SAMARITAN (2022) – Sylvester Stallone Kicks Butt as Grizzled Gray Superhero

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Sylvester Stallone as a superhero?

Who’s he playing? Senior Citizen Man?

And with that, we’ll dispense with the “old people” jokes for the rest of this column. I just think it’s funny that in this day and age, between CGI effects in the movies, and the healthy regimens of many actors who like Stallone are aging much better than previous generations, you can tell a story about an older superhero with a 76-year-old actor in the lead role and have it be believable! This is a good thing.

SAMARITAN (2022) opens with young Sam Cleary (Javon “Wanna” Walton) recounting the story of twin brother superheroes Samaritan and Nemesis, who fought to the death twenty years earlier when Nemesis went rogue and tried to kill his good superhero brother Samaritan with a special hammer he forged just for the job. Both men were killed in a massive explosion inside a warehouse, but Sam doesn’t believe Samaritan died. He believes the former superhero is just hiding out somewhere.

And when the garbage man named Joe (Sylvester Stallone) who lives in the apartment across the street from him shows up one day and saves him from some gang member bullies, showing off superior strength and fighting skills, Sam believes he has found his man. He believes Joe is Samaritan.

Meanwhile, local gang leader Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek) discovers Nemesis’ hammer and mask and decides to use them both as he begins a crime campaign to wreak havoc and cause chaos across the city. Sam is part of this gang, and Cyrus has taken a liking to him, but when things get more dangerous and Sam’s life is endangered, he turns to Joe for help, and he gets it, but not in the way he was expecting.

As superhero stories go, the one told in SAMARITAN, now playing in theaters and also available to watch for free on Amazon Prime Video, is pretty standard. It didn’t really do all that much for me, and the longer it went on, the less I was interested in it. Also, the big reveal at the end wasn’t that hard to figure out, because there were enough clues in place earlier in this one to see how it was going to go down. Bragi F. Schut wrote the screenplay, and other than a few good lines for Stallone, it’s nothing to write home about.

I like Stallone, and admittedly he’s the main reason I wanted to see this move, and on that front, it wasn’t a disappointment because he’s pretty darn good in the role. Of course, he’s been doing this for so long he can probably do it in his sleep, but that doesn’t mean it’s not another enjoyable performance. From Rocky to Rambo to a myriad of other action film performances, Sylvester Stallone has a presence and persona that serves him well. He’s the working man’s action hero, the blue-collar tough guy, who is more at home dishing out wisdom and advice over wise-cracking one-liners.

And he’s at it again here. Joe becomes a mentor and father figure to Sam, and late in the movie schools the boy on the nuances of good and bad in the world, of how people mistakenly believe it’s all about good vs. evil. Joe tells Sam it’s not that clear cut because there is good and bad in every person, and it’s all about the choices people make. It also goes without saying that Stallone is believable here as the grizzled superhero, as he efficiently kicks the butts of much younger villainous foes.

This also isn’t the first foray into superheroes for the Rocky/Rambo star. He provided the voice for the CGI-created King Shark in the hilarious THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), a fun performance in a very fun movie. He was less memorable in a small role in Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) as Stakar Ogord. Stallone is currently working on THE EXPENDABLES 4, due out next year, a series I’ve enjoyed.

I can’t say that I was all that impressed with Javon “Wanna” Walton as Sam. There was something rather annoying about his personality.

Pilou Asbaek is decent as the villain, Cyrus. He’s had plenty of practice. He’s played similar tough guy roles in films like OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021) and GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017). He also played Euron Greyjoy on GAME OF THRONES (2016-2019).

I did enjoy Dascha Polanco as Sam’s mom Tiffany. She makes for a memorable hard-working single mom who because of her job can’t be there as often as she likes for her son. She’s as tough as nails, a side of her which she gets to show off later in the story.

Moises Arias also stands out as an annoying gang member named Reza who is a constant thorn in Sam’s side.

Directed by Julius Avery, SAMARITAN is a decent superhero movie, but not a great one. Its look is standard and didn’t offer anything I hadn’t seen before, and its action sequences, while okay, aren’t mind-blowing. It’s ultimately successful for a couple of reasons. It tells a simple straightforward story and doesn’t get lost in a convoluted muddled mess of storytelling like some of the recent Marvel entries, films like DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2021) and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022). It’s also not overlong and doesn’t get boring.

Most of all, it benefits from the presence of Sylvester Stallone. Watching him play the lead role was a real treat. It’s like ROCKY meets UNBREAKABLE (2000).

He’ll not only go the distance; he won’t even be down for the count. Not ever.

Yo, Adrian! Look, no black eyes!

—END–

BEAST (2022) – Idris Elba Anchors Solid African Adventure

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For an actor as talented and as popular as Idris Elba, he sure has made his share of bad movies.

And based on the trailers for his latest, BEAST (2022), a tale where he plays a dad protecting his two daughters from a menacing lion in the wilds of Africa, I expected this one to be added to that list. The good news is BEAST is not a bad movie.

Not at all.

BEAST opens in Africa, where we see a bunch of poachers killing a pride of lions, but the male lion gets away and moments later returns to attack and kill the poachers who had remained in search of him. So, right off the bat, we learn that this isn’t just some random hungry lion, but rather, an animal with an agenda. He’s out for revenge, against the poachers or any other human who gets in his way!

Cue Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and his two teenage daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) who arrive in Africa from the U.S. to reconnect after the death of Nate’s wife and the girls’ mother. Nate and his wife had been separated, and while separated, she had died from cancer. Meredith blames her dad for not being there for their mother while she was sick, and the guilt is something Nate carries with him deeply. He never intended not to be there for his wife, and he wants to make amends now by being there for his daughters. His wife was born in Africa, hence the trip, to reconnect with her roots.

They are greeted by Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), Nate’s good friend and uncle to his daughters. Martin is the man who introduced Nate to his wife, and so they all share a special connection. Martin spends his days helping the authorities keep the poachers away from the animals. When he takes Nate and his daughters out for a ride through the wilds of Africa, they unfortunately cross paths with the vengeful lion from the movie’s opening, an animal with only one goal in mind: kill every human it comes in contact with.

And that’s the set up for the rest of the movie, as it pits Elba’s Dr. Nate Samuels against the vicious lion, as Nate vows never again to let his daughters down.

As premises go, the one in BEAST isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. The reason it works however is the material is handled well by everyone involved.

The screenplay by Ryan Engle, based on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, rises above the material mostly because the dialogue is excellent, and it gets the dynamic between Nate and his daughters right. They act like real people, and when you put real people in danger, you have an exciting movie. There is just so much stress in the conversations between Nate and his daughters, and all of it comes off as real. It also helps that both Meredith and Norah have distinctive personalities. There’s one scene where Nate tells his daughters to stay behind while he goes up ahead to see what’s going on, and when Martin tells him to run, and he turns to say the same to the girls, he sees that Norah is missing, and he asks Meredith where she is, and she says she was there minute ago. As Nate desperately searches for his youngest daughter, he says to Meredith, “You had one job!” In this one moment, you have genuine father/daughter angst plus the suspense of the rogue lion closing in on them.

Engle co-wrote the screenplay to RAMPAGE (2018), a very different “attacking animal” movie, as that film, which told the story of a giant ape and some other giant monsters, was based on the popular video game and was high camp and was a perfect vehicle for Dwayne Johnson. Engle also wrote a pair of Liam Neeson action thrillers, THE COMMUTER (2018) and NON-STOP (2014), both of which were formulaic but ultimately worked because they were Liam Neeson action thrillers! I liked these movies, and BEAST is not only on par with them, but it’s probably the best of the lot for creating realistic believable characters.

Director Baltasar Kormakur also does a nice job here. First and foremost, the lion scenes are intense, better than I expected. Sure, it’s CGI, but it looks really good. The best part is the lion moves with a speed and a ferocity that is quite scary. There are these quick bursts of insane aggressive energy which jostle the audience. Even though the final outcome of this movie is never in question, the lion sequences where he constantly attacks Nate and his daughters are quite suspenseful.

And of course, the film takes place in the wilds of Africa, which is a plus. I believe it was movie critic Gene Siskel who once said when he was reviewing the Sidney Pollack film OUT OF AFRICA (1985), a love story starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford which took place in Africa, that any movie which was set in Africa would be improved just by the scenery and setting alone. He wasn’t wrong.

But I didn’t go to see BEAST because of its African scenery or its marauding lion. I went to see it because of Idris Elba. As I said, he’s a terrific actor, and I’m a big fan. And yes, he has made his share of bad movies…. NO GOOD DEED (2014) and THE DARK TOWER (2017) come to mind…. but the thing about Elba is, regardless of the movie, he always delivers a top performance and often lifts up lesser movies by his performance alone. And when he’s in a movie that really works, like THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) for example, the results are usually outstanding.

Elba is terrific here in the lead role as Dr. Nate Samuels, a man who is guilt-ridden over the death of his wife, since he wasn’t there for her, and who is hell-bent on protecting his daughters from the menacing lion. He’s also believable in the physical aspects of the role, having to go toe to toe— or is it claw to claw?— with the lion, even if towards the end some of the sequences do border on the far-fetched. The other neat thing about his character is at first his daughters seem to have lost a lot of respect for him, and later, when his skills as a doctor become so important to their survival, and they witness this, it makes for some noteworthy moments.

Of course, the gold standard for Elba fans remains his work on the superior TV show LUTHER (2010-2019). And for years now, Elba’s name has been floated as possibly being the next James Bond, and even though the producers of that series are supposedly seriously interested in him for the role, he’s on record this year as saying he’s not interested in Bond, so it sounds like that’s not going to happen. Which is too bad. He’d be really good.

Both Iyana Halley as Meredith and Leah Jeffries as Norah bring their characters to life, and they represent a complicated family dynamic that only ads to the tension in the film. They are both fiercely independent characters, and for example, at one point when Nate tells them to say inside the vehicle, Meredith believes otherwise and doesn’t listen to her father. What makes this moment and these characters work is that she’s not wrong, She sets out to do something she believes she can do, and she does it.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Sharlto Copley in a movie, and he’s fine here in a supporting role as family friend and guide Martin Battles. Back in his heyday, Copley was playing major roles in some pretty big science fiction movies, as the soft-spoken hero in DISTRICT 9 (2009) and as the violent and vicious villain in ELYSIUM (2013).

BEAST was better than I expected. It’s a well-written movie that creates believable characters and puts them in danger. For the most part, it keeps things realistic, although things do grow more far-fetched towards the end, and its ending does strain credibility. I think most people would be dead when put in similar predicaments. Elba’s Nate pretty much challenges the lion to a hand-to-hand combat battle. Yeah. That’s the one part of the movie that— yeah.

But the rest is all very good. You have an exciting story throughout, amazing African scenery, and yet another worthy performance by Idris Elba anchoring the whole thing.

BEAST is a genuine popcorn movie that provides solid summertime entertainment.

Give it a roar!

—END—

DAY SHIFT (2022) – Horror/Action/Comedy at Its Worst

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The mindless action/comedy tour continues, and with DAY SHIFT (2022), you can throw horror into the mix.

In recent weeks, I’ve been writing about the plethora of mindless action comedies at the movies these days, films filled with clever rapid-fire banter between main characters but with stories so ridiculous and over-the-top that they possess no semblance of truth and are about as interesting as watching someone else play a video game. Yawn. These movies have become absolutely wearisome, but since they continue to make money, they aren’t going away anytime soon.

They run the gamut from generally entertaining and fairly well-written, like BULLET TRAIN (2022), to not-so-well written and too-ridiculous-to-be-believed-and-enjoyed, like THE GRAY MAN (2022), to the horribly dreadful and uber boring because not only is the action mindless but the characters as well, like UNCHARTED (2022).

DAY SHIFT, a new horror/action/comedy which premiered this weekend on Netflix, falls into the latter category. It’s pretty bad.

The movie opens with swimming pool cleaner Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) entering a home and immediately being attacked by an old lady who in reality is…. a deadly vampire! We learn everything we need to know about the rest of this movie in this opening action sequence. It goes on for a while, the stunts and action are impeccably polished, and it’s generally entertaining for an opening scene of an action movie, and when it’s done, Bud wins, and he makes a wisecrack.

And that’s what DAY SHIFT is all about. See, Bud’s not really a pool cleaner. He’s a vampire hunter! And in this movie, Los Angeles is crawling with vampires, and so Bud is plenty busy! The gimmick here is that Bud’s ex-wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) has threatened to move to Florida with their young daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) because they can no longer afford her private school which costs $5,000, or her need for braces, which will cost $6,000, so in order to keep his family in L.A. with him, he has to come up with $11,000 real fast! So, he has to get extra aggressive with the vampire hunter gig. However, this plot point is a head-scratcher. Moving to Florida isn’t going to remove Paige’s need for braces or the expense that goes with it, and private schools in Florida are just as expensive as private schools in California, so Bud, if he took two minutes to think about things, should have realized he has other options for keeping his daughter with him in California. But that would suggest some intelligence here, which is something that the script lacks.

Bud is paired up with the dorky Seth (Dave Franco) who has been tasked with making sure that Bud follows all the rules of the vampire hunting company, something that Seth isn’t interested in doing because he likes his desk job and isn’t interested in working in the field. And the main villain here, a female vampire named Audrey (Karla Souza) is intent on two things, populating the city with vampires, and exacting revenge on Bud since the old lady he killed in the film’s opening was her daughter. Don’t ask. The explanation doesn’t make sense. So, eventually Audrey goes after Jocelyn and Paige, and it’s up to daddy Bud to save the day.

As stories go, this one is very lame.

DAY SHIFT reminded me somewhat of another Netflix action/horror/comedy movie, ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021), only in that movie, which was directed by Zach Snyder and starred Dave Bautista, the good guys were battling zombies, not vampires. This similarity comes as no surprise as screenwriter Shay Hatten wrote both movies. Here, Hatten shares screenwriting credit with Tyler Tice.

It’s a pretty ineffective screenplay. The dialogue and banter is neither funny or clever, and there’s nary a laugh to be found. There is one amusing conversation between Bud and Seth about the TWILIGHT series, but that’s about it. It tries to be clever and creative with the vampires, as Seth offers an explanation into the different types of vampires, but the movie never makes an effort to make this part of the film’s lore, and so it’s quickly forgotten. The characters are shallow, and the plot forgettable. Vampire Audrey has the upper hand once she captures Bud’s ex-wife and daughter, and the only reason she doesn’t succeed is she went to the Dr. Evil School of Villainy and talks about all her plans but never acts on them. It’s pretty stupid. And finally, the story embraces one of the worst plot contrivances in the movies, where after the dust settles, mommy realizes that her ex-husband and daddy of their child really isn’t so bad after all since he’s a vampire hunter hero, and they decide to get back together. Gag! That simply is not how people act. This plot point is almost as bad as the “it was just a dream” shtick.

DAY SHIFT was directed by stunt man J.J. Perry, and the result is what you would expect. The action sequences are really well done and slick, and they are the best part of the movie, but that’s pretty much all DAY SHIFT has to offer. The horror and comedy are pretty nonexistent.

Jamie Foxx is pretty much hit or miss with me. Sometimes I enjoy his work, and other times I don’t. I really enjoyed him in DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and RAY (2004), but he did little for me in another recent Netlix actioner PROJECT POWER (2020), and he was rather ineffective in BABY DRIVER (2017). Here, he’s okay, but it’s a terribly written role.

But he fares much better than co-star Dave Franco who plays one of the most embarrassingly pathetic characters I’ve seen in a movie in years. Seth is a disaster. Let’s put it this way: the running gag in the movie is that every time Seth gets scared, he pees himself, and so after each action scene, we get to see Seth humiliate himself, and the other characters plus Seth himself make jokes about it. I can’t believe Franco would even play this role. It’s so bad. And then once you think he’s been put out of his misery, after he is turned into a vampire, and Bud beheads him, it turns out he can put his head back on to survive and become a “good” vampire.

Your guess is as good as mine.

One of the best performances in the movie belongs to Natasha Liu Bordizzo in a small role as Bud’s neighbor who also turns out to be a “good” vampire, and late in the film, she helps Bud and Seth. She’s fun to watch, and she makes for a better action hero than either Bud or Seth. We just saw Bordizzo play a very different character in the thriller THE VOYEURS (2021).

Also making an impact in a small role is Eric Lange, who plays a shady character who buys goods from Bud. It’s the kind of role Lange is good at, having played a similar shady type in the TV series NARCOS (2016-2017). He was also memorable in a dark role in the effective horror movie ANTEBELLUM (2020).

But Karla Souza is ineffective as the one-note vampire villain Audrey. She holds all the cards, yet she loses in pathetically stupid fashion.

Rapper Snoop Dogg is on hand as experienced vampire hunter Big John Elliott, but he, like everyone else in this movie, is let down by the script. He has nary a memorable line.

DAY SHIFT is not only the most recent example of the action/horror/comedy movie trope that is already passe and cliche, it’s also one of the worst examples.

If I were you, I’d request the night shift instead.

—END—

BULLET TRAIN (2022) – Stylized Action Sequences and Silly Banter the New Norm in Hollywood

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Stylized action and banter.

That’s the new normal in Hollywood action movies these days. Sure, it worked for Marvel’s AVENGERS movies, and actually for most of their movies pre-AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), but for that level of success you need both nifty writing and characters you care about, which is not as easy as it sounds.

BULLET TRAIN (2022), a new action/comedy/thriller— why not throw in musical while we’re at it? — directed by David Leitch, the man who directed FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS AND SHAW (2019) and DEADPOOL 2 (2018), and starring Brad Pitt, is the high concept story of several assassins all on the same bullet train roaring through Japan, all interested in the same gray briefcase. Before I go any further, I have to give a shout out to Peter Bogdanovich’s classic comedy of yesteryear and one of my all-time favorites, WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972), one of the most underrated comedic films ever made, which featured Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal and used a similar plot point, but in that film, it was a bunch of cases that all looked the same. That was a funny movie. BULLET TRAIN has its moments, but it also has to split time between being a comedy and a thriller and an action movie. Maybe it should have just picked one and focused on that!

BULLET TRAIN reminded me a lot of a movie we just saw a couple weeks ago, THE GRAY MAN (2022) which starred Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. Same formula, action and banter, similar results. BULLET TRAIN has a couple of things going for it which makes it preferable to THE GRAY MAN. One, its action scenes aren’t as ridiculously over the top (although some come close), and two, it has Brad Pitt, who creates a character in this movie who is more fleshed out and enjoyable than either character played by Gosling or Evans in THE GRAY MAN.

Pitt plays an assassin whose codename is Ladybug, and as the movie opens, he’s in Japan enjoying some rest and relaxation, working on getting his head and mood together, so when he agrees to return to action and take another job, he’s feeling rested and terrific, even if he feels he’s always plagued by bad luck, which is a running gag throughout the movie. The job he receives from his handler (voiced by Sandra Bullock) is described as very simple: just board a bullet train, locate a gray briefcase, and take it off the train.

But the job is anything but simple because there are a bunch of other assassins on board, and they also want the briefcase. And that’s the plot folks, as pretty much the entire 126-minute running time is spent with assassins vying for the same case on a speeding train. I half expected Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and Wile E Coyote and friends to show up.

As I said, BULLET TRAIN was directed by David Leitch, and it plays like any number of movies he’s made already, although it reminded me the most of his HOBBS AND SHAW vehicle, which was more silly than fun, and I felt similarly about BULLET TRAIN. Leitch also directed ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) which was not a comedy and featured some of the best action fight scenes in a movie in a long time, and so that’s probably my favorite Leitch film.

BULLET TRAIN looks great with its colorful cinematography, and you can’t go wrong with its polished stylish action sequences. You just aren’t going to believe many of them, because they come off as cartoonish. Pitt’s Ladybug is like Bugs Bunny. Bombs explode and he walks away without a scratch. Always.

Zak Olkewicz wrote the amiable screenplay based on the book by Kotaro Isaka, and it’s filled with nonstop banter, so if you like that sort of thing, you’ll have fun here. It works for me up to a point. It’s certainly better than the dialogue in another action/comedy hit (which I did not like at all) from earlier this year, UNCHARTED (2022), a ridiculous movie that featured Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg exchanging barbs while travelling the world in search of treasure. Audiences ate this one up, though. I found it dumb and redundant.

Here, Brad Pitt is very funny as Ladybug, the assassin who can’t stop thinking and philosophizing on life. His character and his performance are the best parts of the movie. His laid-back attitude is the perfect foil for the high-octane action sequences. From his genuine disappointment upon being attacked— you stabbed me? Really?— to one point where he’s speaking to a woman during a fight sequence and catches himself, saying I’m mansplaining.

Pitt is very good, and the script does its best job with his character, but it’s not enough. The biggest knock against BULLET TRAIN is I’m just getting tired of this kind of movie. After a while, the action and banter get boring. Even with a whole host of assassins on board.

The two best, besides Pitt, are Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), “twins” who work together but who share nothing in common other than the fact that they treat each other like brothers. Tangerine is a proper speaking Englishman, while Lemon bases his entire life on the Thomas the Tank Engine children’s stories. Their banter is also funny, but as is the case with Pitt, they are simply not enough to carry this movie.

This is probably the most fun role I’ve seen Aaron Taylor-Johnson play since way back when he was much younger playing the lead in KICK-ASS (2010), and the most satisfying role I’ve seen him play since SAVAGES (2012). Bryan Tyree Henry is equally as good, and it’s probably the best performance I’ve seen him give. Henry has also appeared in GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021), JOKER (2019) and HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018) to name just a few.

Joey King as Prince was probably my least favorite character in the movie. She’s a young woman pretending to be a victim when in reality she’s a major villain. In spite of the duality of the part, it’s pretty much a one-note character and performance on King’s part.

The Japanese characters pretty much play it straight. Andrew Koji as Kimura and Hiroyuki Sanada as The Elder are serious throughout, and as such, kinda seem out of place because the rest of the movie takes nothing seriously.

Michael Shannon shows up late in the game and briefly as The White Death, but it’s both way too late and too short for him to make much of an impact. And when we finally see Sandra Bullock, she looks like she’s either been heavily airbrushed to look younger or they used CGI on her. She just doesn’t look natural. For such a brief appearance, it was weird.

BULLET TRAIN doesn’t really know what kind of a movie it’s supposed to be, yet it feels comfortable in this role, because that’s kind of a new genre today. Make a movie that’s equal parts action, comedy, and thriller, with lots of good-natured banter, and the audience will go home happy. In other words, show lots of stylized violence and bloody deaths, but if the main characters remain cool and make jokes about it, and survive, it’s all okay.

Sort of.

At times, BULLET TRAIN with its R rating seemed to be aiming for a Quentin Tarantino vibe, but it’s vastly inferior to Tarantino’s work. First, Tarantino isn’t above showing the gruesome realities of violence. His characters are still funny and still banter, but his worlds are less cartoonish and safe. Also, the editing here, especially early on, seemed off. It took me a while to really settle in with BULLET TRAIN, as its jumping-around early scenes were more jarring than introductory.

BULLET TRAIN had a lot of moments that I liked, and it featured performances by Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Brian Tyree Henry that I really enjoyed, but at the end of the day it simply wasn’t enough because it’s part of a new “genre” of films that likes to link action and comedy, and through amiable clever banter give the illusion that death and destruction is safe and harmless.

A la Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner. But they’re cartoons. And movies should be more than cartoons. I’m not arguing that you can’t make “safe” action comedies. You can.

But you can also make less safe action comedies that are even funnier and work better because the audience is on edge and feeling less safe.

BULLET TRAIN, in spite of its high body count, remains a safe passage for its audience for the entirety of its ride, even with its R rating.

Fans of nervous laughter might want to ride a different train.

—END—

SPIDERHEAD (2022) -Mild Science Fiction Thriller Can’t Take Advantage of Good Script and Solid Acting

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SPIDERHEAD (2022), a new science fiction action thriller now available on Netflix, is a mishmash of these three genres, never really developing into anything special, yet remaining generally entertaining throughout.

It stars Chris Hemsworth, who must have a deal with Netflix, because he keeps showing up in their original movies. He starred in the superior Netflix action movie EXTRACTION (2020), one of the streaming network’s best movies to date, and appeared unbilled in the recent INTERCEPTOR (2022).

In SPIDERHEAD, Hemsworth plays Steve Abnesti, a scientist who runs a special prison program in which he accepts volunteer inmates to be guinea pigs for drugs he is working on that he hopes will help curb humans’ criminal personality traits, in the hope of keeping more people out of prison. While generally safe, the drugs can be dangerous, and so in exchange for taking the risk, the inmates are housed in a rather fancy minimum-security prison, complete with some pretty nice living conditions and freedoms. These drugs are administered in packs which connect to the body, and the dosages are all controlled virtually with the help of Steve’s trusted assistant Verlaine (Mark Paguio).

Enter inmate Jeff (Miles Teller) who agrees to help and is one of Steve’s most cooperative test subjects, mostly because Jeff feels terribly low and worthless, due to the crime he committed which got him sent to prison in the first place. When he’s not being tested, he’s friends with fellow inmate Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), who’s harboring a dark secret from her past as well.

Everything is hunky-dory until Steve begins to ask Jeff and some other inmates to do some weird things, like having sex with another inmate Heather (Tess Haubrich) while Steve controls how attracted or unattracted they are to each other. And when things grow even more bizarre and dangerous, Jeff begins to question Steve’s motives, and so he does a little snooping and what he finds out is— of course— that things aren’t as they seem!

No surprise there.

SPIDERHEAD pretty much remains mediocre throughout. Its story is mildly interesting, mildly disturbing, but not overly exciting or mind-blowing. Honestly, throughout most of the movie I had a “so, what?” vibe going on. I was never all that invested in what was happening to the characters or their stories. While I understood Jeff’s plight, I never really cared for him all that much, and Steve is pretty much a one-note character without any real motivation other than to be the villain in this one by film’s end.

The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, based on the short story “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders, is a mixed bag. The dialogue is really good, and there are some memorable exchanges between Jeff and Steve, but the story never becomes more than a standard melodrama. When we finally find out what is really going on, it’s not that explosive a revelation. And the characters, while fleshed out well enough are all kind of— boring. This comes as a surprise because Reese and Wernick are the guys who wrote the DEADPOOL movies and the ZOMBIELAND movies. Go figure!

Visually, SPIDERHEAD is impressive to look at, but like a lot of other Netflix films, it suffers from not being all that cinematic. It plays like a TV movie. It was directed by Joseph Kosinski, who is receiving high praise these days for his work at the helm of TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022).

Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller do work well together, and their scenes together are the best in the movie. However, overall, Hemsworth plays Steve as a one-note guy, and even with the charismatic Hemsworth playing the role, at the end of the day, Steve’s boring.

Miles Teller fares better as Jeff, and while I have not been a Teller fan over the years, he gives the best performance in the movie. He makes Jeff a real person, and his story arc is the most interesting and emotional in the film. Sadly, it’s a story we’ve seen countless times before, where a character hasn’t meant to, but his reckless actions led to someone else’s tragedy, and he’s beating himself up over it because he can’t get over the guilt.

Jurnee Smollett is also solid as Jeff’s friend and possible girlfriend Lizzy, another character with a tragic past.

Themes of loneliness, abandonment, and letting down those you love, permeate the proceedings, but the film never rises to the level in terms of plot where these themes can take center stage. They’re there, but in the background of a tale that struggles to come to life.

I wouldn’t rush home to see SPIDERHEAD, but on a rainy summer night, when there’s not much else going on, it might be worth a look.

And for Chris Hemsworth fans, it’s something to watch before his highly anticipated Marvel movie THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) opens in theaters on July 8.

SPIDERHEAD is a minor diversion, a mild science fiction thriller that possesses a good script and solid acting, but remains low-key and muted throughout, mostly due to plot points that fail to resonate because they have been done before and done better.

—END—

THE BATMAN (2022) – Film Noir Batman Goes On Way Too Long

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A funny thing happened while I was watching THE BATMAN (2022).

The latest Batman movie, which is yet another reimagining of the masked vigilante of Gotham city by one of my favorite movie directors working today, Matt Reeves, and which introduces Robert Pattinson to the role of the Caped Crusader, has been receiving heaps of praise from critics and fans alike since its theatrical premiere on March 4… it’s currently streaming on HBO Max… with some even calling it the best Batman movie yet!

For me, I was really enjoying it, and like many others was blown away by its dark film noir take on the subject, and at the end of two hours, I was leaning towards agreeing with those who were calling this the best Batman ever. But then that funny thing happened. The movie kept going. And going. And going. So… at the end of three hours, I didn’t hold that same opinion.

See, THE BATMAN is long. Like, super long! As in two hours and fifty-six minutes long. And yes, these days this is a pet peeve of mine. Movies in general are trending towards the time management equivalent of Major League Baseball games. If you’re going to make a movie that is three hours long, you darn well better have a good reason for it, and for my money, most films I see that run well over two hours, don’t. Someone needs to edit these would-be sagas down.

So, while I liked THE BATMAN, what I liked least about it was that it was so gosh darn long. And this is from someone who was really into this film and was enjoying the ride all the way up to that two-hour mark.

It also didn’t help that the plot as laid out in the screenplay by director Matt Reeves and Peter Craig isn’t anything to write home about. The story is all about corruption. The Riddler (Paul Dano) is targeting the corrupt public officials of Gotham City because he’s sick and tired of the lies and cheats of those running the city, and hence the Mayor, Police Commissioner, and others are all being murdered in the most horrific of ways, complete with personalized letters and riddles meant for Batman (Robert Pattinson) who decides he will find out who is killing the corrupt leaders of Gotham and why. He teams with Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) to do this, as Kyle is interested because her best friend was involved and was subsequently killed because of her involvement. Their investigation leads them to the dark underbelly of Gotham City, filled with organized crime and corruption, and folks like Oz aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell) and gangster Carmine Falcone (John Turturo).

At the end of the day, you know who wins.

You don’t need three hours to figure it out. Did I say THE BATMAN was long?

The screenplay is not a strength of this movie. It does a decent job with some of the characters. I liked the take on Batman where he’s viewed more as a detective and vigilante, who is quite shadowy and frightening, and I also liked how most of the comic book aspects of the villains took a back seat to more realistic interpretations, but sadly we’ve seen all this before.

Craig was one of the screenwriters who wrote THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021), the very dark Sandra Bullock drama where she played an ex-con out of prison dealing with people who continued to see her as a worthless monster who didn’t deserve to be alive. The feeling of hopelessness from that movie is often on display here in THE BATMAN, and that works well. Likewise, the dark tone is on par with Matt Reeves’ WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) which Reeves wrote and directed. I have no problem this. In fact, I really liked the grim outlook which THE BATMAN presented.

The problem though is a question I asked myself before I sat down to watch this one, which was: do we really need yet another reimagining of Batman? I mean, it used to be years would pass before filmmakers would return to remaking great stories which had already been told. I mean, we just saw Ben Affleck in the role a mere five years ago in JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017).

So, while I liked a lot of what Matt Reeves did with this movie, most of it is just stuff I’ve seen before. And if I’m going to sit through a three hour movie, I’d prefer it not be on stuff I’ve seen before. Have I mentioned yet that this film is long???

As I said, Matt Reeves is one of my favorite movie directors. He directed CLOVERFIELD (2008), LET ME IN (2010) Hammer Films’ vampire remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz that I actually prefer over the original, as well as the very entertaining DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017). For the most part, I enjoyed Reeves’ work here on THE BATMAN. I loved how he depicted Batman’s movements, with slow heavy footsteps that made him more monstrous and ominous than any previous interpretation. He instilled fear before he threw any punches. The film noir feel of the movie was awesome. With its constant rain pelting Gotham City, the film had a definite BLADE RUNNER (1982) feel to it.

The action sequences were okay. I’ve seen better. But the overall drama, conflict, and story simply doesn’t hold up for all three hours of this very long movie.

I’m a fan of Robert Pattinson. Not because of TWILIGHT, a series which I hated then and still hate now, but because of what he’s done since. He’s been terrific in such movies as THE LOST CITY OF Z (2016), GOOD TIME (2017), and most recently as a slimy reverend in THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020). As Batman, Pattinson is excellent! He is certainly not the problem with this movie. In fact, I enjoyed Pattinson as Batman so much I would be more than happy to watch him play the role again. I liked his tortured take on the character… again, nothing new… but Pattinson did it well.

Where does Pattison rank with the movie Batmans? Tough to say now, as he has only played the role once. I love Christian Bale’s take on the character, and I’ve always been a fan of Michael Keaton’s work as the Caped Crusader in his two Batman movies. Interestingly enough, the Batman I believed Pattison resembled the most was… Adam West from the campy 60s version! There’s something about Pattison’s jawline beneath the cowl that calls to mind West. For such a dark movie, there are several nods to the Adam West version of Batman here in THE BATMAN, such as the bust of William Shakespeare in Wayne Manor.

The rest of the cast is solid, and all add to the pieces which make up THE BATMAN. Zoe Kravitz is okay as Selina Kyle. We just saw her in the thriller KIMI (2022), and I actually enjoyed her more in KIMI than here as Catwoman.

Jeffrey Wright, fresh off his memorable swan song as CIA agent and James Bond buddy Felix Leiter in NO TIME TO DIE (2021), makes for an effective James Gordon. An unrecognizable Colin Farrell is excellent as Oz aka The Penguin who looks like he would have been right at home operating inside the world of THE SOPRANOS (1999-2007) The same can be said for John Turturro as Carmine Falcone. Besides Pattinson, Farrell and Turturro deliver the best performances in the movie.

Andy Serkis does well as Alfred in limited screen time. Speaking of limited screen time, we barely see Paul Dano as the Riddler, which works against the movie. In his brief screen time, Dano didn’t really impress me as the villain.

THE BATMAN also features an atmospheric and haunting music score by Michael Giacchino, which reminded me a lot of the score he wrote for LET ME IN.

Is THE BATMAN the best Batman movie ever?

No.

Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) remains the gold standard of Batman movies, and for my money is the best Batman movie to date. Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS (2005) is not that far behind. And while they have not aged well, Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989) and BATMAN RETURNS (1992) are both excellent Batman movies. You have Michael Keaton as Batman in both, and Jack Nicholson’s Joker in BATMAN, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman— still the best movie Catwoman yet— in BATMAN RETURNS.

Where does THE BATMAN rank?

Well, for its first two hours, it was right up there with THE DARK KNIGHT. But it goes on far too long and just doesn’t have the legs to go the distance. It lost me in its final hour, and by the time Batman and Catwoman are taking down the Riddler and friends, the only thing I was thinking about was finally being able to stand up again.

Did I mention this movie was very long?

—END—

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BLACK CRAB (2022) – War Action Thriller Exciting and Cinematic

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BLACK CRAB (2022), a new Netflix original movie which hails from Sweden, is a slick, stylized war action thriller about a secret mission in which a small group of soldiers must make their way behind enemy lines across a frozen body of salt water to get top secret materials to their base on the other side.

The story takes place in the near future, but its bleak scenes of war violence amid an unnamed European landscape and its story of the brutality of war, definitely benefits from the real-life current war in Ukraine which is playing out each night on news stations across the world. The film’s points, even though the story is set in the future, resonate that much louder in this current setting of an unprovoked brutal attack on a sovereign nation.

While the plot often borders on the ridiculous, it makes for grand cinema and some truly exciting and suspenseful film sequences,

The film opens with a woman Caroline Edh (Noomi Rapace) in a car with her daughter when the road is attacked by an unnamed military force. Vehicles are blown up, and soldiers on the ground abduct Edh’s daughter. The story then jumps ahead in time, and we see that Edh is now a rebel soldier in an unnamed country fighting the unnamed invading enemy.

Edh is selected for a top-secret mission. Her side is losing the war, and unless they can get some top-secret materials to their base on the other side of a body of salt water, they will ultimately lose the conflict. Fortunately, this body of water is now frozen. Unfortunately, it’s too thin for vehicles to drive over, and too thick for boats to get through. The solution? A group of soldiers will ice skate— yup, you heard that right, ice skate across the thin ice under the cover of darkness, braving both the elements and their enemies in helicopters who will be flying above trying to shoot them dead. Edh and her fellow soldiers have been chosen for this mission because of their ability to ice skate quickly.

Edh correctly calls this a suicide mission, but the superior officer takes her aside and tells her that they have found her missing daughter, and that she is at the base across the frozen water. If Edh gets there with the secret information, she will be reunited with her daughter, hence giving Edh more motivation than anyone else to make it across the ice.

And that’s the story told in BLACK CRAB. As I said, some of it is ridiculous. Ice skating across a frozen body of salt water? Yeah, it sounds like a suicide mission. More importantly, it sounds like a failed mission! But I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. I just wasn’t completely convinced that this wasn’t anything more than a plot contrivance to film some cool scenes.

And that by far is the best part of BLACK CRAB. Writer/director Adam Berg fills this one with lots of cool visuals and exciting action sequences. There’s one moment where Edh and her fellow soldiers suddenly find themselves skating over a graveyard of frozen human corpses just underneath the ice, either from a capsized lifeboat or some other brazen attack, that makes for a particularly creepy sequence.

The action scenes are topnotch. Helicopters zoom by trying to pick off the skaters, there are several hard-hitting explosive firefights, and more than one thrilling sequence involving hand grenades.

The screenplay by Berg and Pelle Radstrom, based on a novel by Jerker Virdborg, definitely sets the stage for lots of excitement, even if not all of it makes the most sense. The plot thickens and gets better when the skaters discover just what it is they are bringing to their base across the ice. The overall theme of the movie besides war is hell, is that you can’t trust anyone on either side. Indeed, the skaters do not trust each other at all, but as their situation grows more dire, and as the body count among them grows, they throw all that suspicion aside and trust each other in order to survive. This part of the story works well.

The skaters all have different personalities, yet we don’t really get to know any of them all that well, other than Edh.

I like Noomi Rapace a lot. She is intense here as Caroline Edh and very believable as the relentless soldier who will do anything to get across that ice to be reunited with her abducted daughter. I first saw Rapace in the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO (2009). She has also starred in PROMETHEUS (2012) and the underrated thriller DEAD MAN DOWN (2013). Her performance here in BLACK CRAB goes a long way towards making this movie a watchable thriller.

The rest of the cast is commendable. Jakob Oftebro who plays Nylund, one of the characters Edh trusts the least at first, until circumstances bring them together, does have a Brad Pitt-type vibe going on throughout this movie.

I really enjoyed BLACK CRAB. As I said, its wartime plot and images of bombed European cities benefits from the current war in Ukraine, as points the film makes resonate deeper than they might have otherwise. It comes off less as futuristic fiction and more like real life drama. It has the style and grittiness of an action thriller like ATOMIC BLONDE (2017), only it takes place in the near future rather than during the Cold War.

It also joins a recent set of movies with plots about traveling over ice. We just saw the historical adventure AGAINST THE ICE (2022) which told the true story of a treacherous expedition into Greenland. And last year Liam Neeson and some friends traversed THE ICE ROAD (2021) in northern Canada in tractor trailers as part of a rescue mission to free trapped miners. Of the three, I enjoyed BLACK CRAB the most.

And it features an effective electronic music score by Dead People. It’s the type of score that would have been right at home in a John Carpenter film of yesteryear.

As I said, the film is available on Netflix, in both its original Swedish language with English subtitles, or dubbed in English. I prefer the original Swedish language version with subtitles.

BLACK CRAB is an intense and surprisingly cinematic adventure that not only provides its audience with a hard-hitting thrill ride but also has a few things to say about the futility of war. In any age.

—END—

NO TIME TO DIE (2021) – It’s No Time to Miss Daniel Craig’s Last Bond Movie

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I finally caught up with NO TIME TO DIE (2021), the fifth and final Daniel Craig James Bond film.

Released in November theatrically, it then made its way to OnDemand/streaming services for a rental price of $19.99, and now you can rent it for a more welcoming price of $5.99. Anyway, one of the drawbacks of seeing a film a while after its initial release is word of mouth is out there and so you hear an awful lot, and what I was hearing about NO TIME TO DIE was how good a movie it was. So, there were some expectations here.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase. I’m happy to say that the word of mouth was accurate. NO TIME TO DIE is an excellent James Bond movie. I loved it. It’s the perfect send-off for Daniel Craig’s take on the character.

NO TIME TO DIE opens with a scene right out of a horror movie, with a young girl and her mom being terrorized by a man with a mask. The action jumps ahead to events following the last movie, as we find James Bond (Daniel Craig) and the new love of his life Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) enjoying a new life together, having survived the ending of SPECTRE (2016).

Now, the Daniel Craig Bond films tell an ongoing narrative, and the movies have all been connected in terms of plot, which is something that the previous James Bond movies really did not do. I’ve always like this, as it added some freshness to the series. However, SPECTRE is my least favorite Craig Bond movie, and so I can’t say I was excited to be sitting down to watch more of the story between Bond and Madeleine.

Anyway, as you might imagine, their new life is short-lived, as the bad guys show up to put a stop to it. Worse yet, Bond suspects Madeleine of leading the bad guys to them, decides he doesn’t trust her anymore, and puts her on a train telling her she will never see him again. Then it’s time for the opening credits. Yup, nearly thirty minutes pass before we even get to those opening credits. Sometimes these James Bond movies just need an editor! Although truth be told, in spite of the overlong prologue sequence and a total running time of two hours and forty-three minutes, NO TIME TO DIE is paced rather well, has a decent story to tell, and for me passed by quickly and didn’t feel at all like it was nearly three hours.

Back to those opening credits. NO TIME TO DIE has a theme song sung by Billie Eilish, a song that hasn’t really been shown much love. But I like it, and the lyrics definitely tie into the events shown in the movie’s pre-credit sequence.

As for the rest of the plot, it all does come together and makes sense (even the bizarre opening bit with the masked killer!), bringing closure to events from all the previous movies. Even though Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is in prison, he and his SPECTRE henchmen are still trying to kill Bond, but a new bad guy is in town, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek)…. the name sounds like Lucifer Satan with a lisp….who hates Blofeld even more than Bond does. Safin has developed an incredibly dangerous biological weapon which uses people’s DNA, and he uses it to wipe out SPECTRE, but since he can also use it to wipe out anyone he wants with ease, he’s caught the attention of MI6. M (Ralph Fiennes) is personally interested because MI6 was secretly working with this biological formula, but Safin stole it from them and weaponized it. So, M sends the new 007, a female agent named Nomi (Lashana Lynch), and Bond himself once he returns to active service, to find and stop Safin.

Which makes for strange bedfellows. As Bond tells Blofeld, if Blofeld gives him the information he needs, he will actually have to use it to save Blofeld’s life, to which of course Blofeld shrugs him off. Madeleine is also brought back into the story because she has ties to both Blofeld and Safin, and so once more Bond has to deal with his feelings for her.

At the end of day, all of these story elements work, making for a story that remains strong throughout the movie. And there are more plot points which I have not mentioned here. Overall, it is an excellent screenplay by a bunch of people: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, who directed, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Where does NO TIME TO DIE rank with the other Craig Bond movies? The best remains the first, CASINO ROYALE (2006). Most folks love the third film SKYFALL (2012), but for me the first two thirds of this movie are exceptional, but the third act drops off dramatically and just doesn’t work for me. I actually prefer the second film in the series QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) over SKYFALL. The weakest of the serious was the previous installment, SPECTRE (2015) with writing and a story that didn’t make much sense.

The other reason the previous two Bond films didn’t work for me was due largely in part to Daniel Craig’s lackluster performance as Bond in both those movies. In both those films, SKYFALL and SPECTRE, it seemed as if he had mailed it in. Gone were his sharp cold killer instincts from the first two movies. In their place was indifference. He seemed bored with the role.

Here in NO TIME TO DIE, Daniel Craig is back at the top of his game, turning in his best performance as Bond since CASINO ROYALE. It also helps that the character is placed in some new situations, and Craig is more than up to the task of taking Bond in new directions. As such, getting back to ranking, I would rank NO TIME TO DIE as the second best of the Craig Bond films, coming in right behind CASINO ROYALE.

And a large part of this is Daniel Craig’s performance. He’s an older Bond here, he’s in love, he’s bitter over what he believes is a betrayal of love, and later when he takes on the villain it’s with a deep sense of understanding of the world. In short, James Bond has learned a lot over the years, and he uses this knowledge to take down a lesser experienced villain.

I enjoyed Lea Seydoux more as Madeleine this time around than I did when she played the character in SPECTRE. Again, the writing here helps. She’s in a much more interesting and compelling storyline. In SPECTRE, she just seemed too young for Bond. But here, due largely to her performance and the writing, that thought didn’t cross my mind at all.

Lashana Lynch caught some well-deserved buzz for playing Nomi, the first female 007. She’s really good here.

I’m a big fan of Ana de Armas, and she has a small role as another agent, Paloma. She’s excellent, and the brief action sequence she gets to share with Bond is one of the best in the movie. I really wish she had been in this one more.

Rami Malek is fine as main villain Safin, although he’s not in the movie a whole lot, and so he’s not really a game changer. But when he is onscreen, he’s very good. As is Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, reprising the role from SPECTRE, although he’s in the film less than Malek.

I really enjoy Ralph Fiennes as M, and he’s every bit as good here as he always is. Jeffrey Wright returns for the third time as CIA agent and Bond buddy Felix Leiter, and like Bond in this one, gets a dramatic memorable send-off.

And Naomie Harris is back as Moneypenny, and Ben Whishaw is back as Q. It was also good to see Rory Kinnear back as Tanner.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga does a nice job with this one, and there are plenty of exciting action sequences, as you would expect to find in a James Bond movie. Car chases, thrilling fight scenes, assaults on buildings, and a very intense conclusion all contribute to A+ action sequences from start to finish.

The music also utilized the main theme from the George Lazenby James Bond movie ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969). The most memorable part of that movie, other than of course it was the first Bond film not to star Sean Connery as Bond, was that James Bond gets married, and his wife is shot dead by Blofeld in the film’s final reel. Every time that theme played here in NO TIME TO DIE, it served as deadly foreshadowing that the love story here with Bond and Madeleine was doomed to a tragic ending, and while the ending here differs greatly from the one in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, the foreshadowing is real.

And strangely for a James Bond movie, it was the love story here between Bond and Madeleine that works the best and really drives this movie along. It gives Bond motivations above and beyond what audiences are used to and shows a side of the character we rarely get to see. And it’s also realistically told from both characters’ perspectives.

NO TIME TO DIE is an excellent James Bond movie. The action sequences are second to none, and even better, the story works on a much deeper level than most Bond films, its main love story is really good, and Daniel Craig delivers one of his best Bond performances ever.

In short, it’s no time to miss NO TIME TO DIE.

—END—

Worst Movies of 2021

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Welcome back! As promised, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021.

As I did with my Best Movies List, I’m placing an asterisk next to this one, as once again, the pandemic has prevented trips to the movie theaters from being a safe activity, and so with this in mind, I know we haven’t all seen the same movies since we are not all heading out to the movie theaters to see the same national releases. I know there are plenty of movies I missed this year.

Okay, let’s get on with it. Without further hesitation, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021:

10. CRY MACHO – probably the dullest movie I watched all year. Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this tale of a former rodeo star (Eastwood) who goes to Mexico to bring back his boss’s teenage son to the States, and along the way, the two form a bond in this underwhelming buddy movie. While I am in awe of Clint Eastwood, who at 91 years old, is still making quality movies, the story here in CRY MACHO doesn’t do him any favors. The storytelling is muddled, and Eastwood seems to be playing a character who is much younger than 91, although the script never makes this clear. Not much to like about this one, even for Eastwood fans.

9. FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 – Yeah, I know. For a lot of folks, this second installment in the Netflix FEAR STREET horror movie trilogy was the best of the lot, but for me, it was the worst. Each part served as an homage to a particular horror movie genre, and here in FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 that genre is the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies. I’m going to ruffle more feathers here as well when I say honestly that I’ve never liked the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies and have found them all to be particularly bad. FEAR STREET: PART TWO does a nice job capturing the feel of these movies, but at the end of the day, it’s yet another variation of teenagers at a summer camp being slaughtered in the most unrealistically gruesome of ways. If that’s your cup of tea, you probably love this movie. But it’s not mine. I prefer intelligence in my horror.

8. GODZILLA VS. KONG – Again, this is one that a lot of people really liked, but for me, even as a fan of giant monster movies, especially King Kong movies, and Godzilla movies as well, this one was simply bad. I find it difficult to understand why this movie has so many fans when its script is so weak. The human characters are all forgettable, the situations unrealistic and uninspiring, and the dialogue is pretty poor. So, all you have left are the giant monsters in combat. And even those scenes didn’t do much for me. I know the argument is out there that that’s how the old Toho Godzilla movies all were. That’s a fair argument, up to a point. What always saved the Toho films was that Godzilla and his friends all had personality. The monsters in these modern-day versions do not. Plus, movies like KING KONG (1933) and THEM! (1954) did have superior scripts. These new giant monster movies do not. Instead, the modern-day giant monster movie (mostly Godzilla and Kong these days) has been reduced to special effects only, without any interest in creating any kind of a story worth telling.

7. COMING 2 AMERICA – the original COMING TO AMERICA (1988) starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall was very funny. This sequel, in spite of the return of Murphy and Hall, is not. Next movie…

6. TYGER TYGER – this was a movie that I fully expected to like, because it was so different and quirky, with a sense of style that I thought would make it a winner. But this tale of a pair of selfless robbers who kidnap a drug addict before they all find themselves hiding out in a bizarre psychedelic city is probably better enjoyed when you’re high! Seriously! The longer this one went on, the less sense it made, and by the time it was all over, it largely had become a wasted opportunity. No pun intended!

5. THE LITTLE THINGS – in spite of the presence of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto this one just doesn’t work. Washington plays a former detective who’s called in to help with a serial killer case, and the character he plays is known for spotting the little things others miss in these cases. Trouble is, the script barely shows him doing this. Malek plays the hotshot detective who calls in Washington for help, but the choices he makes throughout the movie make him seen anything but a hotshot detective. And Leto plays the man they suspect is the serial killer. This one should have been awesome. Instead, it’s a muddled meandering tale that gets worse as it goes along with a particularly weak ending.

4. WITHOUT REMORSE- With a script by one of my favorite screenwriters, Taylor Sheridan, I fully expected to like this adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, but instead it proved to be Sheridan’s first real misfire. Michael B. Jordan plays an elite Navy Seal who’s gone rogue to solve the murder of his wife, only to find— of course— that it’s all part of a larger conspiracy. What. A. Surprise. Yawn.

And now, the drum roll please. Here are my Top 3 Worst Movies from 2021:

3. SWEET GIRL -Hands down, the worst action movie of the year. Jason Momoa plays a man who vows revenge against a pharmaceutical company after its “business decision” pulled a drug from the market which could have saved his terminally ill wife. So, hubby goes insane and plots to kill the heads of this company, who, while they are undesirable, probably don’t deserve to be killed. So, there’s that initial problem. But wait, there’s more! There’s a larger conspiracy! Of course, there always is. Plus, Momoa’s character against his better judgement is constantly bringing his teenage daughter with him and training her to protect herself and be an assassin vigilante like him… and then, thanks to a bizarre plot twist, his character disappears from the second half of the movie. So, yes, you have an action film headlined by Jason Momoa, that halfway through ditches its star. Ugh.

2. MADRES – the worst horror movie of the year. This tale of a Mexican American couple who move to a new community in 1970s California that seems to have a weird sinister secret involving pregnant women, doesn’t know how to get out of its own way. The film aims for a ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) vibe but fails on both counts. This one is based on true events, and its reveal at the end is actually very good, but the problem is the film tries so hard to hide this reveal with a supernatural tale that is so lame it makes the movie completely ineffective. Had the filmmakers chosen to focus on what this film is ultimately about, it would have been a far darker, more memorable movie.

And now, drum roll please, the Worst Movie of 2021:

1. THUNDER FORCE – by far, the worst comedy of the year. Melissa McCarthy plays a woman who inherits superpowers thanks to her scientist friend played by Octavia Spencer. They then take on the world’s supervillains. Should have been funny. But it’s not. Jason Bateman fares the best as a supervillain known as The Crab. Written and directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone.

And there you have it. My picks for the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021. Now, let’s move on to 2022.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

Best Movies of 2021

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Here’s a look at my TOP 10 LIST of BEST MOVIES from 2021.

As I did last year, I’d like to put an asterisk next to this list due to the pandemic. One of the drawbacks of not seeing movies at the theater, is that we don’t all get to see the same movies, as lots of smaller, obscure releases don’t always make it to the various streaming services. So, as much as I enjoyed watching movies once again this year on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney +, to name a few, I didn’t get to see many of the movies that didn’t make it to these streaming services.

Hence, I know there are a lot of films from 2021 that I did not see, that I would have seen had I been able to go to the movie theaters like I used to before the pandemic struck in March 2020.

So, with that being said, here are my TOP 10 movies… all watched at home on streaming services…. from 2021:

10. THE TOMORROW WAR

One of the things I miss most watching movies at home, is that movie theater feeling. THE TOMORROW WAR, a science fiction action movie from Amazon Prime starring Chris Pratt, was one of the few movies I saw this year that by itself captured that movie theater feeling. This action-packed tale of humans travelling into the future to help battle invading aliens didn’t always make sense, but it was a fun ride, so much so that I could almost smell the buttery popcorn wafting through the air!

9. FEAR STREET: PART THREE – 1666

My take on this Netflix horror trilogy was completely opposite most folks, who found the third installment to be the weakest. For me, it was the best, mostly because the trilogy’s wraparound story about a witch’s curse I thought was pretty lame until this final installment where we find out its origins, and the writers flipped the story on its head, giving new insight into what really cursed the town. I really liked this revelation. The entire trilogy is uneven at best, but it finishes strong, so much so that it’s the only horror movie from 2021 to make it into my Top 10 List.

8. NO SUDDEN MOVE

Atmospheric crime thriller by director Steven Soderbergh, starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, and Brendan Fraser, makes for a compelling flick.

7. MOXIE (2021)

I really enjoyed this comedy drama directed by Amy Poehler about an awkward teen played by Hadley Robinson who draws inspiration from her mom’s activist past to take on sexism at her high school. Very satisfying, strong screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, well-directed by Poehler, who also plays the mom.

6. THE UNFORGIVABLE

Sandra Bullock delivers a transformative performance in this Netflix drama about a woman, played by Bullock, who after serving a twenty-year prison sentence for shooting a sheriff, tries to reunite with her younger sister who has lived with a foster family the past two decades and has no memory of her older sister, while fending off threats from both those who hate her in general because of her crime, and from the adult sons of the man she killed. Dark, depressing stuff, but fiercely acted by Bullock.

5. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE

One of my favorite action movies of the year. I loved this movie! It’s basically nothing more than female assassins kick ass, but the action is all so stylized and expertly choreographed. It contains some of the best action sequences I saw all year. Wonderfully directed by Navot Papushado, who charges this one with energy and pizzazz.

4. THE DIG

Wonderful period piece from Netflix, this one is much better than it sounds. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes co-star in this tale of the historic archeological dig in the English countryside at Sutton Hoo at the outset of World War II. Awe-inspiring, awesome movie.

And now, drum roll please, for my TOP 3 MOVIES from 2021:

3. THE COURIER

Another period piece, THE COURIER was actually filmed in 2020 but wasn’t released until 2021. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, a British salesman who because of his dealings in the Soviet Union becomes an unlikely spy for Britain just before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Another topnotch performance by Cumberbatch, who seems to be able to play these dramatic biographical roles in his sleep.

2. THE SUICIDE SQUAD

Hands down, both my favorite action movie and superhero film of the year. Hailing from the DC Universe (sorry, Marvel, they bested you this year!) this “sequel” to 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD is far superior to the first film. While Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, it’s Idris Elba as Bloodsport and John Cena as Peacemaker who steal the show. The real star however is writer/director James Gunn, who works the same magic he wielded with Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, creating an energetic, innovative, and nonstop laugh-out-loud actioner that never quits. This tale of supervillains turned superheroes is a must see for all superhero movie fans, although it is rated R for some pretty intense violence and language. A helluva fun ride.

And now, drum roll please: my Number One movie from 2021:

1. DON’T LOOK UP

Adam McKay’s sharp satire is so on-point that it is far more disturbing than funny. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as scientists who discover a large meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out all life when it strikes in six months, but the President, played by Meryl Streep, won’t have any of it and plays fast and loose with their science, while the media simply isn’t interested in a negative story. Try as they might, they simply can’t get their message out. Eventually, when the meteor becomes visible to the naked eye, the president’s political party and followers adopt the ideology that those who want people to look up are doing so for political reasons, and their rallying cry becomes, “don’t look up!” A sad commentary on where we are as a nation in 2021 after suffering from four years of a presidential administration that also played fast and loose with the facts during a world crisis.

So, there you have it. My top 10 movies from 2021.

Coming soon, my Worst 10 Movie List from 2021.

Until then, as always, thanks for reading!

—Michael