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action-adventure

Black Widow (2021)

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DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland

CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt

REVIEW:

Black Widow, the movie to finally give the long-running MCU character her own posthumous solo movie, arrives at an awkward time, skipping back to sandwich itself into the time period between Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers: Infinity War and attempt to give more depth and backstory to a character who’s already dead. If timing is everything, Black Widow has missed the boat and feels like it should have come out several years ago, but setting the awkwardness of its release date aside, it’s an enjoyable enough stand-alone adventure, although it’s more successful in giving an often underdeveloped supporting Avenger a deeper backstory than it is in its generic narrative that feels like it borrows a page—or several pages—from other movies in the spy thriller genre.

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Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Godzilla Vs. Kong': first trailer sees cinematic titans square off in epic  battle

DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard

CAST: Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison, Eiza Gonzalez, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Kaylee Hottle, Shun Oguri

REVIEW:

Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth installment in Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse (and bearing little plot resemblance to 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla), is an example of how a two-minute trailer highlight reel shows its inherent shallowness when stretched out over two hours. Sporadic monster slugfests are not enough to sustain a Saturday morning cartoon plot with inane human characters scurrying around. Fans of the “classic” Godzilla series—which regularly featured plots every bit as silly as this one—might be entertained, but for casual fans, this series demonstrates diminishing returns.

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Jiu Jitsu (2020)

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DIRECTOR: Dimitri Logothetis

CAST: Alain Moussi, Nicolas Cage, Frank Grillo, Tony Jaa, JuJu Chan, Marie Avgeropoulos, Rick Yune

REVIEW:

Every once in a while, I suppose a bit like slowing down when passing a car crash, I get the strange compulsion to review something truly terrible, whose amateurish ineptitude begs the question of who funded this in the first place. The inappropriately-named Jiu Jitsu (inappropriate because, as many a disgruntled Jiu Jitsu practitioner can tell you, it’s light on any actual Jiu Jitsu) is such a movie, taking the most ridiculous premise imaginable and using it to string together a series of clumsily-choreographed martial arts fight scenes interspersed with a bargain basement rip-off of Predator, all with bad acting, worse writing, and distractingly excessive directorial flourishes. One is better off watching a stunt/fight demo reel on YouTube and dodging the tediously awful filmmaking.

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Mulan (2020)

Mulan's 2020 online release: Everything to know - CNET

DIRECTOR: Niki Caro

CAST: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma, Yoson An, Rosalind Chao

REVIEW:

After such titles as Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, and Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, Niki Caro’s Mulan finally does something a little different. Partly the filmmakers had a little more wiggle room because the 1998 animated musical original is not as iconic as the above titles, and was never considered among Disney top tier, but avoiding a scene-by-scene regurgitation helps Mulan avoid the feeling of an expensive cosplay that befell the previous live-action remakes. Mulan overall feels fresher and stands on its own as an engaging adventure.

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Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams

CAST: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Richard E. Grant, Domhnall Gleeson, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Anthony Daniels

REVIEW:

In my previous reviews, I considered J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens—the first installment of Disney’s continuation of the Star Wars saga after acquiring Lucasfilm from creator George Lucas—to be (despite some valid criticisms about it being more-or-less a reworked variation of A New Hope) a promising launching pad. Alas, that promise was squandered by the follow-up, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which received some praise but proved deeply divisive among fans and which I unfortunately came down on the negative side of, considering it both narratively unwieldy and having the feel of a Star Wars movie by someone who doesn’t like Star Wars and determined to deconstruct and subvert expectations at every turn for its own sake without having anything satisfying to replace them with. And now, with J.J. Abrams retaking the director’s chair—reportedly due to Lucasfilm head honcho Kathleen Kennedy deciding to go in a “safer” direction after the mixed response to The Last Jedi—we get Overcorrection: The Movie. In fairness to Abrams, he came back onboard with strikes against him: Johnson undoing some of the groundwork he’d laid in the first place, as well as the offscreen death of Carrie Fisher. Unfortunately but perhaps unsurprisingly, Abrams has not succeeded in righting the ship enough to end on a strong note. Rise of Skywalker is scattershot and convoluted, filled with extraneous characters, a poorly-focused narrative, and an overly frenetic pace that seldom slows down enough to make much sense of anything (not that there’s much sense to be found).

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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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Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

DIRECTOR: Michael Dougherty

CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi, Thomas Middleditch, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson, Aisha Hinds, David Strathairn

REVIEW:

I desperately wanted to love this movie. As a child of Godzilla movies, with virtually the entire film series and various action figures of Godzilla and friends (and enemies) in my possession, and as a fan of Gareth Edwards’ lukewarmly-received 2014 film (though I acknowledge it has issues), I followed along with the marketing with hype and attention. Lukewarm-to-negative critical reviews gave me pause, but I’d never really expected a Godzilla movie to be critically-acclaimed. To many critics, these movies are just too inherently silly, and at least outside of his native Japan, Godzilla is really more of a cult following. On the one hand, King of the Monsters does feel pretty much like an old-school Godzilla movie (with all the good and bad that that implies). Alas, it hasn’t gone above and beyond, content to follow in the same basic formula of virtually every other Godzilla movie, giant monsters smacking each other around and levelling buildings, sandwiched in between a ridiculous convoluted plot that primarily exists as a flimsy skeleton to string the monster mashes together and populated by goofy and/or one-dimensional humans scurrying around with inane “drama”. Balancing big monster action with human drama is a tricky act, and Hollywood hasn’t figured it out yet.

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Robin Hood (2018)

DIRECTOR: Otto Bathurst

CAST: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham

REVIEW:

Much like Lex Luthor, who should not be as difficult to adapt to screen as he has often seemed to be, Hollywood has had a hard time coming up with a good rendition of what should be as simple and straightforward as the legend of Robin Hood.  1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had its charms, but marred by a whiplashy tone and a miscast Kevin Costner.  Ridley Scott’s 2010 “reimagining” tried to turn it into a Braveheartesque epic historical drama at the expense of jettisoning any sense of fun.  Unfortunately, Otto Bathurst’s latest rendition of the oft-told tale has gone to the opposite extreme, a generic action flick, watchable in the moment but forgettable and disposable in the way a dime a dozen generic action flicks are.  Panned by critics and making only $51 million against a $100 million budget, the latest telling of “The Hood” is as destined for the dust bin as last year’s King Arthur.

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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

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