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Remember “The Fast and the Furious”? The movie that was about illegal street racing?

Those days are long past, of course; as things currently stand, these movies exist in a physics-defying universe of impossible stunts, ridiculous fistfights and cornball dialogue. Notice I didn’t mention plot or character development, because that is very much not what these movies are about.

And never has the franchise been as fully all-in on the nonsense as it is with this latest iteration. This new installment – the first in what will almost certainly end up being a cavalcade of spinoffs – is “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (for the sake of brevity, we’ll go ahead and just call it “Hobbs & Shaw” moving forward – no one will have any trouble remember the connection to “F&F”).

This one leaves behind Dominic Torretto and his street-racer-turned-international-superagent “family” to focus on later arrivals Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, allowing for an expansion of the franchise into a whole new realm of lunacy.

And expand it does, offering audiences a spectacle even sillier and more outlandish than the extremely silly and outlandish stuff we’ve seen in the most recent “F&F” films. There’s no narrative cohesion to speak of and a lot of what happens doesn’t really add up, but let’s be real – you’re not coming to this movie for the story. What you ARE here for is the action – and there’s a LOT of that, with set pieces that lean into the big, dumb and ultimately loving embrace of the franchise.

It doesn’t make much sense, but hey – it doesn’t have to.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 16 July 2019 19:31

‘Stuber’ far from five stars

Who among us doesn’t love a good buddy comedy? A movie with a dynamic central pairing that has good chemistry and good comedic timing – the sort of movie that can coast on the charisma of the foundational duo – can really be a great time. The right casting can cover for a lot of issues in terms of story and style.

“Stuber” is ALMOST such a movie.

The buddies in question are Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista – and honestly, it’s a really good match. They’re a wonderful set of contrasts, in terms of both sensibility and physicality. There’s an ease between them that makes for an engaging relationship.

Unfortunately, it isn’t enough. There’s a stylistic inconsistency on the part of director Michael Dowse – the film can’t seem to choose a tone, leading to some shifts in energy that are pretty jarring. Add to that a muddy script from Tripper Clancy and you’re left with a film that, while entertaining at points, fails to fully utilize the considerable abilities of the two performers at its center.

Published in Movies

As Hollywood studios continue to clamor for viable franchises to turn into nine-figure blockbusters, there are going to be … let’s call them miscalculations. For every successful series that breeds summer hits, a half-dozen very expensive failures will land on screens with a thud before quietly (and quickly) disappearing.

Unfortunately, the latest effort in that vein “Men in Black: International” – the fourth movie in the “MIB” series and the first without stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones – falls into the latter category; the new film has its moments but is largely lacking the spirit of its predecessors.

It’s not an outright failure (well, creatively speaking – the initial box office estimates do not speak well of its commercial viability), but director F. Gary Gray never quite figures out how best to utilize the clear and present chemistry of his two leads; Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are dynamite together – the MCU has proven that a couple of times – but while their dynamics are a major highlight, the relationship isn’t enough to elevate the film beyond its myriad narrative shortcomings.

Published in Movies

I was really looking forward to “Shaft.”

I have a genuine affection for the OG trilogy – 1971’s “Shaft,” 1972’s “Shaft’s Big Score!” and 1973’s “Shaft in Africa.” Between the of-the-moment aesthetic, the street-noir sensibility and the exquisite soundtracks, they are a delight to watch, ironically or otherwise. Likewise, I’m a fan of the decades-later, Samuel L. Jackson-starring 2000 sequel, also called “Shaft.”

So, the idea of returning us to the Shaft Cinematic Universe in the present day held obvious appeal for me, even though I understood that reconciling what I loved about the films with some of the more obviously dated and unenlightened aspects. All of those films are products of their times, for better or worse.

This new “Shaft” needed to do the same thing – be a product of its time. And by embracing the multi-generational aspect of the world that had been built with senses of both homage and humor, this new film – directed by Tim Story from a screenplay by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow – is able to integrate the old with the new in some ways.

Unfortunately, there are some aspects that simply have not aged well, and the world has shifted far too much for them to be rejuvenated. There was a chance to say something about how certain societal attitudes have evolved in the past half-century. Instead, we get something whose regressive aspects are far too present. The stars are game and there are a few compelling stretches, but really, this movie feels like nothing so much as a missed opportunity.

Published in Movies

Eventually, we’re all going to have to come to terms with the end of the “Liam Neeson avenges a relative after something bad happens to him/her” subgenre of films. As much as we might want to think he can do it forever, the truth is that Neeson will have to stop someday.

But today is not that day.

“Cold Pursuit” – an American adaptation of the 2014 Norwegian film “Kraftidioten” (“In Order of Disappearance”) – is the latest entry into Neeson’s old guy action oeuvre. He’s done planes and trains, so it was only a matter of time before we got to snowplows. Yes, really. It’s the story of a simple man who vows to determine the truth behind the loss of a loved one; his quest leads him to take up arms against a variety of bad guys, even though it might well wind up costing him everything – including his humanity.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 03 February 2019 18:25

‘Miss Bala’ mostly misfires

By now, we’ve grown accustomed to unconventional action movie leads. The past decade-plus has illustrated that action heroes are no longer one-size-fits-all. So I wasn’t all that surprised to see that Gina Rodriguez was getting a swing at heading up her own shoot-em-up.

Sure, Rodriguez is best known as the titular Jane in TV’s “Jane the Virgin,” but she has shown flashes of action aptitude in movies like “Annihilation.” It makes sense that she’d get a shot. It’s just too bad that said shot wildly misses the target.

“Miss Bala” – a remake of the 2011 Mexican film of the same name – is a story of a woman who gets swept up into a fight that she had nothing to with, a battle between cartels and corrupt police and unfeeling governments. Forced into the middle of a war she never wanted to fight, she has no choice but to do whatever it takes to survive.

Unfortunately, while the movie has a striking look and a handful of genuinely engaging sequences, the vast majority of the narrative is confusing and convoluted. Subplots are introduced and discarded at seeming random, with little consistency regarding what should be considered important. It is chaotic and melodramatic, a feature-length telenovela with explosions (not a compliment, though I can see how it might read as one).

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 19 December 2018 13:35

The ‘Mortal Engines’ that couldn’t

Every once in a while, I’ll see a movie that indicates to me that the YA dystopia film adaptation boom is coming to a close. In terms of critical and/or commercial performance – not to mention general quality – it will just cry out rock bottom. And yet, we keep getting more big-budget dart throws as studios desperately grasp for the next “Hunger Games.”

But few of those shots-in-the-dark have failed even close to as spectacularly as “Mortal Engines.” This film – based on the Peter Reeve book series of the same name – was supposed to be a jumping-off point for a new franchise. Instead, it might be the biggest bomb of the year.

It’s a clanking, overwrought piece of stylized junk. The effects work is uneven, the narrative is simplistic and riddled with holes and the performances are indifferent at best and distractingly terrible at worst. This movie traffics in every cliché and overused trope in the YA sphere – and does so while completely lacking awareness. It clanks and crunches and generally disappoints; it is as poorly-oiled a machine as you’re likely to find.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 28 November 2018 14:00

New ‘Robin Hood’ wildly off-target

There are few characters that have had as many different Hollywood love affairs as Robin Hood. The legendary outlaw with the “rob from the rich, give to the poor” ethos has been featured on the big screen since the medium’s beginnings – his first cinematic appearance was in “Robin Hood and His Merry Men” back in 1908. Over the subsequent century-plus, the character has turned up scores of times on screens large and small alike.

Which begs the question: did we NEED another Robin Hood movie?

The answer, if we’re going by the Otto Bathurst-directed, Taron Egerton-starring “Robin Hood,” is a resounding “no.” It’s a clunky, uneven effort at reimagining the character; the narrative defies logic and the action defies physics. Efforts to be edgy feel tryhard and condescending. The end result is a jarring mess of a movie, a joyless slog that feels like nothing else so much as a waste of your time.

Published in Movies

As the end of the year approaches, moviegoers can look forward to a deluge of quality films gracing screens as studios jockey for position in the coming awards season. There are a spate of great films looming just over the horizon.

But as the new submarine action thriller “Hunter Killer” aptly illustrates – we’re not quite there yet.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 19 September 2018 11:21

To catch ‘The Predator’

When Hollywood isn’t rebooting or remaking, it’s sequel-izing – even if the previous entry is years or even decades in the past. The successful efforts are fairly few and far between, but the wave of IP filmmaking doesn’t appear to have crested yet.

And so we get another “Predator” movie.

“The Predator” is the fourth standalone film in the franchise, following “Predator” (1987), “Predator 2” (1990) and “Predators” (2010) – please note that we’re not including the two crossover films with the “Alien” universe. Shane Black – who is not only one of the best action screenwriters of the past 25 years and a heck of a director, but actually played a small part in “Predator” back in 1987 – is the ideal man to bring this franchise back, someone with a clear affection for and understanding of the source material. Black directs from a script he co-wrote with Fred Dekker.

Set in the present day, it’s the story of a soldier whose chance encounter with an alien in the jungle leads to a fight to save himself and everyone he cares about from a gruesome (and I do mean GRUESOME) death. It is packed with gags and gore, a throwback sort of action movie that feels like it would fit right into the heyday of the original. It’s a flawed film, to be sure, but action fans will have a hell of a time.

Published in Movies
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