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action thriller

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

DIRECTOR: Tim Miller

CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna

REVIEW:

And now in the latest of far too many examples of Hollywood’s dearth of original ideas, the long-running—and long-suffering—Terminator franchise once again proves itself even harder to kill than its titular killer cyborgs, despite the fact that it passed its sell-by date quite a while ago (for my money, all the way back in 1991). While Dark Fate‘s promotion made much ta-do out of the “return” of James Cameron (who gets a producer and co-writer credit but did not retake the director’s chair, which is occupied by Deadpool‘s Tim Miller, leaving it questionable how much direct involvement Cameron really had) and Linda Hamilton (who hasn’t taken part in the franchise since 1991’s Judgment Day, turned down a chance to reprise her role in 2003’s Rise of the Machines, and should have turned this one down too), neither Cameron nor his ex-wife’s names in the credits signals a return to the quality of the first two installments, which slipped after Cameron moved on and has never been regained. Dark Fate ignores the existence of every entry since T2 and acts as a direct sequel to the first two and the first two alone—which many fans would likely have been okay with—but alas it doesn’t replace them with anything superior. It’s probably better than its immediate predecessor Genisys (no great accomplishment), but finds its own new ways of dumping on the series mythos.

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Angel Has Fallen (2019)

DIRECTOR: Ric Roman Waugh

CAST: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tim Blake Nelson

REVIEW:

Despite ever-worsening critical reviews, the “[INSERT CODE NAME HERE] Has Fallen” franchise, like its generically stalwart hero Mike Banning, keeps chugging along. 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen wasn’t any kind of great movie, but it was a surprisingly enjoyable Die Hard knock-off. 2016’s London Has Fallen was a lazy, uninspired, low energy classic example of a sequel slapped together because the original did well at the box office, not because there was anywhere fresh or interesting to take the story. Angel Has Fallen is probably a little better, and at least a little more engaging, than London Has Fallen, but not as good as Olympus Has Fallen. It achieves more-or-less exactly what it promises—-a generic, moderately diverting but immediately forgettable action shoot-em-up—which given this franchise’s track record, is a low bar to hurdle.

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The Predator (2018)

DIRECTOR: Shane Black

CAST: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera, Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL DISCUSS “SPOILERS”

Like the Alien franchise it has occasionally ill-advisedly crossed over with, Predator is one of those franchises that keeps limping along long past its expiration date.  One could argue that in fact Predator was never even much of a franchise to begin with.  1987’s original wasn’t any kind of great movie, and doesn’t hold up as a sci-fi thriller classic on the level of Alien or Aliens, but it featured Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most cigar-chomping and one-liner-spouting (“get to da choppa!”) front-and-center, surrounded by a merry band of macho men (with a cast including fellow future Governor Jesse Ventura, along with Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers, Bill Duke, and Sonny Landham, it was sort of like a forerunner to The Expendables), and served up enough hardcore action with a sci-fi twist to be a popular “man’s movie” (the 1990 sequel, starring Danny Glover, wasn’t as good, although it had its moments).  After two crossovers dubbed Alien vs. Predator, the concept of which was dubious and the execution worse, Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez tried to course correct by getting back to the basics with 2010’s Predators, which again had its moments but not enough to resurrect a “franchise” that arguably never warranted being stretched out into a film series in the first place.  And now, just when Predator seemed dead (again), along comes Shane Black (a cast member of the original movie but better-known as a screenwriter/director, including writing the Lethal Weapon series and directing such films as Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys).  Alas, Black’s involvement with the original film does not signal a return to that quality level.  The Predator falls into the same category as the likes of Independence Day: Resurgence and Alien: Resurrection, a sloppy, uninspired, past-its-sell-date sequel that fails to breathe any fresh life into a series that has long since run dry. Continue reading

The Meg (2018)

Image result for the megDIRECTOR: Jon Turtletaub

CAST: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Robert Taylor, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka, Page Kennedy, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Shuya Sophia Cai

REVIEW:

The Meg (based very loosely on the first novel in a book series by Steve Alten) is an example of a movie whose trailer is more entertaining than the movie itself.  The trailer doesn’t lead anyone to go in with Best Picture aspirations, but it suggests big, dumb, campy fun with a breezy tone.  In reality, while indeed cheesy, The Meg takes itself entirely too seriously and holds back the inherently silly premise rather than embracing the absurdity. Continue reading

Skyscraper (2018)

DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber

CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Roland Moller, Chin Han, Hannah Quinlivan, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Elfina Luk, Pablo Schreiber

REVIEW:

Among the myriad lesser Die Hard knock-offs, Skyscraper falls somewhere in the middle, an adequately involving diversion in the moment that doesn’t leave a strong impression once all the stunts and pyrotechnics are over.  A mash-up of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno, it feels like something that would have been at home in the 1980s starring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose career Dwayne Johnson often seems to be attempting to emulate) or Sylvester Stallone.  Continue reading

Hotel Artemis (2018)

DIRECTOR: Drew Pearce

CAST: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto

REVIEW:

Hotel Artemis is a slick, engaging action thriller that holds the attention while it lasts (which is just shy of an hour and a half) but ends up feeling a trifle insubstantial and underdeveloped.  Its vibe is halfway between comic book and Tarantino wannabe, and it boasts enough flashy action sequences, colorful characters, tension, and a few twists and turns to engage in the moment, even if the conclusion underwhelms. Continue reading

The Commuter (2018)

DIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra

CAST: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern

REVIEW:

Another year, another Liam Neeson action flick. Once a “serious thespian”, Neeson has recently reinvented himself as starring in as many disposable thrillers as Steven Seagal. This time, the big guy reunites with Jaume Collet-Serra, who attempts a variation on their previous project, Non-Stop, a wannabe Hitchcockian thriller set within the confines of an airplane and serving up paranoia with a planeload of suspects and red herrings. This time, in what passes for variety on Neeson’s filmography these days, it’s a train. If you enjoyed Non-Stop, you may also find The Commuter intriguing, but while Non-Stop was able to distract from its plot holes and implausibilities “in the moment”, the convoluted mess going on in The Commuter isn’t able to achieve the same effect, at least not to the same extent. This is the kind of movie that defines “flash in the pan”: compulsive viewing in the moment, and immediately disposable.

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Proud Mary (2018)

DIRECTOR: Babak Najafi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Xander Berkeley, Neal McDonough, Rade Sherbedgia

REVIEW:

One strongly suspects Proud Mary would have been straight-to-video fare if not for the presence of multi-Emmy and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson in the title role, and that’s where the quality level lies.  Proud Mary is an enjoyable enough diversion in the moment, but a generic and uninspired shoot-em-up that doesn’t offer anything memorable. Continue reading

American Assassin (2017)

DIRECTOR: Michael Cuesta

CAST: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, David Suchet

REVIEW:

Based on Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel, one of a series of books following the titular “American Assassin” Mitch Rapp, American Assassin is diverting enough for undemanding fans of the action genre, but doesn’t do anything special to distinguish itself in a crowded genre.  The generic by-the-numbers plot could easily have been lifted from a Tom Clancy novel (in fact, with minor tweaks, it could have easily been a young Jack Ryan adventure), and the movie doesn’t feature any surprising twists or turns or anything we haven’t seen (and seen better) elsewhere. Continue reading

Atomic Blonde (2017)

DIRECTOR: David Leitch

CAST: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Til Schweiger, Bill Skarsgard, Roland Moller

REVIEW:

Atomic Blonde plays out like a blend of the convoluted, labyrinthine Cold War intrigue of a John Le Carre novel with the kinetic action of a Jason Bourne movie, but the level of style and panache director David Leitch brings to the material, and the entertainment value of Charlize Theron kicking ass and looking stylish while doing it can’t quite make up for a murky, muddled plotline that’s difficult to follow. Continue reading

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