Category Archives: movies

A Quiet Place Is Confoundingly Worthy

A Quiet Place 2 All the important things first—this is NOT the film I was planning to see, but occasionally you sacrifice for the sake of your movie companion. Secondly, this monster film was not what my companion wanted to see either, but this being Friday, you sometimes have to make quick adjustments. Suffice it to say, A Quiet Place questions more answers than it answers questions.

It opens up in a small New York town, and the set and characters remind you of an episode from The Walking Dead as a small family rummages for supplies in the  depopulated town. They converse by sign language, and we get the story in bits and pieces. Seems a quasi-apocalypse hit, and we catch glimpses of newspapers lying around that reveal strange creatures that are blind but focused on sounds to decimate the population.

A Quiet Place 6 Film director John Krasinski is the father, Lee, and his wife is played by Emily Blunt as Evelyn. There are three children at the film’s opening, but one of them unwisely runs a noisy toy and is gobbled up by one of the monsters on the edge of a small bridge. The remaining two children are Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe). The family is holed up in a farmhouse, and they are using sign language so the roaming monsters won’t hear them and attack.

A Quiet Place 5 In effect, this begins as a silent movie, and we are put on notice that films without dialogue can still be powerfully effective as what the characters are trying to convey is put on screen as captions. There are fleeting glimpses of the creatures as we mosey along and find out how many days this has been going on. We find out Evelyn is pregnant, and we have to wonder what these people were thinking, having a baby in a world where a crying infant would bring death to them—not to mention the painful, noisy act of birthing itself.

A Quiet Place 1 Further complications arise when Lee takes Marcus with him to go check on fish traps he has laid out in a creek to provide the food they’ve been eating. Regan follows them and leaves Evelyn alone to unknowingly deal with one of the monsters. Turns out Lee is a bit of an electrical engineer and has been working with sound waves with various hearing aids, and this features prominently in the film’s climax. Evelyn gets away, and so do the kids, but Lee is not so lucky.

A Quiet Place 7In this final reel, we get a good look at the creature, and are faced with a pertinent question—this is New York, so does this thing relate to the Cloverfield movies? Adding to the confusion is that the creatures’ origin is never discussed, but news is already out that a sequel is planned—and we would be pissed if there wasn’t. This was a captivating, engrossing film, but it left too many unfilled holes you can drive an SUV through—and the questions MUST be answered.

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Spider-Man Homecoming Pushes All the Right Buttons

Spider Man Homecoming 4 How does “Homecoming” tie up with the current Marvel Cinematic Universe? The film eases into it with a team working on salvaging the damage caused in Avengers Age of Ultron and briefly touching on the new building seen in upstate New York at the end of Captain America: Civil War. Michael Keaton plays Adrian Toomes, whose firm was tasked with the salvage job. He is ordered off the job by Tyne Daly, who heads Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.)’s US Department of Damage Control to recover the alien technology used in the old Avengers Tower.  Unknown to everyone, Toomes and his men have kept some of the parts and debris to build lethal weapons.

Michael Keaton As the story develops, we learn that Stark has been designing upgraded weaponry and a new costume for Peter Parker (Ton Holland) to use as Spider-Man, and his involvement in the Civil War movie was part of an “initiation process” to assess his capabilities. We see Spider-Man being relegated to minor crime fighting and helping people as he foils a bike theft and gives directions to a lady who seems lost.

Spider Man Homecoming 3 A major fly in the ointment is that Toomes is actually super criminal The Vulture, who uses highly advanced mechanical wings to get around. Here is where the action starts as Spider-Man goes one-on-one with the gang after using his friend Ned’s help to disable the suit’s tracking system so that Stark can’t see where he is. This winds up “evolving” the suit’s built-in weaponry, including a “kill protocol” that Peter keeps telling it to abort.

Further complications ensue when during a confrontation on the Staten Island Ferry, the ferry is nearly destroyed by the Vulture and his men, but is saved by Iron Man, who winds up reclaiming the Spider Suit. Peter is romantically (in his mind) involved with a girl who winds up being Toomes’ daughter. Peter decides to tackle the Vulture

Spider Man Homecoming 1 on his own with his old homemade suit and winds up beating him. This leads Stark to reconnect with Peter through his agent Happy (former Marvel movie director Jon Favreau). Stark is impressed by this feat and returns the suit to Peter, setting the scene for the sequel in 2018.

Look for Stan Lee’s cameo near the beginning of the movie, and note that the “Vulture” name is never used in the movie—we fans just know who he was. In the comics, Happy and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) were an item, Pepper leaving Tony for Happy in the stories. Also appearing is Flash, who in the comics was a Parker antagonist who wound up being a friend. The casting of fetching Marisa Tomei as Aunt May got much initial bad press, but she fits into the story very well.

Spider Man Homecoming Poster Spider-Man Homecoming is fairly long at 133 minutes, but there is little in wasted moments as the entire story flows smoothly along, dropping hints about Peter’s origin while deftly setting up new scenarios. I might add that I saw the 3D version of this film, the first 3D movie I’ve seen in over 36 years. It was a wonderful experience, since 3D has matured much in the last few decades.

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Life Is A Gripping Ride

“Life” is a bit of a misnomer because while it does follow life, somewhat, it’s actually a thrilling, even scary ride that doesn’t let up once you’re strapped in. The film opens up on a view of space and a space probe returning from Mars while carrying a sample of Life poster 2

the planet’s soil. What’s especially scary about this s that within the next year, we are actually sending a probe to the Red Planet to do just that. The probe is damaged by small meteorites, so the crew of the International Space Station is tasked with retrieving the probe by using a large mechanical arm, then taking the soil sample in to study it for life signs. It doesn’t go quite as planned but the task is accomplished and the soil sample gets scrutinised. British biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) Finds one microscopic organism in the soil, but an atmospheric accident in the lab causes the organism, named Calvin by school children, to become dormant. Hugh tries to make it

Life pic 2 active again by giving it mild electrical shocks. This has the unwanted effect of rendering Calvin violent, and it crushes Hugh’s hand and escapes into the lab, where it attaches itself to and consumes a lab rat, getting bigger in the process. Engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) enters the lab to retrieve Hugh, bur is himself attacked and killed by Calvin.

Life pic 1

From this point on, “Life” is essentially a remake of “The Blob” in space, but remains  a solid, edge of your seat sci-fi horror film as the ship’s crew gets to become Calvin’s “blue plate special”. It becomes critical when only two members are left—Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the space station’s orbit deteriorates as the two debate the possibility that the reentry may not kill Calvin. Jordan decides that Miranda must use one of the two escape modules and return to Earth as he enters the other module, traps Calvin inside, and directs himself into deep space, saving Earth. All I’ll say is it doesn’t quite turn out as planned in what turns out to be a final shocker in the end.

As I said earlier, considering the timeliness of our exploration of Mars, this becomes an even more frightening film.

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Beauty and the Beast Goes Gay

disneys-lefou  Disney will be treating the world to yet another new version of “Beauty and the Beast” shortly but it’s already drawn some unwanted press. In this version, Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad–see photo above), turns out to be gay. Maybe they figured they could push it past parents because it’s a Disney film, but it’s already gotten some backlash. One theatre in Alabama said they will not run this movie because having a gay character in it is an “act against God”.

I’m not sure where they beauty_and_the_beast_2017_poster got this from, but I’m pretty sure this theatre has previously shown movies that were equally or more “offensive” than merely having a gay character in it. The film has a powerful cast that includes Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Kline, and Stanley Tucci. The one scene in question is fleeting as best, as LeFou, who has often thought about being Gaston, wonders if it would be better to kiss him. Surely, this could have been palmed off as a form of “hero worship”, and I’m sure Disney will handle it with applomb and consideration for the kiddies’ sensitivities.

By this time, there is hardly a child who can follow this movie and does NOT have some idea about gays. Maybe  now that the movie industry is out of its seasonal kid movie cycle, and it’s about to bombard us with more adult themes and monsters,with “Kong Skull Island”, “CHiPs”, “Baywatch”, “Life”, and “Alien Covenant”, there will be precious little for thedisneys-lefou-2 kids to see apart from this Disney production, since “Power Rangers” and “Wonder Woman” may fall short of being exactly kid friendly. We could have done much worse than a gay character, and we know Hollywood CAN be funny with homosexuality since we’ve seen “Zorro, the Gay Blade” years ago. This is Disney, for heaven’s sake, but people are always finding hidden sexual innuendos about these films. Remember the clouds “forming the word SEX” in “Lion King”, or the “phallic symbol” on the “Little Mermaid” poster? Now they won’t have to look as hard. Come on, people! Get a life—this is 2017! I think it’s much more important to point out that the character’s name, LeFou, in French, means “the crazy one”. Is Disney trying to subtly pass the idea that to be gay, you must be crazy? I think THAT is the truly serious issue here.

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xXx the Return of Xander Cage

If somebody told me that I’d be going to see a “XXX” movie back in the 70s, it would have meant something completely different. Vin Diesel has already appeared as Xander Cage in a  couple of previous films, but in this one he’s “pressed” into service when he hears about his old boss being killed.

xxx-poster The action starts within seconds of the opening credits and never lets up under the direction of D.J. Caruso. In fact, if you look up the definition of “action movie”, it would probably refer you to the film. In a nutshell: a device called “Pandora’s Box”, which can be used to direct orbiting satellites into becoming weapons crashing down from space is stolen by agents from a government headquarters. When the “brass” decides that this will require equally skilled men to bring them in, a female official says she knows of such a man.

xxx-1 She goes to Santo Domingo to “reactivate” Xander Cage and team him up with some military muscle, but Cage has these men “drop out” and assembles his own crew, which begins a series of deceptions, double crosses, and triple crosses that keeps the audience guessing. Cage and crew travel to the Phillippines to track down the thieves, who turn out to be xXx agents themselves, including UFC Welterweight Champion Michael Bisping in a cool role. Much of this cast were virtual unknowns to me, but they all gelled quite well together.

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, from left: Tony Jaa, Michael Bisping, Donnie Yen, 2017. ph: Michael The device is recovered, but as Xander points out when another satellite is highjacked, this was a “single unit” device, and the real one capable of accessing any satellite, is still out there. The real device is tracked down to Detroit, in a high-rise building, and the two groups of xXx agents work separately to get it, setting up a violent fight along Detroit streets until both teams decide to work together. It turns out the evil mastermind is himself a rogue CIA man with delusions of grandeur (old plot twist here).

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, Ruby Rose, 2017. ph: George Kraychyk / ©Paramount /Courtesy Everett

Just as the villain is “taken out” by sharpshooter Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), yet another development pops up involving equally crooked government agents (surprise) and even more shootouts and a harrowing plane ride that resolves it all in a neatly wrapped package that brings Xander and Serena (Deepika Padukone) together before the final scene in a church for the funeral of dead chief Augustus Gibbons(Samuel L. Jackson) who was killed all the way back at the film’s beginning.

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, from left: Vin Diesel, Deepika Padukone, 2017. ph: George Kraychyk / Diesel and Padukone, we deduce by the end, will definitely be an item. Diesel himself is listed as one of the producers in this movie, so he definitely has a vested interest in keeping the story going, and the end definitely points that way. “xXx” runs for just under two hours, and there isn’t time to get bored or even catch your breath, so if you crave action, you’ll get a full plate of it here.

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Arrival Slick New Invasion Film

arrival-poster-2    Never have I been so completely confused by such an excellent piece of film making. There is an old Eastern provern that says time is a constant, renewing circle, yet those that don’t understand it are doomed to “fall out of time and perish from their own lack of knowledge”. Time is a weapon in and of itself, and that’s the premise of “Arrival”, a movie told from the thoughts and voice-over of Amy Adams, who plays Louise, a linguistics expert who gets brought in by  Forrest Whitaker, who has worked with her before and wishes to have her around as part of his team, also composed of scientist Ian (a post-Avengers Jeremy Renner) who are assigned to investigate a giant UFO that’s stationed itself over the western U.S. Plains—assigned to decipher the aliens’ language so we can tell what they want. Turns out that 11 more such ships have stationed themselves over various parts of the world and other governments are engaged in similar operations.

The beginning of this film is originally confusing, but it quickly clarifies itself as Louise’s life as she gets married, has a girl, and eventually loses that girl to what appears to be cancer and her husband walks out on her as a result. Louise, it turns out, has some sort of sixth sense that allows her to empathise with others, which turns out to be a great help in understanding the aliens.

The team enters the alien ship by a door which opens at regular intervals each day. The aliens are large globs with six octopus-like tentacles that open up into similarly octopoidal hands. Officially, they are called “Heptapods”, but when Louise asks what they should call the two aliens in the craft, Ian suggests “Abbott and Costello”, and it sticks. The aliens have deep, sonorus vocals, but they communicate by creating circles of a cloudy inklike substance from their “hands”. They appear to float in a heavy, foglike atmosphere on the other side of a glassy wall.

Arrival 1.jpg After a while, communication appears to become possible as the team mathematically analises the pictures of the “idea blobs” the aliens make, but several of the worldwide teams have apparently lost something in the translation and disconnect themselves from the info net that was set up. Even our own team is tricked into carrying explosives into the ship, but as it explodes, the aliens isolate Ian and. Louise from the explosion. That’s when Louise really realises that these are not evil entities, but the world prepares a violent conflict anyway, led by China, Sudan, and Pakistan. Louise re-enters the craft and sees only one alien. Her query reveals that the other was fatally hurt by the explosion. She apologises for the attack and fathoms out the whole story. The aliens have come to help us figure out how to make use of time as a commodity, a tool, a “weapon” (this “weapon” reference is what others mistook for aggression.

Arrival 3.jpg From that point, we go through a “fast-forward” segment where Louise manages to reach the Chinese warlord and convinces him of the aliens’ true purpose, leading into the various world powers agreeing to defuse tensions and work together again. The crisis is averted and the alien ships leave.

This is definitely not your run-of-the-mill invasion film, more in the vein of the original “Day the Earth Stood Still”rather  than “Independence Day”, and in the end you tend to remember Louise rather than the aliens. This is a highly intellectual tour-de-force that plays out a bit slowly in the beginning but always stays on track. It gets 5 Tomahawks all the way.

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Spy—Heavy On Chuckles

Spy poster Spy 1 Spy 3My close friends know I don’t see too many “comedies” because I don’t think there are any comedic minds left in today’s cinema with the exception of Mel Brooks. However, I was attracted to the premise of “Spy” since I have rarely seen that genre skewered, with the notable exception of “Spy Hard”. This one goes like this:

Melissa McCarthy is Susan Cooper, the vocal link to fellow CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) on all his adventures and has secretly developed a crush on him. When a mission to recover a nuclear weapon goes wrong and Fine is eliminated, a conference is held to appoint a new person on the case. Susan decides that she owes Bradley and should do this, but fellow agent Rick (Jason Stratham) argues that Susan is “just a secretary” and he will quit if she gets the nod. She does and Rick storms out in a huff.

Here it gets really engaging and funny as Susan gets entrusted with highly unusual equipment and a new name she doesn’t like. She’s instructed to observe and report only but things spiral out of control and she becomes deeply involved, along the way often running across Rick, who keeps reminding her about how he’s a really tough spy, and arms dealer Rayna Boynov (Rose Byrne) and her right hand man. Susan’s hand is forced and she threatens the strongarm guy with tearing off his manhood and gluing it to his forehead.

Yes, this is comedy, but unlike Austin Powers, which was pure nonsense, director Paul Feig ,who also co-wrote the script, injects enough action into it that allows you to understand that this is primarily a spy film. It skewers the James Bond type but keeps both feet on the ground to even make the audience gasp in surprise. There are repeated instances of rough language and a few scenes that young children may not understand, but spy movies are for adults, anyway.

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