Bridget Jones

Ouija: Origin of Evil

There is something especially fun about movies that know what they are and embrace it. The first Ouija movie was entertaining. Not brilliant, but with enough originality to get me back for this prequel. This second installment knew it had an uphill battle. Going backwards rather than forward was a smart move for the story. But that opened other challenges… was their audience really going to be interested in a story from the late 60s, before a man had even orbited the globe?

To help tackle that, director Flanagan (Oculus) decided to embrace the nostalgia, much like Stranger Things. It opens with the Universal logo from the era and even has the marks on the film for reel changes (and occasional audio clues to reel changes as well). It doesn’t make the film better, but it acknowledges what it is and offers some amusing memories for those that even recognize what they’re seeing. That sensibility allows the necessary distance to just have fun with relatively well understood tropes.

Helping things along, Elizabeth Reaser (Hello, My Name is Doris), Annalise Basso (Captain Fantastic), and Lulu Wilson (The Millers) all bring great performances to what could have been laughable silliness. They are all endearing and believable. Wilson, in particular, manages a level of clinical evil that is nicely disturbing. And, completing the nostalgia trip (though about 20 years the wrong era), is Henry Thomas in a key role, who is best known as Elliot from E.T.

There are cheap scares in this film as well, but it is the credibility the 3 women bring to the screen that make it work as a horror movie. This film does bring the creepy and the disturbing… and nicely, though not unexpectedly, bridges to the first Ouija film if you stay through to the end of the credits. It isn’t anything particularly new, but it was a fun ride if you like these kinds of rides.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

John Wick: Chapter 2

Stylish, brutal, and a great object lesson in inflexible rules and unchecked power. Oh… and wonderful counter-programming for Valentines Day!

This is that rare event where the sequel is actually better than the first movie.  The first chapter of this soon to be three part tale was a rocky start. After the initial brutality of the opening, it was really just a violence fest (however creative). Still it was fun and creative enough to bring me back for round 2.

Director Stahelski and writer Kolstad ran with what they started and built on it. The violence remains matter-of-fact. You don’t get to revel in it (with one exception). Killing is a necessity but not necessarily entertaining like we’re used to in films. Most movies use the fight choreography as a reason to cheer or show how clever the hero (or antihero) is. Jack Reacher, for instance, has pauses and moments so you can enjoy the fight and support the cleverness and prowess of the violence. It is a form of catharsis, but one that diminishes the reality of actions. Wick, on the other hand,  just keeps going, putting bullets and knives in bodies as he wades out of the shark tanks he keeps finding himself in. It isn’t something he is proud of, it is something he just has to do to survive. He even actively attempts to avoid killing if he can by giving people choices. On this point Reacher and Wick are similar, but it really more the way the fights are directed that sets Wick apart from most action films.

This chapter of Wick’s saga picks up pretty much from the end of Chapter 1. The short opening act brings that previous story to a close while providing the necessary background and reminders to re-illuminate the world. Then there is a brief respite. Hey, it’s John Wick, of course it is brief. This is where the new movie leaps ahead of its predecessor. We have a real, believable reason for Wick’s jumping back into the fray. And it is quite the fray. Keanu Reeves (The Neon Demon) is back full-force.

Intersecting with him for various reasons and in various ways are  bevy of interesting characters. Ian McShane (Hercules), Lance Reddick (Bosch), and Common (Suicide Squad) on sort of the side of right, and Riccardo Scamarcio (London Spy), and Ruby Rose (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) aligned against him (or against him moreso?). However you slice this it is Wick vs. just about everybody thanks to the rules of the trade and a lack of flexibility to those rules when someone abuses them.

There are two obvious moments that could have easily defused or changed everything in this script, but they were avoided. One is a scene with Common and the other McShane. Each could have changed the tide but neither could see beyond the rules as they had always applied them.

Admittedly, these issues could be seen as flaws in the script, or they could be seen as the point. I prefer the latter. This is a society in decay and impending ruin brought on by its own choices and issues. The rot at the core of it are the shadowy, powerful folks at the high table. As Chapter 3 comes along, I expect to see a razing of the landscape and a new order rise, but that’s just a guess.

The thing you need to really understand about John Wick is that while the movies are great rides, they aren’t gleeful at all. You leave breathless but a bit put off and yet rooting for Wick all the way. I respect that the violence isn’t directly celebrated, even if it actually is and we do. The movie is a conundrum, but I think in a positive way. Violence and actions have consequences in Wick’s world. And he takes a serious beating trying to navigate it all; we just get to ride it out, arms in the air and screaming gleeful, bloody murder.

John Wick: Chapter 2