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Official Secrets (2019)
A rare solid, well done political drama
Official Secrets hasn't received a ton of publicity in terms of press or advertising. Despite a decent release in theaters, there hasn't been much of a strong marketing push behind the film, which is surprising given a cast consisting of some big names, an intriguing premise based on a true story, and political themes that are just as relevant today as they were back in 2003 when the movie takes place.
A political drama with elements of a thriller thrown in, Official Secrets is not typical Hollywood fare, nor is it an arthouse bore. It's the type of film that seems like HBO would have made a few years back when the cable network was making timely political dramas. While the film is certainly very dialogue driven and talky, full credit goes to director Gavin Hood for making sure everything is still fast-paced, clear, and interesting to watch. There's enough story that Offical Secrets easily could have been a two-and-a-half to three hour epic, but at a lean, not-quite two hours, Hood tells all the important aspects of the story without any filler or insignificant details. At times, I wish there was just a little bit more with some of the journalist characters as they somewhat disappear in the second act, but as this is a movie Katharine Gun, it's appropriate what she went through gets the most screentime.
As Katharine Gun, Keira Knightley gives one of, if not the best of her career. Having to juggle the emotions of having the strength to do what she feels is right with the intense that the government will put her away, Knightley's performance is perfectly balanced and compelling throughout. As the journalist who first investigates Gun's whistle-blowing claim, Matt Smith is able to make his character memorable despite answering phones for most of his scenes. The rest of the cast is equally solid, even when not given the most significant of parts.
Official Secrets could have been the All the President's about the Iraqi War, or it could have been a straight biopic about Katharine Gun. The end result is a satisfying mix of both with Gun's story getting the screentime it deserves, along with several better-than-they-ought-to-be scenes of journalists investigating her claims. From time to time, there is also a bit of a thriller thrown in as Katharine becomes more paranoid about who is watching her. I suspect this balance of biography/political drama/slight thriller might throw some viewers off. It's not quite a perfect film, but it's one of the more thought-provoking, underrated gems of 2019. 8/10
Blinded by the Light (2019)
A unique coming-of-age period piece
I pretty much love any 1980s period piece and I love coming-of-age stories, so I had little doubt that I would enjoy Blinded by the Light, the story of a Pakistani teenager (Viveik Kalra) living in Luton, England in 1987 who has his dreams of becoming a writer inspired when he hears the music of Bruce Springsteen for the first time, despite the disapproval of his strict father (Kulvinder Ghir). Although I'm not super familiar with Bruce Springsteen's music (I know only his biggest hits), I still had a good time with most of what Blinded by the Light had to offer. The film combines comedy, drama, and music into a fun, moving, and altogether unique two hours at the movies.
The cast of Blinded by the Light is uniformly excellent. Both the teenage roles and the adult roles are perfectly cast, and every performance is done just right. The disapproving father and the long-suffering son are two biggest clichés in television and film, but because Viveik Kalra and Kulvinder Ghir are strong actors, they are able to overcome the predictable nature of the story. In supporting roles, Rob Brydon, Hayley Atwell, Nell Williams, and Dean-Charles Chapman all make the most of their small parts, turning what could have been throwaway roles into fairly memorable parts. Unfortunately, some of their characters' plot lines don't get resolved in a completely satisfying way, so the end of the film isn't all it could have been. The first two acts of Blinded by the Light work almost perfectly, but the last act doesn't work nearly as well as what came before.
While some story elements may disappoint, where Blinded by the Light never disappoints is in the music. There are very few scenes that aren't accompanied by a classic 1980s song. Most of the soundtrack obviously consists of Bruce Springsteen songs, although there are also tracks from Tiffany, Cutting Crew, and a-ha are also featured. There is great song after great song all over the film. This could have seemed super forced as an excuse to sell a soundtrack, yet the songs seem well placed within the context of the film. The movie never turns into a full blown musical, staying firmly realistic when it could have become ridiculous. Additionally, in terms of visual style, the lyrics to some of Springsteen's greatest hits are occasionally splattered across the screen, a unique idea that is used just sparingly enough as to not become gimmicky.
Blinded by the Light was probably never going to become a huge box office hit, as its appeal is a fairly limited, but it's also the type of movie that has future cult favorite written all over it. Those who like coming-of-age of age tales, period pieces, or 1980s music are bound to find much to like here. Despite some clichés, it's a feel-good, surprisingly sweet film worth checking out. 7/10
Good Boys (2019)
Greatest comedy of the year!
The best way to describe Good Boys is that it's a cross behind a live-action version of "South Park" and Superbad. After Superbad became a huge hit in 2007, it seemed like the youth-oriented R-rated comedy would make a major comeback. Instead, the genre all but disappeared. Over the past dozen years, the R-rated comedy has been virtually non-existent with only a handful of comedic studio releases carrying the restrictive rating, so it's a great surprise to see something like Good Boys finally hit theaters again.
Some might say that Good Boys sticks a little too close to the Superbad formula, and there's probably some truth to that. At times, the film does play like a middle school remake of Superbad. That said, I think it's even funnier than Superbad was, so it's hard to hold that against it. Where Good Boys is different than most R-rated youth comedies is in just how young the protagonists of the film are. Having sixth graders swear like high schoolers typically do in films is kind of shocking to see in a mainstream motion picture. Not since Up the Academy (the little seen MAD Magazine film) has a theatrical comedy dared to show middle schoolers as they really talk. For some, this will seem offensive. For those who are younger, this will be seen as entirely realistic, which is what makes Good Boys as successful as it is. It's rare to see a comedy that is both realistic and funny. The only scenes in Good Boys that don't work are the ones that seem a bit too over-the-top (the arm scene for example). 90% of the time the events in Good Boys seem like they could happen in real life, and that makes everything more interesting to watch.
One major advantage the film has over most recent movies is absolutely perfect pacing. There is not a minute wasted here, with almost every moment going towards excellently timed jokes, necessary character development, and moving the story forward as quickly as possible. The usual awful exposition that can be found in a lot of broad comedies doesn't exist here. There were some great lines in the red band trailers that didn't make the final cut, but I didn't miss them too much. Good Boys is easily has the best pacing of any comedy this decade.
Hopefully, Good Boys is a box office success. It's not quite a masterpiece, but it's as close to a comedic masterpiece as I've seen this decade. This is raunchy gold. Highly recommended. 8/10
The return of Rocko!
I had my doubts about Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling. Although I was a huge fan of "Rocko's Modern Life" as a kid, I very rarely enjoy watching cartoons as an adult. Also, given the fact that 'Static Cling' sat on the shelf for a while before being sold to Netflix didn't inspire me with confidence it was going to be worthwhile. Alas, I was wrong. Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling is not only the most entertaining Netflix program I've watched in a while, it's also the best Rocko's Modern Life has ever been as a franchise.
The plot is simple: taking place 20+ years after the finale of the original series, 'Static Cling' opens with protagonists Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt traveling around in space, before crashing back into O-Town. Having been away for two decades, the trio find themselves having to adjust to life in the 21st century. The slim plot is basically an excuse to lampoon the culture of 2019 with cell phones, food trucks, reality television, business culture, superhero movies, and TV "reboots" all being targets. While some of these are pretty easy topics to take jabs at, the jokes here are clever and funny without ever being the most obvious of gags. The overall nature of the jokes are less juvenile/crude than the ones found in a typical old "Rocko's Modern Life" episode, and I admit that I was kind of hoping the writers would push the envelope a little more for 2019, but I really can't complain given that this made me laugh more than anything I've watched all summer.
Although certainly super funny and entertaining, it's slightly disappointing that 'Static Cling' only runs 45 minutes long. This easily could have been 15-30 minutes longer, closer to the length of a movie. I'm sure there was plenty of material that the writers didn't use. I guess as this was originally supposed to be a TV special, it had to be able to fit into an hour timeslot, but it would have been great to see more. Given its quick running time, there's absolutely no dead spots. 'Static' Cling moves at a lightening fast pace.
For fans who loved "Rocko's Modern Life" when it was on the air in the 1990s, 'Static Cling' is almost guaranteed to satisfy. It keeps everything that was great about the original show and perfectly updates it to modern day. Out of all the recent revivals of old television shows, this is by far the most successful. Highly recommended. 9/10
Fun summer buddy comedy
Stuber is the type of action buddy comedy that would been greenlit instantly in the 1990s: a mismatched pair, one guy a macho cop and the other a wimpy driver, must learn to work together to solve a case involving drug dealers and corrupt cops. The fact that Uber figures into the plot is the only element that wouldn't have present had this movie been made 20 years ago. The movie is generic and cliched with absolutely no real surprises in terms of story, but it is also, thankfully, just amusing enough to overcome those flaws. Stuber doesn't revolutionize the buddy genre, though it does prove that the formula can still work given a funny script, a good cast, and solid direction.
For those who don't like Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista, Stuber is going to a painful watch. The duo brings their usual personas to their respective roles and turn in the performances fans would expect. As a fan of both stars, I got a lot of enjoyment out of seeing them bicker and banter onscreen. In the role of Uber driver Stu, Nanjiani makes the character timid without coming across annoying or over-the-top. The character easily could have been too overtly pathetic or cringe-worthy, but Nanjiana manages to portray Stu as just likeable and relatable enough to keep the audience on his side. As determined, no-nonsense cop Vic, Bautista brings charisma and toughness to a character that could have been a grating jerk. If there's one big disappointment to Stuber, it's that Bautista doesn't have as many hand-to-hand fight scenes as I'd expect, but given that Stuber pushes more into the comedy category than hardcore action category, this is forgivable.
I've seen complaints about the handheld camera work and editing ruining a lot of the action in Stuber, and while that may be true of the opening scene, the rest of the action in the film is well shot and easy to follow. The car chase towards the end of the film is the high point, perfectly mixing exciting action with laughs. The film had a relatively low budget for a studio flick, so those expecting massive set pieces are sure to be letdown, especially compared to the action extravaganzas that have been released this summer. At 88 minutes, Stuber provides enough comedy and action without feeling overstuffed.
Ultimately, the fact that Stuber was released in the middle of the summer may be the main contributing factor to its less than stellar box office. It is not the best movie of the summer, but it is far from the worst. Had the film premiered on Netflix, I have a feeling the critical and audience reception the film would have been much kinder. As cliched and predictable as it may be, Stuber is entertaining, fun buddy fare. 7/10
Men in Black: International (2019)
Based purely on financial loss, Men in Black: International may end up being the largest flop of summer 2019. In most cases, a big-budget flop is rightfully contributed to a film's poor quality. Oftentimes, films that bomb are deserving of that fate. Maybe it's because I've never been a huge fan of the previous Men in Black features, but I find Men in Black: International completely undeserving of its dismal box office take and lackluster critical reception.
Unlike the previous MIB sequels, it doesn't repeat plot points and events from its predecessors and introduces almost an entirely new cast of characters and storylines. In other words, it does exactly what a sequel should do. While 'International' isn't the most original movie ever, it does at least bring a few fresh ideas to the table. Most significantly, this is a male/female buddy comedy. Buddy comedy being my favorite genre, I can't off the top of my head think of another that combines a man and a woman together, which, being 2019, is kind of surprising. Yet, 'International' doesn't get hung up on gender politics. It doesn't even have much in the way of social commentary. What it does have is an interesting story, a few decent twists, and great one-liners delivered by Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, who have the same natural chemistry that made Thor: Ragnarok work so well. The downside is that the movie spends so much time moving from plot point to plot point that neither character gets as much development as they should.
A lot of big-budget blockbusters these days get bogged down in endless CGI-heavy fight scenes that take over for story and ultimately becoming boring. Refreshingly, there is something somewhat smaller scale about the action sequences here. Entire planets don't get destroyed. There's not a body count in the hundreds. There aren't overly long battles that take up the whole third act. The action scenes in 'International' are relatively brief compared to modern day action pictures, but they are much more satisfying than most. There's plenty of variety on display here: a good fight scene, a solid chase scene, and occasional gunplay. None of this is overblown or overdone. It's well shot, nicely edited, and, above all, exciting to watch.
Obviously there will never be a sequel to MIB: International. The poor reception guarantees that. But compared to the likes of say last summer's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, 'International' demonstrates a franchise that is willing to go in a different direction to survive. I can't argue it's a great movie, but it is one of the best sequels to come out of Hollywood in a while. Recommended. 7/10
Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Best horror comedy of the decade
If there's one horror subgenre that has been dormant in the 2010s, it's the slasher film. A huge staple of the 1980s/1990s and of lesser prominence in the 2000s, the slasher subgenre has been basically nonexistent in the past few years, at least in terms of theatrically released horror movies. One of the very few slasher films released recently was Happy Death Day, a Groundhogs Day meets House on Sorority Row-style horror comedy that managed to make a healthy profit upon its release in late 2017. Naturally, a sequel was put into production fairly quickly and less than a year and a half after Happy Death Day comes Happy Death Day 2U.
While the title may be awful (there's really no reason the movie couldn't simply be called Happy Death Day 2), Happy Death Day 2U manages to be one of the rare sequels that is actually an improvement upon the original. Upping the comedy to the point that classifying it as a horror film may be a stretch, Happy Death Day 2U is more of a throwback to 80s classics like Back to the Future Part 2 and Real Genius than the slasher some genre fans might be expecting. On one level, that's disappointing; Happy Death Day did such a great job of paying homage to the slasher genre that to see that aspect minimized is a bit of a letdown. On the other hand, I can't deny that the increased dark humor of Happy Death Day 28U works. In fact, the film as laugh-out-loud funny as any movie I've seen in the past couple years with fantastic one-liners, solid visual gags, and humorous callbacks to the original. While the movie may actually provide the scares one might expect, it does fully deliver on macabre comedy.
This sequel is definitely zanier and a bit more over-the-top than the original but credit to the entire cast and director Christopher Landon for making the characters feel as real as possible amidst all the goofy time travel shenanigans and plot twists. The dramatic scenes are effective and character decisions make sense given the implausible situations, which isn't always the case in the time travel genre or the horror genre. It may sound weird to anyone who hasn't seen the movie, but Happy Death Day 2U gets downright moving towards its finale, with a something to say about grief and loss. I don't mean to oversell the flick as the next Citizen Kane, though it has far more depth and is more interesting than its dopey title would indicate.
I'm not sure why the box office numbers for Happy Death Day 2U are significantly lower than the first one. Maybe the dumb title scared some people off. Maybe the sequel should have come out slightly sooner, like at Halloween (where it would have faced the competition of, well, HALLOWEEN). Maybe the marketing push wasn't big enough. These things are never easy to figure out. Not every movie can be a breakthrough success at the box office. That said, the fact that Happy Death Day 2U is only making half of what the original did when the sequel is a way better film is disappointing. In time, maybe this sequel will develop a bigger following. A lot of horror sequels do. Unless that happens, it's unlikely Happy Death Day 3 will happen, which is a shame. This seems to be the only slasher franchise that gets better as it goes along. 8.5/10
An animated movie for everyone
Given the success of the Saturday morning "Spider-Man" cartoon in the 1990s and the character's ongoing popularity with kids, the fact that it took until 2018 for an animated Spider-Man feature film to get released is kind of shocking. Out of all the Marvel superheroes, Spider-Man seems like the most obvious choice for an animated film franchise. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is likely to launch that franchise, as it smartly appeals to both children who love the titular web-slinger and adults who still love the Marvel universe.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gives fans not just one Spider-Man, but a number of them including a middle-aged Spider-Man (Jake Johnson, giving the film's greatest voice performance), a film noir Spider-Man appropriately named Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), and a pig version of Spider-Man, Spider-Ham. The inclusion of Spider-Ham is a testament to just how well the film works. Spider-Ham is a really dumb idea for a character, but one that that is perfect for both a children's picture and the sci-fi nature that 'Spider-Verse' fully embraces. What could have been an embarrassing comic relief side character instead is one of the most amusing comic book characters put onscreen in a long time.
Unfortunately, before Spider-Ham and the other weirder characters are introduced, the film takes its sweet time getting going. For its target audience of young kids, it's odd that a movie with 'Spider-Verse' in the title takes a good half hour before the Spider-Verse is introduced. Around ten minutes could have easily been excised from the runtime without losing anything important. Once the Spider-Verse itself takes over the plot, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had, but the story kind of drags until that point.
Long-time fans of Spider-Man aren't likely to find much to hate about this animated version. Visually and thematically, the films is faithful to the comics that inspired it. The action sequences are just as exciting as any of those in any of the live-action motion pictures, the story is effectively told (if a bit cliched), and it sets the stage for future installments in ways that don't feel unnecessarily forced. For viewers 12 and under, this is probably a 9/10. For adults, this is a solid 7. Recommended.
A win for DC
Aquaman always seemed like a character that wouldn't translate well to the big screen. A bit over a decade ago, HBO's "Entourage" did a season-long storyline about the ridiculousness of the concept of an Aquaman movie. Even before that, the character had routinely been a punchline to many, even comic fans. That's why it was pretty surprising that Jason Momoa's portrayal of Arthur Curry/Aquaman in 2017's Justice League was one of the highpoints of the film. For those who enjoyed Momoa's performance in Justice League, his solo movie is more of the same, if not better.
Director James Wan's greatest decision with Aquaman is in the fact the tone is kept relatively light and fun. Wan is smart enough to realize that a dark, brooding Aquaman just would never work. Wan doesn't overload his film with too many jokes, but keeps the dialogue snappy and occasionally tongue-in-cheek. Complementing the tone is great use of color to match the beautiful ocean cinematography. A lot of comic book adaptations have a very similar look to them, but Aquaman is infinitely more colorful and distinct in its color palette. The only real problem with the look of the film is that a lot of the CGI resembles a video game. This is the most common problem with blockbusters today, as even pretty good CGI is still obvious CGI, which tends to take me out of the movie a bit.
Despite the overuse of CGI for the costumes, none of the actors come off as ridiculous. Jason Momoa gives a charismatic, fun performance. Amber Heard's performance has received some criticism, but I found nothing wrong with it. Dolph Lungdren makes the most of his small role, though it's weird to see Lungdren in a role where he doesn't punch anything. Patrick Wilson comes the closest to almost crossing the line between silly and foolish, though that's due more to the dialogue he's given more than anything else. Wilson still makes for an effective villain. The scenes with him and Momoa going against each other are amongst the more interesting, although the final confrontation is slightly disappointing.
It's unclear at this time whether an Aquaman sequel is in the works as Warner Bros. seems unsure about what to do with their DC series right now. Despite minor problems, Aquaman is the most entertaining DC film released this decade. What could have been a disaster is an absolute blast from start to finish and James Wan's strongest film yet. Recommended to even those who don't particularly love the titular character. 7.5/10
The Predator (2018)
Best Predator since the original
1987's Predator is widely considered one of the best action films of the past thirty years, due to its smart direction, great lead performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and nicely done (even by today's standards) special effects. None of the subsequent sequels---Predator 2, Predators, and two Alien Vs. Predator spin-offs---were able to compare to the original. The Predator, co-written and directed by Shane Black (who co-starred in Predator), is by far the best sequel, with just as many memorable lines, fun action sequences, and interesting sci-fi ideas as the first. The film is certainly not without its faults---chief among them a clearly reshot final act and a few too many characters it fails to develop, but The Predator is still the most entertaining action movie I've watched in 2018.
The Predator is the first sequel to understand that what made the original Predator memorable was that the main characters were actually worth focusing on, so that even the scenes without the Predator action were intriguing to the viewer. While a Schwarzenegger cameo would have raised my rating an extra level, the cast assembled here is great, even if the characters aren't three-dimensional. Every character gets their share of fantastic one-liners, and Black does his best to make the characters sympathetic, making their onscreen demises at least have something of an impact. Of course, it's a little too obvious who will live and who will die, but that's a common genre problem.
For a movie with a reported $88 million at its disposal, there are times when it seems like half that money went to reshooting or re-editing scenes. There are times when lines seem lazily looped in, or characters seem to disappear from the narrative too quickly. Jake Busey is introduced as the son of Gary Busey's character from Predator 2, only to supposedly be killed off mere minutes later. Why hire a fun character actor like Busey only to treat him like little more than a glorified extra? The first act with Busey present is definitely the highlight of the film. As things move along, the picture becomes a little by-the-numbers and the production problems become more apparent. Additionally, there seems to be some missed opportunities along the way. A big action set-piece takes place on Halloween night, yet the potential for this is not fully realized. There could have been so much more done to liven up the proceedings. Still, The Predator is never boring to watch, and moves along at a quick pace.
How one feels about The Predator largely depends on how one feels about the franchise itself. An appropriate comparison to The Predator is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: both are entertaining enough sixth entries in a science fiction series that has now run out of ideas. Both films are fine and have some replay value, but no more sequels seem necessary. If The Predator is indeed the last Predator feature, it's a solid final installment for fans. 7/10
The Meg (2018)
Statham vs. shark
All anyone needs to know about The Meg is this: yes, Jason Statham fights a megalodon. The hype around The Meg has mostly been built around whether or not Statham's character would go head-to-head against the titular creature, and indeed he does. That said, the movie isn't Snakes on A Plane, where the collective internet wanted to see Samuel L. Jackson fight snakes and curse up a storm in R-rated glory, and got what expected. Disappointingly, The Meg has been cut down for a PG-13, so the shark attacks are completely bloodless and the one use of the F-word is cut off by a closing door.
Had the tone and the rating of The Meg been closer to Snakes on A Plane or Piranha 3D, this would have become a cult classic. As it is, the film takes itself too seriously, although there are some great one-liners and doesn't phone in his performance. Statham once again proves he's Hollywood's most reliable action star. Statham's character is a total cliche, the hero who just wants to live a quiet life and not see any more death, but Statham makes it work, whereas it could have come off as self-parody if not done right. Even though The Meg is appropriately billed as a shark film, it's really Statham's movie. Unlike most of his other vehicles and action movies in general, The Meg doesn't feature any fist fights, car chases, or gun battles. The film doesn't need them; it has plenty of (PG-13) shark action. While I admire the filmmakers for going against some of the action movie clichés in terms of set pieces, there's still plenty of annoying other clichés on display here when it comes to the characters: the comic relief sidekick, the greedy billionaire, and the precocious child. All these roles are completely underwritten and one-dimensional; it's not the fault of the actors in these roles but of the script. Maybe in addition to all the blood/violence that was cut out, some character development was removed as well. Only Statham's character is fleshed out to any degree of satisfaction, which is seems lazy given the 103-minute runtime. Despite the poor characterization and softening of the violence, there's still some fun to be had with The Meg. There is a fair amount of tension to go along with some of the shark attacks, and director Jon Turteltaub thankfully does not go for too many cheap "boo" scares, but at least when he does they are effectively surprising. Additionally the creature and ship design show off the film's reported $150 million budget. Everything onscreen itself looks pretty great: the ocean cinematography, the set decoration, the use of color, etc. Overall, The Meg looks a whole lot better visually than recent shark pictures like 47 Meters Down or The Shallows. It's easy to imagine what the low-budget version of The Meg would be like. Thankfully, that's not what the audience was given. With all the money spent on The Meg, it's kind of understandable why the studio mandated a PG-13 rating. Despite the censorship, it delivers on the promise of having Jason Statham fight a giant shark. Even with all its flaws, I just can't hate any movie that has Statham taking on a shark. Perhaps that one fantastic scene is the only thing the movie will be remembered for, and that's okay. Not every shark film can be Jaws. 6/10
Action Point (2018)
For hardcore "Jackass" fans only
I'm the exact target audience for Action Point. "Jackass" hands down my favorite television show of all time and pretty much no actor makes me laugh harder than Johnny Knoxville. The fact that writing credits for Action Point go to Mike Judge along with the creators of "Silicon Valley" and it comes from "Brockmire" director Tim Kirkby only doubled my excitement for the movie. Unfortunately, the end result is easily the most disappointing product any members of the core creative team has been involved in.
I'm not going to deny that I laughed out loud several times during Action Point. Any time Knoxville let out his trademark laugh or Chris Pontius did his weirdo schtick, I enjoyed myself. Despite not being classically trained actors, the two do have solid camera presence and seem like they could carry a movie with the right script. And to its credit, Action Point does have a pleasant tone, even if the story doesn't work. In its best moments, the movie has the same sort of laid-back, fun vibe as such classic comedies as Meatballs and Caddyshack. Knoxville and Chris "Party Boy" Pontius are so funny that they make the most of the bare-bones story. The best scenes are those in which Knoxville and Pontius are together, making Action Point feel like an unofficial "Jackass" spin-off.
At its worst, Action Point is an underwritten, haphazardly edited, and messy production that reeks of something that was drastically cut down due to poor test screenings. Perhaps there's an unrated or extended addition once the film hits DVD, because it's hard to believe this is the best possible version that was cut together.The end credits begin at the 75-minute mark and that's with the addition of several scenes featuring a drastically unnecessary framing device featuring Knoxville in unspectacular old man make-up.
At times, it's amazing that this a theatrical release. None of the characters are developed beyond anything one-dimensional despite a pretty good cast. Towards the end of the movie, Knoxville gives a speech about how the staff at how Action Point are members of his extended family, but that never really comes across in any of the previous scenes. All the scenes together just kind of drift aimlessly, without a strong sense of rhythm or purpose. The transitions from scene to scene are rough, like parts of the movie have been re-ordered in certain places. Overall, the production quality seems like something that was meant premiere on Netflix or direct-to-DVD.
Given the talent of Knoxville and Judge involved, Action Point should have been a lot stronger. Fans of "Jackass" and Knoxville's wild stunts should enjoy this as a rental, but there's nothing here that warrants anything beyond one viewing. The film was a complete flop at the box office, and it's not hard to see why. Whatever effort Knoxville and director Kirkby put towards making this a decent comedy just doesn't appear onscreen. This is the type of flick that was designed to be watched on the couch with friends and low expectations. 5/10
'Fallen' franchise still manages to be fun
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a very mixed bag. On one hand, the movie is well shot, full of great action, and nicely paced. On the other hand, there is never any getting around the fact it's Jurassic Park 5, no matter how cool a title the filmmakers slap on the film. While slickly and professionally put together, there is absolutely nothing new here that audiences haven't seen in the previous for Jurassic Park entries.
From a plot standpoint, 'Fallen Kingdom' is structurally the same as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which would be fine if there was any kind of character progression that made the whole thing a bit deeper. Protagonists Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) remain the same personality-wise as they were in Jurassic World, with no real growth or development as characters. Pratt even seems toned down here. He gets a few good one-liners in during his first few scenes, but afterwards he just ends up to reacting to the CGI chaos around him the rest of the running time. The biggest change in Claire is that she no longer is wearing heels, a complaint against Jurassic World which was always ridiculous nit-picking from the online community. Howard isn't give any more to do than Pratt but, to the credit of both, they give the best performances possible with the material they are given.
There is some good material in 'Fallen Kingdom', although much of the best stuff is reminiscent of scenes from elsewhere in the franchise. The greatest addition is Ted Levine as one of the key villains. Best known as Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs, Levine excels at playing a bad guy, and he gives one of his greatest bad guy performances here. Like every other character in the film, he could have been given more depth, but Levine still manages to be the best Jurassic Park antagonist since The Lost World. Returning for the first time since that 1997 film is Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum merely has a cameo, and although his screentime is disappointing, his performance is not. Goldblum's Ian Malcom remains the highlight of the entire franchise.
Goldblum's closing lines in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom guarantee a sequel. Unsurprisingly, yet another installment is scheduled for 2021. 'Fallen Kingdom' is by no means a disaster, even if it is by far the least memorable Jurassic Park entry. It demonstrates just how badly the franchise needs new life. If the filmmakers can find a way to not tell the same story over again for the 6th time and Goldblum is brought back, there's a chance it can be something more worthwhile than what 'Fallen Kingdom' offers. The movie is a fun enough watch, just not particularly memorable. 6/10.
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018)
A decent addition to the series!
If nothing else, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is a vast improvement over Tremors 5 in every single way. Unlike the previous entry, this sequel feels more tonally similar to the first four Tremors films. The humor is more tongue-in-cheek (and yes, way more juvenile), the special effects are improved, and the whole affair is about as entertaining as one could reasonably expect from a direct-to-DVD sequel that's the sixth in a series.
Michael Gross continues to appear to be having a great time playing Burt Gummer, who is just as over-the-top and nutty as ever. Most actors simply would be phoning it in at this point, but Gross makes the best of the so-so script and meager budget to elevate the material to something actually worth watching. Jamie Kennedy, returning as Gummer's son, is thankfully given way better dialogue than he had in Tremors 5, and delivers one of the most enjoyable performances of his career. The supporting cast is fine, although leaves much of a lasting impression. The real stars of the movie, of course, are the graboids. They still look don't quite as cool as they did in the original Tremors, though given that the first one was a theatrical release while the sequels have all been direct-to-DVD, that's hardly a big surprise. While the monsters would benefit from having more money put behind them, they at least aren't Syfy original movie quality. Like Tremors 5, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is gorier than the other sequels, and there's a fair amount of blood to go along with the monster attacks. It would be great to one day get an R-rated Tremors film, but this one works well enough as a PG-13. If I had to guess, a Tremors 7 isn't more than a few years away. As long as Gross comes back and the filmmakers can come up with a fresh take, I'll gladly check it out. 6/10
Super Troopers 2 (2018)
Worth the wait
Super Troopers 2 is, for a better or worse, exactly the movie one would expect. In tone, story, structure, and style, there are very few surprises in how everything plays out. Yet, while this may viewed by some as a weakness, it's also one of the biggest strengths of the film: a rabid desire to meet fan expectations and deliver consistent, non-stop jokes. Hardly 30 seconds go by in any scene without there being one big joke delivered, whether that be through a quip, slapstick bit, a funny callback to the first Super Troopers, or a visual gag. This would be a problem if the jokes weren't funny or Broken Lizard appeared to be trying too hard, but I would say the jokes hit 70-75% of the running time. The movie has the fun atmosphere of Super Troopers maintained, while looking slightly more polished in its cinematography, and having slightly more focus in terms of focus and pacing. Running a slim 85 minutes before ending credits, Super Troopers 2 is completely dedicated to making the audience laugh and wrapping up its story as quickly as possible. Again, maybe that can be seen as a fault, but it's refreshing to see a studio-released comedy these days that's not two hours with filler that should have stayed on the cutting room floor. This is simply a lowbrow comedy sequel made only for fans of the original, and there's no shame in that. For those fans like myself, Super Troopers 2 is probably the most rewarding, fun comedy in years. 8/10
Tomb Raider (2018)
Best Tomb Raider movie yet
Film adaptations of popular videogames have generally not been well received by critics of audiences. Out of all the big screen adaptations of best-selling video games from the past twenty-five years, the two Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider films from 2001 and 2003 respectively, remain two of the most successful in terms overall box office, so another Tomb Raider film was obviously going to be made sooner or later. The fact that it fourteen years for another one to come out is somewhat surprising, but the end result doesn't disappoint. The new Tomb Raider is a less noisy, less special effects driven, and less contrived film than the two previous adaptations, and is about as good one could reasonably expect from a Tomb Raider movie. That's not to say that Tomb Raider is a masterpiece; it is, however, fast-paced, entertaining, and well cast.
Alicia Vikander's performance as Lara Croft makes the movie: tough, smart, and occasionally sassy, Vikander's Croft is a delight to watch onscreen. Lara could have been portrayed as too serious or too jokey, though Vikander and the filmmakers pull off just the right mix to the character. Vikander's dramatic scenes work surprisingly well, never seeming as corny or forced as they could have with another actress. While there is plenty of drama to go with the fun, there is also a fair amount of tension to the proceedings, almost entirely due to the intense performance by Walton Goggins as the main villain. Goggins has played the villain so many times that, at this point in his career, Goggins can play a bad guy in his sleep. That said, his performance doesn't feel like a variation on a role he's played before. Goggins is legitimately creepy here, and his character is, without a doubt, the only truly memorable villain in a video game movie so far.
The only part that keeps Tomb Raider from reaching its true potential is some of the action is too darkly lit. In particular, a fight between Lara and one of Goggins' henchman is so dark that it's almost unwatchable. The best action scenes are saved for the third act when the actual tomb raiding take place. While none of the action scenes are ever boring, it's a shame that the greatest set pieces don't happen until the final 45 minutes.
Even with the disappointing darkly lit action, Tomb Raider is certainly the most well crafted of the three Lara Croft films. It's unlikely that a sequel will be made, though the filmmakers definitely leave the door wide open for the next entry, perhaps in ways that are annoyingly obvious. If able ignore the shamelessly blatant attempts to set up a franchise that isn't going to happen, fans of brainless action and video game adaptations should be happy with what Tomb Raider offers. 6/10
Death Wish (2018)
As a good a movie as Willis has done in years
A remake of Death Wish has been in the works for the better part of a decade, with various stars and directors coming and going throughout the process. When it was finally announced that Bruce Willis would star with Eli Roth at the helm, it was a decision that made sense. The Death Wish franchise has the grindhouse sensibilities that Roth is known for, and Bruce Willis fits well into the grumpy old tough guy mold Charles Bronson perfected with the original five films. The end result is about what one would expect from the Roth/Willis pairing: a gory, violent, occasionally funny remake of the original 1974 film with just enough updates to the formula to keep the whole premise from being completely stale.
There aren't too many surprises in the plot. The screenplay, credited to Joe Carnahan (who is perfectly suited for this material), probably once went further in its political and social commentary than what is present in the final cut. What Death Wish lacks in freshness and depth is made up for by a livelier-than-usual performance from Willis and the best action scenes Roth has ever shot. Made on a somewhat low budget of $30 million, Death Wish doesn't have the epic feel of the Die Hard series or some of Willis' other blockbusters, though it does have nice cinematography, exciting gun battles, and the overall solid production values that Willis' last few years of direct-to-DVD efforts have completely lacked. The only disappointment comes from the fact that all the best action beats are in the trailers and TV spots. The finale, in particular, is somewhat of a letdown thanks to a marketing campaign that showcased the coolest shots. Had the marketing not been so spoiler-heavy, my overall rating would have been at least one point higher.
For Bruce Willis fans, although Death Wish is no Die Hard, it's certainly a million times better than A Good Day to Die Hard, or anything else that he's starred in this past decade. Death Wish presents the Bruce Willis action fans want to see: he cracks some jokes, appears tough, and showcases the charisma that's been absent from his work the past few years. In terms of the overall Death Wish series, this is the best since the original. 6/10
47 Meters Down (2017)
Better than average shark flick
The list of good shark movies is relatively short. There's Jaws, arguably Jaws 2, and Deep Blue Sea. More often than not, shark films are produced for the direct-to-DVD or made-for-cable market, often with predictably awful results. 47 Meters Down, made for a reported $5 million, was originally scheduled to be another direct-to-DVD entry in the shark genre, until The Shallows managed to make a good chunk of money at the box office. Rescued from such a throwaway release, 47 Meters Down ended up being one of the more profitable films of 2017, grossing $50 million worldwide.
It's not hard to see why the film was successful. Despite not having the biggest budget or most original story-line in the world, 47 Meters Down is a solid, scary, fun, and mostly effective little thriller that is never boring and way less predictable than one might expect. Yes, it can be dumb and the twist ending seems like a bit of a cop-out, but 90% the time, the film works. The performances from Claire Holt and Mandy Moore are better than audiences are used to getting in genre pictures of this ilk. The cinematography and directing is far above any shark film one is ever going to see airing on the Syfy Channel. Most importantly, the film isn't overly reliant on cheap boo scares or overuse of CGI. Even though there are a couple brief fake-looking shots, the sharks mostly look good, which is all anyone truly asks out of a shark feature anyway. The shots of the sharks are used somewhat sparingly, although they are used creatively. Given the amount of money the filmmakers had to work with, everything is more well done than I expected, especially considering the movie's status of almost not getting a theatrical release at all. While no one is ever going to compare 47 Meters Down to Jaws, it's easily one of the ten best films in the sub-genre of shark horror movies. Recommended to fans of the genre. 7/10
Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)
A comedy sequel better than the original
I enjoyed Goon quite a bit when it was released in the U.S. five years ago. However, it doesn't have the replay value of such other great hockey comedies like Slap Shot or even The Mighty Ducks. It's still a funny movie; I just don't necessarily love it like other sports movie fans do. I'm sure some fans of Goon will be disappointed with Goon: Last of the Enforcers, as the sequel definitely emphasizes story over the profane antics of the original and the joke quotient isn't as high, but it's a better written, more strongly directed, and altogether more confident film than the first.
With Goon: Last of the Enforcers, Seann William Scott has succeeded in making Doug "the Thug" Glatt his signature character, eclipsing Stifler from the American Pie movies. Scott's performance is so good here that it almost feels like watching a new actor on screen. Scott doesn't portray Doug quite as intellectually stunted as he was in the first. The whole theme of Goon: Last of the Enforcers is growth and the potential for a person to evolve and Scott is able to sell this with a more subtle performance than audiences are used to seeing from him. The message of the movie could have been heavy handed as most messages in sports films are, yet director/co-writer/co-producer/co-star Jay Baruchel has a firm enough handle on the material that everything mostly works.
Goon: Last of The Enforcers does have some problems in its middle section. There are scenes that go on too long (a lot of scenes with Wyatt Russell's abrasive character could have been trimmed) and Elisha Cuthbert's character isn't given a whole lot to do, but this is still a solid directorial debut. The fight scenes are easier to follow and more exciting than those in the first movie. There are still plenty of funny low-brow jokes carried over from the style of Goon but Baruchel seems more selective about where he places them. And, most importantly, there seems to be less reliance on sports clichés' this time around, although the one obligatory training montage is thankfully set to Stan Bush's "Dare" playing on the soundtrack.
Comedy sequels are notoriously hard to pull off. They are often unnecessary retreads that don't deliver. Goon: Last of the Enforcers is one of the very rare comedy sequels that works much better than the original. It's funnier, more character driven, and more entertaining. In the United States, the film is unlikely to receive the attention it deserves but hopefully there will be enough love to make a Goon 3 possible. 7.5/10
Another great CNN documentary
Over the past few years, CNN has unexpectedly become the network for premiering great, informative, and powerful original documentaries. I never used to watch CNN, but the the station quickly become one of my favorites for new documentaries. ELIAN may be the best documentary CNN has premiered yet, as it explores in depth the fascinating and sad 1999-2000 media firestorm of 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez's arrival to the U.S., stay in Miami, and return back to Cuba. For those who vividly remember what was arguably the biggest story of the 1999-2000 period (other than the Y2K), the movie serves as a reminder as to just how out-of-control and exploitative the media coverage became. For those who were too young to remember the events, the movie is likely to be an interesting view into one of the biggest political stories of the new millennium. Although a lot of key figures in the scandal are featured in the documentary, I feel like a few more people could have been interviewed given just how many different figures became involved in the case. Almost all viewpoints are covered here, but hearing from a few more voices wouldn't have hurt. Even with that minor quibble aside, this is the best documentary I've watched all year, and definitely worth watching for those who enjoy political documentaries. 8/10
The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017)
Worth watching for the cast
The buddy action movie was one of the most popular and most successful genre staples of the 1980s and 1990s. Predictable but almost always entertaining, the genre seemed to dissipate in the new millennium. The Hit-man's Bodyguard, proudly boasting its R-rating, is a nice throwback to those films with its bombastic action scenes, frequent swearing and bickering between leads Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, and dedication to genre clichés. The movie is not nearly as successful as The Nice Guys, a similar throwback from last year, but The Hit-man's Bodyguard still manages to entertain even if it is far from perfect.
Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson give exactly the performances one would expect them to give in this type of flick. Reynolds is all about the charm and Jackson is all about the attitude. They play off each other well and make a unique enough pairing that they don't come across as a duo that the audience has seen on screen a hundred times before. At its best, The Hit-man's Bodyguard is laugh-out-loud funny when Reynolds and Jackson are allowed to crack jokes. There are plenty of laughs when Jackson and Reynolds are arguing with each other or doing a terrible job of attempting to be peaceful. There are some great jokes in these scenes. The dialogue doesn't seem nearly as forced as it usually is in buddy films. The humor works for the most part, and I found myself laughing quite a bit at Jackson's lines. The story may be predictable, though Reynolds and Jackson deliver the jokes so well that it's hard to care about that.
While the comedy and the story elements work, the biggest flaw of The Hit-man's Bodyguard is that the long action set pieces take dominance over the comedy. This could have been one of the best action comedies of the past decade, but the action and the comedy are not properly balanced. The action scenes, of which there are about three too many, go on for extremely long periods of time. There are multiple gunfights, explosions, and a super high body count. All of this is fine and expected in an action picture, but here it just becomes boring around the halfway point. A good 20-25 minutes of The Hit-man's Bodyguard is shooting and chases. With the exception of a fun boat chase in Amsterdam, there's nothing innovative or visually interesting about these scenes. Bad guys get shot and fall down. The heroes run for cover. More gunfire ensues. The action isn't horribly shot, it's just not very exciting and tends to get boring. Supposedly, the script was written to be a serious, straight-forward action movie, before being rewritten two weeks before production to add some comedy to the mix. The problem is that this is absolutely obvious throughout.
Even with its uneven tone, The Hit-man's Bodyguard is recommended for fans of Reynolds and Jackson. Jackson has done much better, funnier buddy pictures---The Long Kiss Goodnight, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and even the spoof National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 comes to mind, but there still enough good material to enjoy here. The film is unlikely to become a massive box office hit, though I would definitely watch another Reynolds/Jackson pairing in the future. 6/10
Atomic Blonde (2017)
I didn't have any huge expectations for Atomic Blonde going into the theater. I expected to enjoy it, though I didn't expect to be blown away by what I'd be seeing. Atomic Blonde is not just the action movie of the summer, but the action movie of the decade. Based on a graphic novel, the film is as beautiful looking as any graphic novel come to life could look. The cinematography is crisp and visually appealing in every scene. The visuals of Atomic Blonde are perfect. The audience can feel the coldness of the Berlin locations. Likewise, the audience can feel the violence and adrenaline in every fight scene. Each fight scene is better than the last. The staircase fight is the one that people will most likely talk about the most years from now, but all the action beats are exciting, fresh, and wonderfully shot.
Charlize Theron as spy Lorraine Broughton is believable in the best action role of her career and really sells the toughness and loneliness of her character. She also does amazing work with the supporting cast. Sofia Boutella, who left quite the impression in last summer's fantastic Star Trek Beyond, gives remarkable, sympathetic performance as the only person Lorraine seems to truly care about on her mission. This easily could have been a throwaway role, but Boutella makes it the second best performance of the movie. Their relationship lends the story both a sense of sadness and purpose that elevates the material above what could have been just a routine spy thriller. It's very rare for action films these days to have interesting characters; Atomic Blonde has several of them. James McAvoy's David is one of the most complex roles the actor has ever played. Meanwhile, John Goodman plays another role that could have seemed thankless, though Goodman is so good that he makes the absolute most with what he's given. Nobody associated with Atomic Blonde is likely to receive an Oscar nomination, but every one involved gives very strong, impressive performances, especially for what is a summer action adventure picture.
There are going to be some that complain about the soundtrack to Atomic Blonde. Yes, the 1980s soundtrack is somewhat constant, yet it's also the best soundtrack I've heard in many years. With the exception of a Marilyn Manson track, every other song is gold and fits the surroundings of the scenes perfectly. The songs capture the mood and feeling both the period and the film itself. Tyler Bates' score is equally as fitting. There are a lot of movies these days where the soundtrack is better than the film itself. The fact that Atomic Blonde has an awesome soundtrack in addition to being a great movie is icing on the cake.
It's unfortunate that Atomic Blonde is not going to get the critical love or box office business that it deserves. It will get lost in the shuffle of bigger, more generic summer releases. With any luck, this near masterpiece will become a cult favorite in the near future and find the audience it deserves. Highly recommended. 9/10
The House (2017)
A funny mess
The House is an odd movie to review. As a comedy, it works just well enough: there are some solid laugh out loud moments, there's a sense of R-rated manic energy, and the performances from the cast are mostly funny. As a coherent movie, however, The House is a mess. Running 80 minutes (if that), the movie seems like it spent far too much time in the editing room. Scene by scene, the movie feels like it's been recut multiple times. There are a ton of montages for such a short film, there's expository voice-over all over the place, and seemingly key characters appear then disappear at random. I'd always prefer a comedy be too short rather than too long, but The House is so brief that I can barely call it a real movie.
With such a short running time, there's obviously almost nothing in the way of character development. There's no real sympathy established for the main characters who start an illegal casino, as they are basically one-dimensional and clueless. I doubt the filmmakers ever truly cared about character motivation or establishing any sense or reality, and the majority of the audience won't either, but everything about The House feels somewhat slapdash and shoddily put together. Maybe at some point there was more meat to the story and more to the film as a whole, though it's hard to tell in the final cut. As per usual with comedies these days, there are scenes from the trailers missing in the finalized version.
As sloppy as just about every aspect of The House is, I can't deny that I laughed quite a bit. In a year filled with dreadful comedies, that counts for something. Will Ferrell plays the dumb dad role he's played in quite a few movies now, though he does it so well that it's hard to care that he's repeating himself. The jokes about his hatred for math had me laughing the hardest, and they actually end up being relevant at the end. It's in these moments that The House seems like it was once a better written, altogether stronger comedy. To be fair, there are still some other memorable highlights: there's a great unexpected What About Bob? reference, the casino bits mostly hit, and Jeremy Renner is the highlight of the third act with an extended cameo. For these scenes alone, The House is worth seeing. Will Ferrell fans like myself should enjoy the majority of what is offered here. Ultimately, The House is a mess, although at least it's a funny, amusing mess. 6/10
No better than the show
All a Baywatch movie had to be in order to qualify as a success, in my eyes, was to be better than the show. While "Baywatch" was a show that lasted over a decade, very few would call it a quality television series. It was ridiculous, dumb, and always just borderline watchable. The movie version of Baywatch somehow manages to be all those things, and yet somehow even slightly less fun to sit through at times. While no one is going to mistake this version of Baywatch for anything other than a comedy, the attempts at actual comedic scenes are shockingly few and far between. To the great detriment of the entire cast, director Seth Gordon has made a Baywatch film in which the actual "plot" and investigation take up the majority of a bloated 116-minute run time. The result is a tonal mess. The movie feels as if the producers took a PG-13 script for a police procedural then decided at the last minute to make it a Baywatch feature with terribly misplaced gross-out humor shoved in just for the benefit of getting an R-rating. To Gordon's credit, there are great individual moments courtesy of Dwayne Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, and Alexandra Daddario, as well as a great cameo by David Hasselhoff. The first 20 minutes contains the best material that the film has to offer, but it soon becomes apparent that nobody put a ton of thought into what people actually wanted out of a comedy version of Baywatch, which first and foremost should have been an abundance of jokes. In the end, this movie version of Baywatch isn't any better than the show. While not a complete waste, it's ultimately a missed opportunity. Those who enjoyed the show will get a kick out of the Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson cameos, though I can't imagine anyone else getting anything out this. 5/10
Best new show of 2017
I've never really followed baseball in real life, but, for whatever reason, I've always loved baseball comedies with The Bad News Bears being one of my favorite movies of all time, and "Eastbound & Down" being arguably the funniest television series of the past decade. Although "Brockmire" has yet to air an entire season yet, it has already come close to surpassing "Eastbound & Down" in my mind. Like "Eastbound & Down", "Brockmire" features a hard-to-love protagonist with self-destructive tendencies, but it's also smarter and better written. Hank Azaria, who I've never really particularly loved in anything other than Gross Point Blank, is simply amazing Jim Brockmire, a baseball announcer famous for losing his mind on the air upon learning his wife cheated on him. Such a scenario could just be an excuse to go for cheap laughs at every turn, and although "Brockmire" certainly goes for cheap laughs at times, it's also surprisingly moving and even a little philosophical at times. The main question of "Brockmire" is whether peoples' lives are defined by only their worst moments, and what it means to change as a human being in order to have a meaningful legacy. While "Brockmire" never approaches becoming a drama, Azaria's performance carries a fair amount of dramatic weight, as the hurt and sadness of Brockmire are as much a source of conflict as they are for dark humor. Ultimately, "Brockmire" is only partially about baseball, though the baseball scenes tend to be the funniest. The show has proved to be a big hit for IFC, and it will be interesting to see how both the character and the show grow in its second season. For its fantastic first season, I'd give it 9/10 so far. Highly recommended.