The Fate of The Furious

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2017

Universal Pictures

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell/Chris Morgan

Written by Chris Morgan
Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

If way back in 2001 when the first movie in the franchise “The Fast and The Furious” hit the theaters you had told me that movie would be the first in a series of (so far) eight movies and that the eighth movie would feature a better James Bond villain than most of the recent Daniel Craig James Bond movies….

And fans of the Daniel Craig/James Bond movies are right now rolling their eyes or tuning out this review. But what can I say? To a large degree, “The Fast and The Furious” movies (as well as the Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” series) are giving me what I used to go to James Bond movies for. Insanely over the top action sequences. Astounding fight scenes. Lush, exotic locations. Cool gadgets and gizmos. More gorgeous women than one movie should be allowed to contain. Batshit insane plots that at once seem perfectly logical yet utterly nonsensical. Colorful, larger-than-life heroes. Brilliantly deranged multi-billionaire supervillains bent on taking over or destroying the world. All this and more is in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS, a movie that despite being the eighth installment still manages to provide something new. A lot of it is improbable and some of it I do admit, baffling (the character development and relationships between Deckard Shaw, Dominic Toretto and Luke Hobbs is something that you’re either going to just have to go with or reject as total BS) but the movie delivers on what it promises and since I’m a fan of these movies, that was good enough for me.

Hard to believe that this series started off as a knock-off of “Point Break” ain’t it? In the course of eight movies we’ve watched Dominic Toretto and his crew morph from street racing hi-jackers into a gonzo, hyperactive mash up of The IMF and The A-Team and it’s been fun to watch. This movie ups the ante considerably as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) goes rogue and turns against his own team, forming an alliance with international cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) who has a plan to become her own nuclear superpower, a rival to both the United States and Russia.

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Dominic’s team is naturally baffled and mystified as to Dominic’s defection. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) thinks they should go get Brian O’Connor to help them out. Dominic’s wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) nixes that idea. Brian is out of the game (but it’s nice that they took a minute to acknowledge his character is happy in his retirement). The newest member of the team, hacktivist Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) thinks they should give him up as a lost cause. The team’s technical expert Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) frankly doesn’t know what to make of the situation.

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Fortunately assistance arrives in the person of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) the government shadow operative and his protege Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) who brings along Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to capture both Dominic and Cipher and stop her nefarious plans.

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Oh, naturally it’s a little more complicated than that since you’ll remember (or maybe you don’t) that Deckard Shaw was the Big Bad of the previous movie and spent a considerable amount of the running time trying to kill Dominic and his crew. By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy involving the circumstances of Shaw’s joining the crew and I think that writer Chris Morgan could have done better than to simply not address the issue at all. But since there are two more movies left to go as the current scuttlebutt says that the series will wrap up with the tenth installment I’m thinking that maybe there will be more to this.

And actually, considering that Statham steals the movie every chance he gets with such energy and humor I don’t think anybody will mind too much. His bickering back and forth with Dwayne Johnson provides much of the humor with Tyrese Gibson picking up the rest as he seems to have settled comfortably in the role of the series’ comedic relief. And Statham has a fight scene on Cipher’s flying headquarters that is among the finest of fight scenes he’s done. Seriously. It’s that jaw-droppingly good.

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As for the set-pieces: there’s a race through the streets of Havana that’s a nice callback to the roots of the series. A wild sequence in New York where Cipher takes remote control of hundreds of cars in Manhattan and uses them as weapons and the insane final action sequence which finds Our Heroes in Russia, being chased across a frozen sea by a nuclear submarine, barely staying ahead of it while fighting off hoards of enemies in vehicles just as tricked out as theirs.

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Some are going to say that THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS goes way too far. I’m not one of them. It’s a movie that knows exactly what it is, what it’s supposed to be and what it’s supposed to deliver. It’s not embarrassed or ashamed of what it is and director F. Gary Gray handles his cast and his movie with a sort of delirious, goofy glee as if he’s having the time of his life and wants us to join in the fun. I know I did. Highly Recommended.

PG-13

137 minutes

Hudson Hawk

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1991

Silver Pictures/Tri-Star Pictures

Directed by Michael Lehmann

Produced by Joel Silver

Screenplay by Steven E. de Souza/Daniel Walters

Story by Bruce Willis/Robert Kraft

There are those that will insist that HUDSON HAWK is a failure, a flop and a misguided project doomed from the outset to failure. I strongly disagree. It is a movie that along with “Big Trouble In Little China” “The Last Dragon” “The Assassination Bureau” “Sunset” “The Man With The Iron Fists” “Action Jackson” “Shoot ‘Em Up” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” is a movie that nobody knew what to make of it because they couldn’t figure out what genre it was. Was it a caper movie? Yes. Was it a spy thriller? Yes. Was it a comedy? Yes. Was it action-adventure? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Whatever you want to throw in. HUDSON HAWK was all of those and more because like those other movies I named and much more besides it defined being put in a genre because the story took whatever it needed from whatever genre it wanted to, mixed in wonderful characters and then it hit the ground running at top speed and never stopped until the end credits. Long before the term was coined and before I even knew what it was, when I saw HUDSON HAWK in the theater back in 1991 I knew I was watching a New Pulp movie.

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Eddie Hawkins aka The Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) is the world’s greatest cat burglar. That’s why on his first day out of prison after doing a dime, he’s blackmailed by his parole office and the Mario Brothers (not the ones you’re thinking of. These guys run a Mafia family). Along with his partner Tommy “Five-Tone” Messina (Danny Aiello) he pulls off the theft of the last commissioned work done by none other than Leonardo DaVinci, their individual tasks synchronized to the both of them singing “Swinging On A Star” at the exact same time. Yes, yes, I know how it sounds but if you’ve seen the movie I’m willing to bet that you’re grinning right now. Because the scene is impractical, silly, goofy and yet, you’re singing right along with Eddie and Tommy. Me, I admire a movie for having the audacity to even pull off such a notion. And what the hell, it’s downright FUN to watch.

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What gets Eddie interested in what is going on is that when he turns over the item he’s stolen to the Mario Brothers and their employer Alfred (Donald Burton) there’s an object inside which is desired by Alfred’s employers: Darwin and Minerva Mayweather (Richard E. Gant and Sandra Bernhard) who in a masterful comic performance always keep us an audience off guard as to what the hell these two whackos are going to do next. The object is also desired by CIA Director George Kaplan (James Coburn) and his ‘MTVIA’ Agents, all of whom are named after candy bars: Almond Joy (Lorraine Toussaint) Kit Kat (David Caruso) Snickers (Don Harvey) and Butterfinger (Andrew Bryniarsky) as well as by Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell) who is a top operative for the Vatican’s own counter-espionage agency. Eddie is astounded to discover that the object was fabricated by none other than Leonardo DaVinci (Stefano Molinari who gets the best visual gag in the movie which also involves The Mona Lisa)

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The Mayweathers need Eddie to steal various DaVinci relics that will place in their possession the components of La Macchina dell’Oro. The last and greatest of DaVinci’s inventions. One that can turn lead into gold. The Mayweathers were supposed to be working with The Vatican and The CIA in this but oh those crazy kids decided to just go rogue and grab everything for themselves as they intend to use the power of La Macchina dell’Oro to control the world gold market. Hilarity ensues. As well as a lot of action and for me, at least, a fun movie.

My own personal theory as to why this movie wasn’t the hit it deserved to be back in 1991was that the year before, “Die Hard 2” completely blew all expectations to smithereens and made more money than the original. So people most likely went to the theater looking for something similar and simply didn’t know what to make of this goofy, pulp-inspired adventure. Moviegoers wanted to see more of John McClane or a character like him and just couldn’t get into this more laid back, less intense Bruce Willis who actually goes through most of the movie smiling and looking as if he’s having a great time.

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And for me, that’s one of the major pluses of HUDSON HAWK: everybody looks as if their having nothing but fun making this movie. David Caruso in particular stands out for me as he steals every scene he’s in without saying a word. Kit Kat communicates solely with business cards and by his wardrobe/costume in whatever scene he’s in. The chemistry between Willis and Aiello feels real and I could easily have seem them continue to play Eddie and Tommy in a Crosby/Hope style in future films. I love that is not only James Coburn in this movie but that sound effects and phone ringtones from his Derek Flint movies are used as well. “Bunny! Ball Ball!” The lush sets and gorgeous locations.

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Understand me, my intention is not to change your mind about HUDSON HAWK or indeed, any movie I review. It’s just for me to give you my insight as to why I like and/or love a particular movie and maybe intrigue and/or interest you enough to maybe want to see it for the first time or revisit it. HUDSON HAWK is one of those movies that everybody seems to either love or hate. You can put me firmly on the side of those who love it.

100 Minutes

Rated R

Deepwater Horizon

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2017

Participant Media/DiBonaventura Pictures/Summit Entertainment/Closest to the Hole Productions/Leverage Entertainment

Directed by Peter Berg

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura/Mark Vahradian/Mark Wahlberg/Stephen Levinson/David Womark

Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan/Matthew Sand

Story by Matthew Sand

Based on “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours” by David Barstow/David Rohde/Stephanie Saul

If Irwin Allen had made DEEPWATER HORIZON he’d have given us an all-star cast made up up of up and coming young actors, a handful of faces familiar from TV and half a dozen Old Time movie stars who had been big back in the day and now were in the twilight of their careers. He’d have saddled them all with various eccentricities and personal problems that would have padded out the movie’s running time until we got to what we paid our money to see: the actual apocalyptic disaster. We would then have spent the rest of the movie trying to figure out who was going to live and who’s going to die.

What does all this have to do with my review? Not a blessed thing. It’s just that my attention wandered during the first hour or so of the movie and when it does while watching a movie my mind just goes off into wherever. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that the movie was boring me. But we get a lot of technobabble in that first hour as the crew members of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig talk shop. The crew talks like people who know the subject they’re talking about intimately and so it’s almost like they have their own language. The movie doesn’t slow down to explain to us, the audience what they’re talking about so a lot of what they were discussing went over my head. But that gives the movie an almost documentary feel as it’s as if we’re eavesdropping on private conversations.

And I don’t mean to make light of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster which released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and where eleven crewmen lost their lives. While drilling, pressure control systems failed, causing an uncontrollable blowout, releasing crude oil that in turned caused an explosion. The explosion was so fierce and so huge it was visible 40 miles away. The movie DEEPWATER HORIZON depicts the events leading up to and causing the explosion and the struggle of the rig’s crew to escape.

We see the disaster through the eyes of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) who in one of the better scenes early on the movie gives BP executive Don Vidrine (John Malkovich) an impressive list of everything that’s wrong with the rig. Vidrine’s more concerned that they’re behind schedule and over budget. None of which matters to Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) an Old School oil driller whose mantra is that “BP may own this rig but it belongs to me.” We get some family time with Mike and his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter before he goes to work on that fateful day. And for all of you who constantly whine about spoilers are advised that 90% of the family time scenes we saw in the trailers are in the movie.

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The best part of the movie happens when things go to hell, the rig blows up and everybody is scrambling around trying to escape. On a purely technical level this movie is astonishing. I would hate to think that director Peter Berg (and where the hell is my sequel to “The Rundown,” dammit?) and his production crew went out and actually built an oil rig just to blow it up for a movie but damn if it doesn’t look like that’s exactly what the maniacs did. DEEPWATER HORIZON is one of those movies I look at and I’m honestly surprised that people weren’t actually killed during filming. There’s fire everywhere, mud spraying from every crack, seam and hole and if it isn’t mud it’s oil. And even the water doesn’t provide safety because it’s covered in flaming oil.

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But still, DEEPWATER HORIZON  is unengaging on the emotional level. I never once forgot I was looking at a movie and found myself admiring it more for the CGI special effects and the stunt work than the performances. This brings me back to Irwin Allen. Hokey as it may have been to assign each character in his disaster movies with an eccentricity or personal problem, it was a form of shorthand to get us to know and sympathize with the characters. There’s only three of them we really get to know here in DEEPWATER HORIZON as the rest of the characters are actually pretty thin and after the explosion, they’re covered in oil and mud and we can’t tell them apart anyway. So when they die the emotional impact is blunted because we’re not sure who it was that just died.

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Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in this one as damn well he should because Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in any movie he’s in. That’s The Law. Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson are likeable enough but they’re not trying very hard to stretch their acting talents here. John Malkovich has been playing sarcastic villains for so long he should have the trademark on it (unless Jeremy Irons has beaten him to it)

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So should you see DEEPWATER HORIZON? It’s a completely undemanding movie that’s perfectly acceptable as a time waster if you find find yourself with a couple of hours to kill. It’s not a bad movie at all. Just one that you don’t have to rush out and see. Go see it for the mind blowing spectacle of the special effects as they’re best appreciated on the big screen. They’re the real stars of this movie.

107 Minutes

PG-13

 

Pray For Death

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1985

Transworld Entertainment

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Produced by Don Van Atta

Written by James Booth

Sho Kosugi made PRAY FOR DEATH after the popular and successful “Ninja Trilogy” he did for Cannon Films: “Enter The Ninja” “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination.” And if you don’t mind taking some advice, I’d suggest you also watch PRAY FOR DEATH after watching the “Ninja Trilogy.” Or better yet, watch it before the trilogy. Not because it’s a bad movie. It’s actually quite good, in fact. But the movies in the “Ninja Trilogy” are designed to be Saturday afternoon chop-socky action adventures with plenty of outrageous action and goofy plot twists. They’re light entertainment, nothing more. PRAY FOR DEATH is a much darker film, a movie about the dreams of an immigrant family turned into a nightmare. There’s a wide streak of sadism infesting the movie and except for one scene the violence isn’t played for fun. For the most part this is a bloody revenge story and the ending doesn’t shrug off the tragedy that befalls this Japanese family.

Akira Saito’s (Sho Kosugi) wife Aiko (Donna Kei Benz) desperately wants to return to America where she was born and raise their two sons Tekeshi (Kane Sosugi) and Tomoya (Shane Kosugi) there. Akira is somewhat reluctant but he’s just been told that he has to wait three years for a promotion that he really wanted and he doesn’t want to wait. He and his wife agree to start their own business in Los Angeles.

Akira has another reason for wanting to leave. His family doesn’t know that he’s a ninja and for years he’s been living with the guilt of killing his own brother who tried to steal gold from the ninja temple where they were trained. Akira wants to put his ninja life behind him and thinks that a fresh new life in a fresh new country will do the trick. The Saitos go to L.A. and purchase a restaurant from widower Sam Green (Parley Baer). The boys busy themselves acclimating themselves to American life while Akira and Aiko renovate the restaurant. They’re so busy that they have no idea that the abandoned cigar store next door is used by a pair of crooked cops for their dirty work. They’re supposed to hide the priceless Van Adda necklace there but one of the cops decides to double-cross his boss Mr. Newman (Michael Constantine) and keep the necklace for himself.

Newman’s viciously psychotic enforcer, Limehouse Willie (James Booth, who also wrote the script) goes to pick up the necklace and finding it gone, sees Sam Green and his packed up car and makes the incorrect assumption that Sam must have taken it. Now, it must be said that even though Limehouse Willie’s job all throughout this movie is to recover the necklace he honestly doesn’t seem all that interested in doing his job. He much would rather beat people to death and terrify them. Limehouse Willie, after killing Sam (hell, he just doesn’t kill the poor old bastard. He pounds him to death with a iron pipe, pours gasoline on him and sets him on fire) figures that the Saito family must know where the necklace is and proceeds to raise hell with them.

He kidnaps Tomoyo, breaks Takeshi’s nose, threatens to burn off Tomoyo’s face with a blowtorch, strings up Akira, tortures him by slashing him across the chest with a razor sharp knife and this son of a bitch is just getting started.

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Of course the Saito family doesn’t know anything and of course Limehouse Willie steps up his game until he kills the one person he shouldn’t have killed. That’s when Akira decides it’s time to put and end to this bullshit and once again takes up the way of the ninja to enact his revenge.

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If the events of PRAY FOR DEATH had happened to a Caucasian, native born American family I don’t think the movie would have the resonance that it does. Akira Saito and his family are immigrants who come to American with hopes, plans and dreams and almost from the time they set foot on American soil they’re ill used by almost everybody. Sam Green is virtually the only American who shows them any kindness and he’s killed off rather quickly for his kindness. Saito and his family can’t even walk down the street of their new neighborhood without being physical and verbally assaulted by street toughs. Akira can’t get help from the police to protect his family from Limehouse Willie. And while we know that Akira will eventually resort to using his ninja skills it comes far too late to keep his family whole.

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Understand me that we’re not talking about High Art here. But what we are talking about is a movie where Sho Kosugi makes a sincere effort to tell a solid story about a dangerous man seeking to live a peaceful life according to the laws and values of a new country that holds promise for him and his family. He’s no Steve McQueen but he does a serviceable acting job as both family man and avenging angel of death. For pure fun and kick-ass entertainment check out Sho Kosugi’s “Nina Trilogy.” But if you want to see a decidedly darker side to him, watch PRAY FOR DEATH.

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92 Minutes

Rated R

Captain America: Civil War

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2016

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon

If you had asked me a couple of days ago what my favorite Marvel movie is, I’d have said with no hesitation at all; “The Avengers.” But that was before I saw CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. I am now prepared to not only proclaim that not only is CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies but also that it just may be the best superhero movie made to date, period.

I might have said this before in my reviews of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but it bears repeating, I think. One of the strengths of the MCU is that movies featuring characters in their solo movies take their time to explore the worlds in which these characters operate. So Iron Man movies are about technology and ways they can be used or misused for good or evil. Thor movies are full of mythology, fantasy and cosmic adventures. And Captain America movies are about political struggles, the role of government intelligence agencies in modern warfare which is so different from the way Steve Rogers knew war back in World War II. And morals are always at the forefront of a Captain America movie. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Captain America movies are so popular now because Steve Rogers embodies a way of life and adherence to core beliefs and morals that we as a country and people have gotten away from but desperately long to get back to. But not Cap. He’s The Last Stand-Up Guy and he’s not ashamed of it either.

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Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is engaged in a covert mission in Lagos. His job is to keep a biological weapon out of the hands of Crossbones/Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo.) Cap has brought along as backup The Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) The Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and The Scarlet Witch/ Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen.)

They do manage to secure the biological weapon but during the intense fighting, Wanda accidentally destroys an office building which kills a dozen citizens of the isolationist African country Wakanda. This brings King T’Chaka (John Kani) and his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to spearhead what comes to be known as The Sokovia Accords. U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) presents The Sokovia Accords to The Avengers. If they agree to it and sign it, a United Nations panel will control their activities and supervise The Avengers.

Steve thinks it’s a lousy idea and is surprised that Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is all for it. Tony is obviously still dealing with PTSD brought on by not just the Chitauri Invasion of New York but the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as well. Unbeknownst to his friends, Tony’s many chickens have all come home to roost in a big way and that is why he insists that The Avengers sign and abide by The Sokovia Accords.

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The situation grows even more hostile and volatile when the representatives of over a hundred countries meet an a conference in Vienna to ratify The Sokovia Accords. The conference is bombed and all the evidence points to James Buchanan Barnes/Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) as the bomber. This situation divides The Avengers even more as Steve believes that Bucky shouldn’t be held responsible for crimes he committed while in a brainwashed state as The Winter Solider.

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The Black Widow, War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle ) The Vision (Paul Bettany) and Spider-Man/Peter Parker take Stark’s side while The Falcon, The Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) side with Captain America. The battle lines are drawn but there two wild cards in the deck; T’Challa has inherited not only the kingship of Wakanda but the heritage of The Black Panther as well. His agenda does not exactly line up with either Captain America’s or Iron Man’s as he is driven by pure vengeance to exact punishment on the murderer of his father.

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And in the background, quietly and methodically working on a plan to destroy The Avengers is a man named Zemo…not the one you’re thinking of. But he is no less dangerous. One of the jaw-dropping moments in this movie that is full of them is watching how Zemo manipulates every other character.

I’m not gonna pussyfoot around on this one; CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is such a finely crafted piece of superhero cinema I honestly am in awe of what the directors, writers and cast have done here. The movie works as both a Captain America solo movie and as an Avengers movie as well, which in itself is no small feat. There’s an exceptionally large cast of characters packed in here but everybody gets a chance to shine. I appreciated how the movie slowed down for such treats as the conversation The Vision and Wanda have while they bond over cooking dinner. I loved the scene where Rhodey and Sam are arguing their points of views about The Sokovia Accords. Remember that these are two black men who have both served in the U.S. military. But they have very different ideas about the role The Avengers should play in the world. And while we’re on the subject, when was the last time you saw a superhero movie that had three black superheroes in prominent roles?

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The discussions the characters have about The Sokovia Accords, their responsibility in how they use their powers and their views on how the public sees them now is something that I found fascinating. The world governments are starting to think that maybe superheroes really aren’t all that nice to have around since they seem to attract death and destruction (something that The Vision himself points out in one of the movie’s best scenes.)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR manages to give us the superhero action we crave (the Free-For-All Brawl at the airport is now the greatest superhero fight scene EVER.) while giving us plenty of deeper emotional stuff such as The Avengers having to deal with the consequences of their actions. The world has united in their demand that The Avengers simply not level cities and then go home in time for Corn Flakes and watching Captain Kangaroo.

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And I have been waiting all my life to see The Black Panther on a movie screen and now I have. Chadwick Boseman (along with Paul Rudd) walks away with the MVP award. And you all know how I feel about Chris Evans. The guy IS Captain America. ‘Nuff Said. And let me just say that I have never been a big Spider-Man fan but after seeing Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his smokin’ hot Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) I wouldn’t mind going to see the next Spider-Man movie.

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Bottom Line: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is spectacular entertainment from start to finish. I judge superhero movies by this: do they make me feel the same sense of excitement and wonder that I got from reading the comic books when I was 12 years old? Do they put me in touch with those feelings I got on a Saturday afternoon when I pulled out a stack of of my favorite comics books and read them for hours on end? CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR does indeed make me feel that way. Most movie series decrease in imagination, excitement and pure fun. Not this one. Each succeeding Captain America movie has been better than the one before and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is no exception.

 

 

London Has Fallen

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2016

Millennium Films/Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures

Directed by Babak Najafi

Produced by Gerard Butler/Mark Gill/Matt O’Toole/Alan Siegel

Screenplay by Christian Gudegast/Creighton Rothenberger/Katrin Benedikt/Chad St. John

Story by Creighton Rothenberger/Katrin Benedikt

Based on characters created by Creighton Rothenberger/Katrin Benedikt

We’re all busy people here so I’m going to cut right to the chase: there is absolutely no reason for you to see LONDON HAS FALLEN.

Let me explain: it’s not that it’s a bad movie. In fact, much like its predecessor;  2013’s“Olympus Has Fallen” it’s a satisfying throwback to 1980s Action Movies. It’s a B-movie with A-list talent and budget. Both “Olympus Has Fallen” and the other White House invasion movie of 2013, “White House Down” turned out to be better “Die Hard” movies than the actual “Die Hard” movie that also came out that same year; “A Good Day To Die Hard.” In addition, LONDON HAS FALLEN manages to also pull off the job of being a pretty good “Die Hard” knock-off. This is why I’m telling you that there’s no reason for you to see it. You’re not going to see a movie that’s wildly innovative in plot, character, visual style or storytelling. LONDON HAS FALLEN does not in any way, shape or form re-invent The Action Movie. It is the filmic equivalent of a Big Mac with a large Coke and fries. Not that that has to be a bad thing. Sometimes all you want is a Big Mac with a large Coke and fries.

But if you did indeed see “Olympus Has Fallen” and enjoyed it as I did then you’ll probably want to check out LONDON HAS FALLEN. And you’ll probably have a good time watching it as I did. I went in with full knowledge of what I was getting and I was satisfied with that.

Top Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and his wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) are getting ready for the birth of their first child. Mike is seriously contemplating resigning from The Secret Service to devote his time to his family. That decision is put off by the sudden death of the British Prime Minister. The President, along with about fifty other prominent world leaders all travel to London for the state funeral. Mike naturally goes along, with Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) as well.

Turns out that the entire funeral is a massive death trap. Armies of mercenaries attack the world leaders and their protective details as well as bombing various London landmarks such as Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. The terrorists hack into London’s computer and power network, effectively shutting the city down. London is cast down into utter chaos as civilians are massacred in the streets and the terrorists run riot. It’s up to Mike Banning to get the President (Aaron Eckhart) to safety before the terrorists capture him as they intend to kill the President online while the world watches.

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Sounds like a pretty exciting set-up, don’t it? And it is. The special effects guys have a field day going nuts destroying London’s most beloved landmarks. They do their job of convincing us that London really is being blown to smithereens. Back in Washington D.C. Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) Joint Chiefs Chairman Clegg (Robert Forster) Secretary of Defense McMillan (Melissa Leo) and White House Chief of Staff Mason (Jackie Earle Haley) watch the carnage on jumbo sized 4K monitors and spend most of the the movie wringing their hands in agony and muttering “son of a bitch!” every two minutes. Seriously. They take turns saying it. Except for Melissa Leo, who I honestly believe didn’t have a single line in the movie. She has some terrific reaction shots, though.

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Back in London, Mike makes contact with an old buddy of his, MI6 agent Jacqueline “Jax” Marshall (Charlotte Riley) who hides him and The President in a safehouse until a Delta Team can extract them. However, when a group of terrorists show up, Mike realizes that the danger to The President’s safety and London is even greater than anyone thought as there has to be a mole inside the British government working with the terrorists.

While I’m glad to see Gerard Butler once again back in Action Hero mode, I can’t help but wish that he hadn’t wasted all those years making braindead romantic comedies. He’s equally as good with the obligatory wisecrack after breaking someone’s neck as he is in the quieter scenes he has with Eckhart, Mitchell and Bassett before the mayhem starts. Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster and Melissa Leo are all way too good actors for this material but they’re game to play along and they do. And when you have actors of this quality in a Action Movie they can’t help but give the story an added depth. They’re just hardwired that way.

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The movie is directed competently and effectively by a director I’m not familiar with by the name of Babak Najafi and he really doesn’t go out of his way to put a visual stamp all his own on this movie but he does do something I’ve never seen before in an action movie and it’s really quite remarkable. Remember the long tracking shot in “Goodfellas” where Henry Hill takes his girlfriend through the Copacabana? It lasts about three or four minutes, right? Well, Najafi does something similar here in a scene where Banning and the Delta Team are trying to rescue The President from the terrorist stronghold. It’s a vicious, savage firefight done in one long tracking shot that has to last at least two or three minutes and it’s a really badass piece of work.

So should you see LONDON HAS FALLEN? Didn’t I answer that question at the beginning of this review? Go back and read it again.

Rated R

99 Minutes

 

Self/Less

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2015

Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures

Directed by Tarsem Singh

Produced by Ram Bergman/Peter Schlessel/James D. Stern

Written by David Pastor/Alex Pastor

Generally when I go to the movies I plan it out what I’m going to see the day before. My wife and I usually go on a Tuesday because it’s Bargain Day at our favorite film emporium and we get away with paying $7. We also make a shopping/errand day out of it, treating ourselves to a bit of fun after taking care of business. But this Tuesday we didn’t plan on seeing anything as there was nothing in the theater either of us particularly cared to see (and “Ant-Man” doesn’t come out until Friday, dammit) so we were just going to call it an early day and head on home.

That’s before a series of truly torrential thunderstorms began coming down. We were in Long Island, a good 30 miles or so from our house and I didn’t feel like driving all the way back to Brooklyn in a thunderstorm so Patricia and I said “what the hell” and elected to kill a couple of hours going to see SELF/LESS. Neither one of us had heard much good about it but we figured; “How bad could it be?”

I shoulda took my chances with the thunderstorm.

Billionaire real estate titan Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is dying from cancer. He leaves behind immense wealth and a broken relationship with his only child, his daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery). As he approaches death the only thing he truly wants is more time to heal the wound between him and Claire. Salvation arrives in the form of the mysterious Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who claims that through a process he calls “shedding” he can place Damien’s consciousness into a young, healthy body that he says he’s grown in his laboratory.

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Damien is skeptical. He didn’t get to be a billionaire by letting people make a fool out of him, after all. But after a trip to Albright’s lab and seeing the multiple bodies he’s grown, “vessels waiting to be filled” as Albright phrases it, he’s ready to sign on the dotted line. And pretty soon he wakes up in a fine, firm new body with a new name: Edward Mark Hale (Ryan Reynolds)

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Damien/Edward moves to New Orleans, makes a new friend, Anton (Derek Luke) and pretty soon he’s playing pickup games of basketball, jet skiing, clubbing, partying like a rock star and banging supermodels. Life is pretty sweet until the visions start. Visions of a wife and child. Of a house and a life that is not his. Could it be that he’s remembering the life of Edward Hale? Damien sets out to find if the visions have any truth behind them and in the process finds out that Professor Albright and his “shedding” process is far more frightening than he was led to believe.

Now, by the time I got to this part of the movie I was 75% convinced that I was watching an uncredited remake of “Seconds” the classic John Frankenheimer directed suspense thriller which stars Rock Hudson in what many (including me) think is the finest dramatic work he’s ever done on film. In “Seconds” a middle-aged business man fed up and unhappy with his life (John Randolph) gets a chance to live a new life in a new body thanks to a mysterious organization run by an equally mysterious Old Man played by Will Geer. Randolph wakes up in Rock Hudson’s body and I will say no more about “Seconds” other than if you have not seen it, then consider it your homework assignment for the weekend to do so.

So the first 20 minutes or so of SELF/LESS point in that direction and actually isn’t bad at all. It’s once Ryan Reynolds takes over that the movie winds down, replacing what started out as a story about dealing with mortality with a By The Numbers action plot. Once Damien starts remembering Hale’s life and gets himself involved with Hale’s wife (Natalie Martinez) and child (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) Albright marks them all for death and they have to take it on the lam.

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Y’know, even if director Tarsem Singh had indulged his extraordinary talent for eye-popping visuals, cinematography and costuming then we would at least have a movie worth looking at. Movies of his such as “The Fall” “The Cell” and “Immortals” are dazzling visual feasts if nothing else. I myself don’t understand the point of hiring a director who is renowned for his visual style and then have him not use that visual style to punch up such a plodding, dull story.

Or maybe Tarsem wanted to show he could direct a B-level actioner like everybody else without falling back on the visuals. Bad choice. I will say that there are a couple of hand-to-hand fight scenes and gun battles that he directs with snap, crackle and pop. But then again, there are half a dozen other action directors that could have done those scenes with just as much skill and energy.

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Ryan Reynolds gives it his all here and I appreciate that he does his job to the best of his ability. He’s not phoning in his performance here and while he can’t carry a whole movie on his back, it’s not for lack of trying. Bradley Cooper, Chris Evans or Chris Pratt would have stuck this movie in their back pocket and walked away with it but Ryan ain’t them. But the fault of the movie doesn’t fall on him or any the supporting cast. Tarsem and his writers David and Alex Pastor iceberged this particular Titanic

Bottom line is this: wait for it to show up on Netflix if you’re at all interested in seeing it. An intriguing premise with talented actors and a phenomenal director is completely wasted and thrown away for the sake of a few car crashes, explosions and fights. What a shame.

116 Minutes

Rated PG-13