Category Archives: Action-adventure

RAMPAGE—Video Game Translates Well As Movie

Rampage poster 2  The mainstream critics are savaging this movie because of “inferior writing and faithlessness to the source material”. Really? Rampage was a video game. Was anybody expecting Shakespeare from “Mario Brothers the movie”? I thought it was great overall, with an easy-to-follow script/story and dazzling special effects. Next time somebody tells you America no longer knows how to make big monster movies, tell them to go watch this one.

The action opens up with a female astronaut going into a space station to recoup some scientific samples. She finds the station (looking suspiciously like the defunct Skylab) in disarray, its crew dead. turns out the damage was done by a lab rat (just wait till you see it to pass judgement). The astronaut recovers the samples (which are biological genetic experiments) and escapes, but the escape pod is damaged during the escape and explodes, scattering the biological samples to several Earth locations.

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As this unfolds we meet Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) a former special forces member and anti-poaching agent who has developed a close bond with albino gorilla George. George gets exposed to one of the space samples and starts growing. This brings in Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who worked on the original CRISPR (an actual scientific project) designed to alter an organism’s genetic makeup, but was railroaded into creating genetic weapons and falsely jailed for that.

Rampage 8 Also in on the fun is agent Harvey Russell of the OGA (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, on loan from “Walking Dead”) who initially rubs Okoye the wrong way, but winds up helping him greatly. He reveals there is also a wolf affected by the samples in the Midwest, as well as an alligator in Florida. The two lead figures for Energyne Industries, Claire Wyden (Malin Ackerman) and her brother Brett (Jake Lacy) are using an antenna on top of a Chicago skyscraper to attract the animals, where they’ll be hopefully killed while they recover DNA samples to sell at usurious prices to the highest bidders.

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The wolf and gator have not only grown big like George, but also mutated. The gator has horns and the wolf has flying membranes. Okoye and Kate manage to get the antidote to George, who then proceeds to help defeat the other two monsters. Here is the only spot I found to stretch belief a bit as the gator and wolf climb up the side of buildings the way George does. Throughout the film, Johnson gets to deadpan some cliche lines, such as “We assholes have to stick together” and “of course, the wolf can fly”, but in total, this is a crisp, tight film that rivets your attention. When you can get my friend Kathy to say she enjoyed a monster sci-fi movie, you really got something. George himself winds up being the comic relief at the end in a scene that sums up this romp perfectly.

 

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Black Panther Action-packed

Black Panther poster 1 Marvel’s quality seems to be getting better with every new film they release. The Black Panther has set a new zenith that will probably not be eclipsed until “Infinity War” hits theaters in a few months. This film was well written, visually stunning, and acting was top-notch. It took a few liberties with the comic book character but was handled so cleverly that we hardly noticed. I may go see it again, in 3D, to get the full effect.

T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must take over as king of Wakanda when his father dies in an explosion at U.N. headquarters (as seen in Captain America: Civil War). T’Challa is heir to a centuries old birthright to become The Black Panther following his father in a ritual that involves consuming a drink from a heart-shaped plant affected by the massive deposit of a metal called vibranium when a meteor crashed into Africa long ago. The Wakandans have used the vibranium to develop incredible technology and weapons, all the while remaining invisibly shielded from the outside world as they present the fascia of being a poor third world country.

Black Panther 3 A subplot is introduced early as in 1992, Prince N’Jobu’s son, N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) wants to supplant T’Challa as king and use Wakanda’s weaponry to stage an African-American empire under his command. This man is a black ops soldier who goes by the name of Killmonger. If the plotline was followed verbatim, Killmonger would probably be a genetically enhanced warrior created by Hydra, but this angle is never fully explored. The movie deviates a bit here by stating N’Jobu, Zuri (as an adult played by Forest Whitaker), and N’Jobu’s son Erik (Jordan plays the adult version) get involved in a skirmish that interacts heavily with the rest of the story.

Black Panther 9 From there, yet another subplot carries things along as a black market arms dealer , Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is identified as the man who stole some vibranium from Wakanda. He is wanted by the Wakandans for that theft, so T’Challa tracks him to a South Korean underground casino with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) his former lover, and special forces warrior Okoye (Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira), and a fierce fight ensues, resulting in Klaue getting away, even after a heart-pounding chase.

Black Panther 8 Another character who figures prominently is T’Challa’s 16-year old sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), whose primary duty is developing new technology for Wakanda. At one point, she refers to wounded CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) as “another broken white boy to fix”. This refers back to the post-credit scene in “Civil War” where Bucky Barnes is shown to have been taken to Wakanda to repair his battered body and mind.

The fight scenes are smartly choreographed and well-spaced in the film to allow plot and action to flow continuously. The cast includes Angela Bassett as Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother and Queen, Sebastian Stan appearing as Bucky Barnes in a post-credit scene, and Marvel boss Stan Lee, whose mandated cameo as a gambler in the casino evokes the necessary comedy angle. One post-credit scene obviously hints that Wakandan technology will be used in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. This, I repeat, may be the best Marvel movie ever.

 

 

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STAR WARS—THE LAST JEDI

Last Jedi 1 Early reports on this film (which opened tonight [Dec. 15] nationwide was glowing in its praises. I came, I saw, I concur. Yes, the novice Star Wars fan will be lost if he hasn’t seen at least the last three films in the series (not counting last year’s “Rogue One”), but that’s the beauty of these films—fans have seen them all, probably several times (I own the first 6 on tape), and know what’s going on. There are some out there who think that since Lucasfilm sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney, only young people will be interested. At tonight’s showing, I can safely say the average age must have been around 45.

When we last saw the gang, there were some new rumblings going on as Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) took over from the Emperor and is grooming Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to take over Darth Vader’s spot . Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are the two main new characters around which this tale evolves.

Last Jedi 3 Rey has gone to the highly isolated planet Ahch-To, where Luke has gone into seclusion on an island, hoping to convey Leia’s (Carrie Fisher, in her last appearance) wish for Luke to rejoin in the fight. At first, Luke refuses, but as he senses she is indeed “one with The Force”, he relents and agrees to train her. As the two get closer, their powers co-mingle as Rey makes mental contact with Kylo, which sends crossed signals and leads to a brief exchange between Luke and Rey.

Last Jedi 2 Meanwhile, the First Order (which has taken over for the Empire) has the rebellion just about finished as they force the Resistance fighters, led by Leia, off their base world and chase them through space, decimating the Resistance fleet in the process. Rey is now in charge of the Millenium Falcon, Han Solo’s old ship, with Chewbacca still the co-pilot. Finn is en route with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) to the casino on Canto Bight to find a hacker DJ (Benicio del Toro) who can disable the First Order tracking device use to trail the Resistance. Del Toro is not the only “big name” appearing as a secondary character. Laura Dern plays Vice Admiral Holdo, a part that creates friction but ultimately redemption.

Last Jedi 4 Near the end, the Resistance lands on an old base world called Crait and braces for a final assault being led by Kylo Ren, who has taken over as Supreme Leader after killing Snoke. Just when things look darkest, Luke arrives on Crait to confront Kylo alone, after giving him the same warning Obi-Wan gave Darth Vader back in Episode 4—“If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can imagine, and will be with you always”. Of course, Kylo ignores the warning, and puts Luke down.

The film makes impressive use of CGI, and despite cutting back and forth between scenes and plot lines, the action remains easy to follow (for the true fans). We still have one film to go in the current trilogy, and one wonders how Leia’s character will be handled since Miss Fisher’s untimely death. Tom Hardy, British Princes William and Harry all had cameos as Storm Troopers in Last Jedi, which runs two and a half hours.

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Justice League Almost Great

Justice League 4

First off, let me say that for us JL purists, this is not exactly a Justice League film. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) didn’t get involved with the league until near the onset of the 21st century. Where are Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter (both scheduled for the sequel), Hawkman and The Atom? The villain here, Steppenwolf, was basterdised from a fairly new JL storyline, but was defeated thousands of years ago by a combined army of Amazons, Atlanteans, humans, and gods (who appear to have included at least one Green Lantern Corps member).

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Batman (Ben Affleck) knows this from Lex Luthor’s notes left behind in “Batman vs Superman”, and he tries to put a team together with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to defeat the villain. He goes to Iceland to track down Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who says he works better alone and turns him down. We later get reintroduced to Aquaman when Steppenwolf steals the Atlantean box. The three boxes are a source of pure energy that will allow the demonic villain to reshape Earth and replace humanity with his parademons.

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Barry Allen/Flash (Ezra Miller) is more receptive. He is brilliantly cast here as a bit of a nerd. He tells Bruce he “needs friends” because he doesn’t quite get people. Also, he hates bugs , finds taller people intimidating, and has never been in a real fight, having mostly pushed people around. He becomes the film’s comedy relief.

There are plenty of violent but bloodless fight scenes, highlighted by crisp CGI effects and action that rivals any of the Marvel films. The script also is helped by a healthy dose of levity, such as when Barry asks Bruce what his super power is and Bruce replies “I’m rich”. After the villain is defeated with the help of the revived Superman, we cut to a shot of Bruce showing Alfred and Diana where the new League headquarters will be and end on a light note as Flash has challenged Superman to a race  If this is the future of the DC universe, bring it on.

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The Orville May Not Be Enough Spoof

Orville 3  Seth McFarlane believes he has the perfect sci-fi spoof for us with The Orville. After the pilot episode, it looks like no one believes him—not even the Fox Network, which has only commissioned 3 more shows as of September 10. Here’s the lowdown:

Seth McFarlane returns home to find his wife in bed with a blue-skinned alien, after which he walks out on her. Fast-forward a year later and Seth’s Captain Ed Mercer character gets his own command—the exploration ship The  Orville. He meets with the crew and his officers—Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerrald), chief medical officer; Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), helmsman and his best friend; Lt. Commander Bortus (Peter Macon), second officer from a single-gendered species; John LaMarr (J Lee), navigator; and Isaac (Mark Jackson), a Kaylon artificial life form that considers humans inferior. He has no first officer but learns one will join him on his initial mission. Turns out that officer is his ex-wife. So far this sounds too much like my life to be comfortable.

Orville 4 There is a plethora of strained divorce one-liners here but a few funny moments, such as when Bortus informs Mercer that his race only excretes waste once a year. As the story moves on, Mercer’s crew has to secure a time-advance device that a scientist says can be used to solve the problem of feeding colonists but could also be used as a weapon.

Orville 1 This could be a good alternative as a comedic Star Trek parody, but it tries to be too serious while exploring for laughs where no man has gone before—except for Mel Brooks, who went there with more flair and aplomb in “Spaceballs” years ago. Overall, I don’t find McFarlane to be an adequate comic persona, and I don’t think America is ready for a Star Trek spoof—especially when it has so little to offer. At least the special effects are fairly good, but won’t be enough to save this travesty.

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Wonder Woman—DC Does Superhero Right

Wonder Woman 4 When DC decided we needed to see a totally new superhero for the Justice League films, they opted for Wonder Woman (portrayed by Gal Gadot, as seen in Batman vsSuperman) and decided to do it right. The tease we got in B vs S hit on all cylinders by giving us a lady who’s not a “where’s the guy who’ll save me” female, but rather a super powerful demigod. Then they gave the directing job to Patty Jenkins and gave her a dynamic co star in Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor.

Wonder Woman 3 Here, the story deviates a bit from the comics as the story is set during World War I rather than the Second World War. Tying in the story with the entire DC Universe  is the story’s opening in Paris’ Louvre Museum where a Wayne Enterprises truck delivers a package to Diana Prince. The package contains the WWI photo we saw in B vs S, and a note from Wayne that he found the included original pic and hopes she’ll tell him the whole story about it. This gets Diana reminiscing about the past as we enter her thoughts as she relives her youth on Paradise Island (here called by the original name of Themyscira, the Greek name in mythology). The deftly handled banter between characters fleshes out the story about the origins of man, the Amazons, Zeus and Ares (Mars), the god of war, as well as how Diana secretly trains to become a warrior. Queen Hyppolita, who fashioned Diana from clay and is perhaps overly protective of her sculpted daughter, first refuses to have Diana learn to fight, but after Trevor crashes near the island in a German plane, Axis soldiers land on the island by boat and a vicious fight ensues which convinces Hyppolita that Diana is the one named in legend to defeat Ares and restore world peace, a job that will require her to enter the world of men.

Wonder Woman 2 Trevor and Diana wind up in London, the headquarters for the Allied forces, and here we get some light-hearted yet historically accurate flavour as Diana acquires “modern” clothes and complains “How does a woman fight in these clothes?”, then gets snubbed and practically gets thrown out of a “men only” war briefing. Trevor gets help from Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) to sneak into Belgium and pull off a commando raid to neutralise the new weapon Mustard Gas (a real WWI biological weapon). Here follow several armed encounters, some on horseback, which is also historically accurate for WWI field combat.

Wonder Woman 1 Diana eventually goes one-on-one with Sir Morgan, who is actually the God of War who is using the War as a subplot to corrupt all of mankind. Trevor winds up giving his life for the cause, and we finish the story with Diana looking at the old WWI photo. This should hold us until later this year when the Justice League movie finally reaches us. This movie does a great job at story telling and is the best DC superhero film to date. Let’s hope it’s a springboard for better DC Universe films.

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Valerian Visually Stunning Yet Comes Up Short

Valerian 3 First off, let’s put our cards on the table. French films do NOT play well in America, and French science fiction is a tough ball of wax, especially when it’s based on a little-known (in America) comic book. Not even the powerhouse duo of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg could work their magic back in 2011 with “The Adventures of Tintin” in spite of the fact that Tintin is known all over the world but a virtual unknown in America. Additionally, the French seem to have little knowledge about making sci-fi films—they are too quirky.You can go all the way back to 1902, when Georges Melies made “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” (The Trip To The Moon). Decades later, in 1966, the Eddie Constantine movie “Alphaville” royally flopped in America.

At this point, enter Luc Besson, who in 1997 directed “The Fifth Element”. The redeeming value there was that Milla Jojovich and Bruce Willis were teamed with Gary Oldman in this French-made romp.  Here, Besson wrote and directed Valerian And The City of a Thousand Planets, and has Herbie Hancock, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, and Rihanna for flavour, but overall, this film asks the average American to process too much information.

Valerian 5 The opening starts off well, enhanced by David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in the background and a visually stunning, growing space station as we witness the different astronauts who met here in the past. The story tells us the station got too big, so much so that it became a threat to Earth and was set adrift in open space where it continues to be a roaming example of human technology and meeting place for space races.

Valerian 2 The French expect the viewer to connect all the dots on their own, so there ensues a series of unrelated adventures involving Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and his partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delavigne), a couple of government agents who travel through time and space solving cases—which is the supposed foundation for a future film series with the characters. Think James Bond 500 years in the future, and you have the general idea.

The story loosely follows the history of a planet that was destroyed 30 years before Valerian’s events, involving the giant space station Alpha, and the various aliens who have made it their home.

Valerian 1 The commander on Alpha is not all he appears to be, and eventually gets his come-uppance as a secret hinted at near the movie’s beginning becomes known. Valerian has a desire to marry Laureline, and she appears receptive to the idea, yet that aspect is merely used for comic relief. Rihanna appears as a shape-shifting dancer who also has a secret.

The most expensive independent film ever produced, at well over 100 million Euros, the visual effects and grandeur of this movie are utterly outstanding, but the script gives the impression that three (maybe more) writers actually scrabbled a series of unrelated incidents together into one movie. Yes, there IS a story here, and the nimble-minded can manage to follow it, but a sci-fi “newbie” seeing his first film with Valerian will be turned off for life with the genre. At 2 hours and 17 minutes in length, it appears to go for hours without end and is chock full of action, aliens, weapons, and special effects. Unfortunately, not even Luc Besson had the glue to make this all stick together. I have little expectation of this movie breaking even in America. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if it wound up getting pulled from theatres within weeks.

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