Tuesday, July 27, 2021

M. Night Shyamalan's "Old" isn't as bad as "The Happening" but doesn't compare to his early work either.

                                             

When "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" and "Signs" came out, I was still pretty young, but I was a budding movie fan. I hadn't seen a ton yet, but I definitely could see greatness in certain directors at the time. I thought by this time now, 2021, that we'd be calling M. Night Shyamalan as a 21st Century horror auteur. Sadly, he never quite got there. I hated "The Village" the first time I saw it, and as I've seen a couple times since, well, its not a great or good movie, but it isn't a total failure. I thought "The Lady In The Water" was a total failure though, and "The Happening" is Shyamalan's worst according to me. His adaptation of "The Last Airbender" was laughably bad to me too.

Then later in 2010, something special happened. M. Night Shyamalan had an idea to introduce his Night Chronicles brand. He created the Night Chronicles studio and planned to write and produce some ideas, with someone else stepping in as director. Many film critics of the time thought what Shyamalan really needed was some collaborators, and I agreed. "Devil" was the first movie to come from Night Chronicles and while it didn't set the box office on fire, it was a special film, a word-of-mouth hit. Maybe that wasn't enough. I don't have the inside story to why Shyamalan's other Night Chronicles films didn't get made. But I thought it was a shame.

Shyamalan made a few more stupid films before he made his first great movie in over a decade. That film was "Split." I still stand by my review I wrote back in 2017. It's such a well put together film. Richly imagined. Beautifully acted. Wonderfully shot. It also had a fun twist that worked, the first one in a long time. It seemed like Shyamalan was back on his feet again and was having fun with some characters he had made awhile ago, and he had a fun idea to bring those things together. Unfortunately, I didn't think "Glass," the follow-up to "Split" was a bit disappointing. The thing is, Shyamalan's series on AppleTV+ called "Servant," starring Rupert Grint and Toby Kebbell is awesome. So he's still a very up and down artist.

Sadly, "Old" isn't a complete return to form. There are some good actors in this movie, including Gael Garcia Bernal, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Rufus Sewell, and Vicky Krieps to name a few. It features beautiful cinematography. It's got a potentially interesting premise that could be something very strange and frightening. A group of people get taken to an island where every half hour is a year off their life. The longer they are on the island, the more and more they age. Like I said, this had some potential to be interesting, but I can't really say that M. Night Shyamalan hits any grace notes with what he does here.

This being a Shyamalan film, there's a big twist. Yep, this is essentially a big budget "Twilight Zone" episode. Shyamalan in the late 90's and early 2000's was an expert at the twist ending. Suddenly, he's now hit or miss. I don't want this review to be littered with spoilers, but the twist here stinks. It raises more questions than it has time to answer, because the twist comes at the end. The type of twist they introduce here could have been better served it was similar to what we see in "Cabin In The Woods." It's simply too big to just throw in at the end of the movie.

Shyamalan also has a tendency to give his characters really weird tics instead of genuine personality. The guy from "The Happening" who loved plants and couldn't stop talking about hot dogs...well...it never gets that weird in old, but Shyamalan still sacrifices personality and development for goofiness. I mean there's a rap star named Mid-Sized Sedan in this movie and I can't help but laugh about that. Even when he's in moments in this film meant to be serious.

"Old" isn't as bad as Shyamalan's early blunders but I can't help but admit that I feeling of something to be desired when the credits began to roll.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Karen Gillen shines in the butt-kicking, Girl Power-fueled "Gunpowder Milkshake"

                                        

2021 has been a great year for action.

"Nobody" is still my very favorite, breaking the rules of the typical action film while also playing very blissfully with the rules. I also got a kick out of "Boss Level," a kind of "Groundhog Day" action movie. "Black Widow" and to a certain degree, "Zack Snyder's Justice League" proved that superhero action is doing just fine (though TV has been blowing it out of the water so far) and there is plenty of fun to be had with movies like "F9." Even if that fun is a little ridiculous.

Now, its time to enter the world of Girl Power action with a little Netflix film called "Gunpowder Milkshake." Featuring an all-star cast of lovely ladies that includes Karen Gillen, Lena Headley, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino. These women are badasses. They've been in something awesome if you don't immediately recognize their names. This is a perfect cast for a movie like this and believe me, these women set off fireworks with their work in this film.

Karen Gillen in particular shines as the lead in this film. I've liked Karen Gillen a lot in what I've seen so far. Like Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the recent "Jumanji" movies. She's been great in lots of stuff so far. But much like Sigourney Weaver becoming Ellen Ripley or Linda Hamilton becoming Sarah Connor or Uma Thurman becoming The Bride, Gillen becomes Eva in a very special way that I think audiences will be blown away by.

The plot of "Gunpowder Milkshake" is pretty simple, and it may even be familiar. Eva is an assassin who got into this work because her mother (Headley) was also an assassin. Eva's mother abandoned her without an explanation, Eva feels abandoned whereas her mother really left her due to a job gone wrong. A grown Eva also kills the wrong guy's son on a job, which leads to entire criminal empire trying to kill her. She eventually saves a little girl named Emily (Chloe Coleman) who gets wrapped up in the plot because Eva killed her shady father. Eva must protect Emily and protect herself. She eventually rekindles her relationship with her mother, as well as her mother's friends who have helped in the assassination business. 

So yeah, it's not an original plot by any means, but I'll tell you why that doesn't matter. The action scenes are so top-notch, in-your-face and feature moments that will make you cringe with delight. It's such an incredibly fun movie to sit and watch. It's got plenty of quick laughs, big action and even a few sentimental moments that don't fall short because the cast is on their game here.

When you've got Paul Giamatti playing Eva's shady boss, and Ralph Ineson being a crummy crime lord, you are in for a treat.

It's still summer time and that means watching fun movies. This is such a great entry into the action genre that if you care at all, you check it out now!

Friday, July 16, 2021

"Space Jam: A New Legacy" might shine for kids, but its a game worth missing

                                         

When "Space Jam" came out in 1996, I missed it in theaters. But I got it for my birthday the following year on VHS. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world and every Friday when I got home from school, I watched it.

Remember, this was 1997 and I was in first grade.

I have watched the movie since, and I honestly don't think the movie has aged particularly well. When you don't have the 90's blinders on, "Space Jam" is a really weird movie where nothing makes much sense at all. Michael Jordan wasn't much of an actor, even though he was playing himself and it was pretty much harmless fluff, but I don't feel the same fun that I did when I was a kid.

Warner Brothers tried many years after 1996 to try and get a sequel made. Michael Jordan didn't want to return. So the studio tried to take things in a different direction. There was going to be a "Race Jam" with Jeff Gordon. They had an idea for "Skate Jam" with Tony Hawk. A golf version with Tiger Woods. And some kind of sequel starring Jackie Chan...yeah, I don't get that one. All of those ideas got dropped for one reason or another and it seemed that "Space Jam" would become an old relic of 90's pop culture and that's where it would stay.

But in the 2020's, pop culture has decided we are going to be living in a time constant nostalgia, and "Space Jam: A New Legacy'' takes that idea to the extreme with reckless abandon. Instead of Michael Jordan, we have LeBron James as the NBA superstar who has to play a game of basketball with the Looney Tunes. This time, they aren't playing aliens and they aren't going to space. But rather, LeBron and his son Dominic (Cedric Joe) get sucked into a Warner Brothers computer server, known as the Server Verse by a malevolent computer Program AI-G (Don Cheadle). So instead outer space its cyberspace!

Like many crappy sequels, "A New Legacy" is built on the same spine as the first film. We see a young LeBron in the 90s. He is playing a Game Boy before a game, he's so enthralled that his coach (Wood Harris) has to get his attention. Young LeBron has the chance to shoot the shot that will win them the game, and he misses. So he basically vows to get all distractions out of his life so he can focus primarily on basketball. Which helps him turn into the superstar he is today. His two boys are showing promise in basketball, his oldest is really into it. While his youngest son is very much a tech-savvy kid who can create his own video games. LeBron wants his youngest son Dominic to focus on basketball, while Dominic wants to chase his dream of making video games. They but heads here. 

This argument flairs up until they are sucked into the Server Verse. AI-G takes Dominic away and allows him to work on a version of basketball that gives the player style points and power ups and other video game advantages and challenges LeBron to basketball game that Dominic creates. Inside the Server Verse is every fictional world WB has ever created and LeBron lands in Looney Tune world. When I initially talked about the trailer earlier this year, I made a joke about this being like "Ready Player One" as the Server Verse looks exactly how Ernest Cline describes The OASIS in his book. This leads to a bunch of Intellectual Property jokes, most of which aren't that clever. Honestly, Warner Brothers decides to make a movie showing off their IP every few years (just look at their LEGO movies).

With so many characters at LeBron's disposal, I am not sure why he is required to limit recruiting only Looney Tunes, other than the function of the film. They reference the first film, even though in the first film the alien planet was real within the universe and the Looney Tunes lived underground, making no sense whatsoever. The aliens from the first film even cameo in this. Kids will probably like this movie a lot, especially LeBron fans. There are plenty of characters kids will scream for. The several pop culture jokes sadly aren't that clever, but pretty easy. Kids will probably enjoy the wild energy of the film too.

For adults, the jokes sadly don't land. The story is the exact same as the first pretty much. As someone who grew up with the first film, this is a pretending copy. LeBron James is pretty wooden playing a version of himself and even though Jordan wasn't an actor, he brought a certain charisma that James does not. There is a nice message that family is everything. But the movie leans into the weird and wild moreso. I've seen people comparing this "crossover" to something like "Avengers: Endgame" but the characters in Avengers were built up carefully and each had part to play. If characters from different franchises simply waving in the background is enough to compare to "Avengers: Endgame" then I guess the future of filmmaking, even franchise filmmaking, is doomed.

Despite the flashy lights and the distractions. "Space Jam: A New Legacy" is basically another sequel, one I'm not sure anyone asked for. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Loki is my favorite of the MCU Disney+ shows. Here's why...

                                          

THIS REVIEW OF LOKI IS GOING TO CONTAIN SPOILERS!!! IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE ENTIRE SERIES YET. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

All hail the God of Mischief baby!

The Disney+ MCU shows have been good up to "Loki." I wouldn't call "WandaVision" or "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" great. I liked that "WandaVision" was good, but I think it could have been great if Marvel dared to just make Wanda's grief the villain, much of the last half of "WandaVision" seemed like a forced narrative to include some superhero antics, while it was entertaining, I feel like there was a cooler, more compelling alternative. "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" was good, but for six hours, they simply tried to pack too much into the mini-series. I give Marvel the benefit of the doubt right now, because they are still playing with the six hour storytelling format. I have all the faith in the world that they will master it. It shows with "Loki," the show that I think is their first great Disney+ offering.

One thing I've liked about he MCU shows across the board is that they are built around mysteries. Many complain about the Marvel movies because they built from the same kit. The heroes are chasing a villain who wants a McGuffin and they have to get to the McGuffin first or stop the villain from getting to it. Certainly not all the movies follow that format but many do. The MCU shows on Disney+ have been built around mysteries. "Loki" has been full of intriguing mysteries. This show doesn't follow the Loki who got killed by Thanos in "Infinity War." This isn't some prequel. This show follows the Loki who stole the Tesseract in the middle of the Time Heist in "Avengers: Endgame." Loki wasn't supposed to take the Tesseract, so he gets arrested by the Time Variance Authority, a police force that exists deep within the multiverse to keep interdimensional travelers from messing with the timelines.

Getting confused yet? Buckle up, because the Marvel movies are going to get WHOOOLLLLEEE lot weirder than some intergalactic tyrant trying to obtain a magic space glove. For so many years, superhero movies had to act "realistic" in order not to scare away regular audiences, and I am happy that we have crossed a threshold that allows studios to really make any kind of comic book movie they want. The multiverse is a concept you find in both Marvel and DC comic stories. The idea that there are multiple Earths and multiple versions of us has the potential to be fun. "Loki" was definitely tons of fun. Especially when Loki is able to weasel into the TVA, become friends with agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) and help them capture "variants;" those people who are trying to mess with the continuity of the timelines.

First, Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston throwing down together delighted me completely. Such a fun duo and whoever thought to pair them together deserves a raise at Marvel. I loved every second they were onscreen together and I hope we see more of that in the future, as the "Loki" finale promised a second season. Second, this is where the mystery really begins to come into play. There are different variants...different versions of Loki. Specifically a female version of Loki named Sylvie. I never knew who Sophia Di Martino was before "Loki," but her work as Sylvie is top notch. She's going to be a star after this, because her work is really incredible. While Sylvie and Loki start out as enemies, she's trying to find out secrets behind the TVA, which of course draws the two together. Of course, nothing is what it seems at the TVA. Of course, it isn't run by those we think it is. When learning that the whole organization is made up of variants who are working for the organization against their free will, well, things get exciting and more delightfully weird moving forward.

How delightfully weird? How about meeting even more versions of Loki? I have been trying to guess who veteran actor Richard E. Grant was going to play in this show, and I have to say that his "Classic Loki" is much fun. I love the retro costume and his proper way of speaking when giving his backstory. Yes, I got a kick out of alligator Loki and Kid Loki. I cackled when I saw Throg trying to get his hammer or when we got a glimpse of Thanos' yellow helicopter. See, Loki eventually finds himself at the end of time, ready to get eaten by a giant void monster, a place where variants are taken when they are really in trouble. But of course Loki and Sylvia escape together and they finally meet who is really behind the TVA.

This is where things get interesting.

They meet He Who Remains, played by Jonathon Majors. You probably saw him in "Lovecraft Country," a show that should have got a second season. You probably saw him in "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" too. If you read movie news, you definitely read he was going to play Kang The Conqueror in "Ant-Man 3." Kang is an interesting character in the comics. He's a time traveling supervillain who has gone by many names over the years, which makes his identity kind of a pain to keep up with. But he's been a formidable foe against the Avengers for many years. He Who Remains explains to Sylvie and Loki that eons ago, there was a multiverse war between the many different variants of He Who Remains, had their war continued, it would have destroyed all of existence. The creation of the TVA was the only way to stop the war. He Who Remains gives the duo an offer; kill him and end the singular timeline, which will cause branch realities and much chaos The Ancient One talked about to Hulk in "Avengers: Endgame" or take over control of the TVA. Sylvia feels like her life has been a lie and doesn't believe He Who Remains, so she tries to kill him; Loki tries to stop her because he knows the chaos that ensues with timelines crossing and branch realities isn't good. 

Sylvia is victorious though, He Who Remains is killed. The realities begin to create branches. 

Kevin Feige wasn't kidding when he said "Loki" was really going to set the stage for the future. The MCU movies have been notorious for being commercials for the future, but the finale of "Loki" is clever in how they are setting up future stories without it feeling like a commercial, but something that has real stakes. The rumors we have been hearing regarding "Spider-Man: No Way Home" makes much more sense now. As does why Dr. Strange's sequel is about a multiverse of madness. Things are about to get really crazy. And I hope Marvel does a good job in continuing to introduce the general audience to the multiverse.

Aside from setting up some really cool stuff for future projects, the special effects in each episode is as good as you'd expect. The many great performances by Hiddleston, Wilson, Di Martino, Grant and others like Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wunmi Mosaku are all great across the board. Jonathon Majors is electrifying in the series finale and what's fun is that he's going to probably have a completely different personality the next time we see him. Once again, Marvel has created lots of memorable characters, like alligator Loki and the animated Miss Minutes that people will talk about for many years to come. 

But "Loki" wins me over because it was a tight mystery that kept me guessing all six weeks long. It remained constant, told one story through the finish line and now all bets are off. The best of the Disney+ shows so far.

Friday, July 9, 2021

MCU honors Scarlet Johansson one last time with "Black Widow." SPOILER FILLED REVIEW

                                          

It's wild to think that despite being a founding member of The Avengers and being in this franchise since 2010, we are just now getting around to a solo "Black Widow" movie. Especially with everything that happens in Black Widow's solo outing, I could have done with an entire trilogy of Natasha (Johansson) overseas with her "family" in Russia going on adventures. Alas, we could still get that but in a much different way.

I can't get into "Black Widow" and what makes the film tick without getting into spoilers. So this will be a spoiler filled review. There are things that happen in this movie that challenge the comic book lover in me while also giving a piece of me that just wanted to love an entertaining movie. When a comic book movie comes out, a movie based on some piece of nostalgic pop culture we love, we tip toe between being a fan of the source material and being a fan of movies. Sometimes those fandoms wrestle inside of us for supremacy when forming our opinions of these movies. The Twitter community has already been relentless on this movie. Reasons that I personally think are a tad unfair. So I will be getting into the thematic meat of the movie.

Anybody who has been a hardcore MCU fan knows who Black Widow is by now. She was a former Russian spy who eventually joined SHIELD, she had to earn her way into our country because of her past dealing with being a spy from another country. We got bits and pieces of how strict her former spy agency was, going as far to learn that she was sterilized before becoming a full fledged black widow. An ongoing story is some mission involving Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) but something we've never seen on screen. I regret to inform you that there is no Budapest scene in this movie. BUT we finally learn the information regarding the mission. Before SHIELD let Natasha into the United States and expunged her crimes, she had to kill a man named General Dreykov. We learn through dialogue that Natasha brought a building down the general in it, as well as the general's daughter. The supposed murder of the general's daughter has loomed large in Black Widow's memories, but killing Dreykov brought down the Red Room. The secret training facility that created Black Widows for Russia.

But the movie doesn't start there. The movie begins in 1995 in the Midwest. We see a young Natasha playing with her "sister" Yelena. Their "mother" is Melina (Rachel Weisz) and their "father" is Alexei (David Harbour). Alexei comes home and has a heated, cryptic discussion with Melina and then they take the girls and run. They are being hunted by SHIELD agents. During this chase scene, we see Melina in action and see that Alexei has some superpowers. They escape and rendezvous with Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone, one of the most underrated villain actors in the business right now). The girls have to go with Dreykov, and we see that young Natasha has already had some training of sorts. She's afraid of the Red Room, and most importantly, she doesn't want Yelena to go there. The girls are sadly put to sleep and put in a helicopter with Dreykov.

Anybody who still complains that Marvel movies are kids movies, and aren't dark and serious enough, will probably sing a different tune after seeing "Black Widow." The opening credit scene is pretty grim stuff, seeing young girls marched out of a metal crate, being taken to become super-spies. We still only get glimpses of how terrible the Red Room is, but it is enough to scare the average child. The film also features a pretty grim forced suicide and there is a very graphic explanation of a sterilization in the movie. The movie never gets as grim as a Zack Snyder DC movie, but its not something kids under the age of 11 should probably see. Unless you're fully prepared to have a discussion of what sterilization is.

"Black Widow" takes place after Natasha has left America after the Civil War. She goes back to Russia and finds sanctuary from an old contact named Rick Mason (O-T Fagbenle) and Natasha eventually comes into contact with a grown up Yelena (Florence Pugh) and she learns that Dreykov is indeed still alive and still training Black Widows. He has them all brainwashed and there is a certain red substance that can free the widows of Dreykov's brainwashing, and that Dreykov is searching for this substance. Just like how many of these movies boil down to, Natasha and Yelena will reconnect with Melina and Alexei, and plan to free the widows of being brainwashed and finish Dreykov off for good.

Dreykov is also training a different kind of assassin with Taskmaster. A killer who has the ability to copy the fighting techniques of any one they watch. We get glimpses of Taskmaster watching scenes from other movies, and she copies fighting styles of Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Panther and Bucky, even brandishing similar weapons to theirs. 

Natasha's reunion with Yelena, Melina and Alexei are rocky at first. In these quieter moments of the movie is where I think "Black Widow" really shines. The film deals very much in legacy, and what we leave behind depending on our choices. It's a movie about what family means, especially in the light of having families that disappoint us. How that trust and bond comes back together again, or maybe how it doesn't. It's also about how we change our past for the better with just a bit of effort. This hefty material for a mere "kids movie" and I appreciated the mature turn this film makes. Johansson benefits greatly by terrific cast with Pugh, Weisz and Harbour delivering knockout performances to aid Johansson. The film's themes become even greater once the big twist comes to light...

...and this is where comic book nerds are going to go a little bonkers. In fact, Twitter was a madhouse on this subject this morning. In the comic books, Taskmaster was a man named Tony Masters and he had the ability to copy the fighting styles of his opponents, which made him dangerous. In "Black Widow" we find out that Taskmaster is Dreykov's daughter Antonia. The beautiful and talented Olga Kurylenko shows up to play Antonia, but its pretty much an extended cameo performance, she doesn't speak once if I remember correctly. So Dreykov never died, and his daughter never died. He put a chip in her head which allows her to copy the fighting styles of her opponents. Something that comic fans have not liked at all.

Fans are comparing this twist to the Mandarin twist from "Iron Man 3" and I think that's a bit of an oversell. The twist from "Iron Man 3" changed the character to such a degree that they might as well invented a different character all together. Here, there is a gender swap and a tech piece that gives Taskmaster her powers. The MCU has been making their characters as believable as possible since the beginning. I'm not going to get into the "woke" debate, because frankly, I'm sick and tired of it. So if you can't handle that they gender swapped a D-list villain, then I guess you should skip this.

"Black Widow" may follow the same formula as passed MCU films, there may be some controversy following the adaptation choices of some of the characters. There is also this thing with Dreykov where he gives off a pheromone that makes sure the Black Widows can't consciously attack him, even if they want to. So Natasha has to break her nose so her brain can't react to the pheromone. It's a little ridiculous that the climax of this movie boils down to Black Widow breaking her nose. I thought that was a little funny. But I loved the storyline in this movie. The performances are great all the way around. The action scenes are top notch. A great way to send off Scarlet Johansson. I hope they stay true to the comics and have Yelena take over the Black Widow mantle. I also hope we get more Melina and Alexei. A Russian Guard movie needs happening!

Also the mid-credit scene will probably be weird for those who haven't watched "Falcon and The Winter Soldier" on Disney+. If you have, well, now you'll know why Yelena is appearing on the Hawkeye show later this year!

Overall, not the worst Marvel movie. A fun and entertaining watch for sure.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Ridiculous Summer continues with "America: The Motion Picture" and "The Tomorrow War"

 Even though the world is opening up again, I'm still seeing lots of new movies at home. I'm a busy guy these days, so getting out to the theater isn't something that is quite easy right now. Plus, instead of having any sort of premium cable or special packages, I just have an internet connection and a handful of streaming services for myself. I think to myself, if I'm paying for all of these services, why not use them? The streaming services are still hard at work delivering content that you can see anywhere else. I think I can safely predict that due to COVID, the dynamic of entertainment and how we access it has changed, and will remained changed. The conglomerates are going to use these streaming services to their advantage every year. I think COVID saved the streaming wars from really taking steam. Maybe they could still happen, maybe the bubble might still burst. But it seems like this pandemic built them all to stay, and they will be used to the studios advantage. Accessing so much entertainment at home...maybe it was the future, and maybe that future got sped up. 

We'll just wait and see how that all pans out for now...we are going to get into some more ridiculous summer movies you can enjoy at home.

What if the Revolutionary War involved George Washington being guided by Abe Lincoln's ghost? What if Benedict Arnold was a werewolf? What if the Big Ben could turn into an evil Transformer and it fought Paul Bunyan? What if science was used to get beer to turn British soldiers into American frat boys? Such is the ridiculous world of "America: The Motion Picture" a movie so bonkers that you need to see it to believe it. This obviously isn't our actual history, but I kind of wish it was, I wonder how weirder our beloved country would be if this was real.

The history of the formation of our country has been turned into an Avengers movie. Benedict Arnold kills Abe Lincoln, who is best friends with George Washington. George Washington then gathers a group of heroes; such as the beer guzzling Sam Adams, a science obsessed female Thomas Edison, Native American Geronimo, the blacksmith John Henry and the centaur Paul Revere. Yep, this is the universe of this story, and its the whole movie is complete nonsense. Your appetite for nonsense will determine if this movie is for you. Because its pretty non-stop and relentless, but if you are the right audience member, it will be for you. Or you may have to get drunk or high then watch, get some friends together and watch. Depending on mood, you'll really enjoy this or you'll hate every minute.

"The Tomorrow War" can be described as a little "Edge of Tomorrow," a little "Independence Day," a little "Black Hawk Down" with a tad bit of social commentary thrown in for good measure. You've probably got the premise down pat by now. Chris Pratt plays an ex-soldier high school science teacher. He comes home one night to a Christmas party at his house. He's got friends, a beautiful wife and daughter and an estranged father. Suddenly, while enjoying a soccer game, the game itself is interrupted by human soldiers who claim to be from the future. They talk about a future war where humanity is losing badly, and they need people from the past to fight to beat the aliens.

If the world captures these people and tries to figure out if this is real or not, don't count on it. That would take too much time and the movie needs to happen. Humans are swiftly drafted into service to fight a future war, after the world sends a decent chunk of their military into the future and they end up dead. Chris Pratt's character is drafted into service. He is quickly taken to basic training, which really isn't much. People are are shot into the future wearing kevlar and their street clothes and get a quick lesson on using a gun, then they are ready! It's still thirty years in the past, and if numbers are so dire, you'd think you'd train a bunch of Joe Schmoes for battle to save the world instead of just giving them guns and hoping for the best. It's a good thing Pratt's character was an ex-soldier, that way something in this movie can happen.

I bring up the "Independence Day" because, not a lot of personality is given to each of the characters. They have something special about them, a specific stereotype, that will be important to plot later on. Pratt wants to be a scientist really bad, and he can't get the job. JK Simmons plays his father, who he doesn't get along with until the movie really needs them to be family. In the future, Pratt's character meets his daughter all grown up played by Yvonne Strahovski, and during their meeting, Pratt learns some not so good things about his future. Of course, this all ends with a family being big and happy again because FAMILY! It's a good message don't get me wrong, but its so artificial in its execution that its a little laughable.

Where the movie really shines is its action set pieces. The moments of action are pretty frequent, and they are full of bangs and bombast. The aliens themselves are pretty wild looking. Since Paramount made this movie, I wonder if this film was ever in the running for being apart of the Cloverfield universe. (Die hard movie fans will get that joke) The cool visuals and tough-as-nails characters may be enough for you to love this movie. I liked pieces of the movie for sure. Chris Pratt is a capable performer. He shows great range I didn't know he had in this. The movie features an entire ensemble of good actors giving it their all. The idea of going into the future to beat some alien bad guys is a cool concept, but I think the execution wasn't handled as well as hoped. But if dumb summer fun is what you need right now, this should fit the bill perfectly.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Summer is ridiculously here with "F9" and "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard"


Many states are opening up now, and as movies like "F9" and "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard" get released, it feels like a post-quarantine summer movie season is here.

There is a scene early in "F9" where Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris are talking about all the missions they've been on over the course of the franchise. They take a moment to realize that over all the crazy things they've done, they don't have a scratch on them to show for it. "F9" is as ridiculous as this franchise gets, and it even tested my appetite for cheesy summer blockbusters. I still cackle at the realization that this franchise started as a gritty, realistic, neo-noir crime movie about street racing and has morphed into a no-nonsense thesis on nonsense. But I can at least find the charm when the movie takes the time to realize how preposterous a franchise they've created.

"F9" and "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard" really feel like a pair of summer blockbusters. Which I guess is perfect for now. They are both are stupid in terms of laws of logic and physics. They both feature humor that walks the line between clever and corny. They both feature crazy amounts of action. They also both feature terrific A-list led ensembles. How much you like either of these films will solely depend upon how much craziness you an tolerate and how much you turn your mind off.

I like Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson quite a bit. I can't really remember the one time I rented "The Hitman's Bodyguard." It was kind of fun for what I can remember, but as you can read, not very memorable. I didn't think it was something that needed a sequel. After watching the movie itself, I can tell why this didn't need a sequel. So much of it feels like treading water. Recycled jokes from the last movie. Memorable plot mechanics. Memorable humor. Just with Salma Hayek in the mix. I like Salma a lot, but she's not enough to save an otherwise paper thin action film. I think at this point Reynolds and Jackson can bring charisma into anything, and that at least makes what you're watching fun, but the movie itself as a familiar plot and of course, everything ends up okay in the end.

On the plus side, I do like that Frank Grillo shows up in this. I think he's on his way to being a leading star and he's showing that he can be loose and limber with the right script. He's not just a gritty tough guy all the time.

The mission statement of "The Fast and Furious" movies seems to be how can we be more ridiculous in the next movie. That becomes perfectly clear when the rumors end up true and the crew literally shoot themselves up into space to stop a satellite late in the film. Cipher, the cyberterrorist Charlize Theron plays is still at large here and she teams up with Dom's estranged brother Jakob (John Cena) to add some stakes. But when Han (Sung Kang) ends up alive and the explanation for why he's alive is flimsy at best, why does any death matter? Why even bother adding stakes at all if nothing those stakes provide matters? I don't really know how this franchise is going to keep me invested or expect me to care about this family onscreen if everybody can come back from the dead. And in speaking of coming back from the dead, this franchise has made it clear that one person in particular can't come back. And I'm not sure if it helps or haunts the franchise to treat one actor as some kind of shadow in the background. It's weird to me.

The bottom line is, both of these movies have summer blockbuster all over them. If you want to see some crazy car chases involving giant magnets, look no further. If you want three wisecracking hitmen stopping a destructive plot, look no further. Its going to depend upon the individual on whether or not you find either of these films charming or cheesy. Even though I've been a fan of the mindless fun that comes along with "The Fast and Furious" franchise, this latest entry has even tested my patience on the formula a bit.