Movie Reviews 2018

Revenge1
Revenge (R)
Here’s a female retribution film that looks like it was made in the 90’s when films like this were all over the Blockbuster Video shelves. I Spit on Your Grave was always regarded as the gnarliest of the genre. This is by no means in that raunchy realm and since this French film (in English) was written and directed by a French woman, there is a bit of leniency given here. Still, the killing is hard-core.

This well shot film starts out with a helicopter flying over a beautiful, remote, colorful desert landscape (Nevada? Arizona? The credits were of no help) and landing in front of an exotic home in the middle of nowhere. A beautiful model steps off the helicopter wearing large, cute pink star earrings followed by her GQ millionaire boyfriend - who has a naïve wife at home. The model (played by Matilda Lutz) dons those earrings throughout as if welded on. The way the camera is enamored with those earrings, I expect they are the director’s favorite pair.
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The next morning a couple of the GQ’s hunting buddies show up earlier than expected, armed to the teeth to do some illegal sport hunting. The girlfriend (still wearing those earrings regardless of the slinky swimsuit changes she makes) was not supposed to see that side of the trip.

For the rest of the day and night, the sole woman on the trip dresses up like a call girl (same earrings) and teases the brash newcomers like a bachelor party stripper. Everyone can see where this is headed, except the pretty girl in the middle of the deserted desert, in the pink star earrings, surrounded by gun toting lawbreakers. Think, biker gang sans the Harleys.

The next morning the model comes out to the pool (same earrings) and the trouble slowly brews. The rape scene is handled the best way it could be in the hands of a French woman behind the camera. The hard R rating is due to the overt bloody violence of the film, not the sexual content or off-camera rape scene.

At times it’s more comic book than Road Warrior. If you find yourself impaled through the midsection on a sharp dead tree trunk from a high fall, no amount of self administered first aid will keep you from bleeding out within minutes of removing the trunk from your stomach. Cauterizing the front and back of a soda can-sized hole does nothing for the internal bleeding and damage that was done. As far as getting up and walking? A lot of muscles in the stomach and back region. Even with hospitalization it would require months to get back on your feet. Schwarzenegger couldn’t pull this off. Not even Helen Reddy would try.

But here she heals as fast as a sexy species from another planet, and becomes the equivalent of Rambo, if Rambo was a skinny model wearing a sports bra, the skimpiest shorts on the rack, and cute, oversized pink star earrings. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.®

If you’ve seen more than three other cheap-thrills retribution movies in your life, and enjoyed them, this will likely fulfill your expectations. It could have been campy, but it’s not. It’s played straight. And in this one you get to see that visceral kill spree done by a dirty, angry chick wearing large, cute pink star earrings.
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I am woman, hear me roar, dammit!
- Wait for Rental
Deadpool2
Deadpool 2 (R)
For the last time, a cigarette doesn’t burn hot enough to set any flamable gas on fire.

There, now that that’s out of the way.

Ryan Reynolds is back as Deadpool in another irreverent superhero movie where he skewers not only villains but music, Hollywood and basically anything else topical or from the past. Nothing is safe.

In this episode, Deadpool has to save a mutant boy who has flamethrower hands in order to rejoin his wife in heaven while racking up the body count numbers as high as theatrically possible. There it is. Now off to the theater you go.

There are more “team” members in this one, so if you liked the first Deadpool movie, there is no reason to think you won’t like this one as much or better. The most clever part of this film may be the discussion of whether or not Luck can be a superpower. The answer is both funny and surprising.

Keep your eyes peeled on the opening credits as they are not only the most succinct credits you’ll likely ever see (or until the next Deadpool movie) but they are also amusingly worthless. It’s actually surprising Hollywood allowed these opening credits. Early Hollywood films only had credits at the end, but you’d think there’s surely a reason why we always have to sit through opening credits in modern movies. Perhaps this movie proves there really isn’t a valid reason.
- See it on the Big Screen
Quiet Place
A Quiet Place (PG-13)
We start with a scene where a family tries to be as quiet as possible as they scavenge for food and medicine in a local store. Turns out aliens have taken over the world and all the noisy humans have already been eaten. These powerful creatures hunt any living thing that makes a sound. They are otherwise blind and have no sense of smell.

So the secret to survival is to remain quiet at all times. 24/7. The reason this film is tense is because this unfortunate family has three young kids, one of whom is deaf. Great. A kid that doesn’t know when she makes noise. That’ll be fun. Talk about a handicap, for the whole family! All they needed now was a friend with asthma and an uncle with smoker’s cough and their lives would be complete.

Anyone whose seen any parenting around them today knows these kids are going to make a lot of noise and keep everyone in jeopardy throughout the film. And then there’s the added bonus of a newborn on the way. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that babies cry.

The term gluttons for punishment comes to mind.

The movie is not really that scary. No one in the sold-out theater screamed once. It’s tense because - you know - those damned kids. Kids are dumb and noisy, which is especially frustrating when there are monsters everywhere that quickly kill and eat noisemakers. Thus the plot. No way this family with their current events lax parenting skills outlasted the neighbors. Maybe today’s parents who would rather be eaten alive than discipline their kids will have a soft spot for it. I found it silly.

It’ll make a good rental.
- Wait for Rental
Player One
Ready Player One (PG-13)
The usual United Nations line-up of kids set out to save the . . . no, not The World. Here they set their sights much, much lower. They set out to save the online gaming industry from a company they don’t like. So there’s really not much at stake here, but with Steven Spielberg directing the movie you know it will be a thrill ride nonetheless.

Oasis is the online VR world that has become all the rage. It’s basically the future version of surfing the net. When the founder dies, his prerecorded message tells the world that whoever is able to solve the game and find his three hidden Easter Eggs will then own the company, it’s fortunes, and run the Oasis platform going forward. So I suppose the presumption is that if you kick-butt at video games then surely running a multi-billion dollar company would also be your strength.

But the core antagonist here is the competing “other” ornery company that has its sights set on finding those Easter Eggs first and and taking over Oasis. Oh, the dread!

Not being a hardcore gamer, nor in the target audience age group (under 30 for sure) I have to admit the Oasis platform would be enticing if real. It’s not a new concept but Spielberg does a good job of showing us how it might look and feel. They also sell this movie as a nod to 80’s pop culture with sprinkles of trivia music and images. Don’t go to the theater expecting to get much out of that dangled carrot. Seemed more of a forced afterthought to me (just like the rushed, after-shoot, 3D retouched version of this movie they are pimping to suckers).

The movie is overly long at 1hr 40min but the ending has the usual Spielberg flavor. Which, even if you’re over 30 . . . isn’t so bad, right?
- Wait for Rental
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.
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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 heard 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.
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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) return 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
Commuter
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
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!