Movie Reviews 2018

Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider (PG-13)
Alicia Vikander (from the breakout film Ex Machina) takes over the Lara Croft role originally played by Angelina Jolie in this 2018 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise.

We first see Lara kick-boxing for fun and working as a London bike messenger after walking away from her billionaire heritage after her father disappeared seven years ago. But through a bit of luck she is again intrigued with the project her father was working on when he vanished (assumed dead) and she decides to look for him on the secret island that led him away from their home.

So off to Hong Kong for a bit of adventure and then off by ship to the Devil’s Waters near a forgotten Japanese island that is shown on her father’s old maps. Unfortunately it’s not forgotten by everybody and Laura Croft has to run, swim, kick-box, climb and shoot her bow and arrow as she makes her way through the jungle covered island to literally save the world (like every other movie these days). I’ve never played the famous Tomb Raider computer game, but I’m sure it’s kind of like that. Overall, Lara’s success in this particular story seems more of luck than skill in scene after scene. But it’s thrilling nonetheless to see someone escape death again and again.

Jolie has more acting range and although certainly fit, Vikander lacks the physicality and muscle tone that Jolie displayed when showing acts of strength. But that’s hardly the strength of this film. Vikander looks like a model so the franchise will thrive with its core audience. In scenes that require her face to be clean and fresh they conveniently remove the bloody injury on the bridge of her nose. Never fear, the injury returns when it’s time for her to forge ahead with the mission. And I have to give Vikander credit, she sells pain quite well and shows it on a number of occasions.

The whole idea of “killing the head of a snake” came to mind a lot when watching this movie. There were far too many times when the vicious leader of the villains could have easily been taken out. Problem solved. None of his bad-tempered employees would have continued on without him. But our heroes don’t think of that so instead we get a number of Raiders of the Lost Arc like scenes that will keep you entertained.

For die hard fans of the genre, a theater will be fun. But it will make a great rental.
- Wait for Rental
Death Wish
Death Wish (R)
Bruce Willis takes over the role in the latest version of Death Wish, here directed by Eli Roth, the writer/director of the Hostel films.

Roth dials it down for this pretty straightforward story using the same tone as the Charles Bronson originals. Elisabeth Shue (remember her?) plays the pretty wife who is brutally assaulted along with their pretty daughter. We watch ugly thugs do it. The good guys/bad guys are clearly defined which is always necessary in a vigilante movie. Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Hollywood stereotype of believing a valet driver would also be involved in home robbery, home invasion, rape, and murder is always a stretch. Like most of the jobs we all have, bad guys have specialties too. And all that over a tiny safe of unknown stuff? A few thousand dollars worth of loot? C’mon man!

The one section the story nailed was the wife struggling to open her home combination safe. Anyone who’s ever operated a professional safe knows the precision it takes to open it on the first try. And that’s without a gun to your head. It’s not at all like a Master lock on your bicycle or school locker. Very realistic scene.

Unlike the earlier Bronson film, director Eli Roth spends a lot of time showing the bond between the family members. So much time you start to wonder if there will be enough time for the revenge action sequences since the movie is only 1h 48m.

No need to worry. The methodical march to mayhem is well paced and the retribution is satisfying in a movie kind of way. Sure it’s unlikely a surgeon would be able to hide deep hand injuries from his staff and the police seem a bit Keystone at times. But in Chicago where the shootings are endless (3,457 shooting victims in 2017 with 650 deaths) the police have to be getting pretty numb to the whole thing.

The film was not screened for critics before release which led most to believe it would be another Bruce Willis stinker. If you liked the original Death Wish movies, this one is on that same level.
- See it on the Big Screen
Red Sparrow
Red Sparrow (R)
Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a star Russian ballerina that suffers a horrible accident on stage that leads her to an abrupt bleak future in Moscow. Her mother is sick and needs constant care. Going from one of the “haves” to the “have nots” is an especially brutal fall in Russia.

With the knowledge that her mother will not only lose her medical coverage, but they soon won’t have a roof over their heads, Dominika takes an offer she can’t really refuse from her uncle who happens to work for a dark Russian agency. So off she goes to becomes a beautiful Red Sparrow, or Russian agent who uses their body as a weapon.

Lots of dark training going on here and even though Jennifer Lawrence is the lead, you’ll be shocked at the nudity and sexual content. The violence is graphically brutal as well. It’s likely the hardest “R” movie you’ve seen in a year or two.

Joel Edgerton plays the overseas CIA agent with a conscience and Jeremy Irons plays a hard core Russian spy. It’s a complicated spy VS. spy like we’ve seen many times, but this version has seriously great dialog and solid acting that is so good that many long scenes have no accompanying musical score whatsoever. It’s rare that a director doesn’t lean hard on a score to move the audience along, especially for a movie with a 2h 20m runtime. Here he doesn’t have to. Give credit to Lawrence. This movie should silence the critics that have questioned her acting abilities or box office staying power.

If spy thrillers are your thing, you won’t know where this story is headed, but you’ll be thoroughly mesmerized throughout.
- See it on the Big Screen
Den of Thieves
Den of Thieves (R)
Gerard Butler and 50 Cent star in a bad cop gang VS. bad master thief gang in Den of Thieves. You would be forgiven for thinking this is a derivative of the 1995 movie Heat that starred Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer. Even the helicopter shots with the electronic mood music seem to bring back memories of that film.

Still, it’s a totally different script even though the wild implausibility is the same.

We watch as the L.A. Sheriff’s Major Crimes team (run by Butler) tries to surveil and outwit the crafty X-Military, X-Con professional thieves. The movie starts by telling the audience that Los Angeles is “The bank robbery capital of the world.” A robbery every 48 minutes.

Yeah, back in the 90’s that was true. But bank heists are way down in Los Angeles. Sometimes numbering only 200 a year. So as with most films trying to convince you what you are about to see is based on something real, don’t fall for it. In fact, the film is ludicrously far-fetched. And that doesn’t even include real life tiny details like guns are REALLY LOUD. Automatic weapons even more so. Bombs detonated inside a building will leave you hard of hearing for a week, if not deaf.

Yet causal conversation goes on as if only the viewer in the theater herd anything. There is one scene in a Japanese restaurant that makes no sense on any level whatsoever. It’s simply a lazy Hollywood writer trying to shoehorn a scene bridge that we didn’t need anyway.

But that’s not to say this isn’t a grand shoot-em-up! It’s wall to wall action and and a lot of pent up aggression is on display. The American cops torture suspects in the same way it’s done in Paraguay. Why Americans have become numb to scenes like this (Hawaii Five-0 anyone?) is anyone’s guess. I hope to never run into one of these dirty cops in my town. And if you casually throw around the “N” word multiple times in major motion picture like this, don’t expect that word to be buried any time soon. Huckleberry Finn has been snatched from the school library shelves and then Hollywood releases a mainstream blockbuster freely using the word in modern conversation. The world is on its head.

But if you’re really jonesing for a film about the planning of a Mission Impossible type of bank heist as the dirty cops try to prevent it, with lots and lots of automatic weapon fire, you won’t want to miss this one.
- Wait for Rental
Shape of Water
The Shape of Water (R)
Director Guillermo del Toro has never shied away from wacky projects (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Cronos). And this film is no different. Part 1960 skunk works cold war period piece, part Fred Astaire era musical production with a bit of (tasteful? YMMV) bestiality tossed in, it’s probably not for everyone.

For those still interested, there is a lot to like here. The acting is surprisingly strong with Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer giving especially great performances.

Without giving too much away, we find ourselves in a Manhattan Project style research facility where a strange creature is being held. With both the U.S. and Soviets very interested in the creature and its possible special properties, there’s a bit of cloak and dagger at play. But as with the real Manhattan Project, every facility needs cleaning crews. In the case of the real Manhattan Project, every cleaner was illiterate so the chances of a leak were minimized.

No such rules at this center, other than Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning lady (played by Sally Hawkins). But she’s anything but dumb and she soon finds herself falling for the tortured, captive creature. Michael Shannon excels as the cold hearted overseer of the project.

Guillermo del Toro tries too hard to toss in all the topics of the day into the mix, like too many strong ingredients in the soup. Educated VS idiots, lame handicapped folks, men VS. women, black oppression, gay oppression, references to Israeli terrorist Ani Popper (Popper Device) and Sampson’s eventual victory over the Philistines. Read into it what you will. But ignore the sprinkles of “messages” throughout the film and you basically have a very hard “R” rated Beauty and the Beast film.
- Wait for Rental
Maze Runner
Maze Runner: The Death Cure (PG-13)
The Maze Runner franchise has certainly struggled over the years. Either you find this theme entertaining or you don’t. For those that sat through the earlier titles and enjoyed them, this last entry will make it all worth it.

The same relatively unknown cast of characters (only their moms would disagree) returns to get the entire team to freedom. No one ever wants to “leave anyone behind” - over and over and over which makes this two-hour film feel longer than that, but there’s wall to wall action to keep you engaged.

The implausibility knob is turned up way too far, more so than even the earlier films. But as a thrill ride movie it’s certainly no worse than the Fast & Furious genre that rakes in the millions. And this finale pulls no punches. Unlike the Marvel films where the stars have to live for a sequel, not all of the Maze Runner stars will live.

If you are familiar with the Maze Runner saga and are into it, this is worth a theater trip. Otherwise you’ll probably wonder what all the fuss is about.
- See it on the Big Screen
The Commuter (PG-13)
Liam Neeson is back at it again, this time put into the position of saving people on a train against his will. Sounds odd, but that’s in essence the case here.

After just losing his job after ten loyal years of insurance sales in NYC, he boards his daily train for the ride home to tell his wife and son the bad news. It’s on the train that he’s confronted by a well dressed woman (Vera Farmiga) who gives him the news that he has a choice to make.

Turns out the choice is to do what she says, or his family will die.

As everyone knows, Liam is effective in this typecast role he has forged for himself. It’s no different here. Turns out that just before he became an insurance broker he was a NYC cop. Obviously, as the woman points out, that previous job gives him special skills, which has become Liam’s, “I’ll be back” mantra. Whoever that Hollywood writer was that penned that "very particular set of skills" line for Liam’s previous winners, Liam owes that guy a beer - or a house.

If you like any of his previous films (like Taken) you’ll enjoy this wild ride on the train. It’s not believable for a minute, but as a Hollywood action release it works.
- See it on the Big Screen
Insidious: The Last Key (R)
The Trailer showed promise.

I didn’t see any of the previous Insidious movies so hardcore fans might give this movie a pass for just being a part of a bigger thing. But as a one-off, it’s a letdown as a horror flick.

After a bit of backstory, we see the grown-up version of a woman after flashbacks of her childhood where she “saw things” and was subsequently beaten by her sadistic father who was tired of her seeing things.

Now she’s a ghost hunter for hire and ends up back at her childhood home where all the drama began.

The biggest mistake of the story is her tag along sidekicks. Like something straight out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon, these two guys are too goofy for any comedy/scary movie filmed after 1957. Is this supposed to be a (terrible) comedy or a horror flick? The director never really seems sure so it comes out as a terrible horror flick.

Other than a couple jump scares, there’s nothing to see here, so move along . . .
- Avoid!
Day of the Dead 2018
Day of the Dead: Bloodline (R)
I’ve seen every one of the Night/Dawn/Day of the Dead films over the decades and loved most of them. It’s either your genre or not. Some are certainly better than others. Any time you get to run amok in an abandoned shopping mall after the world ends, you’re bound to have a pretty good time, which makes those particular earlier Dead survival films even more entertaining.

This film has none of that. It starts with a cheap looking, mostly abandoned hospital set and moves on to a low budget bunker for the bulk of the film. With the acting B level at best and no one on screen with a lick of sense from start to finish, this latest take on the theme is among the least enjoyable of the group.

But one thing is for sure . . . they’ll keep making more of these Dead movies. And it can only get better from here.
- Avoid!