HORROR MOVIES 2018 – Worst to First

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Jamie Lee Curtis as long suffering Laurie Strode striking back against Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN (2018)

2018 wasn’t really the best year for horror movies, at least not at the theater. Netflix actually had some of the better horror movies I saw this year. But at the theater it was slim pickings. Of the nearly 100 movies I saw at the move theater this year, only 12 were horror films, and a few of those weren’t really “horror” per se. Granted, there were a few clinkers I avoided all together, and so by design I saw fewer horror flicks in 2018.

Here we go, my list of HORROR MOVIES 2018, from worst to first:

12.THE NUN  – by far, the worst horror film I saw this year. I know, a lot of people liked this one, but the script with both its lame story and ridiculous dialogue was horrible. Shot on location in Romania, the film looks terrific, but that’s all it has going for it. Part of the CONJURING universe.

11.INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY – yet another INSIDIOUS prequel. I really wish they’d put this series to rest already. I do like Lin Shaye as demon hunter Elise Rainier, but since this character was killed off in the very first INSIDIOUS movie, the continuing back stories told in the prequels don’t really resonate.

10. JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM – not really a horror movie, but you do have those dinosaurs. Pretty bad entry in the JURASSIC series. Silly and oftentimes dull.

9. HALLOWEEN – after all the hype, this latest entry in the HALLOWEEN series was ultimately a disappointment. Ignoring every other movie in the series except for the original John Carpenter classic HALLOWEEN (1978) the film joins Laurie Strode 50 years later as she’s still dealing with the traumatic events of being stalked by Michael Myers on Halloween back in 1978. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the series to play Laurie once again, and her scenes are by far the best in the movie- the best written and the best acted. The rest of the movie is surprisingly awful. Tells nearly the same story as HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998).

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8. RAMPAGE – Again, not really a horror movie, but the film does feature giant animals battling each other. This ultra silly Dwayne Johnson vehicle has its moments, and it’s more fun than you might think.

7. HEREDITARY – I know, for a lot of horror fans, this was the best horror flick from 2018. I was lukewarm to it. I enjoyed it for nearly 2/3 of the way through, but its ending pretty much ruined it for me. There’s a lot to like about this horror movie, which for me, ultimately did not deliver.

6. OVERLORD – this horror move/World War II action adventure combo wasn’t half bad. On the eve of D-Day, a small group of American soldiers on a secret mission discover a horrific Nazi secret. Works better as an action film than a horror movie, as the horror elements don’t really show up till the end, and they’re not as horrifying as expected.

5. THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE – this demonic possession movie was better than I expected. The gimmick here is that the possessed being is a corpse rather than a living person. I know. That doesn’t sound like much of a gimmick. But it works here thanks to a compelling lead performance by Shay Mitchell as the woman in the morgue who encounters the angry demon.

4. HELL FEST – another one that was better than expected. This one got off to an awful start with some sloppy direction and bad dialogue, but its standard tale of a crazed killer causing havoc at a Halloween amusement park gets better as it goes along, much, much better. Amy Forshyth is excellent as main character Natalie, the one girl in the group who’s not interested in horror or the supernatural but finds herself smack dab in the center of all it.

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3. THE MEG – this giant shark tale starring Jason Statham should have been stupid, but surprise! It’s actually pretty good. So much so that it was one of my favorite movies from last summer. No, it’s not JAWS (1975), but it’s the best of the recent shark movies, in spite of run-of-the-mill special effects.The strength of THE MEG is its surprisingly snappy script and exceptional performances by everyone involved, and seriously, you can’t really go wrong with a Jason Statham action movie, even if he’s battling a gigantic prehistoric shark.

2. ANNIHILATION – this film is way superior to the previous ten films on this list. This horror/science fiction flick about a group of women led by Natalie Portman on an expedition to investigate a bizarre phenomenon where the normal laws of nature don’t apply has three things going for it: the science fiction aspects will blow your mind, the horror scenes deliver, and its female cast is second to none. Exceptional science fiction horror.

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1. A QUIET PLACE – my pick for the best horror movie of 2018. Sure, its ending doesn’t make a lot of sense, but what comes before it works so well I let the weak conclusion slide. This tale of vicious alien creatures with exceptional hearing which hunt down humans whenever they hear them follows one family’s efforts to survive in this apocalyptic tale directed by John Krasinski, who also stars as the father in the family. Co-star Emily Blunt has one of the best scenes in the movie, a birthing scene. Yup, try giving birth silently as a hungry alien creature closes in for the kill. Scary stuff. Well done throughout. Also a lot of fun to see a movie that for nearly 45 minutes offers no sound on the soundtrack as the family has to survive silently. It was amazing how fast the silence caused people in the theater to stop munching on their popcorn.

There you have it. A look at the horror films from 2018.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE MEG (2018) – Giant Shark Tale Ridiculous But Fun

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THE MEG (2018) is often ridiculous and about as scary as a Scooby-Doo cartoon, but this mega shark adventure is also something else: fun.

THE MEG opens with a deep-sea rescue mission gone wrong.  Rescuer Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is in the midst of leading a rescue team to save folks trapped in a damaged nuclear submarine, but when something seems to attack the sub, Jonas makes the executive decision to leave some of his team behind in order to rescue the few lives he has with him. It’s a decision that does not bode well with others on his team, as later no proof of a powerful sea creature which Jonas said was attacking the sub is ever found.

In terms of opening sequences, it’s not all that memorable and sounds more exciting than it actually is.

The action picks up five years later at a deep-sea station off the coast of China where a scientist named Zhang (Winston Chao) is leading an expedition to travel to the very depths of the ocean, and beyond.  See, Zhang believes that at the bottom of what is considered to be one of the deepest parts of the ocean floor, lies a gaseous barrier rather than a solid bottom, and he believes beneath that barrier is another world. And faster than you can say Jules Verne, a mini sub is launched from the station to prove just that.

The sub breaks through the barrier, but before anyone can celebrate, it’s attacked by a mysterious unseen creature. And of course, Zhang and company turn to the one man who has ever attempted a rescue that deep in the ocean, Jonas Taylor. Jonas, of course, says he’s done with all that, wants no part of it, and nothing they can say will change his mind. His resolve lasts all of two seconds before he learns that the woman commanding the sub and one of the people trapped inside is his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee).

And so Jonas packs his bags and is off to the rescue, where of course he will come face to face with a massive prehistoric shark which may or may be the same creature which he encountered five years before. The film doesn’t really make that clear.

And this is only the beginning, because once the rescue is done, the mammoth shark decides he’s had enough of living so far below the ocean and comes up for a visit.

One of the main reasons THE MEG is so much fun is its story keeps evolving. It’s not just one long rescue mission tale.  Things continually change. As a result, the movie remains exciting throughout, and with some brisk pacing, there are very few slow parts here.

The screenplay by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, based on the novel Meg by Steve Alten, also contains lots of lively dialogue which is sure to be a crowd pleaser. It also does a really good job developing its characters, which for a movie like this, is a pleasant surprise. In fact, that was one of my favorite parts of this movie, that its characters were all so likable.

But the story is not without flaws. A lot of things aren’t explained all that well. For instance, once the giant shark makes its presence known, everyone who doubted Jonas apologizes to him. Yet, at one point in the story, Jonas says the creature outside the sub in his doomed mission was destroyed in the subsequent explosion, so, just how the appearance of this prehistoric shark acquits Jonas is unclear to me. Just because there’s a huge shark around now doesn’t mean there was one that day Jonas left those people behind to die.

For such a deep-sea expedition, it seems to take only seconds for everyone to get down to the ocean floor and then back up again. And some of the later shark scenes are flat-out ludicrous but somehow don’t deteriorate into laughable material.

And while the story scores high on the adventure meter, it scores less so when it comes to conflict.  Nearly every plan our heroes suggest works.

Director Jon Turteltaub plays things safe. THE MEG is rated PG-13, so there’s not a drop of blood to be found. Yet, somehow, the movie doesn’t suffer for it.

The shark itself is okay.  CGI sharks just don’t cut it for me.  This one works best when we see it only partially, like shots from above where we see its massive form swimming beneath the waves. Those scenes are ominous, but seen up close, it’s nothing more than a frightening cartoon.

One of the strongest parts of THE MEG is its cast. Pretty much everyone in the movie is very good, and so that goes a long way towards making this film as enjoyable as it is.

Director Jon  Turtelbaub deserves some credit here for getting so much out of his actors in this one.

We’ll start at the top with Jason Statham, who’s been one of my favorite action movie stars over the past ten years or so. As he almost always is, he’s excellent here. He’s extremely believable in the part, except of course when he dives into the water for a hand to hand combat session with the supersized shark. Perhaps he should apply to become a Marvel superhero?

Even so, Statham does a good job making the ludicrous situations he finds himself in believable. His scenes with the little girl at the station, Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cal) are precious, and Shuya Sophia Cal is adorable and entertaining in the role.

Li Bingbing plays Suyin, Zhang’s daughter and Meiying’s mother.  She’s pretty much the lead scientist on the expedition, and she is definitely not a heroine in need of saving. She pretty much goes toe to toe with Statham’s Jonas Taylor, and the two of them lead the charge against the shark. She’s also very sexy.

Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight on THE OFFICE (2005-2013) plays the wealthy businessman who finances the expedition. He’s the guy you love to hate.

Cliff Curtis, who played Travis on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD (2015-17), is very good here as Jonas’ friend Mac. Likewise, Winston Chao is convincing as Zhang, as is Ruby Rose as the sexy engineer Jaxx who designed the deep-sea station.

Robert Taylor stands out as Heller, the doctor at the station who was there that fateful day when Jonas failed to rescue everyone from the nuclear sub, and for the past five years he had blamed Jonas for their deaths, claiming he had become unhinged. When the mega shark appears, Heller is quick to apologize to Jonas. Taylor, who plays Sheriff Walt Longmire on the TV show LONGMIRE (2012-2017), probably gives the best performance in the movie.

Olafur Darri Olafsson and Masi Oka are also very good as a couple of scientists, and likewise Jessica McNamee is memorable as Jonas’ ex-wife Lori.

Only Page Kennedy doesn’t  fare as well, as scientist DJ. He’s the one black character on the crew, and he’s also supposed to be the film’s comic relief, but a lot of the jokes I thought were cliché, and I think the one person of color in the movie deserved a better written role.

As shark movies go, THE MEG is one of the better ones. It’s a much stronger film than the recent 47 METERS DOWN (2017), and more fun than  THE SHALLOWS (2016).

That being said, it still pales in comparison to the Holy Grail of shark movies, JAWS (1975). It’s not intense like JAWS, and it’s certainly not realistic like JAWS. However, during the film’s third act, there are several nods to the 1975 Steven Spielberg classic.

THE MEG is a lot of fun, and as such, for a summer time popcorn movie, it comes highly recommended.

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Worst Movies of 2016

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And here’s a look at my Top 10 List for the worst movies I saw in 2016:

10. HAIL CAESAR!

Coming in at #10 it’s HAIL CAESAR!, a misfire from the Coen brothers.  Don’t get me wrong, this period piece depicting 1950s Hollywood looks terrific.  But the script doesn’t really work.  It has the makings of a screwball comedy, but the Coen brothers opt to play up the drama instead, and so the main character is straight man Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who goes around getting actors and actresses out of the various messes they’ve gotten themselves into, all in the name of protecting the studio’s image.  And so the screwball tale of lead actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) being kidnapped is pushed into the background, downplaying Clooney’s considerable comedic talents. The film is basically a bunch of unfunny vignettes with a serious but dull wraparound story featuring Brolin’s Eddie Mannix.  Should have been much better.

 

9. BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE

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Easily my pick for the worst superhero movie of the year.  Batman and Superman lock horns in a story that never makes much sense.   The two superheroes hate each other in the first place, which weakens the plot point of villain Lex Luthor’s plan to pit them against each other, and later the moment when the two future superfriends make amends simply doesn’t ring true.  Best part:  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Worst part:  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

 

8. THE CONJURING 2

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A major disappointment.  This sequel to the excellent horror movie THE CONJURING (2013) is a bust, even with the return of original director James Wan, and lead stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  Film offers nothing new.

 

7. THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY

Horribly unfunny comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen about two brothers, one an assassin, the other a full-fledged loser, who team up to take on the bad guys.  This one had a hilarious trailer, but that’s all.

 

6.THE DARKNESS

Another lame horror movie, this one about a demon which haunts a family after they take a trip to the Grand Canyon.  Stars Kevin Bacon.

 

5. MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION

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One of the worst sequels I’ve seen in a long while.  This sequel to one of Jason Statham’s earlier hits, THE MECHANIC (2011), itself a remake of a 1970s Charles Bronson movie, makes no sense and is simply an excuse to have Jason Statham in some action scenes.  I’m a big Statham fan, but not even his presence here could save this turkey.

 

4. THE FOREST

Yet another terrible horror movie.  There are simply too many of these.  This one takes a real place, Japan’s Suicide Forest, with lots of real potential, and reduces it to a mere setting for a silly story about an American woman searching for her missing sister.  This is one forest not worth visiting.

 

3. BLAIR WITCH

Yup, another horror movie, another pointless sequel.  This sequel to the classic THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) drops the ball as its story about the younger brother of the main protagonist in the original film offers nothing new.  Yup, you won’t find any neat revelations here regarding the mysterious events in the first film.  A huge waste of time.

 

2. HARDCORE HENRY

This actioner deployed the gimmick of being shot entirely from the first person perspective of the main character, who we never see since the story unfolds through his eyes.  The result is a movie which plays like a video game, but of course, the viewer isn’t playing this game, so unless you like watching other people play video games, you might want to skip this one.  Not even the presence of the talented Sharlto Copley can save this shallow flick.

 

1. INCARNATE

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My pick for the Worst Movie of 2016 is a no brainer.  Easily the worst horror movie of the year and the worst movie of the  year, INCARNATE wastes the talents of a fine actor like Aaron Eckhart and sticks him in a ridiculous story about demonic possession.  The gimmick here is Eckhart’s character approaches demonic possession from the psychological standpoint, and enters the victims’ dreams to expel the demons.  Kinda like a heroic version of Freddy Kruger, only without the wit.  A mess from start to finish, this one makes little sense, nor does it try to.

And there you have it, my picks for the Worst Movies of 2016.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Movie Turkeys 2016

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Welcome to a special THANKSGIVING column!  Happy Turkey Day!

On that note, I know that I don’t usually post my BEST OF  and WORST OF movie lists till after December 31, but all this turkey has got me to thinking about— well, turkeys!  As in the worst movies of the year so far.

I won’t make any final picks until the 2016 calendar year comes to a close, but in the meantime, here’s a look at some nominees for the Worst Movies of 2016 so far.  Happy reading, and while you’re at it, please pass the stuffing!

THE FOREST- This weak horror movie wastes a potential frightening setting:  Japan’s Suicide Forest, a real place with real history, but this movie is about as far away from real as you can get.  Contrived and dull.

HAIL CAESAR! – A misfire from the Coen brothers.  This period piece about 1950s Hollywood looks great but the story is not cohesive nor are the laughs.  George Clooney’s comic timing is not taken advantage of, and Josh Brolin’s lead role is that of the straight man, so he doesn’t add to the laughs either.  Best scene features Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill.

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY – Terribly unfunny comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen.  Nuff said about this turkey.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE –  That’s right.  This big budget DC superhero romp is one of the worst movies of the year. Neither the conflict between Batman and Superman nor its resolution ever become believable.  A very forced contrived story.  Best part:  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Worst part:  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

HARDCORE HENRY – Gimmick sci fi actioner with the entire film shot from the protagonists point of view just doesn’t work.  Ulitmately a very boring movie.

THE DARKNESS – Horror film starring Kevin Bacon just isn’t very dark.  Yet another demonic entity proving bothersome to a once happy family.  This demon showed up when the family was on vacation at the Grand Canyon!

THE CONJURING 2 – Sadly, this sequel to THE CONJURING doesn’t come close to the original, in spite of the presence of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  A particularly awful script. Director James Wan needs to move on to some new material.

MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION – pointless sequel to the Jason Statham actioner.  Statham returns as hitman Arthur Bishop, wasted in a completely ridiculous story.

BLAIR WITCH – Awful, awful sequel to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). The less said about this one the better.

SHUT IN – Despite a terrific performance by Naomi Watts, this wannabe thriller is marred by a ridiculous story with one of the least satisfying and most unbelievable twists I’ve seen in a while.

Okie-dokie, that about does it so far.  Will any of these movies make my pick for the Worst Movie of 2016?  Or are there Worse Turkeys yet to come?

For the answer to that question, you’ll have to check back in January 2017.

Thanks for reading!

Gobble, gobble!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

MECHANIC: RESURRECTION (2016) – Pointless Sequel Even for Jason Statham Fans

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If you’re a Jason Statham fan, you might like this movie.

Then again, you might not.

MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION (2016) is a sequel to THE MECHANIC (2011), a halfway decent action movie which starred Jason Statham and Ben Foster.  Statham is back for the sequel, while Foster is not.

Let’s not mince words:  MECHANIC: RESURRECTION is a terrible movie.

It has little to offer other than some picturesque location photography and the obligatory Jason Statham fight scenes.  That’s really what this sequel is all about.  It’s just an excuse to film Statham beating on bad guys.  The most frustrating part of the whole thing is you don’t have to be Shakespeare to come up with a decent action movie plot.  The story to this one is lame and laughable .

Unstoppable assassin Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is living the good life.  He’s hiding out in Rio de Janeiro, and life is good, mostly because he’s “retired” since everyone believes he’s dead.  When the movie opens, his free ride comes to a close when a woman approaches him with a job, and she tells Bishop that if he declines her boss’ offer, that they will broadcast to the world that he is still alive.  I guess she hasn’t seen too many Jason Statham movies.  You should never threaten the guy.

Bishop goes ballistic, and in one of the film’s better action sequences— not a good sign when the film’s best action sequence occurs before the opening credits— singlehandedly wipes out about 30 henchmen, in a rather cool scene which culminates on top of a frighteningly high cable car.  This opening scene is very James Bond like.  So the film gets off to a strong start.  But it’s all downhill from there.

Bishop learns that the man who wants to hire him is his former friend Crain (Sam Hazeldine) who now happens to be his mortal enemy.  I guess they stopped sending each other Christmas cards.  When Crain’s next contact comes along, a woman named Gina (Jessica Alba), Bishop turns the tables on her and forces her to tell him her story, a sob story that is about as believable a plot in a bad Lifetime movie.  It turns out Gina works with underpriviliged children, and Crain threatened to kill the kids.  Jeesh!  You can’t get much lower than that.  Where’s Crain’s black hat and mustache?

Bishop promises to bring Gina to safety and stresses that he will never work for Crain, but in the very next scene, Crain’s men overpower Bishop and abduct Gina, and the next thing we know, Bishop is working for Crain.  Of course, he’s doing it to protect Gina’s life.  What a guy!

Crain wants Bishop to kill three men, and every time Bishop succeeds, Crain promises to let Bishop speak with Gina so he’ll know that she is still alive.  Bishop’s special talent is that he makes his hits look like accidents, and so he goes about killing these targets—who are supposedly protected by the best security on the planet— while making their deaths look like accidents.

When Bishop gets to the third man, Max Adams (Tommy Lee Jones) he decides to offer him a deal in order to turn the tables on Crain, seemingly for no other reason than the guy is being played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Bishop’s plan would have worked just as easily with Adams dead.

The plot to MECHANIC: RESURRECTION nearly put me to sleep.  It was farfetched and convoluted  throughout.

While I remain a Jason Statham fan, mostly because he looks the parts he plays and is believable as an unstoppable assassin, MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION is one of the weaker films I’ve seen him in.

Jessica Alba, who I usually like a lot, wasn’t convincing here at all. I never believed Gina was a real person.  It’s probably the weakest Alba performance I’ve seen yet.

Likewise, Sam Hazeldine as Crain made for a pretty boring villain.  It didn’t help that every time he opened his mouth a cliche came out.

And Tommy Lee Jones looked like he was having a blast during his one hour shoot.  Yup, it looks like Jones strolled onto the set for about an hour, delivered his lines, and left.  He has very little impact on this movie.

The worst part of MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION is the writing.  The screenplay by Philip Shelby and Tony Mosher tells a simpleminded story that is as dull as it is unimaginative.  It also contains cliche-ridden dialogue throughout.

Director Dennis Gansel fares slightly better.  The pre-credit sequence is a good one, and there’s lots of picturesque photography of several exotic settings, including Rio and Thailand.  But the bulk of the action scenes don’t hold up, and Bishop’s “accidental” murders aren’t as creative as the ones in the first movie.

The first movie THE MECHANIC (2011) was also a better movie because it had strong source material, as it was a remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same name.

This sequel MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION is as lame as can be.  It’s for hardcore Jason Statham fans only.  Then again, I’m a big Jason Stathan fan myself, and I didn’t like this one at all.

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Melissa McCarthy Is Hilarious In SPY (2015)

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MOVIE REVIEW:  SPY (2015)spy poster

By Michael Arruda

 If I laugh a lot during a comedy, that’s usually a good sign, and SPY (2015), the latest comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, made me laugh quite a bit.

In SPY, Melissa McCarthy plays a desk bound CIA agent named Susan Cooper who spends her days speaking into the headset of suave CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), providing him with intel when he’s in the field, and generally saving his butt on a regular basis.  Of course, since he’s drop dead handsome and she’s overweight and not model-pretty, she’s secretly in love with him, and he pays her no attention.

When Fine is killed in the field by the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who reveals to the CIA that she knows the identities of all their agents, it prompts CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) to make the unusual decision of sending in an agent Rayna and her people have no chance of recognizing.  Crocker, of course, selects Susan, who aggressively volunteers for the assignment because she wants to seek revenge for Bradley’s death.

This decision infuriates fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who wants the assignment for himself, and when he doesn’t get it, he quits and goes rogue, shadowing Susan in the field, constantly reminding her that she’s not good enough to get the job done, and that he’s going to get it done on his own.

Of course, the “job” involves locating a nuclear weapon, which Rayna has somewhere in her possession, and she plans to sell it to the highest terrorist bidder.

So, Susan sets out to save the world, and with the help of her best friend and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) who at first is on a headset back at headquarters, supplying Susan with valuable information but eventually joins Susan in the field, she spends the rest of the movie trying to infiltrate Rayna’s organization so she can find the bomb before Rayna sells it to terrorists.

The plot of SPY is completely inane, but you don’t see this movie because of its plot.  You see it because of Melissa McCarthy, who happens to be one of the funniest people working in movies today.

McCarthy enjoys a lot of side-splitting moments here in SPY.  She’s funny early on as the shy, super intelligent desk agent who goes unnoticed and without respect.  There’s a hilarious scene where she’s berated by her boss Elaine because she has pink eye.  Later when she’s in the field she shows off her physical comedy skills, and towards the end of the movie, she goes into full-fledged over-the-top Melissa McCarthy mode as Susan becomes a take-charge save-the-world agent who has to rely on every aspect of her being to get the job done.  McCarthy has some of her funniest moments in these latter scenes.

And while McCarthy gets to play off co-stars Jude Law and Jason Statham with amiable results, she doesn’t share quite as much chemistry with them as she did with Sandra Bullock in the hit film from two summers ago THE HEAT (2013).  In THE HEAT, Bullock played a complete character who held her own with McCarthy.  Here in SPY, both Law and Statham play caricatures rather than characters, and so their scenes with McCarthy don’t resonate as well.

That being said, Jason Statham is really funny throughout this movie, and he has some of the funniest bits in the film.  He plays super tough agent Rick Ford, a guy who believes he’s invulnerable.  Trouble is, he can’t seem to stop telling people just how invulnerable he is.  The scene where he spouts off all the ways he has cheated death is one of the more hilarious moments in the film and had me laughing out loud.

Jude Law is less interesting as Agent Bradley Fine, a character that is a one joke caricature of the dashing handsome spy.  Miranda Hart fares better as Susan’s friend and co-worker Nancy.  The scene early on where the two of them go out for a drink at a bar and encounter a beautiful operative who they’re insanely jealous of is priceless.  And later, when Nancy joins Susan in the field, they’re pretty funny together, more so than when McCarthy pairs with Statham or Law.

Allison Janney makes for a convincing hard-ass CIA director.  Rose Byrne as the Cruella-De Vil-ish Rayna Boyanov is okay, although it’s a one-note performance.  Boyanov is the spoiled rich girl gone wrong.  Yawn.  Boyanov is also the phoniest character in the entire movie, and she becomes harder to take as the movie goes along.  I enjoyed Byrne much more when she played Renai Lambert, the mother in the first two INSIDIOUS movies.

Writer/director Paul Feig, who directed earlier McCarthy hits BRIDESMAIDS (2011) and THE HEAT (2013) infuses this one with lots of oomph, energy, and style.  The opening credits sequence is right out of a James Bond movie, specifically the recent Daniel Craig Bond films.  The action sequences here are decent.  While the chase scenes are average and played strictly for laughs, the fight scenes actually look pretty good.  They even sport some realistic blood.

More importantly, the humor remains sharp for most of the movie.  McCarthy stays funny throughout, and Jason Statham surprisingly steals nearly every scene he’s in.

It’s not until the third act of the film that SPY staggers, running out of steam for the simple reason that it goes on too long.  A running time of 120 minutes for this kind of comedy is a bit much.  At this length, it’s difficult to sustain the laughs, and SPY definitely struggles with this.  Shave off about 20 minutes and the comedy would have worked better.

As it is, it reaches the point where you realize that what you’re watching has stopped being funny and has delved head-first into mindless silliness.  There are way too many plot twists near the end, and rather than appear clever, they come off as “we’re not sure how to end this movie so we’ll keep on going till we get it right.”  The film definitely could have used a tighter ending.

SPY still works though.  I laughed throughout most of the movie, and even though it deteriorates somewhat towards the end, it wasn’t enough to stop me from liking it.

Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, and she receives fine support from Jason Statham, who’s surprisingly funny for most of the movie, and from Miranda Hart as her friend and co-worker Nancy.  McCarthy is one of the funniest actors working in film today, and she’s the main reason to see SPY.   I can’t wait to see what she does next.

—END—

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

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expendables 3 posterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of THE EXPENDABLES 3, up now at cinemaknifefight.com, your place to read about movies, where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A heavily fortified movie theater, surrounded by armed guards, military vehicles, and tanks.  A helicopter lands out front, and MICHAEL ARRUDA steps from the copter followed by four young people, most likely in their twenties.  They approach the theater just as a man dressed in military fatigues steps from the building to confront them.)

DICTATOR:  Hey, Arruda, it’s about time you showed up.  But you’re a little late.  Your buddy L.L. SOARES is our prisoner.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You can have him.  I didn’t come for L.L. I came to see a movie.

DICTATOR: So did he, and look where that got him!  You’ll never get by me, Arruda!

MA:  We’ll see about that.  I’ve brought some help.

DICTATOR (looks at the young people behind MA):  Who are they?  Your kindergarten class?

MA:  Meet the new team.  The next generation of Cinema Knife Fighters.

(Camera pans quickly over the four young faces, just as a missile zooms in and explodes, reducing them to a puff of smoke.)

MA:  Or not.

You know, if the new team in today’s movie had met the same fate, I would have liked it better.

DICTATOR:  Huh?  Listen, Arruda, enough talking!  Take a look around you, at our defenses.  They’re impenetrable.

MA:  Really?  Because I have looked them over, and frankly, I’m not impressed.  In fact, I give your defenses 0 knives.

DICTATOR (huffs):  Really?  Are you kidding me?  Do you know how hard I worked on this?

MA:  It’s obviously all CGI.  Very fake looking.  Nobody you have with you has anything worthwhile to say.  Sorry, but it’s all very boring.

DICTATOR:  Dammit!  I need to find me a better writer!

MA:  And L.L. obviously made it inside, too, didn’t he?  Where is he?

DICTATOR:  He’s inside watching another movie. Damn you guys!  (Stomps off in a hissy fit.)

MA:  Okay, now that that’s over with, we can get on with today’s review.  Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m Michael Arruda, and today I’m reviewing THE EXPENDABLES 3, the latest movie in Sylvester Stallone’s all-star action series.  I’m doing this one solo because my buddy L.L. Soares is inside this theater watching another movie which he’ll be reviewing for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT this weekend as well.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the third film in THE EXPENDABLES series, a series which chronicles the adventures of The Expendables, a group of ruthless soldiers and assassins who are called on by the U.S. government to handle its dirtiest jobs.

In this film, the leader of the group Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) discovers that his one-time friend-turned villain Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a man he thought he had killed, is still alive.  Ross wants Stonebanks dead, but he’s informed by his new operator Drummer (Harrison Ford) that they want Stonebanks alive to stand trial.

Seeing Stonebanks as a formidable opponent, Ross decides that his team is too old to handle him, and so he tells his team, which includes Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Doc (Wesley Snipes), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) that he’s retiring the group.  They balk at this of course, but Ross makes his intentions clear:  they’re done.

Ross then hooks up with an old friend Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) who he employs to help him find a new team, a group of younger fighters, in effect the next generation of The Expendables.  And so they compile a group of newbies which includes Thorn (Glen Powell), Mars (Victor Ortiz), Luna (Ronda Rousey), and Smilee (Kellan Lutz).

Seriously?  I found this plot point very difficult to believe.  Why in the world would Ross want to go to battle with these infants instead of Jason Statham and friends is beyond me?  There’s just no comparison, and calling these guys “old” based upon the way they look in the movie is ridiculous.  They still look as bad-ass as ever.

Anyway, Stonebanks quickly makes mincemeat out of this diaper-clad team, which means it’s up to Jason Statham and his buddies to help Stallone get his newbies out of this mess.  Of course, Stonebanks has an entire army at his disposal, and so even more help is needed, which is why Drummer also brings in Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Yin Yang (Jet Li) to help out.

Plus there’s Galgo (Antonio Banderas) who throughout the film has been desperate to join Ross’ team, and finally gets his chance when Ross needs all the help he can get.  This all leads to the testosterone filled conclusion where Ross and his Expendables battle Stonebanks and his entire army.

This might have been fun if it all wasn’t so stupid.

(MA enters the lobby of the movie theater, surrounded by all sorts of military action:  machine gun fire, grenade explosions, hand-to- hand combat.)

MA (looks at camera):  I guess it all fits in with the theme of today’s movie.  Excuse me while I order some popcorn.  (To cinema worker).  I’ll have a small popcorn with butter, please.

CINEMA WORKER:  Sure.  (As he turns to make popcorn, machine gun fire riddles the area, and he slumps to the ground.)

MA: Hmm.  I’ll just come back for that later.  Back to the review.

By far, THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the worst film in the series.  I liked the first THE EXPENDABLES (2010) well enough, and I really enjoyed the sequel THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) which had a better plot and gave all the veteran action stars quality screen time with good action scenes and some memorable lines, and the climactic battle between Stallone and  Jean-Claude Van Damme was a keeper.  I really felt like I got my money’s worth.

Not so with this installment.

First of all, there’s something very sloppy about the direction.  Director Patrick Hughes gives us a flat opening segment where Stallone and his team rescue Wesley Snipes from his imprisonment on a moving armored train.  The action here is sloppily handled.  The camera fails to get in close and seems to cover things from a distance, and it also cuts away from characters when they’re speaking, and so it was difficult to catch what people were saying.

Then, once the rescue is completed, it cuts to the main title THE EXPENDABLES 3, flashed on the screen for about a millisecond and then it’s back to the movie.  It was just a weird opening, a precursor for all that was going to follow.

Director Hughes also doesn’t give his action stars flashy or memorable first appearances.  Stallone is first seen in the opening segment flying a helicopter in loud surroundings in which you can’t hear what he’s saying.  I don’t think I understood anything Stallone said in this entire segment.  Schwarzenegger’s grand entrance has him casually strolling up behind Stallone in a hospital and speaking softly to him.  How’s that for compelling drama?

The screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rotherberger, and Katrin Benedikt tells a mediocre story that doesn’t always makes sense, and features unimpressive dialogue and very little if any character development.  The story of Ross assembling a new team of youngsters to take on an old enemy makes little sense when his old team is still so menacing.

And while Mel Gibson does make for a decent villain, at least in terms of his performance, the character Gibson plays, Stonebanks, is never shown being villainous.  Why is he such a bad ass?  We hear characters like Ross and Drummer saying what a bad guy he is, but we never see him do anything.  What’s his agenda?  He sells arms to dictators and other undesirables, and we do see him do this in one scene, but do really we need The Expendables to take him out?

Just once, I’d like to see a plot worthy of The Expendables team.  These guys are supposed to be sent in to handle the jobs that the CIA and U.S. military want no part of, yet in all three films, we haven’t really seen them on these kinds of missions.

The dialogue is also subpar.  You’ve got Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Statham, Snipes, and Ford, guys who can really chew up the scenery, and yet there’s hardly a memorable line among them.

(Schwarzenegger enters the lobby and makes quick work of several enemy soldiers, cracking their heads and breaking their limbs with ease.)

SCHWARZENEGGER:  Next time silence your cell phones.  (to MA)  I work part-time as cinema security.  If you make noise in the theater, you answer to me.  (Checks his smart phone.)  Someone is texting in theater three.  I’ll be back.  (Exits)

MA:  That’s the Arnold I wanted to see.

Only Mel Gibson as the villain Stonebanks gets lines worthy of his pedigree, yet he has nothing much to do other than taunt Stallone and his buddies.  In fact, there are several scenes of Stonebanks buying art, walking up a staircase, entering a building, where that’s all he does.  I mean, these scenes don’t lead to anything else.  Stonebanks is a villain with too much time on his hands, and THE EXPENDABLES 3 is an action movie in need of a crisper script and tighter direction.

Now, if you’re like me, you see an EXPENDABLES movie because you want to see Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger and their friends on screen kicking butt and churning out one-liners.  You don’t see it because you want to watch a bunch of newbies take over.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t buy a ticket to THE EXPENDABLES:  THE NEXT GENERATON, and so I had little interest in scenes of Stallone compiling his new team, while his old team, Statham and company, sit home with nothing to do, and yes we actually see scenes of these guys at home twiddling their thumbs bored.  We don’t even get to see them try their hands at new jobs— I want to see Dolph Lundgren try to work in a department store, for example.  Realistically speaking, you’d think these guys would sign on with someone else.  I mean, Stallone’s Ross can’t be the only game in town.

And the newbies don’t have a chance. They’re each introduced in quick brief scenes, and then as the film goes on we hardly get to know them, which was fine with me since I didn’t care about them, but you know what?  I might have changed my mind had I actually gotten to know them and had the writing been better.

Sadly, THE EXPENDABLES 3 plays like the third film in a series, old and tired.

Speaking of which, one of the themes running through this movie is that Stallone and his buddies are getting too old for this sort of thing, and the sad part is in this movie some of them did look old.  For the first time in this series, I found it difficult to believe that Stallone and Schwarzenegger could do the things they were doing.  They looked a little long in the tooth.  Harrison Ford looked like he could barely walk.  In the film’s climax Ford is flying a helicopter performing all these stunts.  Yeah, right.  The only stunt he seemed capable of performing was crashing.

I like Sylvester Stallone, and when he’s on screen, I liked him here.  The trouble is the dialogue is so bad, that his character Ross just isn’t that enjoyable this time around.

Of the original team, Jason Statham fares the best, because he still looks the part, like he could single-handedly take out a mob of assassins, but his screen time is diminished here.

Like Stallone, Schwarzenegger begins to show his age in this movie, and his one-liners are pretty much nonexistent.  Looking even older than both Stallone and Schwarzenegger is Harrison Ford, who was filling in for Bruce Willis who left this movie over a contract dispute.  Ford plays a different character, but like Willis, he’s the guy who hires The Expendables.  I missed Willis’ shady persona.  Ford seemed like an aged Jack Ryan.

(Harrison Ford enters.)

FORD:  Did you just call me old?

MA:  I said you looked old in the movie.

FORD:  I ought to kick your ass.

MA:  I’d settle for an autograph.

FORD:  Autograph?  After you just insulted me in my own theater?

MA:  Your theater?  Are you working cinema security too?

FORD:  No, I run this place.  I’m the manager!

MA:  That’s a role I could see you playing.

FORD:  You call me old again I’m sending Schwarzenegger after you!

(Ford exits.)

MA:  I guess he’s getting sensitive in his old a— eh hem.  Moving right along.

Wesley Snipes isn’t bad, and he’s in a bunch of scenes, but like the rest of the cast he definitely would have benefitted from a better script.  Dolph Lundgren doesn’t need a good script as he just can stand there and look menacing, which he does again here to great effect.  Randy Couture also fares pretty well, but Terry Crews’ screen time is greatly reduced.  Kelsey Grammer lumbers through a throwaway role as Bonaparte, the man who assembles Stallone’s new team.

Mel Gibson gets the best lines in the movie, and he chews up the scenery as the main baddie, although sadly, he’s not given much to do other than get in Stallone’s face and tell him all the awful things he’s going to do to him.  But the thing is, when Gibson says all these menacing lines, he’s damned believable.  If only his character Stonebanks had been worthy of his performance.

Antonio Banderas as Galgo is supposed to be the comic relief in the movie.  The running gag is that no one wants Galgo on their team because he never stops talking, but this is hardly funny.  Banderas seems to be having a great time throughout, but it’s such a strange role, I just never got it.  It would have made more sense had the character been one of the newbies. Why would Ross be interested in an older agent who obviously couldn’t make it on a team when he was shunning his own proven team of veterans?  Banderas’ goofy personality just doesn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the movie.

The newbies were so underdeveloped they’re hardly worth mentioning.  Kellan Lutz [from the TWILIGHT movies and THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014)] probably made the biggest impression as Smilee, the man who sees himself as Ross’ possible successor.  Glen Powell as Thorn and Victor Ortiz as Mars are pretty much interchangeable and they do very little.  Ronda Rousey stands out as Luna, since she’s the only woman on the team, and she’s certainly an eye full, but when even she doesn’t make much of an impression, that tells you how weak this movie is.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 also features a completely ludicrous third act.  When the cavalry arrives to rescue Stallone’s captured newbies, they find themselves taking on an entire army, which Mel Gibson’s Stonebanks has at his disposal.  And so we’re supposed to believe that this small group can outgun and outlast an army?  I don’t think so.

And unlike in THE EXPENDABLES 2 which featured a climactic bout between Stallone and Van Damme that was worth the price of admission on its own, the climactic showdown here between Stallone and Gibson is somewhat of a dud.  I expected much, much more.

This is also the first movie in the series to be rated PG-13, as the first two were rated R, which means people in this movie get to be shot, blown up, and beaten without shedding a single drop of blood.  Some may argue that this is a step up from fake looking CGI blood.

Yet, in spite of all these problems, it’s difficult for me to hate a movie featuring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Wesley Snipes, and so no I didn’t hate this one.  These guys can still entertain, even in a bad movie, and THE EXPENDABLES 3, sorry to say, is a bad movie.   It’s lifted by its star power, which is the only reason I’m giving this one more than one knife.

I give it a lackluster two knives.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to see another movie.

(A grenade lands at his feet.)

Or not.

(There is a huge explosion, and when the dust clears, MA is still standing there.)

MA: This is one time I’m happy about a fake looking CGI effect.

(MA exits into the movie theater.)

—END—