Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) a (right on time!) review

As I’ve mentioned too many times before, I don’t get much of a chance to go out and see films when they’re first released.  I wish I did, but that’s the way it goes.

But I do try to make time to do so and, once in a while, actually manage to see a film while it is in theaters.  So it was with the latest Mission: Impossible film, Fallout, released last Friday.  Here’s the movie’s trailer:

I’m a fan of the Mission: Impossible films, though I would quickly state that they haven’t all been winners.  Starting with film #4 in the series (Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol) the last three of the six so far released have have developed a certain style and have been successful following that style, and this extends to the latest film in this series.

Having said that…

Sometimes I feel like I’m “that guy”, the one who reacts negatively to things when everyone else views them as positive.  Likewise, there are times I’m positive about things when everyone else is negative.  I am that fool that really liked Batman v Superman when  so many dismissed the film as dark and dull.  I’m the guy who didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy when everyone seemed to go ape… uh… crap over it.

And here I am telling you Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a very well made action/adventure film… that in the end left me wanting more.

Let me explain:

The movie presents us with nothing we haven’t seen before.  Yes, the movie moves and most of the stunt work is extremely well done.  And you once again have to give credit to Mr. Cruise for pushing the boundaries and doing some really crazy stuff on his own.

But the film offers a muddy story which doesn’t really surprise you all that much (if you can’t figure out who the bad guy is, you simply haven’t seen many films).  We have ancillary characters doing odd things to keep the story going, and the bad guys are presented as being unbelievably knowledgeable about everything going on and manipulate everyone so well yet of course manage to fail in the end.

Look, this is a good film.  A pretty great, in fact, summer popcorn film.  You will be entertained and there isn’t anything presented here that will make you groan of feel like the movie’s makers really screwed up.

However, this is not “game changer”.  Rather, it is the third film in a row of well done Mission: Impossible films and, alas, not much more than that.

And that, to me, is a shame.  Perhaps I was hoping the movie’s makers would push the envelope more than they did.

Still, don’t get me wrong: It’s a good film and worth seeing.  Just don’t go into this expecting anything vastly superior to the two MI films that came before it.

Tomb Raider (2018) a (mildly) belated review

I know little about the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider games, other than the fact that the character appears to be a female version of the Cliffhanger action heroes of yesterday and Indiana Jones, more specifically, of recent vintage.  I also have seen the Angelina Jolie films based on the character/games and they certainly looked nice and Angelina Jolie made for a beautiful hero, but the films themselves…?

Kinda average.

As is (sadly) the case with the passage of time, Ms. Jolie is no longer young enough for this franchise and in 2018 it was rebooted with Alicia Vikander in the titular role and…

…the more things change…!

The 2018 incarnation of Tomb Raider aims for a more grungier “look” versus the two previous film’s almost James Bondian look.  If memory serves, the previous films also had more of a “fantastic/supernatural” element, which this movie hints at but ultimately tries to be more grounded.

The same essential plot elements from the first films are there: You have your young hero, her lost -and perhaps deceased- father (Dominic West), and trip to find the (possibly) supernatural whatzit while dealing with a villain.  In this movie’s case, the villain is played by the usually reliable Walton Goggins who here looks like he was told by the director to act as if he’s sleep walking.

Ms. Vikander’s Lara Croft is aided -eventually- in her journey by Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) but, like pretty much all the characters presented in this film, he’s another cardboard cutout pretending to be a human being.

It’s a real head-scratcher to watch something like Tomb Raider because all the essential elements to a good film are there: Good budget, handsome production and effects, and for the most part usually reliable actors in the titular roles.

And yet to me the film never seems to hit any sort of spark despite all this.  The movie starts with a too long bit involving who Lara Croft is, including the fact that she doesn’t want her missing father’s fortune.  Despite being a zillionaire she lives hand to mouth and works for a restaurant delivering food.  We are presented precious minutes of screen time showing how one of the family members of that restaurant, a younger man/son, is clearly smitten with Lara but doesn’t have the courage to ask her out.  These good folks appear in this one scene and are never shown again and you’re left wondering how the hell this got put into the film proper and not left on the cutting room floor, where it deserved to be.

But that’s not all!

Even when we get to the actual story, one fairly dull sequence, action or not, is presented after the other until, voila!, the movie ends and, frankly, I was left wondering how something with so much going for it could wind up so dull.

Needless to say, I cannot recommend Tomb Raider.  But, for what it’s worth, my wife liked it a lot more than me.

Take that as you will!

The Commuter (2018) a (mildly) belated review

I have to give those who made The Commuter props for trying to create an interesting mystery/suspense film which clearly offers a tip of the hat to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, here’s the trailer:

Liam Neeson is effectively the entire show here, playing ex-cop and now -but not for long- Insurance salesman Michael MacCauley.  He has a loving wife and son and, day after day, commutes by train from his home to the “big city” for work.

As the movie begins, he goes through his day’s office routine while alert, and not so alert, viewers begin to see clues as to where the story is going.  This, sadly, is one of the movie’s big problems and I’ll get into that in a moment.

MacCauley is called to his boss’ office and is told that he’s being laid off.  MacCauley is understandably disturbed.  He has mortgages and is only a few years away from retiring/getting a severance and *poof* that’s all out the window.

He then goes to a bar to meet a cop friend of his (Patrick Wilson) and there also meets the Chief of the police and more hints as to the plot are laid out.

From there, he heads back home via the train and it is there that he eventually meets Joanna (Vera Famiga, rounding out with Mr. Wilson the two leads from The Conjuring movies… though they share no screen time together here).

Joanna offers MacCauley an intriguing proposal: There’s $25,000 hidden in a bathroom within the train.  He can take it and for that money and, for another $75,000 given to him afterwards, he is to identify someone on this train going to its final destination.

After making the offer, Joanna departs from the train and, curious, MacCauley checks the specified bathroom and, sure enough, finds the money.  Obviously, its a welcome relief considering he just lost his job, but soon enough he realizes there is a sinister reason for all this.

Duh!

I wanted to really, really like The Commuter, and as I said before it was clear the makers of the film put a great deal of effort in this Hitchockian pastiche.

However, and as I already mentioned, the film unfortunately hits you over the head with things you can see a mile coming.  When the camera early on lingers on a news report of someone’s suicide, you know that this is going to mean something later in the film.  When MacCauley shows off his wedding ring to his wife and she reciprocates in the movie’s opening minutes, that too comes back in force later on.

The movie’s villain(s) are also pretty easy to discern and whatever “shock” you’re supposed to have later on in the film regarding their allegiances are simply not all that shocking.

But the worst thing about the film, something my wife noted perhaps halfway through the movie, was that if these villains are so good and so connected and “high up” and all seeing as to what MacCauley does while in the train (including, for example, while quite hidden writes a “call the police” note in a newspaper), then how come they don’t know who the person is they’re hunting?

Given their efficiency and all, that becomes something that’s just too hard to swallow.  And don’t get me started on this question:   Why is this person everyone is hunting traveling alone if s/he is so damn important?

With all that said, the film isn’t a total bust.

If you are able to turn your brain off and enjoy it for what it is and not ask too many questions or scratch too hard under its obvious surface, the film is a decent suspense flick with some decent action.

Still, for me its hard to outright recommend The Commuter and that’s a crying shame.  Despite good acting and a clear attempt to create a modern Hitchock suspense drama, this film really needed a little more work on its script and a lot more work on how to more subtly deliver the story.

Anti Matter (2016) a (mildly) belated review

So I finished up my latest draft of book #7 in the Corrosive Knights series (read about that here) and wanted to give myself a bit of a break yesterday so I popped in the latest Netflix film I had on DVD.

Titled Anti Matter and released in 2016, I can honestly say I have no idea how that movie got on my radar or why I put it in my Netflix que.  Regardless, there it was and, having the free time, I put it on.  Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Doesn’t look too bad, right?

Well…

Anti Matter, as can be implied from the trailer, involves Ana (Yaiza Figueroa), Nate (Tom Barber-Duffy), and Liv (Philippa Carson) who are students at Oxford and are involved in a radical experiment.

Ana has discovered a way to make small objects “disappear”.  She consults her friend Nate and shows him the results of her experiment and he, in turn, brings Liv, a “wild child” but brilliant fellow student into the experiment which, they soon find, isn’t just about making things disappear: They can effectively move matter from one place to another (shades of The Fly!).

Their experiments progress nicely and they manage to transport plants, then a caterpillar, then a cat, all while protests against animal cruelty are staged near their lab.  Outside of this trio, however, no one knows what they’re up to and, with stars in their eyes and thoughts of becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams lurking just under the surface, they are forced to speed up their experiments to see if the ultimate immediate matter transportation is possible: Sending humans from one point to another.

As the one who created this experiment, Ana decides to be that first test subject.

But afterwards, things get strange and suddenly she finds herself having a hard time remembering things and her two friends and lab partners are suddenly acting very strange.  Is she paranoid or is there something sinister going on?

Anti Matter is a low budget, perhaps even minimally budgeted film which nonetheless manages to present a clever, at times quite deep story to its viewers.  However, and this is one of the film’s biggest problems, the “shock” ending is something I suspect almost everyone can see coming from a mile away and, further, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the story presented.

The actors are fine in the roles, though if there’s one quibble I have it is that I would have switched actors playing Ana and Liv.  The protagonist, Ana, is played by Yaiza Figuero and, unfortunately, she has a noticeable Spanish accent (she is originally from Puerto Rico) and didn’t seem quite as comfortable in front of the camera as Phillipa Carson, the actress who played Liv.

But this is minor compared to the film’s biggest problem: The script.

As I’ve stated many times before, a great script/story can do wonders to any movie, low or high budgeted.  In the case of Anti Matter, the story concept is quite good, though perhaps not the most original, but the story as presented has many flaws which become only more and more apparent after a) you realize what’s going on (again, that realization should come well before the movie’s end to most viewers), and b) once that realization is made, much of what we’ve seen to this point starts to make little sense.

I will discuss this in some more detail in a moment, but as it involves some rather massive SPOILERS, I’ll leave it for now.

There is a lot to like about Anti Matter.  I applaud the fact that the movie’s makers took what had to be a very low budget yet nonetheless tackled some interesting issues in its science fiction milieu.  I applaud the fact that they were trying to give us a science fiction film that made us think rather than resorted to cheap action or violence or “shock”.

But on the other hand I have to fault them for not thinking their scenario all the way through and giving us a film whose story, unfortunately, falls apart with close scrutiny.

A true shame.

Now, on to…

SPOILERS!!!!

 

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!!!

 

Still there?

Ok, so now let’s get into the meat of the matter: Where I felt Anti Matter’s script let down the story proper.

As I mentioned before, we have a scenario that, while interesting, is not incredibly new to the science fiction genre: Matter teleportation.  As I mentioned, this has been used in the movie The Fly and Star Trek and a whole host of other sci-fi works.

So our protagonist, Ana, decides to be the first subject in this matter teleportation experiment but when it is done, she begins to experience odd things.  She cannot remember things well.  She finds herself not hungry.  Her two lab mates, too, begin acting strange around her, as if they’re hiding things from her.  Even her mother, whom she calls frequently, starts to act strange over the phone.

To make matters worse, when she goes to her apartment, she finds someone is there, breaking in.  The person wears an odd Monkey mask and, in the movie’s only real action sequence, Ana fights the disguised intruder, even breaking through the glass window of their apartment and falling a floor down to the ground (this particular sequence, by the way, stood out like a sore thumb and felt like maybe it shouldn’t have been there… it seemed a little too “action” for this otherwise cerebral film).

So what’s happening?

Again, it felt too obvious to me: Clearly this Ana wasn’t the “real” Ana.  Somehow, the matter teleportation experiment created two Anas, and I knew the “real” one was hidden somewhere.

Surprise, surprise, that’s exactly what happened.

The Ana we follow from the experiment on, we find in the movie’s climax, is an echo, a “non” being fragment of the real Ana.  Further, we’re told that the lab partners have been dealing with her for days now, that she can’t remember things from one day to another because she hasn’t the capacity to do so.  They’re acting suspicious, in part, because they’re tired of dealing with this echo and going over the same thing day after day with her.

But this time around, things come to a head and the “real” Ana appears to tell the echo she needs to go back into the machine.  The unreal Ana doesn’t want to, she fears for her life, but the real Ana tells her she will simply go back to being a part of her.  So she steps into the teleportation area and disappears, forever.

Ok.

I ask the following: If this Ana was an echo that was running wild, why the hell did the real Ana and her lab partners let this craziness go on for so long?  Why the hell did they leave this disturbed non-person to roam the city and university freely?  Were they not afraid of what she might do?

And if she couldn’t remember things from day to day, effectively becoming the same being every time she woke up, why didn’t they simply confront her the first day with the real Ana and explain things?  Why let this charade go on for so long?

Aaaarrrghhhh.

Look, I really was rooting for this film to succeed, even though I could see that twist coming.  But the problem not only lies with that twist but with how it was handled.  Almost everything from the point where Ana is transported to the end made little sense and, even worse, ultimately torpedoed the film’s story because of this.

And that, my fiends, is really too damn bad.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), a (mildly) belated review

For the first twenty-thirty minutes of watching Thor: Ragnarok, I strongly feared I was about to repeat the Guardians of the Galaxy experience, ie see a comedic action/adventure/superhero film that most critics/audiences like but which Mr. Contrarian here would absolutely hate.

And it was a terrible sinking feeling, because I really enjoyed director Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows and was hopeful his comedic skills would suit the Marvel Universe films.

But those opening minutes were a freaking chore to watch, first with a confrontation between Thor and Surtur, who is presented as considerably less powerful than those familiar with Thor and his mythology would think, followed by a semi-amusing (but which went on too long) cameo by another prominent actor, to an incredibly unfunny Dr. Strange cameo (I recall a video clip released shortly before the movie was released hyped up the great “chemistry” between Benedict Cumberbatch as Strange and Chris Hemsworth as Thor.  There may be chemistry -though I feel this is arguable- but the whole encounter, IMHO, was dull reflected with the groan worthy line “not tea”.), I felt my fingers reaching for the remote, to shut this whole thing down before more permanent damage is done.

And then, after most of this (IMHO!) boring/unnecessary stuff is dealt with, the movie proper actually began.

Thor and Loki meet Odin and then face the movie’s “big bad”, Hela (Cate Blanchett… merely OK in the role but that is more related to the fact that the script doesn’t give her much more to do than be evil) and things finally get off the ground and the movie starts to rock n’ roll.

Thor: Ragnarok may be the third Thor film but it eschews the past Thor films and instead tries hard to be a thematic twin to the 1980 film Flash Gordon.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this trailer…

If you’ve seen Flash Gordon, you probably know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, this trailer might give you some idea (and compare it with the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok below).

Thor: Ragnarok, like Flash Gordon, presents bright and very wild sci-fi worlds and at times the goofy encounters the hero has with the various wild creatures all while keeping his chin up despite the long odds against him.

There is the appearance of yet another very big superhero in this movie whose role, I strongly suspect, was meant to be a surprise but that didn’t happen (the trailer below shows who I’m talking about, in case you don’t know).  That character’s appearance adds to the overall fun of the film as does Jeff Goldblum’s delightfully bizarre turn as the Grandmaster, Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful return as Loki (he just gets better and better in the role!), and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie.

But a special mention should be made to Karl Urban as Skurge.  His role is relatively minor but his character has the best story arc within the movie, from big mouth fool to unwilling ally in evil to… I won’t give it away, but with little actual dialogue and plenty of acting with his eyes and body posture Mr. Urban gives viewers a sense of a man in great conflict.  Very much liked his role.

In sum, if you decide to see this film and you’re just about to shut it off after the first twenty or so minutes, stick around.  The good stuff comes after the bad.

Recommended.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) a (mildly) belated review

Sometimes, you just sit back, put your brain in neutral, and enjoy whatever you can about a goofball comedy you’re watching and, afterwards, decide its best not to think too hard about what you’re seeing.

Such is the case with the Ryan Reynolds/Samuel L. Jackson film The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

I mean… where to start?

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: Ryan Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a very good “bodyguard” who, in the movie’s opening minutes, loses a charge.  Two years later he’s considerably lower rent and dealing with some clearly whacko clients.

Meanwhile, villainous ex-Dictator Ladislav Duckhovich (Gary Oldman in what amounts to an extended cameo role) is under trial at the Hauge for his brutal reign in Belarus (or some such country) and it turns out the case isn’t very strong and prosecutors need to get the testimony of Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson).  Kincaid is imprisoned in England but offered a deal for his testimony.  He agrees to testify.

Bryce’s ex-girlfriend Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, who is OK in a pretty blandly written role) is in charge of moving Kincaid to Amsterdam but, of course, things go sideways and after a bloody encounter with the ex-Dictator’s thugs winds up having Roussel and Kincaid in the wind.

Roussel calls in her ex-boyfriend Bryce to protect and take Kincaid to the Hauge and hilarity ensues as the two are familiar with each other and, of course, don’t like each other much at all.

(It is not terribly clear why Roussel brought her ex-boyfriend in to do this.  You would figure in another movie she would have moved Kincaid on her own.)

Anyway, what follows are some good laughs and plenty of -at times- bloody action.  Of course in The Hitman’s Bodyguard world, stray bullets or out of control vehicles or explosions don’t hurt any innocents and Kincaid, who is shot in the leg early in the film and is so weak from bleeding out, nonetheless recovers remarkably well minutes later and moves around with a light limp which doesn’t affect the action all that much.

Look, its a silly film and I’m starting to do what I shouldn’t: Think too hard about it.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard aspires to be nothing more than an entertaining work which gives people a few chills and thrills, laughs and romance and it accomplishes this, though the plot itself lurches around and could have been streamlined—

Again, don’t think too hard about it!

I recommend the film.  It is at times quite fun.

Just don’t expect much more than that.

Deadpool 2 (2018) a (almost right on time!) review

It’s so very rare to review a just released film… one that’s still in theaters.  In fact, one that was released less than a week before!

Let’s bask in that particular glory for a second or two…

All right, enough of that crap: Deadpool 2.  My 0.02 cents…

When the original 2016 Deadpool was released, I liked but did not love it.  (You can read my review of the first film here)

My hope was that the people who made this film refined their formula and made a better overall work.

Long story short: They did.

Now, I know there are people out there who have expressed a preference for the original Deadpool, but I’m not one of them.

Deadpool 2 follows the manic formula and kicks it up several notches, this time around offering a surprisingly meaty plot that -take it from someone who writes- was very well thought out, despite the fact that it offered plenty of silliness.

In some ways the film’s silliness is not unlike the works of the Zucker Brothers and Abrahams (Airplane!, Top Secret!, The Naked Gun films) in the sense that the jokes come quick and thick and I’m sure, having seen the film this one time, that I missed many, many jokes.

For example, over at one website I was on a little while ago, someone mentioned laughing out loud when, during the movie, we see a TV News report and the crawl on the bottom of the report says something like this: Christopher Plummer rejects role of Deadpool.

Totally missed that one!

I also loved many of the new characters brought into the feature.  Josh Brolin was great as the gravel voiced, grim time traveler Cable.  Zazie Beetz, similarly, was a delight as Domino, the hero whose big power (or mutation) is… luck.  She more than held her own in the craziness that came around her.

If there’s one thing I wish there was more of, its Brianna Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead.  She was, IMHO, one of the great delights of the first Deadpool.  I loved her silent exasperation at the antics of Deadpool but this time around she doesn’t show quite as much of that.  On the other had, they expanded on her character by introducing her girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna, quite delightful!), and this character’s interactions with Deadpool were quite a hoot.

I’ve tried very hard not to get into spoilers here regarding the story presented in the film, up to and including what happens in the opening minutes, and I’m not about to give that stuff up now.  I will say this, though: There are two hilarious cameos by big named actors, one of which if you blink you’ll miss it, the other of which is pretty heavily disguised so, if you don’t notice it, you’ll be forgiven for checking the web for who/when this person appeared.

In conclusion and suffice to say, I recommend the film and highly suggest you stick around during the credits as there is an extended bit that’s quite hilarious and… I’ll say no more.

What are you waiting for?  Go see Deadpool 2!

Violent Cop (1989) a (very) belated review

Takeshi Kitano, also known as Beat Takeshi, was primarily known as a comedian but, over time, became even better known as an action/adventure star.

Mr. Kitano has appeared in many works, including many films he’s directed, acted, and written.  He’s also appeared in American films, including Ghost In The Shell and Johnny Mnemonic.  He even appeared opposite David Bowie in the 1983 film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

But for Mr. Kitano, one could say it was his first directorial work, Violent Cop, which really put him on the map.  Here’s the movie’s trailer.  Mr. Kitano not only directed, he stars in the film as Azuma, the proverbial Violent Cop…

I have to admit, I bought the film on a whim and because it was on sale.  While watching it, I found it intriguing and entertaining but the reviews that stated it was a Japanese “Dirty Harry” seemed a little exaggerated.

For most of the film first couple of acts, we don’t see so much as a single gun!

This turned out to be a coldly calculated storytelling technique, because while the first forty or so minutes of the film allow you to enter Azuma’s world and all seems edgy but otherwise not out of this world, there are many dark edges peeking out, one of which is presented in the movie’s opening minutes…

The movie begins (MILD SPOILERS) with a truly perplexing -in a good way!- sequence where a homeless man is enjoying a meal before he’s attacked and beaten up by a bunch of youths.  Given the way the man is left, the viewer wonders if he is still alive.

The young boys head home and one of them leaves the group to go to his house, which turns out to be in a nice neighborhood.  Shortly after he arrives at the house, Detective Azuma shows up.  He flashes his badge to the youth’s mother after she answers his knock, then heads up to the boy’s room where he proceeds to beat him up.  He then tells the youth that he and his friends better turn themselves in the next day at the police station for what they did to the homeless man.

Questions are raised: If Azuma saw what the young boys were doing to the homeless man and followed at least one of them home, why didn’t he stop them while they were beating the poor guy up?  Why did he wait for them to finish and go home before coming after one of them?

The answer, in a way, is revealed through the course of this movie, and the answer isn’t pleasant…at least with regard to Detective Azuma’s character.

The movie goes on, showing us what Azuma does.  He’s assigned a rookie (a classic police drama cliche) to tag along with him and we also find he has a sister who he cares for but who has mental issues.

He also skirts the law and isn’t above beating up a potential snitch.

But I’ll repeat: The first forty or so minutes of the film lure you into a sense of false security, a sense that things are rough but not that rough.

Which makes the film’s conclusion all the more shocking, difficult to watch, and, yes, nihilistic as hell.

While watching the film to its end, I felt -wrongly as it turned out!- that this movie was influenced by the violence present in Quentin Tarantino’s early movies.  While I’m aware Mr. Tarantino has cribbed from many works, including those released in Hong Kong and Japan, Violent Cop was released in 1989, three full years before Mr. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was released.

I could go into more and more of the film but I feel that would be counterproductive and involve way too many spoilers.

Suffice to say Violent Cop is a film that will shake you up and surprise you by how much it pushes the envelope.  This is ultimately not a pleasant film but that’s what makes it work so exceedingly well.  Having said that, it is also quite clearly not for everyone.

If what I’ve said above intrigues you, give Violent Cop a look-see.  For everyone else, best you stay away.

The Presidio (1988) a (very) belated review

I’ve always been kinda/sorta fascinated by the works of director Peter Hyams.  While he may not be a terribly well known director, he’s made some pulpy films that have lingered in my mind over the years.  They may not always be the most original works, they do have their interesting elements.

Among the many films he’s directed is the Mars landing conspiracy thriller Capricorn One, the remarkably not all that bad 2010 (a sequel to the classic Stanley Kubrick directed 2001: A Space Odyssey), and two of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s better movie outings, Sudden Death and Time Cop.

Mr. Hyams also made two films with Sean Connery, the Alien set/visuals-inspired and High Noon story-inspired Outland and The Presidio.  Here’s the trailer to The Presidio:

I have to say up front: Unlike the many Peter Hyams directed films I mentioned above, there was little I recalled about The Presidio, which I only saw once many, many years ago.  The things I remembered about the film were a) Meg Ryan looked really attractive and b) the characters played by Sean Connery and Mark Harmon were constantly arguing.

Anyway, fast forward to a few months ago and the film was airing on some cable channel and I recorded it to my DVR.  It lingered there, recorded but unwatched, until yesterday when I had a little bit of free time and decided to give the film a go.

The first thing that struck me about the film, and you can catch glimpses of it in the above trailer, is the appearance of Jenette Goldstein as the victim of a murderer -this happens quite literally in the movie’s first few minutes so I don’t feel its a terribly big spoiler- and that sets off the movie’s story.  I point her out because she’s only a couple of years removed from her role as Private Vasquez in Aliens and, because she’s dressed in military green, still looks very much like that famous character.

Anyway, so we have her mysterious murder within the Presidio, the famous San Francisco military academy, and that in turn leads to Mark Harmon’s detective Jay Austin meeting up with Sean Connery’s Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell, the head MP of the Presidio and the man in charge of the case there.

The two have, we soon find, a history.  Austin used to be an MP under Caldwell and at some point he broke from the academy and became a police detective.  He doesn’t care for Caldwell much and the feeling is mutual.

However, because the murder occurred on the Presidio’s grounds, of course the two are eventually forced to partner up.  And it is when Austin heads to Caldwell’s home that he finds the man’s daughter, Donna (Meg Ryan, natch) and the attraction is instant.

Things move on and the conspiracy is eventually exposed but the fact that I couldn’t recall much of the film all these years later becomes more evident as I watched it.

To be blunt, the film isn’t all that good, even though it features a typically strong Connery performance, a charismatic turn by Ms. Ryan, and a so-so turn by Harmon.  I can’t be too harsh regarding Harmon as his character is pretty one note as written: Brash and handsome, handsome and brash.  What may be interesting to some is to see Mark Harmon play essentially a younger, brasher version of his character on N.C.I.S.

The story turns out to be a rather uninteresting one with one “big” surprise regarding one of the ancillary characters that is so obvious that even newborns should see it coming (though, of course, our leads didn’t).

Worse and especially early in the film it seemed we were jumping forward, story-wise, to the point of near incoherence.  I feel like there were scenes missing which were meant to elaborate on Donna and Austin’s relationship.  Perhaps they were filmed and clipped from the final cut or perhaps they were dumped in the screenwriting stage, but nonetheless there were times it felt like I was missing something.

For example, there is a scene which suddenly occurs where Austin and Donna are at an officer’s/military dinner and her father is at another table, seething as he watches them.  Donna acts up and provokes Austin into a fight.

There is no lead up to this scene -either that or I fell asleep for a moment or two and missed it.  One moment Austin and Caldwell are investigating the murder and suddenly they’re all at that military party and Donna’s acting like a crazy person.

A little before that scene there is one where Austin and Donna are walking on a beach and Austin very clumsily states his love for Donna, noting how he’s come to feel this way after seeing her all this time.  At that point in the film I believe we only had them together twice, the first time they “meet cute” and then when they first go out!

Weird, huh?  As I said, I get the feeling there was more to the whole Donna/Austin relationship but romance was torpedoed in favor of action/mystery.

Anyway, I can’t recommend The Presidio, even to hard core Peter Hyams (there are some of you out there, no?), Sean Connery, Meg Ryan, or Mark Harmon fans.  There simply isn’t enough “there” there to justify the time.

Too bad.

Game Night (2018) a (right on time!) review

This past Friday, the 23rd of February, I pick up the local paper, head over to the Weekend section to see what’s up in the world of entertainment and found, as one does, reviews for the films being released that day.

Among the films being released was Game Night, a film that, until I saw the review in that paper, had heard absolutely nothing about.  Here’s the movie’s trailer, which clearly I also missed when it was shown on TV (if indeed it was!).  Though I’m putting the trailer here, I would urge those who know about and/or are interested in seeing the film skip the trailer.  It gives away a lot of information about the film.  Thankfully, not everything, but too much:

Anyho, I read the review, which was positive, and my wife spotted it as well and on Sunday we didn’t have all that much to do in the afternoon so we headed out and saw it.

I have to admit, I was somewhat leery.  The movie’s directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, previously directed the 2015 remake/sequel Vacation, a film that wasn’t very well received and fizzled at the box office.

Nonetheless, based on that review and the overall very good reviews of the film on rottentomatoes.com, we went.

And you know what?  The movie was quite good!

I mean, it isn’t a “classic” in the realm of, say, Airplane! or the Monty Python films, but it nonetheless is a film that is consistently funny and, as an added bonus, quite clever with several fun twists and turns.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a married couple who share an interest in playing games and are damned competitive about it (one of the more humorous lines in the film, found early on, has our protagonists playing Risk with another couple and joining forces to crush the others.  When told they can’t join forces while playing Risk, their response, which I won’t give away here, is quite hilarious).

Anyway, Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, quite good) is in town and, after a game night ends, he invites Max and Annie and their friends to his house where, it turns out, he’s got a “next level” game night planned: He’s hired a company that stages a kidnapping and its up to the players to solve the kidnapping.  The winner gets Brooks’ beautiful cherry red Stingray.

This part you probably see coming: The staged kidnapping turns out to be a real kidnapping, though the players are, at least at first, blissfully unaware of that fact.

I won’t give away anymore of the movie’s plot here but, again, expect more than a few twists and turns.

Everyone within the film delivers here.  Having said that, special mention has to be made to Jesse Plemons.  He plays Max and Annie’s next door neighbor, a creepy police officer who has just divorced and seems to wear his police outfit twenty four hours a day.  A great character!

In sum, if you want to have a fun time at the cinema and laugh throughout a film (as opposed to some “comedies” that give you a couple of laughs here and there), you could do a lot worse than Game Night.

An easy recommendation.