Category Archives: Movies

At The Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Well, that was better than I was expecting. Although, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. And I’m not saying it’s a great film, but it’s better than the last one, which admittedly isn’t saying much. I can’t imagine it being any worse than “Baywatch,” which is your alternative holiday weekend movie release.

I guess what I’m trying to say is “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is kinda fun, pretty silly, too long, and nicely brings the story back around to its original characters and ties things up in a nice bow. It even gives an origin story of sorts for its lead character. If it were the end of the series, it would be a nice way to go out. So lets all hope it bombs at the box office so they don’t ruin things by making another one.

potc_dmtnt_poster_by_jackiemonster12-db3wuivHenry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), young son of Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) — the star-crossed lovers of the original trilogy — is looking for a way to break the curse that keeps his father trapped aboard the Flying Dutchman. According to legend, the answer is the trident of Poseidon, mythical god of the sea.

The key to finding the trident lies, of course, with that rum-loving pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

Now this can’t be a simple team-up and find the trident story, that’s not enough plot for a PotC movie. So enter Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead sea captain who steers a massive ghost ship and has a grudge against Sparrow. He wants revenge for past wrongs and will destroy every vessel in the ocean to get at Jack.

Then there’s Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer (often mistaken for a witch) with a secret past who is also looking for the trident. And you can’t have a PotC movie without Jack’s rival, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who gets dragged into the story because Salazar is crippling his ships looking for Sparrow. And, of course, he wouldn’t mind having the trident for his own purposes.

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” shares all the pluses and minuses familiar to all the movies in the franchise. On the plus side, the special effects are impressive, the cast in engaging, and the action sequences are thrilling. On the minus side, the movie goes on too long, the action sequences go on way too long, the story is convoluted, and Jack just isn’t as charming as he used to be.

Still, it was good of them to bring back Will and  Elizabeth, even if only briefly, and resolve their story and wrap up others — at least until things get all upended for the next one.



At The Movies: Alien: Covenant

The good news is that “Alien: Covenant” isn’t the ambitious-but-muddled mess that its predecessor, “Prometheus,” was. It’s a tighter, much more straightforward, horror film.

The bad news is, well, it’s hard to be that scared by something you’ve seen played out six times now since 1979 (more if you count “Alien/Predator” movies). “Covenant” is basically a greatest hits of the “Alien” franchise. And just like any greatest hits album — you’ve heard it all before.

IMG_20170323_0950491The year is 2104 and a huge colony ship is bound for a distant planet. When the ship receives a very human transmission coming from an uncharted planet, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate. After all, if this unknown world is habitable, they can shave nine years off their trip.

As you might imagine, there’s something ugly, violent and voracious on the planet’s surface. Also on the planet is David (Michael Fassbender), the android who was last seen heading for the planet of the engineers at the end of “Prometheus.”

Director Ridley Scott is once again at the helm of this second in a series of prequels to his groundbreaking “Alien” film. While he shows that he still knows how to deliver a taut, horrifying tale, he first broke that ground almost 40 years ago and doesn’t seem to have anywhere new to go.

These last two films have had a few interesting ideas but they all get shoved aside for more face-hugging, chest-exploding gore. I’m much more interested in the giant albinos but they never get to do anything and the meeting between humans and their possible creators goes nowhere.

I mean, am I supposed to be on the edge of my seat when some idiot sticks his head over a freshly opened alien pod? Do you expect me to still be shocked when someone starts convulsing shortly after an alien encounter?

And even though the actors change, the roles remain the same. This time around Katherine Waterston gets to be the indomitable woman who isn’t in charge but takes charge and drives the narrative. Danny McBride plays the down-to-earth guy who gives the film its small bit of comic relief.

And in a dual role, Fassbender gets to play both the evil synthetic (formerly known as Ash) and the good one (formerly known as Bishop). Which one will win out? Well, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right, and either way will you really be surprised?

“Alien: Covenant” is a better film than its predecessor and the later films in the original run, but it doesn’t have the freshness or spark of the original and James Cameron’s sequel. The special effects are impressive, the actors are solid and the action sequences are thrilling. It’s the same old, same old, but very expertly done.




At The Movies: King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

I can’t say I was all that excited about sitting through another retelling of the King Arthur story. I was never a big fan of Art to begin with and Monty Python made the only truly great movie on the subject and it was, you know, a farce.

But this version was going to be by Guy Ritchie, and he’s usually reliable, plus the only other option was an Amy Schumer movie, and I like her even less than King Arthur, so what can you do?

arthur111“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” opens with a fairly spectacular battle scene involving giant elephants. King Uther (Eric Bana) is at war with the evil magician Mordred, who is quickly put down thanks to the magic sword Excalibur. But there’s not much time for celebrating as the king is quickly betrayed and murdered by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Uther’s son escapes and grows up hard and smart on the mean streets of Londinium.

Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has a decent life in Londinium until King Vortigern’s men arrive to round up all the men Arthur’s age to see if any of them can pull a particular sword out of a stone. Yes, Excalibur once again got stuck in a rock after the former king’s death. Vortigern knows the true king’s heir is out there somewhere and wants to find him and deal with him.

Once the young man’s heritage is revealed, Arthur is forced to lead a revolution that he wants no part of. Among those helping him along the way are Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and an unnamed Merlin substitute (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).

I rather enjoyed “King Arthur: Etc., etc. etc.” as I was watching it, although it did seem to run long even though it was your standard 2-hour film. But the more distance I put between it, the more dumb and common it seemed. There are elements of director Ritchie’s trademark flash and clever dialogue, but not enough. The cast is fine and the effects are impressive and there’s plenty of gorgeous scenery.

It’s an OK movie and fun in the moment, but it’s lacking something — magic, maybe?




At The Movies: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Many people — myself included — assumed that “Guardians of the Galaxy” would be Marvel Studios’ first big bomb.

After all, the comic book was never that popular. On top of that, they were using the team’s most offbeat lineup for the movie. Who’s going to buy into a film starring a sarcastic raccoon and a talking tree?

And yet, director James Gunn found the winning formula with a mix of humor, action, special effects and characters that you cared about — even if they were a raccoon and a tree. Oh, and set it all to an infectious classic rock soundtrack. “Guardians of the Galaxy” became a shining jewel in Marvel’s already impressive crown.

Now, Starlord and crew are back with more of the same. And that’s a very, very good thing.

9309ee7890499a5b4d7d825f02dbe80eThe action starts with the Guardians — Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) — trying to stop a huge monster from stealing batteries owned by the gold-skinned, imperious Sovereigns. They complete the contract but are soon being pursued across the galaxy by the Sovereigns because Rocket has stolen the batteries. Because, you know, Rocket.

The team’s ship crashes on a planet where they are met by the powerful Ego (Kurt Russell) and his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff).  Ego reveals that he is Peter’s father and takes Peter, Drax and Gamorra to his home planet. Rocket and Groot stay behind to fix the ship and babysit their prisoner, Gamorra’s troublesome sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).

While Peter is trying to connect with his father, the man who actually raised Quill — Yondu (Michael Rooker) — is trying to reconnect with his old buddy in the Ravagers, Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone). Stakar rejects Yondu, and things only get worse for him when his crew decide to mutiny.

Yondu winds up teaming up with Rocket and they race to Ego’s home world so all the players will be in place for the big finale.

“GOTG Vol. 2” is just as charming and witty and visually intriguing as the original.  Gunn maintains the right balance of humor and action, delivers some nifty special effects and still finds room for heart and humanity with his very eclectic and not very human cast. Music continues to play a major role in the series and Vol. 2 features another quality and cringe-worthy collection of tunes.

And there’s good news for people who are tired of sitting through seemingly endless closing credits just to get to that brief end-credits scene. Gunn has sprinkled the credits with amusing bits and broken up the scroll with multiple epilogue scenes.

You may be confused by who Stallone was and who all the new people are who show up later, but we’ll get into that in another post.

Guardians remains one of the best franchises in the Marvel Studios stable. Or, as Groot would put it — well, you all know what Groot would say.




At The Movies: The Fate Of The Furious

If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave out an award for Most Outrageous Stunts in a Movie, “The Fate of the Furious” would surely be a contender.

And if the Academy gave out an award for Most Testosterone Tossed About in a Movie, “The Fate of the Furious” would surely be a contender.

And if the Academy gave out an award for Most Absurd Moments in a Movie Whose Plot Makes No Sense, “The Fate of the Furious” would surely be a contender.

But they don’t give out awards for that kind of foolishness, so F8 will just have to settle for tons of money at the box office.

571500608_contest_mobile_image_190116_1490300376Vin Diesel returns as Dominic Toretto, central figure of what started out as a simple action movie starring fast cars and has morphed into an exercise in excess of blowing stuff up, smashing stuff up, shooting stuff up, punching stuff out, and male braggadocio writ large.

But hey, at its core, it’s all about family.

Newlyweds Dominic and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are vacationing in Cuba when Dom is approached by a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) whom we will later learn is a criminal mastermind who goes by the handle of Cipher. Cipher shows Dom a video and next thing we know he’s betraying his team, stealing EMPs and nuclear launch codes, and helping to hijack a Russian nuclear submarine.

Under orders from Secret Agent Man Frank Petty (Kurt Russell), Letty and teammates Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are forced to join forces with DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Petty’s right hand man Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood), and “F7” villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to bring in Dom.

Of course, there’s going to be 100 metric tons of carnage before that will happen.

If you’ve seen the trailers you know what to expect — cars falling from the sky, Hobbs manhandling a torpedo, the gang being chased by a submarine — in short, another day in the life for the “Fast and Furious” crew. In fact, the movie is basically the trailer stretched out for two-and-a-half hours.

If you like that sort of thing — and let’s be honest, a lot of people do — then “F8” should not disappoint. The great Helen Mirren joins the cast this time out. It’s a brief appearance and she doesn’t get to drive fast or blow anything up, but then there’s always “F9” for that.

The story — if you can make sense of it — ties in to previous films, but since I don’t remember what happened in a “Fast and Furious” movie a week after I’ve seen it, I couldn’t tell you how it all lines up.


At The Movies: Going In Style

It’s hard to believe you could make a bad film with a talented trio of actors like Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and to be fair, “Going in Style” isn’t really that bad. It’s just lackluster, predictable, mildly amusing and manipulative.

But if you don’t mind those things, hey, enjoy the show.

Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are three longtime friends and co-workers who have just lost their pensions due to a company buyout. Each man has their own personal drama and losing their pension money does not help matters.

poster-largeJoe — inspired by a bank robbery he witnessed a few days earlier — suggests to his buddies that they pull a heist. Joe is about to lose his home to the bank and Willie has medical problems. Albert, whose biggest problem is being pursued by an amorous shop clerk (Ann Margaret), is least interested in breaking the law. But eventually he comes around, otherwise there’d be no movie.

The trio hook up with Jesus (John Ortiz), a man with a shady past who teaches them the bank robbery tricks of the trade. It all plays out like you’d expect, unless you’re expecting “Dog Day Afternoon.”

Directed by Zach Braff, “Going in Style” is harmless and toothless. The movie goes after all your emotional buttons — laugh at Milton’s (Christopher Lloyd) silly antics, feel sad over Willie and Joe’s struggles, be outraged at the unfairness of the banks and big companies who disrespect the working man — but it feels like they’re trying to hard. Except for the comedy bits, where they’re not trying hard enough.

“Going in Style” is a remake of a 1979 film starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. I haven’t seen the orignal but reading about it, it sounds like a much more interesting film. You might be better off renting that one now and waiting for this one to come out on home video.

At The Movies: Life

If you’re desperate for a remake of “Alien” but with a few changes and an all-new cast, then turn your attention to the new sci-fi horror flick, “Life.”

The International Space Station has just received a probe from Mars that contains a sample that may be proof of extraterrestrial life. It’s a large space station with a small crew — David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) and Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya).

MV5BMzAwMmQxNTctYjVmYi00MDdlLWEzMWUtOTE5NTRiNDhhNjI2L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_I had trouble staying awake for the first 10 minutes or more (thank God my CPAP machine has arrived), but once their discovery decides it’s had enough of being probed and prodded, the movie came to life.

What started out as a small red blob quickly evolves into a squid-like monster. The alien quickly escapes quarantine and soon has the run of the ship.

The creature kills one crew member and maims another on its way to free access of the station, so the remainder of the crew are not looking to make friends.

Now the crew faces a difficult task — find and kill the alien before it kills them and finds a way to Earth. If you’re familiar with sci-fi horror movies, you know this has about a 50/50 chance of ending well.

“Life” is well made and well acted; the special effects are fine and the alien is suitably creepy. But we’ve seen it all before. This movie is roughly 90 percent “Alien” and 10 percent other science-fiction horror movies.  Once it gets moving it’s pretty gripping and I did like the ending. A lot of these kinds of movies fall apart at the end but this one does a good job.

I don’t usually talk about the score, but the music by Jon Ekstrand is loud and beat-you-over-the head overbearing. If you didn’t know this was a horror movie going in, you would quickly grasp it by the pounding, dread-inducing soundtrack.