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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Justice Denied

Pity DC.  Just when its cinematic universe, the so-called DC Extended Universe or DCEU, appears to be on the right track, finally putting its critical and box office troubles behind with the sensational success of the female-empowering ‘Wonder Woman’ this past summer, things came crashing back to harsh reality in ‘Justice League,’ DC/Warner Brothers’ highly anticipated super-powered team that’s supposed to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s ‘Avengers.’  Boasting such heavyweights as Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg and Superman (yes, he’s baaack!), you would think that JL should have little trouble crossing $100 million at the domestic box office on opening weekend with no major competition (‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is in its third weekend) in sight, but as the final tally came in, it appears that anything is possible.
To be fair, JL had what we might call “bad karma.”  One of its production companies is Ratpac Entertainment co-founded by Brett Ratner who, along with his mentor rap mogul Russell Simmons, finds himself accused of sexual misconduct in the current enlightened Hollywood climate. While women went in droves to see ‘Wonder Woman,’ most seem to have stayed away from JL despite Gal Gadot reprising her role in it.  Moreover, director Zack Snyder was forced leave the set in May 2017 due to a family tragedy (his daughter’s suicide), leaving the unfinished tentpole in the more-than-capable hands of fan fave Joss Whedon (‘The Avengers,’ ‘Age of Ultron,’ ‘Agents of SHIELD, BTVS, Firefly, etc.).  In light of Snyder’s track record (‘Man of Steel,’ ‘BvS: Dawn of Justice') in the DCEU, this change may be taken as a blessing in disguise, but even Joss isn’t Superman and only re-shot some scenes (ballooning the movie’s budget well north of $300 million), having little creative input at this late stage of the film’s development.  As a result, JL is plagued by everything the critics have mentioned: inconsistent tone and pacing, a paper-thin plot, underdeveloped characters, subpar FX, and topping it all off is a weak ass villain named after a short-lived '70's Canadian rock group.  Quite disappointing.
DC/Warner Brothers really had to bring its ‘A game’ to JL in order to try and catch up to Marvel, but instead of doing justice to ‘Justice League’ it laid an egg while second tier Marvel characters routinely perform better.   How?  Movie analysts and DC fanboys alike are still scratching their collective heads on this one.  Is it because there are simply too many superhero movies out there ("superhero fatigue"), or is it because mainstream audiences just don't find DC characters all that interesting, with the notable exceptions of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman?  I guess we'll find out in due course when Aquaman and Shazam get their stand‑alone movies.

Grade: C

Poetic Justice on the Orient Express

Kenneth Branagh stars and directs in the latest movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ featuring Belgian detective extraordinaire Hercule (not Hercules) Poirot, perhaps fiction’s most famous detective not named Sherlock.  Which begs the question “Why???!!!” because all one has to do is to watch (or revisit) the superb 1974 original directed by Sidney Lumet starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery and Vanessa Redgrave.  The answer is simple and pretty much the same whenever a “classic” is shamelessly thus remade: Hollywood may be creatively bankrupt and has to recycle old material every now and then, but it is also doing us a service by updating these classics for later generations of moviegoers who – unless they’re classic film buffs – would not have seen them in the first place.  A valid reason or an excuse?  You decide.

Nonetheless, many critics declared this “unnecessary” remake utterly pointless and DOA (58 percent on the Tomatometer), but MOTOE2017 actually holds up on its own quite well.  You would think that finding a cast that would do justice to an ensemble including such screen legends as Bacall, Bergman and Redgrave is no mean feat (which it isn't), but MOTOE2017 came pretty darn close with a power-house cast of its own featuring Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe and Branagh himself as the eccentric and mustachioed detective.  Am I being too lenient?  You decide.

If you’ve read the AC novel or seen the 1974 movie (or even both), there is likely no suspense here as to “Whodunit.”  Even the play on words that formed the title of this review kind of gives it away.  But like the namesake of its mode of transportation, it’s the journey and not the destination that matters.  Then again, I may be predisposed towards MOTOE2017 because I’m just a sucker when it comes to a good old fashioned “dinner party murder mystery.” 

Grade: A-


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The default president

LBJ might be regarded by some to be one of the most underrated and least understood chief executives to ever occupy the Oval Office.  Perhaps this is understandable, as the former Senate majority leader and conservative southern Democrat will always be remembered as the reluctant vice president who became president after Golden Boy JFK was assassinated and for escalating the highly unpopular “police action” in ‘Nam.  LBJ’s legacy provides a perfect example of how posterity can highlight the negative over the positive.  Eclectic director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Joey Hartstone attempt to redress this in the latest presidential biopic, ‘LBJ.’
The “honor” of portraying Lyndon Baines Johnson on screen goes to Woody Harrelson, the 56-year old veteran actor whom some might consider to be a bit underrated himself in light of his major awards-to-filmography ratio (no Oscars out of two noms, and one Emmy out of five noms for ‘Cheers’ back in 1989).  As if the snubs only drove him harder, Harrelson delivered one of the most dramatic and nuanced performances in his career as the 36th President of these United States, convincingly putting himself “in character” and imparting the foul-mouthed Texas firebrand with a passion and fervor rarely seen before.
A snapshot of the period before he became president and shortly thereafter in the early 1960’s, ‘LBJ’ is limited in scope and only provides a 90-minute glimpse of its complicated and conflicted subject, but it is no less compelling as we observe him stubbornly cling to his old ways, butt heads with Bobby Kennedy, deal with the reality of succeeding JFK in the aftermath of a national tragedy and break with his own political bloc (southern Democrats) by championing the Civil Rights Act which his idealistic young predecessor started.  While ‘LBJ’ is flawed (much like the character it portrays) and isn’t quite as good or memorable as Natalie Portman’s ‘Jackie’ last year, it is worth watching nonetheless.

Grade: A-

Ragnarok & Roll

The ‘Thor’ trilogy goes out with a literal bang in ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ director Taika Waititi’s rollicking and surprisingly fun (as in GOTG fun) take on the hammer-wielding Norse God of Thunder in the MCU.  So who is Taika Waititi anyway?  Isn’t he some famous Hawaiian or character from ‘The Lion King’ or something?  Well, no, the talented Kiwi (“New Zealander”) is the actor/screenwriter/director best known (before ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ that is) for the well-received indie vampire-comedy ‘What We Do in the Shadows.’  Look out, Peter Jackson.  Or not.
‘Ragnarok’ continues the tradition of sibling troubles we’ve seen in the dysfunctional royal family of Asgard.  With his Machiavellian adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) subdued after all the mischief (the Chitauri) he unleashed upon NYC, Thor only finds to his surprise and dismay that he also had a big sis whom his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banished for being overly belligerent and ambitious in her warring ways.  Cate Blanchett is “Hela” good, and dare I say sexy in black, as the powerful, evil and antlered Goddess of Death who returns to Asgard with a vengeance to claim her rightful place and bring glory to her home world through the might of her army of conquest.  Can Thor, Loki, a fallen Valkyrie-turned-scrapper (Tessa Thompson) and a certain green berserker with anger management issues put a flower in the barrel of her rifle?

Aw, baby brother's trying to stop me with his little toy hammer.  Cute.
While ‘Ragnarok’ is a dazzling spectacle jam packed with action and epic battles of Homeric proportions, what’s great about the movie are its lighter moments.  Aussie Chris Hemsworth may be known as a hunky action hero, but he does possess some comedic chops, and Waititi (who’s no stranger to comedy in light of his work on WWDITS and ‘Flight of the Concords’) injected ‘Ragnarok’ with well-timed moments of levity, including an intentionally badly acted scene featuring the cameo of a well-known actor portraying a dying Loki in classical tragic fashion.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Good Day to Die Over..... and Over

It’s ‘Groundhog Day’ meets ‘Scream’ in ‘Happy Death Day,’ Blumhouse Production’s latest horror-comedy clearly aimed at the millennial set.  Blumhouse Productions, renowned for striking box office gold with such low-budget gems as ‘Paranormal Activity,’ ‘The Purge,’ ‘Split’ and ‘Get Out,’ has done it again with this $4.8 million slasher flick featuring an unknown actress but an intriguing concept, which already recouped its “meager” budget 10 times over after only two weekends of its release.
Imagine that you die at the hands of a stereotypical masked slasher drawn from such Hollywood classics as ‘Halloween,’ ‘Friday the 13th,’ ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Scream,’ except that you would wake up the next morning “as good as new” and relive the day like Bill Murray did over and over again in that beloved 1993 cult comedy classic.  Of course, you vividly remember what happened the previous day (which also happens to be “today”), particularly the pivotal moment when you died gore-iously by the hands and deadly implements of an unknown masked killer.  Talk about re-living your nightmares!  This is exactly the inexplicable, surreal predicament in which the film’s sassy protagonist, a hot blonde college sorority gal (Jessica Rothe) with a rebellious and mean streak who doesn’t fit the vain and shallowly materialistic archetype of her peers, finds herself on her birthday.  Nothing says "I love you" quite like the gift of death for your birthday, I’d say.
For all its faults,’ ‘Happy Death Day’ is a fun and enjoyable movie this Halloween season (it was released on Friday the 13th).  Tree (Jessica Rothe’s character) is an engaging, self-deprecating and headstrong heroine whom we can easily root for as she tries and tries again (or should I say “dies and dies again”) to solve her own murder and unmask the killer with the help of her obligatory cute boy love interest, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard).  If only this is a video game.
Grade: B+

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

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+

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-

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.

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


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-

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?

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


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

2701: A Space Oddity

Prolific French filmmaker Luc Besson brings to the big screen the French sci-fi/action comic "Valerian and Laureline" by replacing Laureline with a gigantic space station hosting “thousands” of alien races in ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.'  V&TCO1000P is easily Besson’s most ambitious, sprawling, visually stylish and expensive gamble, I mean project, since ‘The Fifth Element’ starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich some 20 years ago.  Being a fan of T5E I marked this movie on my “to see” list ever since I initially saw its colorful and swashbuckling trailer packed to the gills with unique aliens and gee-whiz futurama, but in the deep recess of my mind lurked the nagging fear that it would turn out to be another ‘Jupiter Ascending.’  Therefore, I took care not to dial my expectations up too high.
Aside from the fact that I never read the comic which inspired it, that is perhaps why I enjoyed V&TCO1000P so much.  Major Valerian (Dane DeHann) and his comely and sassy blonde sidekick Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are elite agents of a special Space Police unit operating out of a giant space station named “Alpha” which hosts innumerable alien races (think Babylon 5 but much, much bigger) living in peaceful harmony.  A seemingly routine mission to recover a valuable device (a power converter) on a desert planet thrusts Valerian and Laureline into a web of deceit and intrigue involving a race of lithe, androgynous and translucent-skinned aliens.

Critics have faulted V&TCO1000P mostly for its weak and contrived story but come on, this is a Luc Besson movie we’re talking about.  While the plot isn’t exactly awesome or original for that matter, it is much more conventional and straightforward than, say, Besson’s ‘Lucy.’  With its campy humor, wild-eyed fantasy and high-tech Avatar-esque visuals, V&TCO1000P is a rollicking space opera that’s fun for the whole family.  I’ve learned long ago that Luc Besson movies are visceral experiences; don’t overthink them and just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Oh, and don’t forget the popcorn.

Grade: A 

No Small Miracle

The 1940 “Miracle at Dunkirk” is the subject of Christopher Nolan’s latest big budget feature, a vast sweeping WWII epic and passion project from the acclaimed British director best known for the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy and a couple of FX-heavy sci-fi mindbenders that start with an “I,” ‘Inception’ and ‘Interstellar.’  In turning an ignominious and unmitigated military disaster resulting from German “shock and awe” (aka Blitzkrieg) lightning warfare that brought France to her knees in a little more than two weeks into a symbol of British defiance, individual heroism and selfless sacrifice, the story of Dunkirk just begs to be re-told (there was a 1958 version apparently which I haven’t seen) to a modern audience who sadly know too little about world history.
The narrative of ‘Dunkirk’ is divided into three distinct but related parts.  “The Mole” follows a lowly British PBI (poor bloody infantryman) named Tommy (aren’t they all?) as he attempts to survive repeated Luftwaffe air attacks and reach “Home Sweet Home.”  “The Sea” is mostly told from the POV of a British naval officer (Kenneth Branagh) overseeing the evacuation effort and a yachtsman (Mark Rylance) who answered the call to join the hastily assembled fleet of private fishing vessels, yachts and ferry boats sailing toward Dunkirk.  Lastly, “The Air” is seen through the eyes of a RAF Spitfire pilot (Tom Hardy) who risks running out of fuel before he can return to base in order to provide air cover for the helpless (“where is the bloody air force?!”) Tommies who can only anxiously peer into the sky at the sound of approaching German bombers.
While the non-linear storytelling and down-in-the-dirt POV are effective in conveying the realism, chaos, fear, heroism and, yes, even cowardice one would expect in the unforgiving crucible of war and make for a harrowing viewing experience, the juxtaposition of the three subplots and the rapidly shifting perspectives achieved through cut scenes in editing prevented the movie from reaching greatness.  Even though the three parts did come together at the end (and two of them intersected at another point earlier in the film), it lacked the dramatic impact and emotional resonance of more linear war movies.  Nolan shouldn't have given 'Dunkirk' the ‘Memento’ treatment, but do go see it anyway because films such as this should really be watched on the big screen (unless you have a state-of-the-art home theatre system and don't mind the wait) so you can hear and feel the rumbles and reverberations of every explosion deep down in your very bones.

Grade: A- 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ape-pocalypse Now

The rebooted ‘Planet of the Apes’ trilogy comes to a fitting if somewhat sad conclusion in director Matt Reeves’s ‘War for the Planet of the Apes,’ the follow-up to ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (2011) and ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ (2014) which tell the story of how a human-engineered “simian virus” decimated humanity and made monkeys and apes the dominant species on earth.  A modern take on the POTA franchise of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s with prosthetic made-up apes featuring Roddy McDowall (few remember the 2001 Tim Burton remake starring Mark Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter), this new trilogy combined cutting-edge computer animation with facial mapping (notably Andy Serkis’s) to give the various apes in the films a hyper-realistic yet all-too-human quality.
So the (ape) shit finally hits the fan  in WFTPOTA and the war is on.  Going by its action-packed preview trailer one could easily come away with the impression that the conflict between homo sapiens and apes comes to a head and all hell breaks loose, but it’s actually quite a bit more complicated and nuanced than that.  Without giving away too much of the plot, suffice it to say that Woody Harrelson’s character (simply referred to as "The Colonel"), inspired by Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now’ and Caesar’s key nemesis in the film, didn’t have the luxury of solely focusing on wiping out ape-kind.  There’s a bigger picture at work here.
Even more so than the previous ROTPOTA, Caesar carries the weight of his people’s deliverance on his tired shoulders while Woody Harrelson’s “Alpha-Omega” paramilitary faction seeks to enslave and ultimately destroy them.  This Caesar isn't one to cross the Rubicon and challenge the humans in a war of annihilation where only the strongest survive.  Like Jesus, Caesar is more likely to extend an olive branch to his enemies with turn-the-other-cheek humility and grace, even if they shove it right back in his face.  Is peaceful coexistence between humans and apes even possible?  Not if "The Colonel" still draws his last dying breath.

Grade: A


The Wishing Box

Teenagers love scary movies, even the bad ones.  It’s hard to go to a horror movie nowadays without noticing that a majority of the audience seems to be 20 or under, and a good portion of that even much younger.  Now that I think of it, I was probably one of them back in the day, since I’ve been a horror aficionado/gore-hound for as long as I can remember.  It’s no surprise, then, that the folks behind the ill-fated teen-centered horror flick ‘Wish Upon’ believe they had a built-in audience for their movie.  Well, they were dead (excuse the pun) wrong.
‘Wish Upon’ recycles the well-worn tropes of the “101 ways to die” ‘Final Destination’ franchise, providing it with a new twist by replacing the Grim Reaper with an evil octagonal Chinese demon box.  This weird and somewhat creepy music box, as the movie’s young protagonist Clare (Joey King) discovers, can fulfill all her adolescent dreams, such as literally causing the mean girl tormenting her in high school to rot and making the boy whom she secretly crushes on dump his hotter girlfriend and fall for her.  However, every wish has a price and Clare comes to the belated realization that her shallow and selfish desires are better left unfulfilled as they could very well consign her soul to damnation.
‘Wish Upon’ is a dumbed-down ‘The Box’ without the moral dilemma or surreal artsy trappings, a horror-lite clearly aimed at the 25-and-under demographic.  It’s a rather vacuous and gimmicky movie, but hardly an unexpected one considering such films’ relatively low budget.  I’m sure its disappointment at the BO will not discourage producers from making similar movies in the future, but I will have to try a bit harder steering clear of them though I fear I may not be able to resist ‘Happy Death Day.’  I’m so easy.

Grade: C


Requiescat in Pace

In so many ways they never truly die....



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Diary of a Teenage Superhero

Our friendly neighborhood web-slinger returns to the big screen once again in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming,’ the second reboot and third Spidey film franchise in the last 15 years.  The first trilogy from ‘Evil Dead’ writer/producer/director Sam Raimi starring Tobey Maguire was an unqualified success even if the last film fizzled out, but the reboot with Andrew Garfield as the wise-cracking superhero disappointed both critically and commercially and was canceled after just two installments.  This prompted Sony Pictures, which owns the rights to the title as long as they keep rebooting it every 10 years or so, to collaborate with Marvel Studios and properly integrate Spider-Man into the rich and highly successful MCU.  It turned out to be one of the best decisions Sony ever made (are you listening, ‘Fantastic Four’ rights owner 20th Century Fox?).
After his well-received debut in ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ Tom Holland takes over the mantle in the brand spanking new franchise as the youngest Spider-Man to date.  Holland’s Peter Parker is only a geeky 15-year old navigating through the minefields of adolescence and high school like any other teenager, except he’s not your typical high school sophomore.  After his brief stint as a probationary Avenger on “Team Iron Man” in ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ Peter Parker is eager to further develop his crime-fighting skills on the not-so-mean streets of Queens, New York, but his mentor Iron Man just told him to “settle down and get back to school, kid.”  It’s like giving a kid his first taste of ice-cream and then taking it away.  Not to be discouraged, Spider-Man keeps patrolling the neighborhood and is finally rewarded for his perseverance when he stumbles upon the arms-dealing schemes of the Vulture (Michael Keaton) and his henchmen, who came across some cool Chitauri tech while pulling clean-up duty after the Battle of New York in the first Avengers movie until Tony Stark’s Department of Damage Control rudely stepped in and took over jurisdiction.
The verdict is in.  ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ is a refreshing take on my favorite Marvel superhero.  It is entertaining, fun and a highly promising start to a Spider-Man franchise that had gone stale for so long.  Tom Holland (who first opened my eyes in this moving film: The Impossible) is great and bestows Peter Parker version 3.0 with a wide-eyed wonder and youthful exuberance we haven’t seen to this extent before.  He’s also terrible at keeping his identity a secret, as you’ll see throughout the movie (and the last line in the movie is classic).  But let’s cut the kid some slack shall we?  He’s new at this superhero gig.

Grade: A

Gru & the Gang Part III

In the genre of family-friendly CGI animated movies, the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise is easily among the most beloved and successful. The four films released to date (including the ‘Minions’ spin-off) have already garnered over $3 billion worldwide, making it one of the most lucrative animated franchises of all time.  So what gives DM its widespread appeal?  The legion of unintelligible but lovable Twinkie-like minions, surely, but let’s not give the other characters short shrift because DM is a family affair with Gru, Lucy and the three girls who give the franchise its heart.
DM3 sees villain-turned-agent Gru (Steve Carell, voiced by that is) foil the pink diamond-thieving ‘80s supervillain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), only to be fired by the new head of the Anti-Villain League for failing to apprehend him.  Along with Lucy (Kristen Wiig), who resigned A-VL in protest as a show of solidarity, and his three adopted girls, Gru visits his long-lost twin brother in the kingdom of Freedonia and is tempted to return to the life of supervillainy he thought he left behind until Bratt re-enters the picture and successfully steals the pink diamond to power his giant robot for the purpose of destroying Hollywood in revenge for canceling his ‘80’s TV show.  And that, my dear readers, is the story of DM3 in a rather compact nutshell.
I won't lie to you.  The “laws of diminishing returns” is at work in DM3 here.  The story isn’t all that great and the series is suffering a bit of fatigue.  But that’s to be expected and perhaps unavoidable in the final analysis.  What’s important is that DM3 should give fans of the DM franchise what they wanted and keep them happy, and it did that admirably well considering the fact that it made nearly $450 million worldwide after only its second weekend.  As for me personally, what I particularly liked about DM3 are its throwback ‘80s soundtrack and Japanese-inspired Giant Robot mayhem.

Grade: B 


Monday, July 3, 2017

License to Drive

Like many of you, I've been a big fan of British director Edgar Wright ever since his breakthrough zomedy hit ‘Shaun of the Dead’ back in 2004.  His two follow-ups in the so-called “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,” the buddy-cop shoot-em’-up action-comedy ‘Hot Fuzz’ (2007) and end-of-the-world bodysnatcher apocalyptic comedy ‘The World’s End’ (2013) were also great, even if SOTD is still considered to be the best among them.  Likewise, his movie adaptation of the graphic novel ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' (2010) was brilliant if underappreciated.  I was therefore disappointed when he was attached to direct the ‘Ant-Man’ movie, then abruptly left due to “creative differences.”  No matter, because as his latest film ‘Baby Driver’ has shown, the 43-year old Wright is better off writing original material than having his quirky genius crimped by a major studio like Marvel anyway.
Set in Atlanta (like last year’s ‘Triple 9’ reviewed here: 999), BD dispensed with Wright’s long-time British partners-in-crime Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in favor of a much more American cast boasting some major league talent in the forms of Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and a couple of Jon’s (Hamm and Bernthal).  The film also features two young newcomers in baby-faced Ansel Elgort and the hot-to-trot Eiza Gonz├ílez and gave them a chance to shine, the former as a reluctant getaway driver with the mad skills and cool nerves of a NASCAR driver and the latter as the saucy and spicy Latin “Bonnie” to Jon Hamm’s Clyde.
While BD’s plot isn’t exactly new being a variation of the “decent fellow who wants to leave his life of crime behind but finds it easier said than done” theme, Wright managed to give it a fresh spin with its unique protagonist and colorful cast of criminals.  In many ways this movie is also Wright's homage to heist movies, rom-coms and funky soul music from the 60's and 70's.  Not only does BD work as an entertaining cops-and-robbers flick but also a romance with plenty of heart and soul (music), as Wright proves once again that he has a singular talent for blending comedy with humanity and a healthy dose of gratuitous R-rated violence.  I love it.

Grade: A


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How to Survive a Shark Attack

Despite its obvious flaws I quite enjoyed last year’s ‘The Shallows,’ a movie about a cat-and-mouse game between a Great White Predator and Blake Lively’s hapless surfer-in-peril (reviewed here: Blake Lively kicks Shark Butt), so when the new Jaws-inspired movie ’47 Meters Down’ came under my radar I just knew I had to see it.  One blurb even called it “the best shark film since Jaws,” so you’ll have to forgive me for jumping the shark, I mean into my local mega-plex to see it the first change I got.
The basic plot of 47MD is bloodily simple.  Easy-on-the-eyes siblings Kate and Lisa (Aussie actress Claire Holt and singer/actress Mandy Moore) go on vacay in Mexico to help the latter get over her recent separation with her boyfriend, who had the gall to break up with her because he considered her “boring.”  Needing to send her ex-BF a “FU, you don’t know what you’re missing” and reasoning that “I’ll be enclosed in a sturdy steel cage and people did it all the time, so what could possibly go wrong?", Lisa (who does seem to be a tame and risk-averse gal in the movie) threw caution into the wind and reluctantly allowed her wilder and more spontaneous little sis Kate to talk her into going on a cage dive in shark-infested waters after a couple of local young eligible bachelors they met at a bar the previous night suggested it.  What could possibly go wrong?  The law of “Murphy” of course.
I was disappointed.  After sitting through a third of the movie following the sisters around with all their girl-talk and issues before they become shark bait, the big payoff I expected never materialized.  Unlike ‘The Shallows,’ the tension and suspense failed to build-up to a level that kept me at the edge of my seat, and the sense of danger and peril were sorely lacking in this film.  47MD may be more realistic in its depiction of real-life shark encounters wherein a survivor lived to tell the Shark tale, but sometimes movies have to ratchet it up a few notches and over-dramatize things to keep us interested even if every marine biologist tells us that sharks aren’t the aggressive, human-chomping monsters pop culture made them out to be.  Even the original ‘Jaws’ went pretty far, right?  And I was shaking my head in utter disbelief when I saw the (spoiler ahead) faux ending sequence in which Lisa fought off tooth-and-nail the shark that had her firmly in its grips by ripping one of its eyes out, but then I read this hard-to-believe story: How to Survive a Shark Attack.  Regardless, I still liked the badass, don’t mess with Blake Lively ending of ‘The Shallows’ much better.  Sorry, reality is just soooo boring.

Grade: C+

All in the Family

I admit I am a bit of a sucker for low-budget indie horror and have, as you might expect, seen my share of both good ones and bad.  For every ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Get Out,’ there is an ‘As Above, So Below’ and ‘Ouija.’  There are movies that were critically maligned that I somehow enjoyed, such as the unabashedly exploitative ‘The Purge,’ and ones that critics raved about that I thought aren't very good, like the highly overrated ‘It Follows.’  The latest such movie to get a wide release is A24’s ‘It Comes at Night’ which falls somewhere in between being just so-so. 
‘It Comes at Night’ (don't ask me what comes at night because I still can't figure it out) can best be characterized as post-apocalyptic survival psychological suspense horror (now that’s a mouthful).  A family of three comprising of a father, mother and their teenage son (played by Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live in a secluded house in the woods of an unspecified location in America.  A plague or disease of unknown origin has ravaged the world outside, and the characters’ (and by extension the audience’s) situation awareness is so limited that all we know is what’s happening in the "here and now. " When another family of three including a little boy seeks their aid and appeals to their humanity for shelter, they agree to take in the family for mutual support and companionship. However, even sympathetic gestures such as this can lead to tragedy and disaster in the end.
While this glacially paced movie is fairly well written and solidly acted, it is not an easy film to watch.  Not only is ‘It Comes at Night’ bleak, depressing and devoid of hope even by post-apocalyptic standards, its dark and tragic ending defies Hollywood conventions and leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.  Be forewarned.  All ye who enter this movie abandon hope because there is none to be found.

Grade: B

The She-Mummy

Universal Studio’s much ballyhooed “Dark Universe” appeared to be off to an inauspicious start in producer/director Alex Kurtzman’s ‘The Mummy,’ the latest incarnation (or is it reincarnation) of one of Hollywood’s classic monsters harking back to the days of Boris Karloff.  Lambasted by critics and shunned by moviegoers, ‘The Mummy’ bombed with a disappointing domestic take of $32 million on opening week and suffered a steep 60 percent drop over the past weekend.  The final nail seems to have been driven into the $125 million dollar movie’s coffin before you can ask “What the hell happened?”  Well, something funny, that’s what.  With the savvy Tom Cruise at the helm, ‘The Mummy’ proved to be a mega-blockbuster hit overseas, particularly in China.  The film has now grossed nearly $240 million worldwide, of which less than $50 million came out of the North American market.  Just let that sink in for a minute.  What would Hollywood do without the Chinese?
The critics are right though.  The story (credited to Kurtzman, Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumet)  is pretty bad.  Cruise plays Nick Morton, a sleazy ex-Special Forces sergeant and shameless tomb raider who had no qualms selling priceless artifacts that belong in museums on the black market for personal gain.  When he accidentally awakened the mummy of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess who sold her soul to Set and murdered her own family for the throne but was thwarted in her quest to become queen of Egypt, Morton must draw upon every ounce of his wits and ability in order to prevent worldwide catastrophe with the help of archeologist and out of central casting cookie-cutter blond sidekick Jenny Halsey (Anabelle Wallis).
The main problem with ‘The Mummy’ isn’t that it’s unwatchable.  The problem is that it cannot be judged on its own merits without comparing it to the 1999 version directed by Stephen Sommers starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah.  While that movie was no masterpiece by any stretch, it was fun and the perfect Indiana Jones-inspired popcorn flick.  By contrast, this latest is a weak effort that’s a sloppy slapdash mish mash of various influences, and the film suffered for it stylistically and tonally.  I mean, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, really?  Also, Cruise and Wallis lacked the sheer on-screen chemistry of Frasier and Weisz.  If anything, this film brings to mind another expensive and messy failure, 'Van Helsing,' whose director happened to be the same guy who directed the 1999 version.

Grade: C

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Princess Diana of Themyscira

Superhero moviedom gets a good dose of “Girl Power” in DC Extended Universe’s ‘Wonder Woman,’ director Patty Jenkin’s highly anticipated and “trail-blazing” film featuring a superheroine in a genre overrepresented by men (just ask yourself, how many such movies end with the suffix “Man”?).  Much hand-wringing and no small amount of feminist drama, including a controversy over WW’s shaved armpit (hairy armpit "controversy"), preceded the movie’s release as Hollywood held its collective breath to see if the world is finally ready to embrace and, more importantly, financially reward a movie with a female headliner.
Having made more than $100 million over its first weekend in North America and twice that globally, we can all now breathe a sigh of relief.  Not that there’s really any doubt, since WW was well-received and a bright spot in 2016’s ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (reviewed here: Bats vs Supes: Dawn of Justice), her very first appearance in the DCEU.  Israeli stunner "what a Gal!" Gadot was nothing less than gorgeous as the Amazonian Goddess Diana Prince, the greatest warrior princess on an invisible island full of Xenas.  After British pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) unwelcomely crash lands on her secluded island paradise, she joins him and embarks on a mission outside her sheltered world to stop Ares (as in the God of War) and put an end to man’s greatest folly, which happens to be World War I at the time.
Relying on familiar storytelling tropes such as the opening scene in which an old war photograph from Bruce Wayne triggers her story via flashback, WW’s origin is a nostalgic affair reminiscent of the story of another idealistic red, white and blue-clad do-gooder who fought Germans during the last century in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger.’  Partly set in London during the early 20th Century, WW also provides some levity in the way of a British comedy of manners.  And even though Zack Snyder stepped aside as director this time his influence is still evident, like the 300-esque visual style and jerky slow motion action scenes throughout the movie.

Grade: A


Monday, May 22, 2017

Prometheus 2

As an aficionado of just about anything 'Alien,' Ridley Scott’s latest film in the 38-year old franchise, ‘Alien: Covenant,’ may be my most anticipated movie of 2017.  Five years after 2012's 'Prometheus,' which I thought was pretty darn good (so sue me) even if it had too much "Space Jockey" (Engineer) and too little Alien, a new installment is long overdue as far as I'm concerned.  And the gorier the better!
‘Alien: Covenant’ takes place in 2104, about 10 years after the events which expired, I mean transpired in ‘Prometheus.’  Centering on the crew of the space ship “Covenant” in cryogenic stasis entasked with transporting 2,000 settlers to a habitable planet dubbed Origae-6, only to be rudely awakened prematurely to deal with an on-board crisis before responding to a garbled and mysterious transmission from an unknown planet nearby which just so happened to be suitable for human habitation without the need for terra-forming.  Sounds familiar?  Needless to say, they encounter hostile Xenomorphs of various types on the planet.
While ‘Alien: Covenant’ is undeniably a direct sequel to the divisive ‘Prometheus,’ it can also be considered to be a prequel to ‘Alien’ and hews more closely to the 1979 original than perhaps any of the other films in the official Alien canon.  With deadly Xenomorphs skittering around the confined corridors of Covenant preying on soft fleshy things that die messily, the claustrophobia-induced anxieties and nail-biting suspense of that original Ridley Scott film are rekindled.  It's also perhaps by no accident that the movie’s heroine, Daniels "Dany" Branson (Katherine Waterston, whose pedigree is impeccable given her lineage), somewhat resembled the young Ellen Ripley.

Grade: A-

Alien Covenant

Short Live the King!

Poor Guy Ritchie.  The ex-hubby of Madonna and director of entertaining British Jason Statham‑starring crime capers such as ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’ just can’t catch a break.  Less than two years removed from his unenthusiastically received big-screen adaptation of the campy ‘60’s spy series ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ (reviewed here: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), his latest feature, the $175 million sword-and-sorcery epic ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,’ only managed to fall on Excalibur instead and disembowel itself at the box office.  Ouch.
Intended as the first entry in a new King Arthur/Knights of the Round Table franchise (now in doubt undoubtedly), KA:LotS retells the story of Arthur’s (Charlie Hunnam) origin, starting from his father King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) being betrayed by his power-hungry and treacherous uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) to his eventual restoration to the throne.  The story is a familiar one, albeit updated with the latest visual effects, a contemporary sensibility and the quippy rapid-fire dialogue that has become a trademark of Guy Ritchie movies.
It’s not difficult to see why KA:LotS crashed and burned so badly both critically and commercially.  This latest retelling of one of our most cherished legends is a decidedly messy affair that’s hard to digest.  While boasting a talented cast, most of whom did okay, the film is pretty much “all sound and fury, signifying nothing” while lacking substance with an over-abundance of action.  Shamelessly riding the coat-tails of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ visually and stylistically, KA:LotS seems content to dish out one overblown set-piece action sequence after another, never slowing down enough to show that it cares about the characters or ponder their significance.

Grade: D 

Iraqi Sniper

The latest movie about America’s tragic, never-ending war in the Middle East is ‘The Wall,’ a low-budget affair directed by Doug Liman (‘The Bourne Identity,’ ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith,’ ‘Edge of Tomorrow’).  With a mere budget of $3 million and a cast of two, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and WWE superstar John Cena, ‘The Wall’ is at first glance intriguing but ultimately an unsatisfying war movie that takes a lo-fi minimalist approach.
Johnson and Cena play sergeants Allen Isaac and Shane Matthews, a US Army sniper team sent to investigate a pipeline construction site that’s “gone dark” in the middle-of-nowhere desert wasteland of post-war Iraq.  After patiently observing the now quiet kill zone where the private contractors were killed for nearly 24 hours, the pair broke cover in order to recover equipment only to find themselves pinned down by an unseen enemy, a cunning and ruthless Iraqi sniper who takes particular pleasure in playing mind games with his hapless victims (namely Isaac).  The only thing separating Isaac and his sadistic never-seen adversary is a length of crumbling brick wall, which provides the setting for virtually the film’s entire length.
Even though I’m as much a fan of do-or-die cat-and-mouse sniper duels as anyone (I thought ‘Enemy at the Gates’ was good and enjoyed ‘American Sniper’ despite its blatant rah-rah jingoism), ‘The Wall’ just didn’t hold my attention or interest long enough.  In the wake of his bravura performance in ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ Johnson proved once again that he can act (although Cena was pretty much a non-factor after he ran out and got shot), but the movie’s limited by an overly thin and sparse script that would have trouble holding our attention for 60 minutes, much less its 81-minute running time.

Grade: C-

the wall

Monday, May 8, 2017

Galaxy Quest

2014’s geektastic ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (reviewed here: GotG) is an excessively fun and humorous galaxy-spanning romp in the MCU and a bona fide smash hit which exceeded all expectations at the worldwide box office, so it comes as little surprise that the follow-up would garner inflated expectations.  With such a tough act to follow, can writer/director James Gunn and company deliver and satisfy the legions of comic book fans renowned for their hard-to-pleaseness?  Inquiring minds want to know.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2’ continues the wild and wacky misadventures of our unlikely band of privateers-for-hire comprised of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon and a pint-sized “I am” Groot, who can’t seem to shake trouble wherever they go.  After narrowly escaping the wrath of a gold-painted former employer, the motley crew of misfits are called upon to save the galaxy yet again, this time from none other than (spoiler ahead) Peter’s long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell), who’s a god-like sentient living planet of all things.
Like the original, GotG2 is a candy-coated rollicking rollercoaster ride of a movie, but this time with family dysfunction at its core.  Not only did Star-Lord have a misty reunion with the dad he never knew, green-skinned Gamora was also reunited with her sister Nebula, who wanted to kill her because she blamed Gamora for what their cruel dad Thanos did to her by being “too good” in their sibling rivalries.  But the real hero in the movie is the rough-around-the-edges Ravager leader with the blue skin and red Mohawk, Yondu (Michael Rooker), who showed us in the end what being a true father is all about. 

Grade: A