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The constant churn of Netflix, forever turning out project after project, is such that one can never be sure of the quality (or lack thereof) of a given movie. It also means that it can be very difficult to know exactly what one is getting into when they sit down to watch. That said, the churn also results in a wide array of different sorts of movies, running the genre gamut and offering unique opportunities.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” currently streaming on the service, is just such a unique opportunity. The film, directed by Navot Pushapado from a script he co-wrote with Ehud Laveski, is a stylized pastiche of a movie, riddled with homages to an assortment of action and action-adjacent offerings that came before. Some of those nods are overt – the influence of the “John Wick” franchise is all over this movie – while others are a bit more subtle (though that’s likely the last time you’re going to hear anyone use the word “subtle” in reference to this film.

It’s part action thriller, part mother-daughter drama, rife with high-octane set pieces interspersed with moments of fraught emotion. Driven by an exceptional cast and an over-the-top aesthetic, it’s a film whose strengths far outstrip its flaws, resulting in a lurid and loony good time at the movies.

Published in Movies

The past couple of months have seen a slow and uneven return to movie theaters. Films that were delayed or otherwise impacted by the pandemic are gradually returning, filling the country’s big screens with the outsized sequels and franchise fare that many have spent the past year-plus anticipating.

We watched a battle of the monsters when King Kong fought Godzilla. We held our breaths as Emily Blunt took on alien invaders in near-silence. Chris Rock was in a “Saw” movie and Emma Stone gave us a Cruella de Vil origin story. We even got to see Vin Diesel get faster and furiouser than ever alongside his franchise family and a smattering of movie stars. But even with all that, it was hard to say that the moviegoing experience was truly, fully back … until now.

That’s right - the MCU is on the big screen, baby!

“Black Widow,” the ostensible first installment in the MCU’s Phase Four, has landed, both in theaters and via premium access on Disney+. Directed by Cate Shortland from Eric Pearson’s screenplay, the film centers on the titular Black Widow and her doings during the period between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

It’s an interesting choice, taking a leap back chronologically with the leadoff film of the newest phase. And some of the narrative wind has been knocked from its sails due to the pandemic delays – Marvel’s three MCU-connected TV shows were supposed to follow this film; instead, they came first. Those looking for big advances to the overarching MCU narrative will likely come away slightly disappointed; the nature of this film means that major revelations are unlikely. However, when judged on its own merits, “Black Widow” is solid action-adventure; not top-tier Marvel, but far from the worst.

Published in Movies

Creating compelling science fiction isn’t easy. At its heart, it’s a genre of ideas – the best sci-fi is that which finds ways to explore those ideas through the building of interesting worlds and populating those worlds with engaging characters. That’s when sci-fi is most successful.

However, it can be very easy to get caught up in the trappings of the genre; too many filmmakers choose to repurpose that which has already been successful, assuming that these pieces can be reassembled into something new.

And often, when they do that, the end result is something like “The Tomorrow War,” a film that is new, yes, but feels all too familiar.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the film – directed by Chris McKay from a script by Zach Dean – wraps itself in all-too-familiar tropes, feeling at times almost like a pastiche of influences from other, better sci-fi movies. Every piece of it is something that you’ve seen somewhere else before, and while sci-fi is a genre driven by seminal works of the past, you still need to bring something new to the table … and this movie doesn’t.

That’s not to say that the movie has nothing to offer – there are certainly moments – but ultimately, it’s kind of a tonal mess, one that unevenly stitches together its disparate inspirations while also largely squandering a decidedly talented cast.

Published in Movies
Monday, 28 June 2021 12:08

Even faster and furiouser – ‘F9’

I don’t want to be accused of burying the lead here, so I’ll just say this now: “F9” is a big, loud bunch of hot nonsense. The plot is transparently thin and peppered with holes at its best and utterly incoherent at worst. The performances are broadly winking and cartoonish. The action sequences gleefully defy even the most basic understanding of how physics work. It is candy-colored chaos, littered with CGI explosions and one-liners of varying effectiveness.

And I enjoyed myself very much.

Look, I love well-crafted sophisticated filmmaking as much as the next guy. I love complex characters working through engaging narratives, with ever word and deed sporting some sort of discernible motivation. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t also find joy within the confines of the car chase cash register that is the “F&F” franchise.

This latest installment – tenth in the series if you count “Hobbes & Shaw,” which I absolutely do – continues the ever-increasing bats—ttery that has marked the series for years now. You don’t need me to point out the bizarreness of a little film about street racing developing into a blockbuster monolith packed with action and espionage and an ongoing cavalcade of movie stars, but it’s hard to write about any of these films without at least acknowledging that truth. Justin Lin, who made his name by directing entries three through six in the franchise, returns to the helm for this entry.

I cannot in good conscience tell you that this movie is good. It is not. However, there is no denying this movie is great fun to watch. You’ve probably heard films described as something where you just “need to turn off your brain.” Suffice it to say, you might want to get ready to flip that switch. Sure, you’ll likely find yourself chuckling and shaking your head at the physically impossible action set pieces or the wildly improbable twists and turns in the narrative. Frankly, there’s a lot here that feels not just incoherent, but almost willfully stupid. And yet – there’s just something about it.

Published in Movies

There’s no accounting for taste – especially in Hollywood. Concepts like “good” and “bad” are mere abstracts at the highest levels of the movie business. The quality of the product itself is secondary; all that matters is the money. And when a movie makes a lot of money, there’s a good chance we’re going to get a sequel. Even if the movie in question is kind of terrible.

Hence, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

This awkwardly-titled sequel to 2017’s mediocre-at-best action-comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” can’t even rise to the level of the rather low bar set by its predecessor. This new offering features Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds reprising their roles as the titular hitman and bodyguard, respectively; Salma Hayek is back as well (she’s the wife). A collection of new faces appears as well, including a handful of folks who definitely should have known better.

Gotta tell you - it’s not good, folks.

That first film managed to get by on the energy of its two leads and the chemistry between them, occasionally reaching the level of store-brand “Midnight Run,” but even that sense of fun is long gone in this new entry. Instead, we get a tonally inconsistent combination of smug mugging and bloody violence that isn’t nearly as funny as it seems to think it is, presented to us alongside a confusing and borderline nonsensical plot and a bunch of rote, repetitive and generally uninteresting action sequences.

Published in Movies

No one gets Jason Statham quite like Guy Ritchie. And vice versa.

From the very beginnings of their mutually beneficial collaborative efforts, the two have proven deft at understanding and embracing the talents of the other. But it has been a long time since their last outing together – 2005’s “Revolver” – and a lot has changed, with both men venturing more fully into the realm of the blockbuster.

They’ve teamed up once more on the new film “Wrath of Man,” based on the 2004 French film “Le Convoyeur.” It’s a Ritchie specialty, featuring assorted lowlifes and criminals and their behaviors of varying degrees of amorality. It’s an action thriller content to lean far more heavily on the former rather than the latter, sitting back and letting its action star lead do what he does best.

Watching this movie, you wouldn’t guess that it had been 15-plus years since Statham and Ritchie worked together. But the energy and sensibility that they shared is still going strong – it’s not the best work either’s ever done, but it is a solid entry into the filmography of both.

Published in Movies

I’ve never read a Tom Clancy novel. I’ve seen a few adaptations of his work and have a general sense of his fundamental airport-fiction-with-militaristic-themes vibe, but I can’t say that I have a deep familiarity with his oeuvre.

But it’s all a matter of taste – the dude has topped the NYT best-seller list 17 times and has overall sales figures in nine digits, so what do I know?

However, I have to imagine that the new film adaptation “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” doesn’t necessarily live up to the man’s legacy, even with his name right there in the title. Directed by Stefano Sollima and co-written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, the Amazon Studios original is a bit of a mess, with a convoluted plot and motivationless characters careening from set piece to set piece without a whole lot of rhyme or reason along the way.

Now, the film has Michael B. Jordan as its lead, which helps compensate for the more egregious flaws, but the reality is that as talented as he is, he’s just one actor. And even with all those muscles, he can’t lift this film out of the chaotic morass; he’s definitely an action star, but even a star’s shine can’t hide the ragged edges of this one.

Published in Movies

Justice for the Justice League!

Specifically, for director Zack Snyder’s vision of the team – a vision that was undeniably disrupted by the circumstances surrounding 2017’s “Justice League.” When personal issues led to Snyder’s walking away from the project during post-production, replacement director Joss Whedon wound up putting his own very distinct stamp on the proceedings … for better or worse.

Mostly worse, as it turns out.

But now, in what is a first in the vast and varied world of big-budget superhero cinema, we’ve been given a chance to experience something far closer to Snyder’s original intent – a do-over. Thanks in no small part to massive internet outcry from fans, the powers that be at HBO gave the keys back to Snyder (as well as a hefty budget, around $70 million) to turn the film back toward his original intent, retrofitting and reshooting and ultimately restoring Snyder’s vision.

The end result is “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” a four-hour extravaganza that far outshines the film that came before it. It’s better. A lot better. Now, if you want to argue that it’s bloated and unnecessary, I won’t fight you. Think a dangerous precedent has been sent regarding the power potential of dedicated fandoms, no matter how potentially toxic? Could be. None of that changes the fact that this new film, as overwrought and overproduced as it may be, is a significant improvement.

It’s got many of the usual issues that dog Snyder’s work – the washed-out color palette, the ubiquitous slo-mo, the jittery, hard-to-follow battle scenes – but even those concerns are lesser here than they’ve been in previous films. And the storytelling gains – particularly when it comes to certain character arcs – more than offset all of that.

For me, it boils down to this. I basically shrugged my shoulders at “Justice League” in 2017. I genuinely enjoyed “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” … and I really wasn’t sure that I would.

Published in Movies

So there sure have been a lot of time loop movies lately, huh?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m as big a fan as anyone of the “Groundhog Day, but also this” genre. But at this point, you have to bring something new to the table; it’s all familiar now, so what else you got?

Movies like Hulu’s “Boss Level,” directed by Joe Carnahan and starring Frank Grillo, usually need that extra push to become something other than disposable. This action-driven time looper never does get around to breaking new ground, so its ceiling is on the low side. However, through gleefully nonsensical action sequences and a fresh-out-of-f—ks performance from Frank Grillo in the lead, it actually gets pretty close to that ceiling.

It’s a movie that does have some fun with its premise, offering a number of sharp action sequences and a few decent gags (including a couple that are a little … squishy). The cast is having a good time and no one is expecting you to think too hard. Again – you’ve seen it all before, but there are definitely worse ways to kill a couple of hours.

Published in Movies
Monday, 18 January 2021 16:37

‘Outside the Wire’ offers so-so sci-fi

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: In a relatively near future, a human and a robot or forced to team up with the fate of the world at stake, but not all is as it seems.

Sound familiar? Then you’re well-equipped for “Outside the Wire,” a new sci-fi action film coming your way via Netflix. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Hafstrom from a script co-written by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe, the film is an uneven mashup of familiar genre tropes that sports that unmistakable Netflix sheen.

Basically, if you’ve seen even one human/robot partnership movie, there aren’t likely to be many surprises for you here. “Outside the Wire” is essentially a collection of predictable plot points punctuated by action set pieces and lots of explosions, without even the headiness of ideas that make some of its spiritual predecessors conceptually engaging as well as viscerally.

Published in Movies
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