THE OUTPOST (2020) – Story of U.S. Soldiers Battling Taliban Solid Yet Unremarkable

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If you like war movies without fanfare that simply focus on the intense horrors of war, then THE OUTPOST (2020) may be the movie for you.

Directed by Rod Lurie with a screenplay by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, based on the book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper, THE OUTPOST tells the story of a small group of U. S. soldiers encamped in an outpost in Afghanistan which is so poorly located it isn’t funny. Surrounded completely by immense mountains, the soldiers are constantly at the mercy of the hundreds of Taliban soldiers in the mountains who fire on them daily in the hope of some day overtaking the camp.

As such, the soldiers understand that while on paper their mission is to mingle with the locals in order to win their hearts and minds, their real mission is simply to survive. And that’s really what THE OUTPOST is all about: survival.

There really isn’t a strong narrative or deep character development. The plot of THE OUTPOST simply follows the soldiers inside Camp Keating where they engage in daily banter until they are fired upon and are forced to defend themselves, trying their best not to die.

As such, the bulk of this film is not all that enjoyable because you don’t really get to know any of the characters and there’s not much of a story. What you do get is an appreciation for the stress and anxiety these soldiers go through on a daily basis. One reason a film like 1917 (2019) worked better is it chose to focus on two main characters throughout the movie and audiences saw the larger story through their eyes. That doesn’t really happen here in THE OUTPOST.

However, the film held my interest long enough to get me to the climactic battle when the Taliban finally descend upon the camp in an all out attack. This final battle is by far the best part of the movie and lifts this one to worthwhile viewing status. It’s extremely cinematic.

The sound editing and mixing throughout THE OUTPOST is impressive, and no more so during the climactic sequence. It sounded like missiles were flying through my living room!

If there is a main character in THE OUTPOST, it’s SSG Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood), as he is in this film throughout. You don’t really learn all that much about him though, and he doesn’t really shine until the climax. As such, Eastwood, who’s Clint Eastwood’s son, is fine throughout but isn’t asked to do a whole lot until the final reel.

Perhaps this movie should have been entitled SON OF THE OUTPOST. See, in addition to Scott Eastwood, the cast also includes Milo Gibson, Mel Gibson’s son— James Jagger, Mick Jagger’s son— Will Attenborough, Richard Attenborough’s grandson— and Scott Alda Coffey, grandson of Alan Alda. Wow!

The one other character who comes close to being a main one is SPC Ty Carter (Caleb Landry Jones), a rather unhinged character who like Eastwood’s Clint Romesha, doesn’t really do a whole lot until the final battle. Caleb Landry Jones is a talented actor who has enjoyed some memorable roles in such films as THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) and GET OUT (2017). He’s very good here as well, especially in the film’s climax.

Orlando Bloom has a small role as a commanding officer who dies early on. The commanding officers at Camp Keating don’t fare so well. Their survival rate is nil, it seems.

Director Rod Lurie does an excellent job capturing the insane anxiety felt by everyone at the camp, and also does an awesome job with the film’s explosive conclusion.

The screenplay by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, based on true events, does the same, but falters with a lack of any kind of character development or plot pacing. The characters all have names but we know little about them, and other than their constant need to defend themselves against the surrounding Taliban soldiers, there’s nothing else driving the story forward. This may be the point, but it makes for labored viewing. The film runs for two hours and really doesn’t hit its stride until 90 minutes in.

Still, it successfully shows the viewer how horrifying and hellish soldiering can be.

I liked THE OUTPOST. For two thirds of the film it felt like a documentary, and then it stepped up its game with an intense conclusion that is second to none. I just wish it had done a better job developing its characters so that we had more reason to care for them other than the obvious one, that they were soldiers doing their jobs and making the ultimate sacrifice. So, you definitely care for these guys. You just don’t know them.

A more personal emotion connection to these men would have made the ending all the more powerful.

As it stands, THE OUTPOST is solid viewing, a sincere yet unremarkable take on soldiers at war.

—END—

Picture of the Day: Sean Connery

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In memory of Sean Connery, who passed away on October 31, 2020, at the age of 90, here’s a look in pictures at his James Bond performances:

DR. NO (1962)
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
GOLDFINGER (1964)
THUNDERBALL (1965)
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)

I love words, but sometimes pictures say it better.

Sean Connery August 25, 1930 – October 31, 2020.

Thank you Sean Connery. As Bond, you left your villains shaken, and your audiences stirred. You live more than twice. Like diamonds, you are forever….

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

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

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

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

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

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover
Print cover
For the Love of Horror cover (3)
Ebook cover

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

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

UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020) – Strange Hybrid of Superhero/Serial Killer Movie Doesn’t Really Work

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unknown origins

Before I get to the review, a bit of reality: Christopher Nolan, one of my favorite filmmakers working today, released his latest movie this weekend to theaters, TENET (2020). I really want to see it. However, here in the United States, things are still so bad with COVID-19, that to go to a movie theater now would be a very risky endeavor. And so, I passed and will continue to pass until things improve. Sadly, this may be a while yet. Most medical experts agree that things will get worse before they get better, due largely to the poor choices being made regarding masks and social distancing by so many in the country, thanks in large part to the completely incompetent and reckless leadership— lack of leadership really— of the Trump administration. And so, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to review movies accessed at home, rather than at the theater.

And now on to our review:

A couple of weeks back, I reviewed PROJECT POWER (2020), a superhero movie about a pill that gives people superpowers, a different and not overly successful tweak to the superhero genre. Up today it’s UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020), which adds a tweak of its own: a serial killer who bases his murders on superhero origin stories. Yup, a superhero serial killer movie. A strange hybrid indeed.

UNKNOWN ORIGINS, which hails from Spain, and is now available on Netflix, tells the story of police detective David Valentin (Javier Rey) working his first case, and it’s a doozy: a serial killer who displays his victims in elaborate situations which seem to have no connection, that is until retired detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) notices a superhero connection while looking at some of the evidence upon David’s request. And Cosme is familiar with superheroes because his son Jorge (Brays Efe) who runs a comic book store is a complete geek on the subject and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things superheroes.

Norma (Veronica Echegui), the idiosyncratic head of homicide, decides to hire Jorge as a consultant and immediately makes him David’s partner on the case. Jorge’s first contribution is that he informs them that the murders are all based on superhero origin stories. As the murders continue, it’s up to this oddball duo to find and stop the mysterious serial killer.

As I said, UNKNOWN ORIGINS is a weird hybrid of superhero and serial killer. The trailer on Netflix definitely highlighted the comedic aspects of the movie, and so when I sat down to watch this one, I expected it to be a lighthearted farce, perhaps even a spoof, but that’s not how this one plays out at all.

It begins all rather dark, as the serial killer aspects are lurid and disturbing. The opening segments have R-rated serial killer movie written all over them. But then things take a comedic turn once Jorge and David are paired together, a strange juxtaposition after the serious opening. But the film never becomes a full-fledged comedy either. Instead, it gravitates towards the straight superhero tale, and this is where the film falters the most, with an almost ridiculous plot point of David becoming less a cop and more a superhero.

At the end of the day, even though this one is full of potential, the story just didn’t work for me, and as such, I didn’t enjoy the screenplay by director David Galan Galindo and Fernando Navarro as much as I thought I would. The comedy is way too subdued, and the same can be said for the darker serial killer parts. The film starts off creepily enough but then pulls back. For a while, it looked like this one would have a WATCHMEN (2009) or KICK-ASS (2010) feel, but UNKNOWN ORIGINS is never as tight or as consistent as those movies.

And I thought the supehero stuff towards the end didn’t work at all. It’s supposed to be a homage to superheroes, particularly Batman, but it just didn’t work. The number one reason is I didn’t believe any of it, which goes back to the writing. Jorge is a believable character, and his character remains consistent. However, David hates superheroes, and so to believe he undergoes a transformation where he actually agrees to become a supehero, that just didn’t work for me.

And sadly, the poorest written character is the female lead, Norma. She’s the least believable character in the movie, and her romance with David is one of the most forced and least believable screen romances I’ve seen in a while.

Also, the twist here, where we learn the killer’s secret identity, is the same exact one I saw last week in the serial killer film THE SILENCING (2020).

Director David Galan Galindo scores highest when working darkest, but unfortunately, this only occurs in the film’s early moments which are actually quite creepy. The bulk of the movie is about superheroes and their need to exist, and that part to me never won me over.

And the comedy never really takes off either, which is too bad because the two main characters do share some chemistry. David has a Clint Eastwood vibe about him, and there’s a lot of Zach Galifianakis in Brays Efe’s portrayal of Jorge. So, imagine a buddy cop movie starring a young Clint Eastwood and Zach Galifianakis and you get the idea, and for parts of this movie, this chemistry really works, but it never becomes a dominant part of the tale.

I enjoyed both Bray Efe’s and Javier Rey’s performances, Efe in particular. And while I said Rey’s performance reminded me of a young Clint Eastwood, he’s also dressed like Chris Noth used to be on the classic TV show LAW AND ORDER. In fact, there’s a line in the film where Norma chastizes him for dressing like a 90s TV cop.

Speaking of Norma, while Veronica Echegui delivers a spirited performance, the role was my least favorite in the film, mostly because she was the least believable.

And Antonio Resines adds fine support as the not-so-retired cop Cosme.

UNKNOWN ORIGINS also suffers from two other major problems. It doesn’t have a strong hero, nor does it have a strong villain. Technically, David and Jorge are the heroes, but in the framework of the story, the hero is supposed to be the superhero which David becomes, and this doesn’t happen until the end of the movie. And by the way his superhero costume is rather lame. Likewise, the identity of the killer is not revealed until the end either, and so for the majority of the film he operates in the shadows.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, you might enjoy UNKNOWN ORIGINS. Its heart is in the right place, as it gets all the geeky references right and tries really hard to be a love letter to superheroes, but I found the tone and feel of this one to be all over the place and never consistent or believable enough to really win me over.

It tries hard, but at the end of the day, it’s just too superficial to become a major part of superhero movie lore.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

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

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

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

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

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROJECT POWER (2020) – Pill Popping Superhero Tale Mildly Diverting

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project power

A superhero movie where the superheroes need to pop a pill to get their superpowers? Hmm. Sounds like the quintessential American superhero story!

That’s the premise behind PROJECT POWER (2020), a new superhero movie now available on Netflix.

In New Orleans, there’s this new pill on the streets that’s all the rage. Pop it and it gives you a superpower. Of course, like any drug, it can be dangerous, so for some folks, when they take it, they—- blow up!  Yikes! 

Police detective Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is busy on the streets of New Orleans trying to track down the main supplier of these super pills. He befriends a young dealer named Robin (Dominique Fishback) who’s doing this to pay the medical bills for her sick mother. Robin supplies Frank with information here and there, but nothing major.

Frank’s investigation is further compounded by men in suits who continually show up and shut the door on the local police, frustrating both Frank and his superior, Captain Craine (Courtney B. Vance). But then Craine shares a tip with Frank, that the men in suits are looking for a man named Art (Jamie Foxx) who they believe is the main supplier, and so Frank decides to find him first.

And Art is on the streets, but he’s not the main supplier. He is actually searching for his daughter, who was kidnapped by these strange scientist folks who are using her “special” DNA as part of their experiments developing this drug. On his search, Art crosses paths with Robin, and with Frank closing in, these three characters eventually come together  setting up the main confrontation with the film’s baddies.

PROJECT POWER has its moments, but not enough of them to lift this one to superior super hero status. The best part of this one is its cast.

Jamie Foxx is excellent as Art, the former soldier who’s out to take down the superpill cartel in order to rescue his daughter. He gets some good lines, has deadly charisma throughout, and looks believable taking down all the bad guys.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is equally as good as Frank, the cop who’s trying to do right by his city. Like Foxx, Gordon-Levitt gets a lot of good lines and also looks believable in the action scenes.

And Dominque Fishback shines as Robin in a very spirited performance.

All three of these performers deliver the goods and create some likeable characters, so even when the story isn’t firing on all cylinders, at the very least you get to enjoy these folks on screen.

The screenplay by Mattson Tomlin is okay. It’s really nothing we haven’t seen before. The super pill stuff is actually a bit confusing. On the one hand, characters speak of how it enhances the powers already inside the individuals taking it, but in the next breath, we see the scientists experimenting with animal and human DNA. Which one is it?

And like a lot of superhero movies, PROJECT POWER suffers from a lack of a villain. There isn’t one main bad guy here, and the few who appear in this film are sadly lacking in both villainous vision and charisma.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have this one looking good. It’s all slick and polished, but the action sequences rarely wow, and the fight scenes while commendable don’t really stand out.

PROJECT POWER is a mixed bag. I enjoyed the actors in this one immensely, and thought they created some very likable characters, but the story here never really takes off, nor do the action scenes do much to lift this one.

It doesn’t really compare to the films in the Marvel cinematic universe, although it is better than some of the awful DC films which have come out in the past few years. It also just doesn’t really have the feel of a superhero movie. It plays more like a police action/ science fiction tale.

At the end of the day, PROJECT POWER proves to be a mild diversion for those of us waiting for the day when theaters reopen and the major superhero releases return to the big screen.

—END—

 

 

 

THE OLD GUARD (2020) – Charlize Theron Action Fantasy is Old Hat

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old guard

In THE OLD GUARD (2020), you have Charlize Theron playing the leader of a small band of immortal mercenaries who travel the world in search of missions to do good for humankind.

Sounds pretty cool, right?

I thought so. But sadly it sounds better than it actually is. Yes, even though THE OLD GUARD is getting positive word of mouth and decent critical reviews, I was a bit underwhelmed. Maybe my expectations were too high?

Nah!

Andy (Charlize Theron) has been fighting the good fight for centuries. Yup, she’s an immortal warrior who has been saving the day forever. Literally. Yet, she feels increasingly frustrated because in the here and now the world is worse than ever, and she feels that in spite of all her efforts through the years she has not made a difference.

Presently, she leads a small group of fellow immortals which include Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari),  and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). When they are hired by an ex-CIA operative named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue a group of abducted children in Sudan, they are ambushed, and they discover that Copley had set them up, as evidently he has another agenda, and it has to do with a villain named Merrick (Harry Melling) who is very much interested in learning the secret of this group of heroes’ immortality.

Around the same time, a young U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, Nile (Kiki Layne) is killed, only to come back to life, and the group realizes a new member has emerged, so in addition to fighting Copley and Merrick, they have to find and recruit young Nile, who is not in the least interested in joining this group of heroes.

Oh, and by the way, we also learn that these heroes aren’t really immortal. Come again? See, they just have very long life spans. They can still die. Eventually. They just never know when.

How terribly— inconvenient.

I was excited to watch THE OLD GUARD, mostly because of the presence of Charlize Theron, whose work I enjoy a lot, and also because I thought the film had a very cool premise.

Now, Theron is as good as expected. She’s excellent as Andy, although I didn’t find the role all that interesting. For example, early on she laments that she simply hasn’t made a difference, that the world is worse than ever, yet this angst never becomes a driving force in her personality. And while her choreographed fight scenes are very good, they’re not great. Her action scenes in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) were superior.

But the film’s premise I thought was lacking, and it wasn’t as innovative and exciting as I expected it would be. It’s a rather blah screenplay by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the graphic novel series on which this movie is based. The dialogue is pretty standard and doesn’t rise to the level of an electrifying superhero movie.

The plot also has issues. Their mission isn’t terribly exciting, mostly because it’s not really a mission! When the film opens, and they are sent to rescue abducted children, that mission had promise, but it turns out that was only a set-up. For the rest of the movie, they are only doing two things. One, seeking out Copley and Merrick, and this is only for their own self-preservation, and two, recruiting and training Nile.

Yawn.

It’s a classic example of a film that was made to spawn a series, with the set up for the next film being  now that we’ve assembled this group of heroes let’s send them on an exciting adventure in the next movie! Why not just do that in this movie??? What a terrible waste of time. This happens a lot in these types of movies. SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) was another example.

Merrick is also a pretty ineffective villain. He doesn’t have much of an agenda, and he has zero screen presence.

Actually, none of the characters in this one are all that interesting. It’s a rather dull band of immortal heroes.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood does an okay job. The action sequences are decent but not outstanding. The pacing of the film is also rather slow. The film runs just over two hours and it felt like it.

THE OLD GUARD is a Netflix original, but it is nowhere near as good as a previous Netflix original action movie, EXTRACTION (2020), which had some of the best and most intense action sequences in any movie I’ve seen this year.

The cast didn’t really wow me. Chiwetel Ejiofor, however, does add fine support as Copley, and the character undergoes a transformation in the film which sets him up as a key player in the sequels, and I do believe Netflix is planning to make more of these movies.

And while there are some decent scenes in this one— a sequence on a plane is one of the better ones in the movie, for example— there’s simply not enough of them to lift this flick to the upper echelon of superhero action movies.

It’s also rated R, yet I hardly noticed. I don’t think it earned its rating all that well.

THE OLD GUARD is a film filled with promise. With Charlize Theron leading the way, this group of heroes should be one worth watching and rooting for. Sadly, for most of this film, due largely to a standard and rather unimaginative screenplay, that’s not the case.

Since there is a second film in the works, it looks like we’ll just have to wait for the sequel.

And that’s because THE OLD GUARD is all rather old hat.

—END—

 

 

BECKY (2020) – Violent Thriller About Vengeful Thirteen Year-Old Has Its Moments But Strains Credibility

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becky

If you’re a parent of a middle school girl, or even a teacher of one, you know that generally speaking they can be moody, unpredictable, and often difficult. They can also be a handful.

Which is exactly what some dangerous escaped convicts find out when they commandeer a summer cabin, torture the occupants for information, and find one very angry thirteen year-old girl standing in their way in the new thriller BECKY (2020), a film which reveals what a lot of us already know: even hardened murderous criminals are no match for a spited thirteen year-old!

BECKY opens with parallel stories unfolding at the same time. We see Becky (Lulu Wilson) picked up from school by her dad Jeff (Joel McHale) at the same time we witness Dominick (Kevin James) escape from prison. Becky has been having a very difficult year, as her mother has passed away, and she is not handling it well. To make matters worse, Jeff has brought her to a cabin which holds special memories for her regarding her mom, and he has also invited his new girlfriend Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her young son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe) to spend the weekend with them. And if that’s not enough, Jeff informs Becky that he plans to marry Kayla.

Ouch! Way to alienate your teenage daughter, Dad!

Meanwhile, Dominick and his fellow escaped convicts, including the giant Apex (Robert Maillet) make their way to the cabin— no, not to find refuge from the police, but because for some reason which the movie never makes clear— Dominick had hidden a key there, a key to something he values so much he’s willing to kill for it. Just what that key is for is anyone’s guess because the movie never tells us! Some films can get away with leaving out vital information in a plot, while others cannot. BECKY falls into the latter category.

Anyway, when Dominick and his buddies arrive at the cabin, Becky is off in her private clubhouse in the woods pouting, so when Dominick discovers that the key is gone, and he  starts torturing folks to get them to tell him where it is, she’s saved from this ordeal. And when she returns to see her father tortured, it doesn’t sit well with her. Plus, as fate would have it, she does have the key that Dominick is looking for, and once Dominick learns this, he sends his crew into the woods to capture Becky and get it back.

Easy-peasy. Right? Wrong!

Becky turns out to be quite the handful. And then some!

There were parts about BECKY that I liked, and there were also a lot of parts that I didn’t like. The film definitely enters HOME ALONE territory in its latter half, with young Becky taking on brutal thugs she has no business beating up on, but with a mix of ingenuity and gumption, she does just that. It also helps her cause that these crooks aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. They’re actually kind of dumb, which is good for Becky, but bad for the movie. If these guys were really that deadly, Becky most likely wouldn’t have stood a chance. So as much as I enjoyed watching young Becky kick the living stuffing out of these thugs, it really strained credibility that she did so.

With big bright opening credits, the initial feel of this one was that it was going to be campy. It’s not. It may have been better had it gone the route of high camp. As it stands, it goes down another route entirely, that of a heavy R-rated horror movie with some really gory scenes. The good news is these scenes work. One scene in particular where Becky attacks Dominick by stabbing him in the eye is jolting and effective. Even better, and this is one of the few scenes which leaned toward campiness, when Dominick is writhing in pain, his eye dangling from his face, he begs one of his associates to cut it off, and the guy in a panic grabs a child’s safety scissors and tries using that, which only makes the situation worse.

The violence in BECKY is over the top and bloody. I have no problem with this. The problem I had is as the film goes along, it becomes less and less believable that Becky could be this successful.

One of the best parts about BECKY is Lulu Wilson’s performance in the lead role as Becky. Wilson has had plenty of practice. Wilson is only 15 years old, and yet she already has a solid resume of horror movie/TV shows appearances, as she has starred in the TV series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018-20), and the horror movies ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017), OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016), and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014). She gets to do a lot more here as Becky than in her previous films, as she turns the character into a force to be reckoned with, and when she utters the line “But I want to hurt you. I want to hurt you real bad!” it resonates.

Funny man Kevin James makes his dramatic debut here as Dominick, the killer convict with a swastika tatoo on the back of his head who’s obsessed with finding that all important key which will open— wait. That’s right. We don’t know what it opens. But whatever it is, Dominick sure is obssessed about it. I half expected him to utter, “My precious!” upon seeing it!

I’m not a Kevin James fan. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I haven’t enjoyed one single comedy I’ve seen him star in. He’s actually very good here as Dominick in BECKY. The only problem is, like the rest of the story, it just doesn’t seem believable that Becky would walk all over him the way she does. He proves to be a very ineffective villain.

The rest of the cast is fine. Retired wrestler Robert Maillet was fun to watch as Apex, the super powerful enormous convict with a conscience, as harming children takes its toll on him. His presence also begged the question: why does Dominick need a key anyway? Whatever it opens Apex could probably bust into it himself with his bare hands!

BECKY was directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. They handle the violent scenes well, and do a nice job setting up the characters and the setting, and it all makes for a rather entertaining movie with the exception of its latter half which becomes less believable.

The same can be said of the screenplay by Nick Morris, Ruckus Skye, and Lane Skye. Compelling thriller at first, but simply not enough effort towards the end to keep it credible. The convicts shouldn’t have been that clueless, and Becky should have had a much more difficult time overcoming these guys.

As it stands, BECKY is a competent thriller that is not as fun as it could have been, as it only dabbles with campy humor, and it tends to lean towards graphic horror, and as such, it is definitely not for the squeamish.

It does successfully capture the persona of an angry thirteen year-old girl, however, and so it can be forgiven somewhat for eventually wading into the waters of a HOME ALONE movie.

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THE RHYTHM SECTION (2020) – Blake Lively Actioner As Dull As Advertised

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the rhythm section

Sometimes I need to listen to the critics.

THE RHYTHM SECTION (2020), an action thriller starring Blake Lively, opened in theaters back in January to some pretty tepid reviews, but I like Blake Lively, and I enjoyed the film’s trailers, so while I missed it on its first run, I finally decided to catch up with it this weekend.

As I said, I should have listened to those critics. THE RHYTHM SECTION was actually worse than I expected it to be.

Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) is so distraught after her parents and brother are killed in a plane crash that she turns to a life of prostitution and drugs. But when a reporter approaches her with the news that the plane was blown up by a terrorist bomb, and that the news was covered up, and that he knows who was responsible, well, she cleans up her act and decides to train as an assassin to personally bring those responsible for the death of her family to justice. Of course. That’s what anyone would do. Right?

Hardly.

Anyway, Stephanie trains with former MI6 agent Iain Boyd (Jude Law) who tells her she doesn’t have what it takes—cue ROCKY music here— but she sets out to prove him wrong. And she does, and soon she’s travelling all over Europe to assassinite those nasty terrorists.

Okay, there are a lot of things wrong with this movie but the biggest one is the story.  The screenplay by Mark Burnell, based on his novel, just never becomes believable. Why Iain Boyd would ever give Stephanie the time of day is beyond me and never made any sense. Why not just train anyone to be an assassin? The story gives us no reason why Stephanie is particularly suited to become a hired killer, other than her drive to avenge the death of her family. Furthermore, the film puts zero effort into convincing us that Stephanie can become a cold-blooded murderer at the drop of a hat, and that she can morph into a super skilled fighter who would give Jason Bourne a run for his money.

Also, before this, it’s not clearly explained why the reporter seeks out Stephanie in the first place. Why does he reveal the story about the bomb to her? Does he plan to interview her? It’s never made clear what his purpose is, other than to serve as a plot device to have Stephanie learn that her family was murdered.

And since no one knows the true identity of the mastermind behind the bombing, it’s part of Stephanie’s “mission” to learn his identity, and so the film also suffers from not having a villain. There’s no one to root against. Stephanie keeps moving up the food chain with one hit after another, but the main terrorist is unknown until the end of the movie, and even that reveal is disappointing and anticlimactic.

Director Reed Morano doesn’t help matters. Right off the bat the film gets off to a muddled start. It opens in a confusing manner as we see Stephanie closing in on a kill, and then it jumps back in time to show Stephanie enjoying time with her family, but then this turns out to be a flashback within a flashback as suddenly we jump ahead to Stephanie as a prostitute. It all adds up to an opening that did not draw me in. Period.

The characters are also pretty blah. The biggest snooze, unbelievably, is the main character, Stephanie Patrick. I never warmed up to her or really liked her, nor did I ever believe later that she could do the things we saw her doing.

The action scenes are also unimpressive.  I expected this one to play out in similar fashion to ATOMIC BLONDE (2017), but the action scenes in that movie were much more stylized and better executed.  The fight scenes here often seemed slow, the choreography not that exciting.

The soundtrack also didn’t work for me, as the songs chosen to cover key scenes seemed out of place, and the film’s score by Steve Mazzaro was hardly noticeable at all. The one song that does work, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” performed by Sleigh Bells, which was featured heavily in the film’s trailers, doesn’t appear in the movie until just before the end credits. So much for that.

I usually like Blake Lively, but her performance here didn’t really work for me. I never believed that Stephanie became that assassin. Likewise, Jude Law was rather wooden as former MI6 agent and current assassin trainer Iain Boyd. And Sterling K. Brown, usually a very reliable actor, is also subdued here as a former CIA agent also involved in the mix, Mark Cerra. Brown knocked it out of the park as attorney Christopher Darden in the TV series AMERICAN CRIME STORY (2016), and he’s been similarly striking in other movies as well, but not so much here.

Also, there was simply no chemistry between Lively and Law, or between Lively and Brown. Their relationships with each other simply fell flat.

The film did take advantage of its many European locations, so much so at times it resembled a James Bond movie, which is no surprise, since it was produced by Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Incidentally, the rhythm section refers to Boyd’s advice to Stephanie to slow the rhythm of her body, to let her heartbeat be a drum, all in an effort to cool her nerves to make her a successful killer.

I think the filmmakers heeded this advice too literally. The film is slow and cold and really could have used an infusion of energy and oomph!

THE RHYTHM SECTION is an inferior action movie, with few compelling scenes, characters who never come to life, and a story that not only didn’t grab me but never came off as believable.

The only rhythm here was the tap, tap, tap, of my fingers on the arm rest of my chair as I waited for the end credits to roll.

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DA 5 BLOODS (2020) – Spike Lee’s Latest A Moving Discourse on Black Lives Matter Told Through A Story About Vietnam

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DA 5 BLOODS (2020), Spike Lee’s latest movie, and his first for Netflix, is must-see viewing, especially in light of current events.

It offers a history and an understanding of Black Lives Matter that argues that the plight of the African American male in the United States has been an issue since the country was first formed, and in spite of various movements to make changes, from the Civil War to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, things here in 2020 remain largely the same. And it does it with a story about Vietnam that is straightforward without being preachy. It makes its points without hitting you over the head with them.

DA 5 BLOODS is the story of four Vietnam vets, Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clark Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), who return to Vietnam in 2020 to both locate the remains of their fallen Squad Leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and to recover a stash of gold which they had found and buried in the jungle there.

The bulk of the movie is this present-day story, but the film also incorporates flashbacks to show us these five friends—da 5 Bloods— in action in Vietnam. Spike Lee does a couple of creative things with these flashbacks. He didn’t use younger actors or CGI affects to make the four main characters look younger. They appear in these scenes looking as old as they do now. Only Norman, played by Chadwick Boseman, appears young, which serves to accentuate that Norman’s life was cut short and he never got to grow old. I thought this was a bold decision on Lee’s part, as this is hardly ever done, especially with the available CGI technology. It’s a decision that really worked.

The other creative decision Lee made with the flashback sequences is he changes the screen format for them. The movie is in widescreen format, but when the flashbacks occur, the ratio changes and the picture is reduced in size. It’s another neat effect that works.

The screenplay by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee is full of intricacies and works on multiple levels. It hammers its point home that the plight of African Americans in the U.S. has been going on since day one— with references to George Washington owning slaves— and that it continues to this day.

And the main story of the four men returning to Vietnam is a good one, and would have worked well as a straightforward war drama. It’s a really good screenplay. It was originally written by Danny Wilson and Paul De Meo as a story about four white Vietnam veterans, and for a while Oliver Stone was attached to the project. It eventually made its way to Spike Lee, and he and writer Kevin Willmott rewrote the script and changed the story to be about black soldiers instead.

The other subplot is that these four friends have changed over the years, and throughout their journey back into Vietnam they struggle to get along because they have changed so much. Paul, played by Delroy Lindo, is the most interesting character of the four. He suffers from PTSD and is haunted by dreams of Norman, who he idolized. To make matters more complicated, Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) also joins the group, against his father’s wishes, but David is worried about his dad and wants to be there to keep an eye on him. Paul also feels guilty because he has never been able to love his son the way he wanted.

To the shock of his friends, Paul is also a Trump supporter, and even wears a MAGA hat! As he explains it, he is sick and tired of the system constantly walking over him and taking from him, and so he wants to blow it all up and vote for someone who hates the system like he does. Delroy Lindo is excellent in the role, and he delivers the best performance in the movie.

Clark Peters as Otis, Norm Lewis as Eddie, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Melvin are also very good, and each of their characters also have their own back stories. And Chadwick Boseman, who of course plays Black Panther in the Marvel movies, and also played Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013) is really good here in a limited role as Norman. He’s only in the flashback scenes, but he makes his presence known, and it’s clear why his friends admired him so much. The scene when they finally find his remains is one of the most emotional scenes in the movie.

Jean Reno also shows up as a shadowy French businessman Desroche who is also interested in the gold the men are searching for. Van Veronica Ngo enjoys some chilling scenes as Hanoi Hannah. And Melanie Thierry is very good as Hedy, a French expert on land mine diffusion who David meets in a bar and who later becomes an integral part of the storyline.

DA 5 BLOODS doesn’t skimp on the war violence either. There are some gruesome scenes, especially toward the end.

There are also plenty of emotional scenes and poignant ones, including the sequence where Otis visits an old girlfriend, and Paul and David’s father/son interactions.

There are all kinds of memorable exchanges, like when Paul calls his friends the N-word, and they take offense. There’s conversatons about drug abuse, alcohol, guns, and other hot button topics. The script even throws in an Easter Egg to one of Lee’s favorite movies, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE (1948), as one of the characters utters the film’s most famous line.

All in all, DA 5 BLOODS is one of Spike Lee’s best movies. I actually enjoyed it a bit more than his previous film, BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018), which was also an excellent movie and was a Best Picture Nominee. I thought DA 5 BLOODS was a more ambitious movie and a bit grander in scope. That being said, it’s a bit long, clocking in at two hours and thirty four minutes, and I thought it dragged somewhat during its second half.

But it’s still one of Lee’s best.

It convincingly defends Black Lives Matter and explains why this movement is so important, because nothing has changed for over two hundred years. And while the film offers a conclusion of hope borne from tragedy and violent bloodshed, it does so with one eye on the future that perhaps at long last this is indeed the moment of change people have been waiting for, but also with another eye firmly set on the past as a reminder that we’ve had these moments before and they haven’t changed a thing.

DA 5 BLOODS is a movie about friendship, bloodshed, and sacrifice. It travels between the 1960s and 2020 effortlessly, offering looks at two key volatile periods in the history of race relations, offering a vision that perhaps this time the change is permanent and real.

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THE DECLINE (2020) – Solid Thriller Speaks to Current Uncertain Times

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the decline

In order to live you have to survive.

That’s the mantra of Alain (Real Bosse), a survivalist and the main character in THE DECLINE (2020), a new thriller about a group of folks training at an expansive compound deep in the Canadian wilderness in order to prepare for the end of the world. All goes well until a mishap sends them reeling, and suddenly all their training falls by the wayside when the disaster they’d been preparing for unexpectedly happens within their ranks.

THE DECLINE opens with Antoine (Guillaume Laurin) training with his wife and daughter as they run drills and prepare food to last for years as they expect society as we know it to end in the not so distant future. They heed the advice of a survivalist guru named Alain as they watch his videos online. When Alain invites Antoine to join him at his compound, Antoine is happy to oblige.

Once there, Antoine meets a small group of other survivalists, all there to receive extensive training from Alain. For a while, life is good, as they are all satisfied with Alain’s training, but when an accident occurs claiming the life of one of their own, panic ensues over just how to deal with a death at the compound, a panic that immediately tests everything they had been preparing for.

THE DECLINE is a Netflix original movie, and the first Netflix Quebec collaboration. As such, it’s a French language production. Strangely, Netflix chose to dub the film in English, which detracts from the authenticity of the film. I would have preferred the original French language with English subtitles. But this is about the only thing about this one that I didn’t like.

THE DECLINE is a lean and mean movie, clocking in at a brief 83 minutes. The first half is compelling, while the second is increasingly violent and suspenseful.

Director Patrice Laliberte captures the sense of place with all encompassing shots of Alain’s massive compound deep in the frigid Canadian wilderness, surrounded by snowy hills and icy rivers. And during the second half of the movie, as the group splinters into two sides, the violence intensifies, and the climactic scuffle between two key characters is downright brutal.

Laliberte co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Dionne and Nicholas Krief, and it’s a smart one. The characters in this movie are not preparing for a zombie apocalypse or an otherwise cliche scenario. They are worried about the collapse of society, from either a pandemic, a worldwide economic collapse, or from global warming. Their fears, especially here in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, seem alarmingly real.

Their training really is about keeping it together when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, and being prepared so they can survive afterwards, which makes what happens in this movie all the more prescient. When an accident claims the life of one of their own, they panic, and they are unable to keep it together. While Alain begs them to do just that, keep it together and rely on their training, most of the folks there refuse, as human nature takes over. Sometimes human decency trumps survivalist training.

It’s an all Canadian cast, and they acquit themselves well. Real Bosse plays survivalist master Alain with a mix of traits. On the one hand, he’s all in with the deep survivalist mantra, sounding paranoid at times, but he mixes in enough softspoken common sense and caring that he frequently sounds like a pretty normal guy. But there’s also an undercurrent of unhingedness that keeps the audience unsettled. At the end of the day, though, Alain is simply a man who believes that one must be prepared for the inevitable collapse that is coming sooner than later.

Guillaume Laurin plays Antoine, the man who also intends to bring his family to the compound when the time is right. Antoine is the character who the audience will most indentify with, the family man, who cares for his wife and daughter, which is why he’s doing all this. Laurin is very good in the role.

Probably my favorite performance in the film belongs to Marie-Evelyne Lessard, who plays Rachel, a former soldier who left the military for reasons she doesn’t like to talk about. She’s the most bad-ass character in the movie, and as the story goes along, her role grows, and she’s involved in some of the best scenes in the film. Lessard is excellent here.

I really liked THE DECLINE. Its survivalist end-of-life-as-we-know-it theme has more relevance today than ever. I also enjoyed that it did not play like a Hollywood production. The script isn’t campy, it’s not full of one-liners, and it doesn’t attempt to be anything that it’s not. It’s simply a story about a group of survivalists who believe they are training for the inevitable, and when things go awry, the reactions of everyone involved are natural and real.

The violence, while not overly gratuitous, is brutal and realistic. The final fight scene in particular is a nail-biter.

THE DECLINE is a well-made thriller that has a down-to-earth no frills script and features solid acting throughout. It’s a film that speaks to the uncertain times in which we live, and provides an answer as to how people will react to adversity and tragedy whether they’re part of society or not.

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EXTRACTION (2020) – Netflix Original Best Action Movie In Years

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extraction

EXTRACTION (2020), a Netflix original action flick starring Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, premiered last week on the ubiquitous streaming service with a ton of hype and promotion. In fact, the film’s ads definitely had the feel of a theatrical release.

Does this actioner by a first time director known for his stunt work on the Marvel superhero movies live up to the advertising?

The answer is a resounding yes! Not only is EXTRACTION one of the best Netflix-made action movies yet— I enjoyed it much more than last year’s TRIPLE FRONTIER (2019), for example, but it’s also one of the best action movies I’ve seen in a while. Period.

It’s the best non-superhero action movie I’ve seen in years.

EXTRACTION takes place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where the most powerful drug lord of the land kidnaps the young son of a rival drug lord, who happens to be in prison. This rival drug lord tells his right hand man, Saju (Randeep Hooda) that if he doesn’t rescue his son, his own son will die. Saju knows he can’t do the job on his own, so hires a group of mercenaries to do the job for him, all the while knowing he can’t afford their price, and so from the  get-go he’s planning to double cross them.

The mercenaries are led on the ground by Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), a fearless soldier haunted by some personal demons from his past. Nevertheless, Tyler is very good at what he does. He’d give Rambo a run for his money. And he does successfully find the boy, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) but extracting him from Dhaka proves difficult, because the all-powerful drug lord Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli) shuts down the city, and since Saju has double-crossed the team, Tyler is surrounded on all sides with little hope of getting the boy out of Dhaka.

But Tyler has no intention of letting the boy die on his watch.

The best part about EXTRACTION are its action scenes. The action sequences here are second to none. These are hard-hitting violent R-rated fight scenes, and they are shot exceedingly well, including one very long sequence done in a single take, reminiscent of a similar sequence in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017).

The fact that these sequences are so expertly handled comes as no surprise since director Sam Hargrave worked as a stunt coordinator and second unit director on many of the Marvel superhero movies. His expertise is on full display here. It’s an exceptional directorial debut. The camera gets in close to the action, and things happen with such speed you really feel like you are right there in the middle of the combat with the actors.

Hargrave worked as Chris Evans’ stunt double in the CAPTAIN AMERICA and AVENGERS movies. He was the stunt coordinator on CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) and AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), as well as the aforementioned ATOMIC BLONDE. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He has 80 stunt credits going back to 2005. He was also the second unit director on ATOMIC BLONDE and AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

And these action sequences had better be good because the film is almost nonstop action. The first hour is an incredible fight-filled thrill ride. It’s relentless. Things slow down midway so the audience can catch its breath, before picking up again for an intense conclusion. Action fans will not be disappointed.

Nor will fans of good storytelling. The screenplay Joe Russo, based on the graphic novel “Ciudad”by Ande Parks, tells a riveting story that never lets up. Chris Hemsworth’s Tyler Rake is a likeable character, in spite of the bloody path he carves out, and his mission here, to rescue a young boy, even when his superiors tell him to cut his losses and leave the boy behind, is an admirable one. The dialogue is also first-rate.

It’s an excellent screenplay by Russo, who of course is known as a director, as he directed CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, and AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

So, yes there’s a big Marvel connection here, solidified even more with the presence of Chris Hemsworth in the lead role. It’s an outstanding performance by Hemsworth. I liked him here every bit as much as I’ve enjoyed watching him play Thor in the Marvel movies.

Randeep Hooda is also excellent as Saju, an ex-special forces soldier who finds himself having to double cross a team of deadly mercenaries pitting him against Rake and rival drug lords in order to protect his own son. The fight scenes between Hooda and Hemsworth are some of the best in the movie.  Had this movie been made back in the 1980s, you could easily imagine Schwarzenegger and Stallone in these roles.

Priyanshu Painyuli makes for a surprisingly suave drug lord Amir Asif, and Golshifteh Farahani stands out as the sexy yet ice-cold coordinator of Tyler’s team, Nik Khan.

And David Harbour who plays Police Chief Jim Hopper on STRANGER THINGS (2016-present) shows up midway through as an old friend who steps up to give Tyler and the boy safe— eh hem—harbor.

I really liked EXTRACTION. It’s one of the best action movies I’ve seen in years, with some of the most exhilarating action sequences ever put on film. It’s that good.

The only drawback is I wished I had seen this one on the big screen. In IMAX. It’s worthy of that kind of viewing.

With EXTRACTION, Sam Hargrave has put himself on the map as a premier action movie director, while Chris Hemsworth has solidified his standing as a truly bona fide action star.

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