Tag Archives: Action

”A Quiet Place: Day One” is an Artful Prequel

The third installment in a film series about a world invasion by aliens with acute hearing, Michael Sarnoski’s prequel A Quiet Place: Day One (A-) is part apocalyptic horror tale, part romantic drama and part sci-fi spinoff. Because the characters have to remain largely silent to avoid the invaders’ detection, it is a showcase of the exquisite and expressive acting talents of Lupita Nyong’o as a terminally ill poet and Joseph Quinn as a British law student, plus one of the best feline performances committed to film (actually played by two talented cats!). This movie highlights the initial terrifying takeover by the earful extraterrestrials as they descend on New York City and lends an array of labyrinthine set pieces to the dystopian dread. It’s very exciting as the creatures chase the protagonists through alleyways, subway tunnels, turnstiles, cathedrals, harbors and beyond, with only water as a safe space for humans. The film is elegiac as a dying woman simply wants to consume a slice of her favorite pizza from Harlem, intruders be damned, and very charming as she and the legal lad showcase some serious chemistry and connection. Nyong’o in particular shines in this layered role. Within all the mayhem in Manhattan, the film is also an artful love letter to NYC. The opening titles share that the collective noise at any given point in the bustling metropolis is akin to a scream, and it’s moving to watch some of the charms of city living when divorced from the decibels. Sarnoski’s film stands alone as a suspenseful story but transcends the formula by digging deep into its central characters. It is trippy and taut and masterfully transposes the series’ rural family milieu into an urban adventure. Day One delivers.

Our reviews of A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place Part II:

June Squibb Shines as Spunky Senior in Sundance Comedy “Thelma”

This is a last great gasp of mainstream Sundance Film Festival cinema in which a feisty independent-living grandma treks across L.A. to get even with a telephone fraudster who almost got the best of her. Josh Margolin’s Thelma (B) features a mighty performance by the wonderful June Squibb and another by the late, great Richard Roundtree as a friend from a neighboring nursing home with one last great adventure left in him as well. Fred Hechinger is a hoot as her technology enabling grandson, but Parker Posey and Clark Gregg don’t have much to do as his parents. The film is at its clever best as it follows a sleuthing spy type storyline, with hearing aid volume controls and GPS identity bracelets subbing in for the kinds of gadgets Q used to whip up in the lab. As Thelma, Squibb is a fully rounded character with spunk, sass and a sharp mind. The film fully humanizes her character, even though the script and story could have been much stronger. Still, it’s a fun lark and a great chance to watch Squibb and Roundtree whoop it up.

Popcorn Action of “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” Could Kick-Start Summer Box Office

Sometimes it’s nice to witness a summer movie that’s simply an easy, breezy escape. Bad Boys: Ride or Die (B-), helmed by the director duo collectively known as Adil & Bilall, is as routine as a buddy action movie comedy can possibly be, and yet it moves briskly among some fun set pieces and showcases its protagonists and ensemble well with adventure and humor. It’s a bit of a return to form for Will Smith (fittingly slapped repeatedly at one point as a karmic full-circle moment after his real-life awards show behavior) whose appealing cop character is paired again with Martin Lawrence, who has been “too old for this sh*t” for four films and shows no signs of taking mandatory retirement. Martin’s character’s experience with a brief brush with death grants him a strange new near-immortal state of being, which is the recurring almost-joke throughout this installment. The two cheeky Miami detectives find themselves on the run after some cartel bosses posthumously frame their late police captain friend, forcing them outside of the law to clear his name. There’s bromance and trash talk aplenty as the characters embark on comedy romps between races and chases. The movie does no favors to female characters including Tiffany Haddish in a small role but provides a solid showcase for a slew of additional bad boys including Jacob Scipio as Smith’s character’s ex-con son joining forces with the central pair, Alexander Ludwig as a funny data guru and Eric Dane as a stone-cold villain. There are funny bits with junk food, wedding roasts, a singleminded Marine and a hungry gator at an abandoned amusement park. This sequel doesn’t exactly qualify as a guilty pleasure; but for a fun night out and in a summer thirsting for a born-again franchise, this movie definitely does the trick.

Mad Max Prequel ”Furiosa” Values Spectacle Over Story or Characters

Imaginative armored transportation lines up in formation within dystopian deserts of such epic expanse that it truly feels like the wasteland of a vast apocalypse, but there are few characters to care much about aboard or in sight in George Miller’s perfunctory prequel Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (C-). The visionary filmmaker establishes a world brimming with vehicles and vistas and even some quirky ensemble members but no real reason to root. This epic spectacle is ostensibly about the making of a warrior, kidnapped as a child by bikers and played in this installment for most of the film’s duration by Anya Taylor-Joy, whose artsy quirk doesn’t fully translate into believability as the future Cherize Theron character of Fury Road or as an action star in command of this realm. Plus she’s given very few lines. She and fellow thespian Tom Burke feel at odds with and adrift in the material. Chris Hemsworth has all the subtlety of a wrestling heel as a would-be antagonist, but at least he’s the one principal here giving a performance at the same decibel as the spectacle. It’s all an elaborate excuse for one really big chase involving a truck of antiheroes, motorcycles of henchmen sliding around or below and what appear to be pesky parasailers. The stunts, action and practical effects in this particular sequence are impeccably impressive; other moments throughout this plodding backstory feel choppy and underbaked. It’s easy to confuse mastery of visual composition and aspects of the film craft with high marks for the movie itself as story or entertainment, but this installment is unfortunately a non-engaging bore with punks who never gather their steam.

Summer Film Season Gets Middling Opener in “The Fall Guy”

The comedy/action remake of a classic TV series comes in roaring like a lion and devolves into a cat nap. Stunt coordinator-turned-director David Leitch’s The Fall Guy (B-) contains an abundance of awesome ingredients, including some outrageous pratfalls, fabulous soundtrack needle-drops and charismatic leads Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt as stuntman and director, respectively, with ample romantic chemistry simmering. The mysterious meta story set in the world of the production of a big-budget interplanetary blockbuster action movie involves a quest to recover a missing leading man (Aaron Taylor-Johnson as an irritating egomaniac) in time to save the production. The film’s best visual gags involve the vocabulary of cinema, as a heated conversation takes place in a “oner” filled with explosions or as the central pair contemplates the value of split-screen sequences while in one. Unfortunately the slight story rarely serves the massive talents of the leads; the production feels like it needed some reshoots made impossible by industry strikes. It’s often a fun lark; and as expected, the stunts are really good. It just doesn’t completely deliver on its promise or sustain its carefree spirit with quite the finesse it could have.

Find Yourself in No Man’s Land in Powerfully Provocative “Civil War”

The discourse sure to result from the release of Alex Garland’s sobering action drama Civil War (A) is akin to the elucidating actions of his central quartet of war correspondents and photographers: simply, it’s all about the processing. Garland’s brilliant film documents several days in America’s fictional second civil war through the lens of journalists struggling to survive as the U.S. government has become a dystopian dictatorship and partisan extremist militias regularly commit war crimes. Garland is opaque about the motivations and beliefs of the two sides fighting, with few political signifiers distracting the mostly neutral press from simply chronicling the events as they see them. In addition to being an exacting and efficient war movie, it’s also an illuminating multi-generational road trip with Kirsten Dunst’s measured war photographer, Cailee Spaeny as her accidental apprentice, Wagner Moura as the gonzo chaser-dude and Stephen McKinley Henderson as the sage pragmatist thrust in the middle of a war zone together. All four actors are sensational, with Dunst earning VIP status for her grizzled and guarded portrayal of a woman who can only see clearly when brandishing her camera. The film is a stunning spectacle of shock and awe with nary a false note as the four disparate characters encounter traumatic, heartbreaking, grisly and surprising episodes along their fractured odyssey. Still-frame snapshots often punctuate profound moments within action sequences to amplify  the horror and humanity. Garland also physically and metaphorically thrusts his actors into extreme settings to maximize turns and themes, and the film’s final showdown ups the intensity with an epic infiltration into familiar territory to make nearly any viewer question personal allegiance. This is a motion picture designed to stir up conversation; hopefully those who embark on the resultant discussions will be as clear-minded as this skilled filmmaker in addressing the matters at hand.

“Monkey Man” Not the Knockout Anticipated

The “tonal” eclipse arrived early. Despite early buzz comparing the film favorably to Rocky, RRR, John Wick and Die Hard, the India-set revenge thriller Monkey Man (C), directed by and starring Dev Patel, is Jai-ho-hum. Other than the intrigue intrinsic in the exotic location, there’s not much creative or new going on in this picture. Patel is unsteady as both auteur and actor, although he deserves kudos for the sportsmanlike effort. The film’s politics feel defanged and rushed while the grisly action sequences often go nowhere fast. Patel, usually such a lithe and literate presence, is a man of few words as a young man avenging a crime against his family who sets his sights on toppling the top echelon of his nation’s government. Neither of his alter egos as a prizefighter festooned in ape mask nor his street fighting dishwasher with king-fu moves are as interesting as occasional flashbacks with his mother, played by the lovely Adithi Kalkunte. The protagonist is loosely inspired by the legend of Hanuman, a Hindu deity who leads an army of monkeys against the demon king Ravana. The story from epic poetry symbolizes defiance against oppression and may remind viewers how much more effective The Green Knight was in summoning verse to exhilarating effect. I’m not sure what Jordan Peele saw in this routine revenge thriller released by his production company, as this film doesn’t strongly evolve its genre.

“Love Lies Bleeding” is a Trippy Romantic Thriller from 2024 Sundance

Get ready to experience pulp friction of the edgiest order as a mismatched love story collides with a badass crime drama and all-out revenge and cover-up saga in the consistently surprising Love Lies Bleeding (B), directed by Rose Glass. Set in the 1980s, this often unhinged movie chronicles the sexy relationship between a gym manager played by Kristen Stewart and a nomadic bodybuilder portrayed by Katy O’Brian, with a powderkeg or two threatening the serenity of their sapphic world order. Both women are incredible in the roles; their unbridled feral chemistry is a necessary foundation on which the most outlandish episodes can take place. Ed Harris and Dave Franco are also compelling as outrageous and dangerous men; and it’s clear we the audience are settling in for some supernatural splatter when steroids stoke the kindling of the bonfire. After opening sequences ground the story in a very specific world, some of the plot lines admittedly become completely ridiculous. But Glass keeps the story taut and entertaining with a clever eye for detail and noirish nuances. This is a very fun indie walk on the wild side.

Epic Sci-Fi Story Widens its Lens for “Dune: Part Two”

Denis Villeneuve brings IMAX-certified cameras to a knife fight and creates a picturesque panorama largely missing the joy of discovery so present in its predecessor as the director continues his interplanetary sci-fi saga in Dune: Part Two (B-). As the protagonist, Timothée Chalamet has grown into a more credible and physically impressive action hero this time around, and he’s paired nicely with Zandaya as he endeavors to be a man of the people on the desert planet known for its valuable spice and menacing sand worms. The first installment included lots of enjoyable palace intrigue and even some moments of sentiment and humor; part two is super-serious, even leaden at times, and it mainly meanders toward a showdown without introducing too many new locales, costumes or bags of tricks into the mix. Despite their pedigree, Christopher Walken and Florence Pugh don’t make much of an impression, but Austin Butler is definitely doing some sort of big swing as the big bad of this sequel; it seemed briefly promising he was going to breathe some new life into the ponderously paced second reel. The film is technically impressive though, with swirling vistas and majestic production design more than worthy of its somewhat underdeveloped themes about destiny and heroism. As a piece of cinema, it’s a wonder to behold with action sequences well blocked and the ante being upped a time or two, even if it just doesn’t land the ship like the first movie did. There were frankly some elements I preferred in the universally derided David Lynch adaptation. Villaneuve’s film is so gorgeously shot, it could have been a great silent movie, with two hours plus of splendid pageantry and Hans Zimmerman’s rousing music swelling before our eyes and ears. See it on the big screen, for sure, but I’m going to bring expectations down just a notch.

Cloak and Dagger Double Agents of “Argylle” Overstay Welcome

So insistent on its own cleverness as it churns out plot twists like sorcerer’s apprentice brooms, Matthew Vaughn’s meta spy thriller comedy Argylle (C) has the cumulative effect of wearing out its welcome. Bryce Dallas Howard plays a cat-loving spy novelist drawn into a real-life adventure similar to the events in her popular book series, accompanied by visions of her fictional hero (an underused Henry Cavill) and a mysterious stranger portrayed by a scrappy Sam Rockwell, who wrings whatever comedy he can out of his character. Howard and Rockwell lack the chemistry or distinction to cannily add much to the “author embroiled in her own book” canon à la Romancing the Stone and Lost City, so Vaughn spends most of the film’s unnatural duration trying to confound audience expectations with a Russian roulette of reveals. Once it’s apparent the central characters are mind-numbingly mid, all the shooting spree ballets and choreographed lair infiltrations feel like a prodigious pile-on. The notion of doubling down and doubling back on double agents leading double lives starts off octo-feisty but devolves into fussy galore. Meanwhile the busy enterprise squanders the talents of John Cena, Bryan Cranston, Ariana DeBose, Samuel L. Jackson and Catherine O’Hara while gliding through lackluster set pieces. The dapper design aesthetic Vaughn has been building for his Kingsman films just feels like a joyless rut here, with globetrotting locales appearing like LED screen backdrops; and for all the kinetic stunts and needle drops, the movie doesn’t register as brisk or snappy. There are occasional inspired bits and handsome flourishes dotting this often leaden lark, but it’s all too much at the service of a clunky vehicle in constant motion. Overly salted and shaken, this action romp proves to be cluttered popcorn.

Spanish Oscar Candidate “Society of the Snow” is Thrilling Survival Story

Traditional disaster movies can veer toward the exploitive or sensational, but if anyone was up for the challenge of thoughtfully dramatizing the 1972 Andean mountain range plane crash in which only a third of those aboard survive (formerly told in 1993’s Alive), it’s the skilled director of the tsunami thriller The Impossible, J.A. Bayona. His Society of the Snow (aka La sociedad de la nieve) (B+) is grueling and rewarding, crafted with epic filmmaking skill and an ample running time and showcasing a stirring spiritual side to the story of resilience. Those stranded by the downed plane have various conflicting perspectives about how to handle their struggle, which escalates as they face hunger, avalanche and much more. Told with desaturated colors and realistic sound mixing against a formidable icy landscape, it’s a profound and immersive work. The film’s Uruguayan and Argentine cast members, most of whom are newcomers, include talented actors Agustín Pardella, Matías Recalt, Fernando Contigiani García and Enzo Vogrincic Roldán as rugby teammates who take on key roles to overcome their dire situation. Visual effects supervisor Laura Pedro and cinematographer Pedro Luque do wonderful work to depict muscular action and wilderness survival against a rugged, stark setting as we watch the characters waste away while keeping inventive options open. The film also honors those who were lost in the tragedy with poignant visual overlays to Michael Giacchino’s evocative music. As survivors become one another’s best hope and face moral questions and rare moments of levity, Bayona creates a gripping drama and demonstrates why the story is so worthy of telling.

”Godzilla Minus One” Makes History

Even if the great radioactive reptilian monster didn’t actually make an appearance in the movie – and he does, spectacularly, Godzilla Minus One (aka Gojira Mainasu Wan) (B+) would still be a fascinating epic exploring survivor’s guilt and overcoming collective trauma. This Japanese kaiju film directed, written and with visual effects supervised by Takashi Yamazaki, takes place in Japan during the late days of WWII and the ensuing years as a kamikaze pilot played by Ryunosuke Kamiki must reckon with his own failure to act when faced with his own fear of mortality. The narrative weaves in real-life historic events such as the bombing of Tokyo and nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll which lend gravitas to the proceedings, plus there’s a tight domestic drama as well opposite exquisite actress Minami Hamabe providing an emotional center of gravity to the existential scare of a giant beast emerging. The film is smart when it comes to the physics of trying to thwart the threat and authentic in its depiction of characters overcoming obstacles. When the towering terror does make a series of signature appearances, the effects are tremendous and the destruction on a gargantuan scale. The film’s crafts are impeccable with standouts including cinematography by Kōzō Shibasaki and music by Naoki Satō; the film plays more like an intimate historical drama than a creature feature and will undoubtedly reward those who experience it on a big screen.