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Monday, 12 September 2022 13:30

‘End of the Road’ a bumpy ride

Every so often, a movie comes along that answers a question that you didn’t even know you wanted to ask. Many times, that movie arrives courtesy of Netflix, because with the sheer volume of content they push out, there’s more than a little “infinite monkeys/infinite typewriters” energy there.

For example, take “End of the Road,” the new thriller from the streamer. Directed by Millicent Shelton from a script by Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery and starring Queen Latifah, it’s ostensibly an action thriller that follows a road-tripping family as they get pulled into a murderous web of criminals and ill-gotten cash. I say “ostensibly” because, while that is certainly technically correct, the film manages to raise one of those unanticipated questions.

To wit: just how many over-the-top tropes clichés can one film family endure before we move from the realm of the thriller into the theater of the absurd? The answer? Significantly fewer than get thrown at Queen Latifah and company in these 90 minutes of escalating nonsense.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you just know that you’re going to like a movie. You hear the basic concept, you learn who’s involved, maybe you catch a trailer or two and boom – you’re in.

That’s how I felt when I first learned about “Day Shift,” the new film currently streaming on Netflix. Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco are hunting vampires? And Snoop Dogg is in it? Directed by stunt legend J.J. Perry in his directorial debut, it’s a high-octane genre mashup, bringing together action, horror and comedy to create a fast-paced, funny entertainment experience.

For me, it’s an easy call. You’ve got elaborate action sequences. You’ve got over the top gore. You’ve got banter and jokes. And you’ve got a trailer that prominently features one of my favorite actresses (and human beings) tearing s—t up as a vampire. Of COURSE I liked it. What’s not to like?

This movie is big and broad in the ways that we want movies to be big and broad. This is pedal-to-the-metal entertainment, pure and simple – and it is one hell of a good time.

Published in Movies

As someone who cut my teeth on the action movies of the 1980s, I have a fondness in my heart for certain highlights of the genre. However, that fondness doesn’t always extend to the increasingly tenuous and threadbare cavalcade of churned-out sequels that often followed them well into the 21st century.

“Predator” was one of those movies, an oiled-up and explosive gun show of a film that helped catapult Arnold Schwarzenegger to the top of the action heap. Of course, it was not immune to the industry’s obsession with recycling IP, leading to a handful of middling-to-bad extensions of the franchise.

So I wasn’t necessarily expecting much from “Prey,” the new film streaming on Hulu. Sure, the conceit – a prequel of sorts, set in the Great Plains of the early 1700s – was intriguing, but there’s a lot of room for this kind of revisitation to go terribly awry.

I needn’t have worried.

Director Dan Trachtenberg, working from a screenplay by Patrick Aison (the two share story credit), has created a fantastic addition to the franchise’s canon. It is a vivid and compelling story of survival against seeming insurmountable odds, one rendered all the more engaging by an absolutely outstanding lead performance from Amber Midthunder. It is smart and sharp, packed with action while also approaching this familiar story from an unfamiliar – and extremely effective – angle.

Published in Movies

There’s a surprising amount of malleability when it comes to action movies. There’s lots of room within the genre to tell different types of stories. Some are self-serious while others are winking. Some are subtle while others are over the top. What they all share, however, is a sense of excitement, that feeling of pumping adrenaline. They are propulsive in whatever manner best suits them.

Sometimes, that propulsive vibe is more literal. Say, if the action takes place on a (very) fast train?

“Bullet Train,” directed by David Leitch from a Zak Olkewicz screenplay adapted from Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel “Maria Beetle,” brings that sense of relentless motion to candy-colored life on the big screen. It’s the story of a former assassin tasked with a simple job – procure a briefcase – on a high-speed train from Tokyo to Kyoto. However, it turns out that he’s far from the only one on this train with a vested interest in said briefcase, with scattered connections red-threading their way outward and inward.

Equal parts action movie and screwball comedy, it’s a movie that weds elaborate fight choreography with slapstick elements to create moments that are both bloody and hilarious. The dialogue is packed with snappy patter and the characters are the best sorts of caricatures. It is unhinged and garish and a hell of a lot of fun, even if the narrative doesn’t quite hold together.

Published in Movies

Say what you will about Joe and Anthony Russo, but they understand what it means for a movie to be big. There are few filmmakers currently working who understand the particulars of blockbusters as well as they do. The Russos seem to have an inherent grasp of what makes large-scale films work. So it’s no surprise that the powers that be at Netflix would tap the Russos to helm their biggest budget film to date.

That film is “The Gray Man,” an action blockbuster currently streaming on the service. The Russos direct from a script by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, adapted from the 2009 Mark Greaney novel of the same name. It has all the components of a massive movie – huge budget, A-list stars, elaborate set pieces and exotic locales, the whole shebang – so of course, why not enlist guys who fundamentally get it to steer the ship?

It’s an espionage action-thriller, a story about one man’s attempt to survive when the government agency for which he has spent over a decade working decides that he has become a liability. This is a big, loud globetrotter of an adventure, and while it perhaps doesn’t work as fully as it might have, it remains an exciting and engaging work of popcorn entertainment.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, a project just sounds questionable on its face. You hear the pitch and, for whatever reason, you’re left wondering just who gave this idea the go-ahead. It sounds ridiculous, yet scores of decision-makers said yes.

In this case, those yeses led to “Lightyear.”

Did we really need an origin story for Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story”? Specifically, an origin story for the character on whom the toy was based? It all seems so silly. That being said, this IS Pixar we’re talking about – this is not an outfit that is known for misfires. They’ve got a couple of hiccups on their resume, but for the most part, the work they do is generally both critically and commercially successful.

So a high floor is standard for Pixar. But just what kind of ceiling are we talking about? Again, this is weirdly high-concept – “Lightyear” is ostensibly young Andy’s favorite movie, the one that served as the inspiration for the toy Buzz Lightyear – so it’s obviously a bit more overtly meta than what we usually get from the studio. But the big question remains: Is it good?

And the answer is yes. It is good. Quite good, actually.

What we get from “Lightyear” is a legitimately solid space adventure, one with a compelling story, some good jokes and a few surprises. It’s a good-looking movie, of course (we’d expect nothing less from Pixar), and it has plenty of heart (ditto). It’s a bit more grown-up than the studio’s regular fare, but certainly suitable for all audiences. And as always, be prepared for an instance or two of emotional impact.

Adventure, excitement, humor and pathos – you know … Pixar.

Published in Movies

Look, dinosaurs are cool. We can all agree on that. Movies about dinosaurs, however … that’s a bit more complicated.

Back in 1993, “Jurassic Park” completely altered the cinematic landscape, showing a generation of moviegoers what was possible. Now, some three decades later, the fifth sequel to that film – third in the legacyquel “Jurassic World” trilogy – shows us that over time, magic always fades … even if the magic is dinosaur-shaped.

“Jurassic World Dominion” is … fine. Perhaps a little less than fine. Colin Trevorrow is back behind the camera, directing from a script (such as it is) he co-wrote with Emily Carmichael. It is a big effects-laden movie that isn’t all that concerned with character development or narrative cohesion, instead opting to throw a bunch of locations and dinosaurs at the wall, mix in some nostalgia casting and call it a day.

The plot – such as it is – is both overstuffed and riddled with holes; don’t worry if there are stretches where you’re not sure what is happening or why – it seems as though perhaps the filmmakers were in the same boat. Still, it’s better than the previous installment. Largely because it would have to have actively tried to be worse, but hey – better is better.

And again – dinosaurs. There are a LOT of dinosaurs. Just an absolute s—t-ton of dinosaurs, which is always going to be pretty cool, regardless of the comprehensibility of the story that surrounds them. So even if the movie as a whole isn’t good (and it isn’t, not really), it doesn’t matter, because it definitely delivers on the dinosaurs, and hey – if you’re not down for various flavors of dino-action, then what are we even doing here?

Published in Movies
Monday, 02 May 2022 11:45

‘Memory’ lame

Few things give me movie critic déjà vu quite like reviewing a Liam Neeson geriaction movie. Most of the time, it feels like if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. Mostly because if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that I dislike these movies. Though I should be clear, I don’t exactly like them either. It’s more of a fascination, the idea that these movies, despite being the very definition of formulaic, somehow keep getting financed and distributed in movie theaters nationwide.

The latest in the seemingly unending line of movies where Liam Neeson seeks vengeance and/or justice is “Memory,” directed by Martin Campbell; the screenplay was adapted by Dario Scardapane from the 2003 Belgian film “The Memory of a Killer.” Neeson’s a bad guy this time, although in these circumstances, he’s on the right side ethically, if not necessarily legally.

He’s a guy with a certain set of skills who is thrust into a situation that spirals out of his control. He uses his talents to protect himself, yes, but also to do right by a powerless person who has suffered at the hands of someone at the elite levels of money and power.

(Seriously – how many times have you seen this movie?)

But while I’ll concede that this movie is superior to other recent entries on Neeson’s old-man CV (like “Blacklight,” which you’ll be shocked to be reminded came out less than three months ago – or at least, I was shocked), it’s still not anything like a good movie. There’s a basic competence at work here, both behind and in front of the camera, but the paint-by-numbers plotting and the unsavory subject matter make it tough to give this film anything more than a shoulder shrug.

Published in Movies
Monday, 11 April 2022 14:02

Emergency Bay – ‘Ambulance’

There’s a tendency to bemoan the dearth of original films coming out of Hollywood. The IP franchise model has largely taken over the industry, with relatively little room for material not explicitly designed as part of a larger, familiar whole. That desire for standalone offerings is certainly understandable.

What you might not have expected, however, is that Michael Bay would be the one to fulfill that desire for you.

Bay’s new film is “Ambulance,” a heist thriller based on a 2005 Danish film of the same name (although the director reportedly never saw the original nor read the screenplay). It’s the sort of movie we’ve come to expect from Bay, one packed to the brim with over-the-top action set pieces and overwrought interpersonal dynamics while also being somewhat lacking in the narrative cohesion department.

It’s the Michael Bay experience.

You’re not here for explorations of the complexity of the human condition. You’re not here for taut dialogue loaded with subtext. You are here to watch guns being fired, vehicles being crashed and a whole lot of explosions of various sizes and shapes. You know it. I know it. And Michael Bay definitely knows it.

Published in Movies

There was a certain flavor of film that we used to see fairly often back in the day, films that were part rom-com, part adventure. These movies brought together action elements with love stories and steeped the whole thing in quippy banter and moments of slapstick. Now, were these movies always good? Of course not. But they were almost always fun – and that was more than enough.

We don’t see as many of those films these days, what with the industry’s pivot to IP blockbusters and franchise development. But when they do turn up, it can be a reminder of how much fun these kinds of movie experiences can be.

“The Lost City,” directed by Aaron and Adam Nee from a screenplay they co-wrote with Dana Fox and Oren Uziel, is a throwback to those delightful mélanges of comedy, adventure and romance. Thanks to some engaging performances, headlined by Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, and a distinctly retro storytelling sensibility, the movie proves to be a lovely romp, a frothy, goofy trifle of a film that refuses to take itself too seriously.

Sure, it might not be great cinema, but I definitely had a great time … and I bet you will too.

Published in Movies
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