Tag Archives: action movies

The Spy Who Dumped Me

As its title would suggest, The Spy Who Dumped Me isn’t exactly the most original, or, frankly, funny. The jokes, like the bullets, are hit or miss. They don’t all hit their targets. Director and co-writer Susanna Fogel is perhaps too inexperienced to spin this uninventive fare with a twist of creativity, but she gets at least one thing absolutely right: Kate McKinnon.

Kate McKinnon is a luminescent show pony who just trots across the screen pooping comedy gold. Even her facial contortions are helping to sell mediocre material. She’s worth the price of admission. She works harder here than I wish she had to, but on MV5BYjkzNWZmMDgtODM2NS00MTM4LThlMTgtMGM4Yjg3OTc3YTE5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1442,1000_AL_the whole the movie still worked for me, as a light and breezy r-rated comedy. I came to laugh and I did – mostly at her, granted, but she’s so fantastic and so talented and if the movie doesn’t quite measure up, I think this is her best role to date. I could have watcher her and her cat earrings fangirl over Gillian Anderson for hours.

The movie probably doesn’t need a lot of illumination in terms of plot: Audrey (Mila Kunis) was recently dumped via text by bad boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux). Best friend and roommate Morgan (McKinnon) is nursing through heartache when they’re rudely interrupted by men claiming to be CIA – they’re after Drew, who turns out to be a spy and not just a podcaster as Audrey had always believed. This immediately turns into raging gunfire and a dead ex-boyfriend whose dying wish is for Audrey to deliver a “package” to Vienna. And being very obliging girls, Audrey and Morgan jet off to Europe and are immediately in wayyyy over their heads.

The sweet thing about this movie is the friendship between Audrey and Morgan. Morgan is the kind of supportive cheerleader we all deserve to have in our lives. She thinks Audrey is kicking ass as an amateur spy, and she’s not wrong. It’s completely implausible that they survive even the first 10 seconds of this adventure (the movie’s got surprisingly intense action sequences), but if Daniel Craig can do it, so can they. I just wish the friendship felt as good as it was described; the chemistry just wasn’t there. I love McKinnon and have no particular objection to Kunis (though I think she probably over-relies on those big doe eyes of hers), but all the glowy, wonderful vibes seemed to flow in one direction. Kunis is a very pretty receptacle for other people’s good acting, but I’m not sure she gives back very much as a costar. The CIA guys (Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj) are a bit on the bland side too (Heughan is Tom Brady with a British accent, if that helps) but there are lots of other supporting cast that I was quite pleased with – not least of all Jane Curtin (!!!) and Paul Reiser as Morgan’s incredibly understanding parents (I would watch a sequel involving just this family), and the aforementioned Gillian Anderson as the big boss lady. Being a Lady Dynamite fan (that’s Maria Bamford’s amazing show), I was particularly glad to see both Fred Melamed and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson pop up. I was less enthusiastic about Ivanna Sakhno as the Ukrainian model\gymnast assassin. The first glimpse we get of her is half nude and totally emaciated, which just felt off in a movie that’s got two fantastic, strong female leads and is directed and co-written by a woman. We can do better. 

Which is perhaps a good way to sum up this review: we can do better. And with Kate McKinnon on board, there really is no excuse.

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Mission: Impossible -Fallout

lead_720_405Aside from the awkward colon in the title, the most annoying thing about the Mission: Impossible series has always been Tom Cruise’s massive over-reliance on rubber masks (yes, even moreso than his ridiculous excessive arm-pumping while running). While Mission: Impossible – Fallout doesn’t totally avoid the rubber mask cliché, it tweaks it enough to feel fresh. And every once in a while, despite how familiar the M:I formula has become after six attempts, the movie will sneak one by you, winking as it does.

In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) are tasked with saving the world (again) by recovering a bunch of stolen plutonium before a terrorist group can use it in nuclear weapons. The stakes are high so Ethan and his crew need to be at the top of their game, and doubly so when we’ve seen them in action so many times already.

M:I-F is up to the challenge in all respects. This is the best entry in the franchise so far. Not because it does anything surprising or anything we haven’t seen before, but because it delivers exactly what it promises and because it’s flawlessly executed, without a single misstep.

Action-packed and entertaining from start to finish, M:I-F is better than I expected, better than it has any right to be, and better than it ever needed to be.  This is 2018’s best summer blockbuster, hands down.

Skyscraper

It’s no Die Hard.

That’s my four-word review of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’s latest action film, in which he plays an ex-FBI agent turned security consultant who has to rescue his family from the world’s tallest building when it’s set on fire by robbers.

The fact it’s no Die Hard is not entirely a bad thing, because at least it isn’t a blatant rip-off of one of the best action movies ever. But it’s partly a bad thing, because Die Hard is amazing and Skyscraper clearly wants to remind me of it (Skyscraper may also be trying to remind me of other movies like The Towering Inferno if I’d ever seen it, but since I haven’t, you get to hear only about Die Hard).

Skyscraper falls well short of Die Hard for a lot of reasons, but the main difference is this: while both movies are ridiculous, Die Hard fully embraces its implausibility. Bruce Willis is right there with us when we’re thinking that it should never have come to him jumping off a hundred story building with a fire hose tied around his waist. Conversely, the Rock is not with us at those moments, because he’s The Rock, a character that can do anything. When the Rock pulls a very similar stunt to Willis, as far as the Rock is concerned, it is not because things have escalated beyond the point of believability.  It is because that is one of the things the Rock can do that no one else would even try (and, incidentally, whether one is brave enough to attempt a stunt like that is not a measure of one’s love for family, because if you really want to save your family, you have to NOT DIE, and by my count any real human being died about eight different times during the Rock’s rescue effort).

As well, it is an unfortunate sign of our times that the two-minute rope sequence, like almost every other dramatic moment in this movie, somehow is captured live on news cameras, for the benefit of a cheering and live-streaming crowd, and also on monitors throughout the very building that the Rock is trying to sneak into and rescue his family from. This not only adds about 15 minutes of pointless  crowd footage to a movie that feels much, much longer than its 1 hour 49 minute run time, but it also takes away from the cat-and-mouse dynamic because at all times the bad guys can easily find the Rock in this massive 220 story building by watching 30 seconds of live news.

Even then, I was tolerating this movie and willing to give it a pass until the end, when everyone involved had run out of half-baked ideas and just hit the reset button to find a way out of the fire. I shouldn’t have expected any more than that, so don’t ask me why I got my hopes up, and now I owe an apology to Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Pacific Rim Uprising

It’s been 10 years since the conflict ended. Jake was born when the world was still fighting the Kaiju monsters, and his father, Stacker Pentecost, gave his life to help win the war. Jake is not his father. He lives in a coastal city that never recovered from its attack, in half a mansion that was destroyed by the creature whose skeleton still adorns the property. He steals to make a living, and nothing pays more than stole jaeger tech (jaegers being those massive, two-pilot robots used to win the war against the giant monsters).

When Jake (John Boyega) is inevitably caught, he’s sentenced to teaching kids to be 21-pacific-rim-uprising.w710.h473jaeger pilots where he immediately meets and dislikes fellow pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood), who resents him for having the special privileges granted him by his last name. Of course, Jake and Nate must become co-pilots of a new flagship jaeger meant to reassure people that the world would forever more kept safe, but its designers should have perhaps heeded another movie’s admonition – if you build it, they will come.

And when the Kaiju do attack, it’ll be Jake & Nate & a bunch of kids standing between alien monsters and the earth’s destruction, which is a discomfiting thought. But the most important thing to know about Pacific Rim: Uprising is that it is not directed by Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, who gave us the first one, and this one lacks the conviction and subtlety that made the first so special. Guillermo’s movie about gigantic monsters and robots fighting each other still managed to have a greater message and a lot of heart. The sequel is its empty shell. It’s got all the parts, and plenty of punchy action but it’s missing the movie magic that connects with audiences and transcends the outward trappings. Uprising is intent on being bigger, louder, dumber, and never, not once, equal to, let alone better. It’s content with ticking boxes: one liners, big hunks of metal, migraine-level sound effects, frantic Japanese people. And most egregiously, it sets itself up for a third installment, and if it comes to that, I hope the Kaiju fucking win.

Tomb Raider

Lara Croft is the tough and independent daughter of a wealthy adventurer who disappeared 7 years ago and is presumed dead. So when she learns his secret obsession with an ancient Japanese myth, she pursues him to the unknown island that seems to have swallowed him whole. It seems like a really bad decision to follow in the footsteps of a dead man, but Lara (Alicia Vikander) doesn’t just put her life on the line, she involves an innocent stranger too (Daniel Wu), just as her father did. So if you’re wondering who the Croft family is, they appear to be in it solely for themselves, and fuck every body else.

So Lara makes her way to this evil island where she meets up with a bad man named Mathias (Walter Goggins) and things go from merely murdery to a whole shit tonne MV5BMTBjZDBiNGEtYjhlMC00YmM1LThmZWEtOWE1ZjhhMDg5MDEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODAyMDA1MDk@._V1_of worse.  And even though she’s been violently shipwrecked and then hunted, actually hunted on an island that seems intent on killing her, she somehow maintains a perfectly shaped brow and stubble-free armpits, which are constantly on display thanks to a skimpy outfit that seems particularly ill-advised when visiting malaria-infested countries. So while Lara may be about to out-box me, I’ll still take the victory because I packed the DEET. Though I suppose I should concede that the Vikander version of Lara is slightly more grounded and slightly less lustily rendered on the screen than was Angelina Jolie.

Tomb Raider is fine, I guess, except for some painful green screen moments that are ENTIRELY unconvincing. And the fact that it’s boring as shit to watch someone solve a puzzle when the puzzle is never shown or known to us. It’s just a lot of knob twisting. Vikander is tough as balls but the story is uninspired and makes no arguments for its own existence. This franchise didn’t need a reboot and it got a rather lacklustre one, despite Vikander’s charm.

 

Assassin’s Creed

assassins-creed-movie-FassbenderThis is probably the most super serious movie that a video game franchise has ever birthed. We are quickly briefed on the thousand-year old struggle between Templars and Assassins, with the two sides warring for control over a magic apple, the Apple of Eden that contains the seeds of mankind’s deceit, yadda yadda, genetic code, yadda yadda, free will, yadda yadda, fate of the world at stake. So Michael Fassbender has to travel back in time, sort of, and find out where that apple is hiding.

Except those stakes are then lowered for no apparent reason because right from the outset Fassbender and the audience are told that nothing can be changed in the past – he’s just observing what’s already happened to one of his ancestors. Which is a bizarre choice for a movie based on a video game that put the player in control of an assassin’s kung fu fighting ancestor, as it leaves the movie’s audience passively watching Fassbender experience a “memory” from the distant past and kind of act it out with the help of a big mechanical harness.

Or, when Fassbender’s recovering from doing his mechanical harness work, we get to watch him fight ghosts (not real, we are assured, just glitches in the Matrix) and also guards (real but gentle because they need Fassbender alive since he’s the last ancestor of some guy, yadda yadda, never mind that this group also is holding Fassbender’s father at the same location [Edit: I just remembered that the ancestry was on his mom’s side but that opens up a whole other set of criticisms]). Admittedly, there are hints of danger, like Fassbender suffering a seizure caused by the harness and then being confined to a wheelchair, but 30 seconds later he is practicing karate moves again so it seems like it’s no worse than a little VR motion sickness.

There is some kind of 1%/mind control through consumerism/uprising by noble freemen underlying all this but don’t even try to find a worthwhile message because the premise of the film’s logic is that violence and free will are tied together, so only murderers and assassins can stand between the 1% and total domination.

That should have been the most insulting part of Assassin’s Creed, but it’s not. The most insulting part is that a decent cast (including Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling) is totally wasted in a blockbuster that lacks any semblance of blockbusting.  My ancestors would be ashamed I ever watched this trash, and I’m right there with them.

Justice League

“What movie are you seeing?” the waiter asks.

“Justice League!” I answer with all the enthusiasm of someone who has been waiting for this night and all the sheepishness of someone who is fully aware that this movie is going to suck.

“I didn’t even know that was out yet. Are you a fan of Marvel?”.

“DC,” I quickly correct him.I remind myself not to be offended, that it’s an easy mistake for anyone with a life to make.

“Whatever,” he replies.

That’s the thing though. It’s not whatever. For many comic fans, the rivalry between the two publishers is as bitter as that between Star Trek and Star Wars. And I’m a DC guy. It’s not that I can’t admit when Marvel does something right. I can admit that their movies- especially within their respective shared universes- have generally been much better than DC’s. It’s just that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man will never mean as much to me as Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, or even Aquaman.

I’m such a DC guy that I could even find something to love in the colossal messes that were Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. I have rooted for this universe since it began with Man of Steel and celebrated when they finally did something amazing with Wonder Woman. But there’s something about Justice League that’s hard for even me to defend.

Maybe I’m just getting tired of making excuses for mediocre movies. Or myabe it was just different sitting next to Jay. I couldn’t help putting myself in her shoes and worrying about how painful this must be for her. Because a fan can find lots love if they’re feeling generous but those who haven’t read the comics are sure to have a harder time. Those who are unfamiliar with the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are counting on this movie to give them a reason to care about them  and it’s here where Justice League fails the most.

Ben Affleck continues to be a much better Batman than I ever would have expected him to be and he’s in most of the film’s best scenes. Wonder Woman continues to feel like a fully realized character mostly thanks to Gal Gadot’s performance and all the good work that she and Patty Jenkins did in her much better stand-alone film. The new characters are a little more awkward. Ezra Miller’s charm goes a long way in making Barry Allen?The Flash likeable (although, for the record, TV’s Flash is better) but his backstory feels vague and rushed and we don’t know nearly enough about who he even is or what makes him special. Aquaman and Cyborg get barely any introduction at all. They’re just there.

The good news is that Justice League is shorter and more focused than Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were and is almost never boring. The bad news is that it’s not nearly as exciting as it should be, especially considering what a dream come true this big-screen live action team up really is for me and so many others. There’s just not nearly enough attention paid to what makes these characters great and what’s worse is that there is even less attention paid to their relationships with each other. The Zack Snyder era of DC movies has not ended on a high note.

Genocidal Organ

In the near future, a devastating terrorist attack in Sarajevo shocks the world. The governments of most industrialized countries use the widespread panic to justify an increase in surveillance of their own citizens. While the developed world is safer than ever before, the third world- without the means to conduct such widespread surveillance- descends into chaos and mass murder.

Captain Clavis Shepherd  is one of the few Americans unfortunate enough to have to navigate this chaos. As a covert intelligence agent, Shepherd conducts bloody and dangerous missions around the world while his superiors monitor his vitals from Washington to make sure he’s not feeling too much compassion. His latest mission is to track down the mysterious John Paul, the architect of so many genocides around the world.

Genocidal Organ is not always easy to follow but will reward those who try to try to keep up. It took me about twenty minutes, given that this is a Japanese film with Japanese animation and Japanese voice actors speaking Japanese, to realize that most of these characters are supposed to be American. It feels weird at first. This must be how Russian people feel watching Eastern Promises. Once you’ve figured out who everyone is though, it’s easy enough to settle in and just enjoy the movie.

Visually, Genocidal Organ is an impressive film. The animators create a believable setting and the shootouts have better choreography than most live-action films do. As I’ve said before, I’m no good at describing animations so here are some stills to give you an idea.

genocidal organ 1

genocidal organ 5

genocidal organ 4

genocidal organ 3

As a story, it’s an engaging spy thriller that tricks you into having fun because it looks so good. At its heart though, Genocidal Organ is hopelessly bleak. It’s a movie that, like John Paul (who is quite fond of monologuing), has a lot to say. While the script probably has a couple of speeches too many, its musings on linguistics, psychology, American foreign policy, and freedom are always interesting and often troubling. Be prepared to sit and think about this one for a few days after you see it.

Premium Rush

premium-rush-movie-wallpaper-20You know who drives me crazy?  Idiot cyclists who weave between cars, ignore the rules of the road, and inevitably get killed/seriously injured by an unlucky motorist.

You know who else drives me crazy?  Idiots who think that all lawyers wear suits or that lawyer is the only profession you can do with a law degree.

And don’t even get me started on idiots who are so EXTREMELY against wearing suits that they would rather take a job as a New York City bike courier and earn next to nothing ($30 for an hour and a half ride from one side of Manhattan to the other).

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in Premium Rush is all of those things.  Naturally, I hated Premium Rush.  What is most egregious, I think, is that if I put aside how angry Premium Rush made with its premise and main character, Premium Rush becomes a totally forgettable MacGuffin chase featuring one of the lamest villains in recent memory, whose motivation is his “poor impulse control”.  That means he’s selfish and willing to do anything to pay off his gambling debts so he can turn around and gamble some more, and of course that’s more important than whatever plans any other characters have for their lives or their money.  Not even Michael Shannon can give the bad guy more than one dimension.

You may like this movie if your fantasy is to take your bike-riding idiocy to the big stage of New York City (or I suppose you may also relate if your fantasy is to live a life of corruption in order to feed your gambling addiction, though in that case this movie may not have quite the ending you’re hoping for).  If that’s you then allow me to point out that you are a terrible person and I would rather you spend your time watching this movie than inflicting damage to those around you.  For everyone else, Premium Rush is one to avoid.

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-wallpaperI have avoided writing this review since Thursday.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 left me entirely uninspired. Was it the mediocre 70s music? The laughable indestructibility of the heroes and villains that only disappeared when convenient to a plot point? That we have seen this movie before, a thousand times? Or that these heroes, who seemed so fresh the first time around, had nothing new to offer?  Whatever the reason, this movie was missing the spark that made the first Guardians of the Galaxy so much fun.

“More of the same” is generally something that necessarily is tied to a sequel; after all, the reason the sequel exists is because we liked the first one and asked for more. But the sequels I most enjoy are those that could stand alone if the first one was somehow wiped from memory. I don’t think Guardians Vol. 2 passes that test. It starts strongly (as Jay said to me afterward, she would have preferred it if Groot had danced his way through the whole movie) but loses its way, sacrificing action scenes and momentum to rehash the first movie’s tale of outcasts forced together to save the galaxy.

Strangely, for a movie that I don’t think could stand on its own, Guardians Vol. 2 also does not really do anything to advance things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. If it had, I might have felt better about the movie as then it would have had a purpose. Without that, and without any real progress from the first film, Guardians Vol. 2 felt like a throwaway franchise episode, another The Fate of the Furious, another blockbuster that will have been forgotten in six months. In other words, the polar opposite of how I felt after seeing Guardians Vol. 1.

As always, my hopes were definitely too high for this sequel but I think the main reason I was so underwhelmed by this movie is because what I liked so much about the first film was its originality, and this is a carbon copy of #1 in practically every way.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gets a score of five dancing Groots out of ten.