The only movie reviews you need

All you need to know in 3 short paragraphs because honestly, who wants to read more?

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Do replicants dream of electric sheep?

Ridley Scott’s 1982 cyberpunk neo-noir thriller ‘Blade Runner’ is considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, a thought-provoking meditation on what it means to be human set in the rain-drenched neon-lit dystopia of 2019 Los Angeles.  As the film’s protagonist, Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard is a hard-boiled bounty hunter in the mold of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, an android-hunter who ended up falling for one.  As far as replicants go, he could do much worse than the femme fatale Rachael (Sean Young).
 
35 years later, acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve (‘Sicario,’ ‘Arrival’) continues the BR saga 30 years after the original with ‘Blade Runner 2049.’  While diehard BR geeks still debate to this day as to whether Rick Deckard is a replicant himself, there is no ambiguity in BR2049 that Ryan Gosling’s “K” (Unit KD9-3.7 to be exact) represents the latest in cutting-edge replicant technology, a model that’s fully obedient to his human masters and poses no danger of joining a replicant freedom movement like his rebellious Nexus-6 predecessors.  As an unrepentant blade runner himself, K’s journey of self discovery in BR2049 also (like Deckard) made him question authority and seek redemption as he slowly unravels the juicy mystery central to the movie’s plot.
 
Complex, visually stylish and deeply satisfying to genre fans, BR2049 is a worthy follow‑up to the 1982 original.  When you think that Philip K. Dick couldn’t have written the story any better, the screenwriters (in this case Hampton Fancher and Michael Green) must have done something right.  BR2049 sucks us in with its compelling and slowly unfolding plot, intricate world‑building and future tech (including flying cars and cool holograms) and never lets up, making the 163-minute movie seemingly not so long at all.

Grade: A
 
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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Made in America

Shaking off his lackluster performance in the recent ‘The Mummy’ remake, Tom Cruise returns to form in ‘American Made,’ the “inspired by a true story” account of the life (and death) of Barry Seal, an airline pilot recruited by the CIA to conduct aerial reconnaissance on Central American Marxist revolutionaries who also moonlighted as a drug smuggler for the Medellin cartel during the 1980’s (my favorite decade).  Real life stories are often compelling and can be stranger than fiction, and ‘American Made’ certainly qualifies as one of them.
 
Set during the Reagan era, ‘American Made’ is a nostalgic trip down memory lane.  The US is recovering from the energy crisis but facing the spread of communism in its own backyard in the guise of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  With the specter of Vietnam still making direct military intervention impossible, the new president sought to fight a low-intensity shadow war by proxy against the Marxist insurrectionists.  If the movie is to be believed, Seal was instrumental in this effort, first conducting dangerous low altitude photo-reconnaissance missions in a twin-engine plane for the CIA before directly supplying AK-47’s to the Contra “freedom fighters” in their half-hearted fight against the Sandinistas.  There is simply nothing Seal couldn’t do; he was also a regular errand boy for the US government in its underhanded dealings (as in bribery) with a certain colonel at the time in Panama by the name of Manuel Noriega.
 
While Cruise may be deemed too handsome and lean compared to the man he portrayed in the film, his natural charisma and commanding performance carried the movie along with its snappy pacing and near constant sense of danger.  Seal was one of those “adventurous” people who loves to play with fire and court disaster, and his exploits in the movie consist of one tightrope walking act after another as he worked both sides of the law to his own advantage even if it ultimately proved to be his undoing.  Director Doug Liman demonstrated a flair for the dramatic in this riveting docudrama, portraying Seal as neither good nor evil but simply human, warts and all.

Grade: B+
 
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Where hath all the Kingsmen gone?

Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was a mayhem-filled, rollicking (and very R-rated) joyride of a movie which went on to gross over $400 million globally.  Based on the comic book series created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, ‘Kingsman’ is an over-the-top James Bond spoof with an unlikely former street punk in the role of the quintessential British “gentleman spy.”  With stylish action sequences ripped right out of ‘The Matrix’ trilogy and a cast of flamboyant and colorful heroes and villains, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was a pleasant surprise in 2014.  Therefore it isn't exactly a surprise that it caught a case of sequelitis in ‘Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle.’

K2:TGC pulls no punches and starts off with some high speed heavy-metal fisticuff action inside a London cab between Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) and Charlie Hesketh, a disgraced former Kingsman trainee who appeared in the previous film.  Soon afterwards (spoiler alert!) Kingsman HQ and various other stations in Her Majesty’s realm were destroyed by a well-coordinated missile strike, killing all Kingsman (and one Kingswoman, the spunky Roxy) in one fell swoop.  The villain, or villainess rather, this time is Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a June Cleaver-like yet ruthless drug Queenpin with a thing for Elton John who rules over her own domain, a 1950’s-themed (think “Happy Days” or “Grease”) jungle paradise somewhere in Cambodia.  We also learn that “Kingsman” has a heretofore unknown sister organization in the United States aptly called “Statesman.”  I know, how silly right?
 
Being a sequel, the question now becomes: “Is K2:TGC as good as the original?”  The critics have answered that question with a resounding “Hell, no!” which is not unexpected of course, but in my humble opinion K2:TGC actually held its own quite well.  I try not to judge a sequel too harshly and found the movie to be an action-packed, over-the-top, entertaining and fun romp despite it not being quite as good as the original.  My suggestion to y’all is just to sit back and enjoy the ride as the unabashed popcorn flick that it is.

Grade: A-
  
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Killer Klown from Underground

Following closely behind the box office disaster that was 'The Dark Tower,' the big screen adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 horror novel "It" proved to be a much bigger draw after four weeks of theatrical release, having raked in over $550 million worldwide on a budget of $35 million.  The first chapter in a two-part series, 'It' is one of the best and scariest movies in recent memory.

While I vaguely remember the TV mini-series back in 1990 starring Tim Curry, I was keen to revisit the quaint and homely (but fictitious) town of Derry, Maine.  As the sinister and malevolent “eldritch demonic entity of evil” in this unassuming small town, Pennywise the Dancing Clown ranks easily as one of the most terrifying movie monsters ever imagined, and you don’t have to have a case of jester-phobia for the “Clown with the Red Balloons” to haunt your worst nightmares.  ‘It’ Chapter One introduces the uninitiated to Pennywise as he stalks and terrorizes a group of misfit teenagers, who must overcome their greatest fears and band together in order to banish “It” in his own lair, the creepy haunted house on Neibolt Street.
 
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What sets ‘It’ apart from other run-of-the-mill horror movies is that it is a coming-of-age tale with a lot of heart.  The seven kids in the film may be outcasts, but they are flesh-and-blood real people dealing with a myriad of issues.  And as bad as “It” may be, Pennywise isn’t their only problem; many of them also have to endure repeated bullying and parental abuse at home.  Fact is, you simply can’t experience this movie without getting attached to these kids.  I don’t know about you, but I’m already eagerly awaiting Chapter Two of this richly layered, immersive and utterly terrifying “American Horror Story.”
 
Grade: A

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Friday, August 25, 2017

The Bodyguard's Hitman

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson make quite the "Odd Couple" in director Patrick Hughes' high octane, no-holds-barred buddy action-comedy 'The Hitman's Bodyguard,' a movie in which a foul-mouthed Salma Hayek outshined (and possibly out-killed) both.  Part Quentin Tarantino and part Shane Black, THB is all fun and a reason why I love blood-soaked action comedies that don't take themselves too seriously.
 
Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a former CIA agent-turned-private bodyguard, excuse me, "protection agent" who's the best in the business.  In fact, he's "Triple-A" certified and had never lost a client, until he did which caused his impeccable reputation and career to take a steep nose-dive.  When Interpol was compromised in its efforts to escort Samuel L's assassin, Darius Kincaid, to testify against Gary Oldman's notorious dictator of Belarus at the International Court of Justice for "Crimes Against Humanity" (massacring civilians), Bryce was given a second chance for redemption and to regain his lost standing by an ex who was the lone surviving Interpol agent.  Bryce must safely deliver Kincaid while hitmen galore working for Oldman declare open season on them.  Can they survive?
 
After 'Deadpool,' it's refreshing to see Reynolds take on a more serious, straight-laced role while Samuel L gets to have most of the fun.  The chemistry between them is great, as is Salma Hayek, whom believe me you do not want to mess with.  But THB is not just your typical mindless mayhem, oh no.  It's also a tender romance (between Darius and Hayek's Sonia) set to classic love songs.  So it's really the perfect date movie if you think about it.
 
Grade: A-
 
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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Gunslinger & The Man in Black

Few writers had as much of their works mined for movie adaptation as Stephen King.  While the prolific novelist is considered to be the undisputed reigning “Master of Horror” and deservedly so, with most of his horror stories (novels and short stories alike) translated into films and mini-series, two out of three of my favorite adaptions of his extensive body of work are actually not in the horror genre, ‘Stand by Me’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ with ‘The Shining’ being the exception.  I admit I’m not the biggest Stephen King fan as far as his books are concerned (and I haven’t read most of them), but there are very few of his movies or TV mini-series I haven’t seen.  So despite the scathing reviews the critics have levied upon ‘The Dark Tower,’ I wasn’t about to break the streak.
 
Okay, so I haven’t read ‘The Dark Tower’ series either, but I figured that’s not necessarily a bad thing because I won’t be disappointed if the movie didn’t live up to the books.  TDT can be best characterized as a dark fantasy sci-fi western about Good versus Evil, a recurring theme of Stephen King’s.  In TDT we have multiple worlds and dimensions, a protagonist anti-hero in Roland Deschain (“The Gunslinger” played by Idris Elba) who’s sort of a knight in a western, and a soft-spoken evil wizard (“The Man in Black” portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) with the unpretentious name of Walter Padick.  There’s also the “boy with all the gifts,” 11-year old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who, as you might have surmised, holds the key to defeating “The Man in Black.”
 
TDT is a serviceable movie intended to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, but in light of its disappointing box office numbers over the weekend one can only conclude that it’s ill-conceived from the start.  By not being faithful to the book and in essentially making it into a YA movie, the vociferous TDT fans are not happy, but they’re not numerous enough to make TDT a financial success anyway.  OTOH mainstream moviegoers didn't exactly embrace it with open arms either.  While TDT was the number 1 movie last weekend, its $19 million in domestic ticket sales is the lowest of any “weekend box office winner” all summer.  “Serviceable” just isn’t good enough these days.

Grade: B

"The Man in Black"?  Isn't it the Men in Black?
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Lethal Beauty

Simply put, I love women who kick ass and look good while doing it.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about an angsty teen who slays vampires and monsters (Buffy), wet work-specializing femmes fatales who kill with their looks as much as their “very particular set of skills” (Sydney Bristow and Nikita), or comic book superheroines like the recent Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot.  It should come as no surprise, then, that Charlize Theron’s noirish Cold War spy actioner, ‘Atomic Blonde,’ is a “can’t miss” in my book.
 
Based on the obscure 2012 graphic novel ‘The Coldest City,’ ‘Atomic Blonde’ (the name itself sounds badass, doesn’t it?) is set in 1989 Berlin during the last days of the Cold War.  Even though the Berlin Wall is about to come down and a sense of chaotic euphoria is sweeping across the land, the spy game between the East and West still rages on.   After a British intelligence agent was killed and a list of names of every western spy (the Holy Grail in spy movies) falls into the hands of the KGB, veteran MI6 trouble-shooter Lorraine Broughton (the Atomic Blonde) is sent to Berlin to recover it and uncover a suspected double agent in MI6.  Yeah, the powers-that-be pretty much dropped her into a Hornets' Nest with no safety net.
 
If ‘Atomic Blonde’ reminds you a bit of John Wick, it’s probably because they’re both directed by David Leitch, whose camerawork and continuous-shot action sequences virtually set a new standard in action movies with his brutal and hyper-kinetic style.  Like JW, AB is an unstoppable maelstrom of poetic violence when unleashed, bloody and utterly uncompromising in a world of “kill or be killed.”  Punch-stab-kick and repeat.  It’s gritty yet also a thing of sheer beauty.  While there is a semblance of a plot filled with double-crosses and belief-defying twists, it merely provides a vehicle for Theron to wield her deadly arts and to satiate our thirst for visceral violence (and a good dose of gratuitous girl-on-girl action too).  Move over, Evelyn Salt.

Grade: A

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