Tag Archives: action movies

The Predator

In light of recent events, I feel obligated to point out that the title of this film refers to the fictional species of intergalactic trophy hunters, not director Shane Black’s real-life registered sex offender pal who was somehow cast in a bit role here (whose scene was then removed from the final cut when his sex offender status came to light).  With that major misstep remedied, though not forgotten, the latest entry in the Predator franchise arrives with the theme of evolution underlying the on-screen battles between humans and giant fang-faced aliens.

thepredator_02The ever-evolving Predator crash lands on earth and interrupts a U.S. sniper’s top secret Mexican mission. After ejecting from its ship, the Predator kills the sniper’s support team but the sniper (Boyd Holbrook) manages to escape, mailing a few pieces of the Predator’s gear home as evidence of the encounter. The gear finds its way to the sniper’s son (Room‘s Jacob Tremblay), who figures out how to activate it and in doing so becomes the Predator’s target. The army is no help in containing the Predator so the only ones standing between the Predator and the rest of the world are the sniper, a biologist (Olivia Munn) and a misfit group of soldiers. And the fight is on!

In addition to being a key plot point, the concept of evolution looms large for me as I reflect on this film, because the Predator series has definitely evolved. It’s so much different than the cheesy action/horror nostalgia trip I expected to see. The Predator is a gleeful, self-referential comedy that takes more pleasure in delivering quick, clever banter than it does in splattering the screen with gore.

Make no mistake, though. The Predator is an exceedingly gory film. Faces will be ripped off. Bodies will be sliced into pieces. Internal organs will ooze out of gaping wounds. That, more than anything, illustrates how consistently funny the Predator manages to be, because comedy is the film’s dominant element even in the presence of buckets and buckets of gore.

Black is known for his action-comedies, and his script for Lethal Weapon is rightly recognized as a standout in the genre. An evolution, even. Thirty years later, Black is still rolling along. A bit player in the original Predator (his character lasted all of seven minutes), Black now directs and co-writes (with Fred Dekker) the 2018 version, which is not a reboot of the original. Instead, it revisits what has come before to tell a new story and, by the end, sets a whole new course for the franchise that is as intriguing as it is ridiculous.

thepredator_04Of course, ridiculousness is a Black staple and while Predator does not quite measure up to Black’s best (namely, the amazing Lethal Weapon), it is a wonderfully entertaining film thanks to Black and the extremely solid cast. The standouts of the teriffic ensemble are Tremblay as the protagonist’s code-cracking son and This Is Us’s Sterling K. Brown as a scenery-devouring special agent whose motives are never clear but always nefarious. The Predator keeps up a steady stream of action and laughs from start to finish, and as a result, I’m now waiting eagerly for the even-more-ridiculous sequel that the Predator blatantly and shamelessly promises.

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Peppermint

In two heartbeats, Riley North loses everything. Her husband and young daughter are gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The only thing that licks at her grief is justice. She stumbles out of the hospital to identify her assailants in a line-up, and then confronts them in court. But the justice system fails Riley (Jennifer Garner), and the killers walk free.

Contorted with rage and sadness, Riley disappears, and spends the next several years obsessing about revenge. When she resurfaces in Los Angeles on the 5th anniversary of Peppermint-1her family’s murder, she’s got a plan, and she’s got the skills and weapons to see it through. First, a trio of dead gang members are found hanging, execution-style, from the carnival ride where Riley spent her last moments with her daughter. It’s a message to the city, to the cops, and to the criminals she holds responsible. She’s coming for them.

And for the next 24 hours her time (102 minutes our time), it’s a goddamned bloodbath. The cops don’t know how to stop her and the city rallies behind her, their angel, their vigilante.

Jennifer Garner steps very nimbly back into badassery, and it feels like the genre has missed her. Although her character benefits from movie magic as the bad guys politely wait their turn to attack, single file, never overwhelming or completely outnumbering her, she still feels somewhat real. Maybe it’s the mom in her that never dies – she’s a kamikaze filled with revenge lust, but she still remembers to buckle her seat belt. Maybe it’s because Garner is a fierce mama bear in real life, admirably so. Riley is tough, but she hasn’t forgotten her humanity. She is haunted by the ghost of her little girl but has a soft spot for all children, sometimes to her own detriment. Otherwise, she’s not playing around. She wears boots, not heels, because she means business. Does she maintain unrealistically cute beachy waves? She does. But her hair is dirty, and her body is coated in blood and grime and she basically goes through hell – twice.

Director Pierre Morel knows a little something about putting families in jeopardy – he’s the guy behind Taken. Peppermint has a certain visual style that’s fun to watch. Morel takes us to the gritty streets of Los Angeles, plants us firmly in skid row, and the wrong side of the boulevard, but he also has Garner shooting up a pinata shop in gleeful contrast. The action sequences are tight, the action is hot, and Garner has fun uttering the perfect one-liner as the body count multiplies.

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.

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.