Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) a (Mildly) belated review

When I was flying back home a few weeks ago there were two films that I wanted to see in flight. One of them was Ad Astra, which in the end I managed to see (you can read the review here) and the other was John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (let’s refer to it as JW3 from here on, OK?).

The reason I chose Ad Astra over JW3 was because I was down on the whole John Wick franchise. While I mostly enjoyed the first film (read my review of it here) I didn’t care for John Wick 2 at all (here’s the review for that film).

In fact, despite the near constant action and fighting and gunplay, I found John Wick 2 a complete bore, a film with precious little plot spread out into far too many repetitious action sequences.

However, the fact of the matter was that audiences and critics really seemed to like the film. Based on the aggregate reviews over on rottentomatoes.com, the film scored in the high 80% range for both, a very good score, and the film was a success.

Inevitably, JW3 was on its way and released.

With great trepidation, I watched the film this evening (imagine that, seeing not one but two films in one afternoon!) and, despite my worry that I’d not like the film, I found JW3 a BIG improvement over the second film.

Don’t get me wrong: JW3 is guilty of some of the same problems found in JW2. There is perhaps too little actual plot spread out over the film’s 2 plus hour runtime. This is again made up for with plenty of action sequences which, thankfully, are a little more interesting this time around versus in the second film.

JW3 opens seconds after the end of JW2. In that film, (MILD SPOILERS!) Wick find himself hunted by all the assassins for a very high price, and he schemes to get out of New York and see someone high enough on the assassin board (so to speak) food chain to offer remorse and hopefully forgiveness for the transgressions that got him in trouble in the first place.

Meanwhile, the people who helped him out in JW2 are in hot water themselves for helping him out.

So we effectively have parallel plots going on here, the doings in New York and afterwards with Wick and the trouble his allies get into and the blood payment they are forced to make to set things right.

Wick eventually seeks the help of Sofia (Halle Berry) and I thought bringing in a tough as nails female killer was another good step but I have to admit, her role turned out to be pretty small and ended rather abruptly. Of course, she will likely return in the next one, so at least there’s that.

I also liked the way the film ended. It managed to conclude the main story line yet also offer audiences something of a cliffhanger.

What I didn’t like was that in each film John Wick is becoming more and more of a Superman, and the very ending of JW3, unless I’m missing something, shows him surviving something no human being could.

Still, I repeat what I said: I liked JW3 more than JW2. Hell, I think its almost on the level with the original film, which is still the best of the lot, and that’s saying quite a bit.

Recommended!

Ad Astra (2019) a (mildly) belated review

Having finally reached our destination and spent nearly a week with family, it was time to fly back home. The flight to our destination was marked with a five hour delay in what amounted to a 2 and 1/2 hour flight and afforded me the opportunity to catch up on a couple of films (Starcrash and The Lighthouse).

As we usually do when flying, we arrived at the airport early and made it through security relatively quickly and got to our gate. Soon enough, the airplane was there, visible in its position awaiting our boarding. We still had a little time and had a light meal before returning to the terminal and wait for boarding.

…and wait…

and wait

The hour of departure was coming very close and while we saw the luggage placed within the aircraft, it didn’t seem like there was any movement toward letting passengers in.

Then we received the message: The Captain wanted to check something out with the engines and passengers weren’t allowed on the craft during the wait and yadda yadda. The ground crew moved away from the aircraft, the plane was left alone on the tarmac, and then the Captain revved up the engines a few times before shutting them down.

Then all was quiet.

…and we waited some more…

Finally, the bad news came, some hour after we were supposed to already be in the air: There was some mechanical problem so we were going to be using another aircraft that was en route to our location and we wouldn’t be boarding for another couple of hours until then.

We were, to say the least, livid.

We had so much free time that we decided to have an early supper (as I stated before, the previous food we had was more of a light snack).

We got back to the boarding area to see our airplane look like this…

Yeah, the airport fun this time around, eh?

Another few hours pass and then we get the news that they fixed whatever was wrong with the engine and we’d be boarding soon.

Yeah, another five hour delay on a 2 and 1/2 hour flight.

The fun never stops, right?

Anyway, once on board the flight, we found that unlike the flight over, this one had a robust entertainment system and after checking out the various films available to be seen, I decided to see Ad Astra (you knew I’d get here eventually, no?).

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Featuring Brad Pitt in the role of Roy McBride, an astronaut who is the son of a very famous astronaut (played by Tommy Lee Jones) who went missing following an important mission some twenty years before.

McBride, we find, is a very unemotional man. This makes him a good astronaut as even in the most extreme emergencies he keeps his head and follows through on the mission. However, this unemotional facade hides deep cracks. His marriage is on the rocks and he doesn’t know how to deal with its break up. Part of his emotional vacuum is related to the loss of his father coupled with the complicated feelings he has for the man. He views him as a hero, yet the loss stings even to his adult age.

Odd electrical arcs descend upon Earth, causing considerable destruction and McBride is brought in for a top secret meeting. Turns out the electrical arcs are coming from further out in the Solar System, and the government fears their source is the scientific mission McBride’s father was on when he disappeared.

Then, the shocker: They think McBride’s father is still alive and, worse yet, is responsible for these electric attacks.

The news that his father might still be alive is a terrific blow to the stoic McBride. He is asked to fly to Mars and send a message to his father in the attempt to get some kind of response.

The reality is that Mission Control on Earth wants to get a location where the elderly McBride is so that they can take him, and the ship he’s in which is sending out the deadly electrical bursts, out.

When Ad Astra was making its way to theaters, there was talk this movie was a sci-fi version of the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, which itself was the basis for the movie Apocalypse Now.

The idea of a person going out to check on someone who has gone rogue/native is the heart (pardon the pun) of Ad Astra and Apocalypse Now so the similarity is not unmerited.

When the film was finally released, critics seemed to love it, giving the film a robust 84% positive on rottentomatoes.com. However, if you check out the reviews from audiences, they had a far more dim view of the film, giving it a pretty weak 40% positive score.

In fact, many of the commentary boards I frequent had people ripping the film, saying its terrifically boring or silly, that the whole “father issue” is played out too thickly and that the film simply was terrible.

Still, I was interested in seeing it and decided to do so during the very delayed flight.

Unfortunately, the viewed wasn’t optimal. The screen would freeze now and again for a few seconds which the movie played and there were interruptions from the Captain when we hit some turbulence (yeah, flight from hell, eh?) and later when multiple announcements were made that we were going to land.

Ad Astra is a long film, just over 2 hours in length, and as we were coming in for a landing I feared I’d miss the very ending. As it turned out, I just got to the credits when the wheels touched ground.

Lucky me!

Given all the irritants dealt with between the delay in the flight to the interruptions to the at times marred film presentation, what did I think of Ad Astra?

I liked it. Quite a bit, in fact!

Was the film perfect? No. At times they did lay the emotions -and lack thereof- on rather thick. There were several action sequences in the film which, while exciting on their own, were obviously put in place to keep the film’s forward momentum going. If you step back and think about it, several of those sequences could have been cut from the film itself without taking away from the central and main plot of the film.

Further, the whole electrical attacks on Earth (and later, Mars) were never explained to my satisfaction. How exactly does a scientific vessel create these electric waves and shoots them out at Earth?

For that matter, why would the elderly McBride do this exactly? I mean, like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, he’s lost his mind and engaged in some very horrific actions. However, the scientific vessel he was commanding didn’t seem to be engaged in experimenting with electrical waves… so how come he’s using them now? Why is he firing them off toward Earth and Mars?

Those are the film’s negatives.

If you can look past them, however, you have a hypnotic film that puts you in the younger McBride’s shoes. You long for the lost contact with McBride’s father. You feel the frustration of his inability to express his emotions and the (paradoxical) fear of what he will find when he eventually goes in search of his father.

Ad Astra isn’t a shallow space opera with laser beams and fighting ships. It isn’t Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers and it most certainly isn’t Star Wars and I think that was in part why so many reacted negatively to the film.

What Ad Astra is is a more cerebral, introspective film with a few action sequences which carry things along. It wants the audience to sit back and admire the wonder of space and the hurt of isolation and loss.

In that, it succeeds, and for that reason I recommend it.

The Lighthouse (2019) a (mildly) belated review

Continuing on with the films I saw while flying (part 1, Starcrash, is here), after a 4-5 hour delay in getting into our airplane for a 2 and 1/2 hour trip, once we settled in I pulled out my trusty iPad and considered the next film to see. I decided on The Lighthouse, the critically loved 2019 film directed by Robert Eggers and co-written with his brother Max. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

This is Robert Eggers’ second film following the also critically loved 2015 film The Witch, which (no pun intended) I haven’t seen yet.

How did I like The Lighthouse? So much so that I immediately purchased a digital copy of The Witch and, as time allows, I fully intend to watch it as well. It isn’t often I’m so blown away by a film that I wind up seeking out the director’s previous work to check it out as well!

The Lighthouse is a relatively “small” film. There are two actors/characters who take central stage: Robert Pattinson’s Thomas Howard and Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake. A third actor, Valeriia Karaman, also appears in the film but I won’t spoil her role for those who haven’t seen the film.

The plot is simplicity itself: Howard and Wake arrive at a wind-strewn island to take over the lighthouse on it for a few weeks. Thomas Wake is a crusty man whose life is the lighthouse while Thomas Howard is a novice. This is his first shift at the lighthouse and, over time he, as well as the more experienced Wake, appear to lose their grip on reality.

Or do they?

I truly don’t want to get into too many SPOILERS because the film is incredibly surprising as it plays out. While on the surface it appears to be a “horror” film, it really is not. There are some uncomfortable scenes and eerie happenings, but the film’s primary goal isn’t to scare you.

Indeed, if anything there are more laugh out loud scenes in the film than those that will make you squirm in your seat as the two Thomases face off against each other. At times their relationship gives off homoerotic vibes, but they’re not overt. At other times they are fierce rivals, the young one who wants to supplant the older one, the older one who envies the young one’s energy. At times, there are hints of Lovecraftian horror, of weird things happening just outside our view and deep within the shadows.

As their time together extends, the two Thomases share -perhaps overshare- who exactly they are and what they’re up to. Wake is possessive of the lighthouse itself and will not allow Howard inside, while Howard longs to see what exactly lies up there… and whether he can take over.

Did I mention the film has several laugh out loud scenes?

Truly this is what amazes me even now about the film: It is incredibly funny at times. I read someone mention the film was like a homosexual rom-com and while I don’t think that’s totally true, the humor in the film is there and it is quite robust.

I’ve already noted that I loved the film so much I picked up the director’s first work and very much intend to watch it as soon as possible, so its obvious I highly recommend this film.

But going into it, I would urge anyone who does to check up on the mythology of both Proteus and Prometheus. The later’s myth, in particular, makes The Lighthouse’s ending make complete sense.

What are you waiting for? Go see The Lighthouse!

Starcrash (1978) a (wildly) belated review…

Part of my vacation involved flying and, as my incredible good luck would have it (extreme sarcasm…off!) I had plenty of time what with delayed flights to watch movies.

I had a few films I downloaded to my iPad (legitimately bought digital copies of films, by the way!) and chose as my first film to see the 1978 cheesy “classic” Starcrash. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Right off the bat let me say: I seriously doubt many modern viewers are going to watch this film and give a crap about it. Those who do will likely hoot and holler and make fun of what they see.

The film, to be very clear, was made to cash in on the sci-fi craze that started with the release of the original Star Wars in 1977. Starcrash was clearly meant to evoke (or, if you’re less forgiving, completely rip off) Star Wars along with Barbarella, Jason and the Argonauts, and the general vibe of cliffhanger serials such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

Only… the film had a super low budget, subsequent cheesy effects, and questionable acting.

The cast of the film is incredibly robust. You have Marjoe Gortner, who was a semi-big star in the 1970’s, smiling like a maniac throughout most of the film (He seems so genuinely happy throughout his time in the film that it feels wrong to accuse him of being stoned or worse). You have Christopher Plummer, yes, that Christopher Plummer, in what amounts to a semi-extended cameo role delivering his cheesy lines as if they were heavy Shakespearean drama. You also have David Hasselhoff (yes, that David Hasselhoff) in one of his earliest roles acting -believe it or not- the most naturally of everyone.

And then you have Caroline Munro as the movie’s protagonist.

Related image

Caroline Munro, for the uninitiated, was a popular star through the 1970’s and into the 1980’s. Perhaps her best known role was that of the deadly helicopter pilot in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.

She was, in my humble opinion, incredibly beautiful and the movie wisely choose to show off her… uh… assets in bikini wear like this. Note, though, Ms. Munro, for her entire movie career to date, refused to do any nudity so despite the cheesiness and the cheesecake, the film is strictly a “PG” affair and clearly the movie’s makers spent a lot of time figuring out the proper attire for interplanetary travel…!

The movie’s plot goes something like this: The son of the Galactic Emperor goes off with his ship to explore some planet, said ship is destroyed but not before several lifeboats are released. Meanwhile intergalactic criminal Stella Star (the lovely Ms. Munro) and her assistant Akton (Marjoe Gortner, natch) are captured for some smuggling they were up to but are subsequently released to help find the Emperor’s lost son… and face off against a meglomaniac who intends to destroy the Empire.

The movie makes little sense but if you’re willing to ride with it and have fun, you will find it, though again I caution everyone who is more used to modern fare that this film isn’t terribly quick moving and the effects are, even for their era, hardly revelatory.

Still, Starcrash is innocuous fun, a film not meant to be taken seriously and made by people who clearly were trying hard to evoke another era.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, Starcrash is a hoot.

If you’re not, then you best stay away.

The Predator (2018) a (mildly) Belated Review

I’ve mentioned it before so indulge me as I mention it again: When I was younger and I was eager to have a career as a writer, one of my dreams was to write the Batman comic books.

Mind you, back then (we’re talking the late 1970’s and into the early-middle 1980’s) Batman wasn’t THE BATMAN, multi-billion corporate sold platinum/gold character. Back then, the books were doing decently but most people knew of the character from the purposely cheesy TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward or perhaps some of the cartoons released in the 1970’s. (You’d have to be really into culture to recall the two serials made prior to the TV show!).

Since that time and roughly beginning with the release of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Tim Burton’s Batman, the character has become part of the global culture and is rightly one of DC Comic’s prized characters.

So if you have any dream of writing the character, be prepared to have plenty of editors/management/investors looking over your shoulder and making sure you don’t do anything bad with the character. Further to that, expect to be told (often) that you have to do this or that with your stories. And if fans express any disappointment in your work, chances are pretty good you’ll get the axe.

The point is: The character is corporate now.

I realized this and, further, realized the way I write requires me to have absolute freedom to do “my thing”. That and plenty of time to get the story “right”. The books I currently have available for audiences to read are, for better or worse, my creations from the very first word to the last. Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to those books, they’re mine.

With that realization came the realization that I really can’t see myself becoming a contract writer for a character as big as a Batman or considerably smaller/less known. I have my way of doing things and unless given total freedom, I can’t see myself doing these characters with others looking over my shoulder and/or deadlines pushing me to hurry through the creative process.

I mention all this because having seen The Predator, I get the very strong feeling that if I were to make a film featuring a prominent character and under those tight deadlines and with corporate types hovering over me expecting me to do this or that and facing tight deadlines, that’s the type of sloppy film I’d come up with.

Shane Black (he directed Iron Man 3 and was one of the actors in the original Predator), co-wrote and directed this film. There were considerable controversies around the movie’s creation, word of the final act being re-done. Of the controversy when it was revealed a convicted sexual predator was in the cast -albeit in an apparently minor role- and actress Olivia Munn’s anger at realizing she participated in a scene with him without being told of his past. His scene was subsequently deleted.

When the film was finally released, the reviews weren’t terribly kind. However, I’m a fan of the original Predator and despite figuring the film wasn’t going to be all that good, I still wanted to see it. Shane Black has done some decent films in the past and, what the heck, right?

Uh huh.

To say The Predator is a mess is something of an understatement. The film leans far too heavily on humor in the early going, with characters engaging in smart-ass banter while other red-shirts are being ripped apart via gory -but not terribly good- CGI.

The plot of the film goes something like this: A Predator is running away from another Predator. It escapes to Earth. It’s escape pod crash lands near a U.S. Special Op team engaged in… I really don’t know what they’re doing there, except killing off some random badguy.

Anyway, the sniper in the team, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), has the running away Predator escape pod almost land right on top of him. He is the only survivor of his team and manages to get a couple of Predator items (the helmet and wrist band) and mails them to his wife and child back in the U.S. (why not?!).

He’s then taken into custody by black ops officers run by a man named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, overacting pretty wildly) who intend to get information off of him then do away with him.

Meanwhile, Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn), some kind of super-biologist, is picked up by these same black ops people and gets to see the supposedly tranquilized Predator in a secret U.S. base that conveniently lies within a stone’s throw of McKenna’s home (where his ex-wife and child live) and, we find out a little later, also a stone’s throw from where that Predator’s ship crash landed.

Yeah, I’m feeding you SPOILERS here but consider the absolute absurdity of this scenario: We start in what appears to be South America with that Special Ops team and the escape pod of the ship (with the Predator) crash landing there, we then move to the United States, and it turns out that not only the SECRET BASE where the Predator is being held is near our McKenna’s home but also the crashed ship itself (which is what Traeger wants to get his hands on) is ALSO within close driving distance….!

How’s that for coincidence?!?

Anyway, it turns out the Predator that crash landed was running away from an even more fearsome (and taller) Predator. They are screwing up Earth -or at least allowing Earth to get screwed up- so they can come in and claim it for themselves. They like hot weather… or something.

Anyway, redux, McKenna winds up with a group of military misfits/mental cases, Olivia Munn’s super-biologist, and finally his autistic kid (who also figures, improbably -yeah, who would’a guessed?!- into the bad-guy Predator’s ultimate plans). There’s also an addled Predator dog. This is another element that looks like it was pieced together into the film while whatever sense the scenes made were cut to shreds.

How so?

Well, in the sequence where the Predator dogs first appear/attack, they menace McKenna’s autistic son, who happens to be on a baseball field (don’t ask) after he has befriended a regular/ordinary dog.

I suspect that sequence was originally a lot darker because that friendly, nice regular dog simply disappears from the sequence the moment the action starts and, at the very tail end of it and when our heroes are leaving, we have a brief clip of that nice friendly dog walking on the field and toward the camera, as if the director/editors took some old sequence/scene (perhaps when the dog originally appeared) and stuck it in there to assure audiences that dog -who, again, disappeared entirely once the violent action started) is actually ok rather than, as I suspect in the original cut, likely cut to shreds.

Further, what becomes/became of the addled Predator dog is also something of a mystery. It shows up toward the end of the film and attacks (I won’t get into spoilers as to who) and then is gone.

I could go on and on but let me add one final head-scratcher: Toward the end of the film, one of the film’s most prominent characters is killed. This is done in such an offhanded, long distance viewed way that as an audience of one I hardly even realized he was gone. It was until a few more sequences passed I realized he was no longer with the rest of the cast!

In sum, The Predator is, sadly, a giant mess of a film. In many ways it reminds me of Suicide Squad, a film which was also famously taken from the director’s hands and reworked into what was story-wise an incoherent mess. Thing is, at least Suicide Squad had a bunch of charismatic actors making you care for them even if what they were going through made zero sense. Alas, the cast and characters in The Predator are simply not as charismatic or interesting.

Alas, in the case of The Predator, we simply don’t even have that.

A pass.

I can’t help myself: ONE MORE SPOILER!!!!

At the movie’s very end there’s a CODA which reveals what the “good” (I suppose its all relative) Predator brought with him.

I won’t reveal what he brought but if you do see the film, pay attention to McKenna’s autistic son and how he talks during this sequence. While in the movie proper he talked with great hesitation (suggesting his autistic nature), in this part of the film he suddenly talks perfectly normal and even shows emotions!

Could there have been another cut scene which showed the Predator messing with the kid’s head and making him more normal?

Who knows.

Not that it would have made the film any better.

Doctor Sleep (2019) A (Right On Time!) Review

Way, waaaaaaaaay back 1980, my father took thirteen or fourteen year old me to the just released horror film The Shining.

Yeah, I know. Excellent parenting, no?

Back then, I had little awareness of director Stanley Kubrick and his films. For that matter, I knew very little about author Stephen King, though I likely knew by that point the film was based on one of his novels.

We sat through the film and I was really embarrassed to be sitting next to my father when the completely nude woman in the bathtub appeared and what famously followed.

But other than that, I found the film a chore.

I really didn’t like it much at all and, when we left the theater, I suspect my father didn’t either (Now that I think about it, I should ask him…!).

Then, something really curious happened. The Shining showed up on TV here and there and I’d catch some minutes of it, then a few more, then still more.

And I’ll be damn if that film didn’t grow on me. I’m dense, I guess, but after a while I got it. I became a big fan of the movie and, in time, of director Stanley Kubrick, and today consider the movie one of my all time favorite horror features.

Ever.

Those who know even a little about the movie and Stephen King likely know that Mr. King was not too fond of the film. In fact, he famously stated he was unhappy with the changes made to his novel. Some have speculated it was because Mr. King viewed the novel more personally than any other (the main character is a writer struggling with alcoholism while Mr. King famously also struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction).

Fans of Mr. King’s novels have been vocal in defending the novel and many consider it a far better work than the movie. I haven’t read the novel and can’t comment on that.

Mr. King was clearly bothered enough about the movie version that years later and in 1997 he personally produced a TV mini-series which was more faithful to the novel.

The mini-series, IMHO, sucked. I thought it was dull and in the end was completely lost in the shadow of its more famous movie version.

A few years later and in 2013, Mr. King would release a sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep. As with most King novels, it did well and, given the success of recent Stephen King movie adaptations (in particular It), it isn’t terribly surprising a film version was made. It was released last Friday and I got to see it a few hours ago…

…and I must say, I’m befuddled.

The film, directed by Mike Flanagan (The House on Haunted Hill) is well made. The acting is generally quite good.

But the film… it feels bloated and unfocused. Even worse, there are almost no big scares. In fact, I would describe the film as not all that frightening at all. Finally, when all is said and done, the movie’s main villains are… well… without getting too SPOILERY… they wind up being not all that hard to take down in the end.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Doctor Sleep concerns Danny (now Dan) Torrance (Ewan McGregor), first immediately after the events of The Shining (both book and movie. Reportedly Mr. Flanagan tried to bridge the gap between the novel and Kubrick film). After he’s grown, we find that, like his father before him, Dan has become an alcoholic. During these opening scenes we also meet up with a group of oddball cultists known as The True Knot. They are led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, quite good) and roam the highways in their vans and motor homes hunting people who have “The Shining”, ie psychic abilities. Their victims are small children, and the group kills these children and feed off their souls.

I couldn’t help but think this group had more than a little similarity to the vampires presented in the 1987 cult classic vampire film Near Dark

The True Knot are in trouble: They are having a harder and harder time finding new victims, that is, until Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) has visions of their latest victim which in turn alerts The True Knot of her existence.

They hunger for her. Meanwhile Abra has psychically contacted Dan Torrance and, when it appears she is in danger, the two eventually team up to deal with The True Knot.

I won’t get into too many more spoilers about the film. I will say this: The movie takes a while to get going, presenting perhaps more information than was needed in the first act (Did we need to waste so much time with the backstory of Snakebit Andi?). Eventually, when things are sorted out and the players are revealed, the movie moves a little better but, again IMHO, things never really clicked as well for me and while I wouldn’t say I was hating what I saw, neither did I feel it was as interesting as I hoped it would be and the characters in The True Knot felt like -with the exception of Rose the Hat- they belonged in a cheap comic book. And, lest you think otherwise, I love comic books!

Worse, things became rather predictable and it was pretty obvious where the movie was going and where specifically the climax would occur.

In the end, I can’t recommend Doctor Sleep, despite the fact that the film was professionally done, both behind and in front of the camera. The story itself simply wasn’t that interesting and there were few -almost no!- scares, a very surprising fact given the film is supposed to be a horror movie.

Yet I wonder… given how I originally didn’t like The Shining when I originally saw it, is it possible that in time I may wind up liking Doctor Sleep?

Sadly, I don’t think so. Too bad.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) a (almost right on time!) Review

I’ve spent the last few posts talking about Terminator: Dark Fate (let’s refer to it as TDF from here on out) and now, having seen the film, offer my opinion on it.

To begin: I very much recall going to the theater way, waaaaaaaay back in 1984 to see The Terminator. While viewers who watch the film today may not realize it because of the inevitable passage of time and cribbing of ideas, seeing the original film when it was originally released was a ferocious experience. It was, to my mind, the first time the action and horror genres were merged.

Once the film got going, it felt absolutely relentless, and despite what we now see as an obvious low budget and dodgy effects (again, this is the product of the passage of time), The Terminator essentially made director/writer James Cameron’s career. He would go on from this film to make the equally tense action/horror Aliens and from there Terminator 2 (which many, but not me, consider the very best Terminator film) before eventually becoming a box-office champion with Titanic and Avatar.

The Terminator franchise left James Cameron’s hands following T2, and he had no part in either Terminator 3, Terminator: Salvation, or Terminator: Genysis. Neither did he have a part in Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles TV show, which I found quite good.

Unfortunately, the Terminator films that followed T2 were not that good, IMHO. Almost all of them had good elements, but the overall works simply didn’t carry each film into “great” movie territory.

Recently, the Terminator property reverted to James Cameron and with Terminator: Dark Fate, he’s “back”, though this time with the story and production credits while Tim Miller (Deadpool) directs.

If you’ve read my previous postings, it is worth noting that in making TDF, it was decided to create a story that actively ignores all the Terminator works that came post-T2. So going into the film, audiences should try to wipe their minds clean of all those works and stick with the first two.

The movie begins with a rather shocking development that reminded me in many ways of the opening of Aliens 3. I don’t want to give too much away here (I will talk about it toward the end, so BEWARE SPOILERS!) but if you’ve read online anything about the film, chances are you already know what happens at the very beginning of the film…

We then move to Mexico and, specifically, car factory worker Dani Ramos (Natalie Reyes, quite good), and the arrival -natch- of two visitors from the future, Grace (Mackenzie Davis, quite spectacular as an “augmented” human) and the evil Gabriel, aka REV-9 (Gabriel Luna, quite good), the robot sent to the future to take out Dani.

The story thus far isn’t all that different from all the other Terminators that came before: You have your “ordinary” person being alternately hunted and protected by two people who have come from the future. The early action set pieces are quite spectacular and Gabriel’s evil robot, while essentially still incredibly similar to Robert Patricks’ T-1000 from T2, has the added trick of being able to split into two Terminators at one time.

The opening action sequence terminates (ouch) with the arrival of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, looking as grizzly as can be but dangerous and smart assed to boot). The three form an uneasy alliance which eventually takes them to you-know-who (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and together the four of them form an even more uneasy alliance in trying to take on and destroy Gabriel.

Watching TDF, I realized how much better the film was compared to those that followed T2. Again, I don’t feel all those films are horrible, but clearly the people behind the making of TDF spent the extra capital in developing the relationships between the characters so that when we got to the ending, it was something of an emotional gut punch, at least to me.

TDF still falls a little below T2 (my second favorite Terminator film behind the original) yet rises IMHO far above the others and, for someone who was there when the first came out, felt it was almost a love letter to the fans of the series, even if it didn’t necessarily move out of the general Terminator comfort zone, story-wise.

Still, I liked it quite a bit and would easily recommend it to anyone interested. If you worry that these old-folks simply can’t do it in an intense action film, let me say they handle themselves quite well. I fear, however, that people are not giving this film a chance (it has been noted it underperformed despite generally good critical and audience reactions) because of the run of so-so Terminator films, including the not so-very-old Terminator: Genysis.

And that’s really too bad. If I could go back in time, maybe I’d convince the makers of those sequels to lay off and, by the time TDF shows up, people might be more willing/eager to give it a shot.

TDF is an easy recommendation for me. A film that, while not necessarily reinventing the Terminator-wheel, nonetheless respects the original two films and provides us with some genuinely good thrills and action set pieces, along with a story that is also quite good (if familiar) and some very welcome humor.

Go see it with an open mind… or at least without thinking about the last three Terminator films that followed T2.

Now then…

SPOILERS!!!!!

BEWARE!!!!

Still here?

Ok, you’ve been warned.

TDF opens with a post-T2 Sarah Connors and a young John Connor (both actors were digitally de-aged) resting from the end of T2.

Then, the T-800 (a de-aged Arnold) appears and kills John Connor.

It’s a rough scene, especially given we had a full film in T2 whose whole reason for being was to keep John Connor alive. However, in the course of that film, the future was changed and Skynet was destroyed.

What TDF does, somewhat cleverly but still kinda/sorta grimly, is show us that John Connor’s death no longer matters. That the T-800 that kills him turns out to have completed its programmed mission for a future that no longer was going to come into being.

Thus, the T-800 we see later in the film is that same robot, only he spent the next 20 plus years adapting to humanity and realizing what he did was terrible.

It’s an interesting notion and one that I felt made the relationship between Sarah and he that much more intriguing but… man, what a bummer of a concept! As I said, it was not unlike Alien 3, which opened with the deaths of two very likeable characters who survived the massacre of Aliens.

Still, for me not something that ruined the film.

Your mileage, as they say, may vary!

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) an (almost right on time!) review

It’s taken a few days for me to get to writing this and, if you’ve read the post I wrote just before this one, you already know why.

One Sunday night my wife, youngest daughter, and I went to the theater to catch Zombieland: Double Tap, the sequel to (natch) 2009’s Zombieland, a film that delightfully skewered plenty of Zombie-movie convention.

Zombieland: Double Tap (let’s refer to it as Z2 from here on out, OK?) comes ten years from the release of the original and we quickly find out what’s going on with our four protagonists of the post-Zombie apocalypse: Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).

And the answer is: Not a whole lot.

They haven’t grown much since we last saw them, though they do seem to have a little more of a family thing going on and they have relocated to the White House. Problem is that familiarity, as the cliche goes, is breeding contempt, and Little Rock, the youngest of the four, in particular is developing a strong itch to spread her wings and go out -and away- from this group.

Meanwhile Columbus and Wichita, who are together, are also having issues. Wichita seems to still like Columbus but she too feels trapped with him and the routine they’ve developed. Which makes it most unfortunate that at that point Columbus decides to propose marriage…

Wichita and Little Rock fly the coop, leaving behind the two male leads, and Columbus in particular doesn’t know how to react to this. Soon, they find another survivor and things get a little more complicated, especially when Wichita returns and states that her young sister has abandoned her as well for a (*gasp*) hippy they found along the way.

Look, anyone coming in to Z2 expecting profound/deep plot lines and/or high art should have their head examined.

Z2 is a cute, at times quite funny journey through this particular Zombie apocalypse that features some interesting cameos (but none quite as good as the one presented in the first film, even though he makes his return in this one) and adventure.

None of it is taken terribly seriously and that, unfortunately, is the movie’s main problem and one I also found with the recently released Hobbs and Shaw.

To wit: How can you make a film that is (I’m assuming here) supposed to have its moments of suspense/thrills when it is clear from the get go that the filmmakers are taking none of this very seriously?

The fact is that Z2 does build to what should be an exciting, even suspenseful ending but the filmmakers never once give us a sense of any sort of seriousness/danger, at times winking at the camera and offering jokes that are clearly breaking the proverbial fourth wall.

So we’re left with a film that is for the most part quite amusing but never really moving to that higher gear to deliver some genuine thrills.

However, unlike Hobbs and Shaw Z2 is intended to be a comedy and therefore it doesn’t bother quite as much that the thrills are missing as they were in H&S.

Still while I recommend Z2, I have to also be honest and say: “I really wish there was more to it than what we got.”

Just because you want to make a smart ass comedy (nothing wrong with that!) doesn’t mean you can’t also deliver some suspense, amiright?!

Downton Abbey (2019) A (On TIme!) Review

Back in 2011 and when my daughters were still too young to do so on their own, I wound up taking them to the last movie in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

It was, to say the least, an interesting experience.

Why?

Because I read none of the Harry Potter books nor had seen any of the previous Harry Potter movies. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the phenomenon that was Harry Potter -indeed, you’d have to have lived in a cave to that point not to be!- but the reality was that I knew next to nothing of the Harry Potter storyline other than the three main characters and that they were in some kind of sorcery school.

So, going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the concluding chapter of a long series of novels and their movie adaptations, and going into it as cold -information-wise- as I was, was a… odd… experience.

I didn’t know who most of the characters were and didn’t know what they were up to and just kinda let it all wash over me. By the end of the film, it was like I had walked in on something that was reasonably entertaining but which I was hopelessly out of my element about.

Fast forward to yesterday and I tell my wife, a BIG fan of the TV series Downton Abbey, that I was willing to accompany her to the movie version which was just released this past Friday.

And, like Harry Potter, I was going into this pretty cold. Again, I knew some of the main characters in the series, but going into the film version I knew I’d be hopelessly lost with many of the character arcs and occurrences.

But, hey, my wife was dying to see the film and I was absolutely willing to take her to see it.

Like with HPATDH2, I found myself reasonably entertained with what I saw even if I was certain I missed plenty of nuance with regard to the many characters presented.

As a writer, I have to admire Downton Abbey’s screenwriter Julian Fellows for giving viewers so much material, so many different stories, without it getting too mushy and confusing.

If there is one thing I would criticize about the writing, however, is that there is a certain convenience to the way all these disparate storylines are resolved. Further, the movie presented a decidedly bucolic vision of post WWI England. While the movie did address at least one unpleasant aspect of those times -the way homosexuality is dealt with- it nonetheless was done/resolved in a quick manner.

But these are minor quibbles. Considering we are dealing with a two hour film that has enough plot to perhaps have given us an entire season of Downton Abbey, one has to admire the craftsmanship of this period piece along with the bits of wit/humor strewn throughout.

Yeah, I know I didn’t get it all and I know I missed on plenty of things and fans of the show probably would have plenty of reactions I, as a newbie, couldn’t, but if you’re a fan of the show seeing Downton Abbey, the movie, is a no-brainer.

If you’re not a fan and/or don’t know much about it, maybe you should check out the series first.

You’ll likely get much more out of it.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs And Shaw (2019), A (Almost on Time!) Review

The Fast and Furious franchise has been a huge box office success for years now to the point where investors decided to make a spinoff featuring Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Shaw. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

If you’re a fan of the franchise, this looks like a fun time, no?

Well…

Here’s the thing about these films: They’re pretty ludicrous. But, as ludicrous as they were, I will give the F&F franchise this much: they kept things “serious” enough so that you feel some actual suspense. As stupid as they could get, you sometimes worried for the fate of the characters.

Not so with Hobbs and Shaw.

This film, from the opening minutes to the closing act, is presented as a goof. There are plenty of stunts and quips, delived by Hobbs at Shaw and vice-versa. Some of them are genuinely funny. There are two cameos that are for the most part delightful (I won’t spoil the surprise), and Vanessa Kirby and Idris Elba do fine as Hattie (Shaw’s sister) and Brixton (the movie’s big bad guy).

But…

There is absolutely no sense of danger in this movie, despite all the stuntwork and sweat. There is no feeling, at any moment, that either Hobbs or Shaw or Hattie are in any genuine danger. As fearsome as Brixton could have been -he is presented as something of a bionic/android super powered man- he never lays much of a finger on our heroes nor could I, as an audience of at least one, ever felt he actually would.

So what we’re left with is a very slick and very loud film filled with explosions and crashes, shattered glass and crumbling concrete, and a decent enough story that the director/producer never allowed to get serious.

Which begs the question: How are we to feel any suspense, any thrills, in a film that so clearly doesn’t seem to want you to feel them?

There’s also this romance thing that is almost pathetically inserted into the film between Hobbs and Hattie that, it would seem, the movie’s makers belatedly realized was going nowhere and decided to tamp down on and essentially ignore by movie’s end. Perhaps I didn’t stay in long enough but the closing credit scenes (at least two or three of them, I lost track), didn’t bother to show whether Hobbs and Hattie finally had a date (OOPS! EXTREME SPOILER: They both survive at the end of the film!).

I have to say, despite some good laughs and some well executed action sequences, Hobbs and Shaw left me curiously unimpressed and, as we move further and further from the date I saw it (that was earlier last week), the less impressed I am with the whole thing.

Next time and despite the ludicrous things presented on screen, perhaps they should at least try to take these things a little more seriously.