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Bad Boys for Life (2020)

I’m a child of the 1980’s and as a result I have a cheesy love for classic 80’s high-concept ‘buddy cop’ action movies such as the Lethal Weapon series. Somewhere around 1988, and the subsequent release of the movie that changed the Action Movie genre pretty much forever, Die Hard, audiences seemed to favor less cartoonish, more realistic film heroes and it showed at the Box Office. The success of THAT action movie classic spawned a plethora of imitators, some surprisingly good, like 1994’s Speed and some not-so-good, such as 1991’s Toy Soldiers. Then…in 1995, the world was reintroduced to the buddy cop genre through Bad Boys, a clear throwback to the previous decade, and the world’s introduction to Michael Bay, for better or worse. I saw this flick in the theatre the year I graduated high school…and I loved it! See, one of my favorite directors EVER is, and always will be, the late great Tony Scott (True Romance). No matter what the subject or the quality of the script, Tony Scott’s films had this unique, MTV-friendly sheen that expertly used multi-camera set-ups, long lenses and rapid-fire editing to the very best effect, in my humble opinion. Michael Bay was also clearly a fan, and borrowed VERY heavily from Tony’s bag of tricks…admittedly to mostly solid results, at least early on. So Bad Boys hit…and was a crass, unapologetically stylish blast of rapid-fire comedy and hard-hitting action, thanks to the onscreen chemistry of leads Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and the sure hands of novice director Bay and Hollywood heavyweight producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. And thus began the meteroric rise of the careers of Bay and Smith, with Bay delivering another action hit the next year with one of his best, The Rock and Smith blowing up huge with Independence Day, also in 1996.

Then there was Bad Boys 2 (2003). This is what happens when Michael Bay is let off the leash, creatively and financially, and allowed to delve back into the harrowing and hilarious lives of Miami Detectives ‘Mike Lowrey’ (Smith) and ‘Marcus Burnett’ (Lawrence). Holy fuck!…this flick is a mess, in so many ways. It always seems like when Bay is given a substantial budget, he just goes nuts…no restraint at all. Hell, just look at shit like Armageddon (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001) and almost the entirety of that fucking Transformers franchise. Clumsy, excessive garbage with almost no grace or subtlety. Bad Boys 2 is one of THOSE. With the exception of a couple solid action scenes (the Freeway Chase and the Haitian Hideout Shootout leap to mind), it’s a childishly misogynistic, hyper-violent, cocaine-fueled adolescent fantasy that overstays it’s welcome by almost a full 30 minutes and shows off the some of the worst of what’s become known as Bayhem, some of which is straight up offensive to anyone with half a brain and an iota of self respect. A couple decent action scenes aside, the saving grace for that piece of shit of a movie is the still-rockin chemistry of Smith and Lawrence, coupled with the return of the hilariously grouchy Captain Howard, as played by the always welcome Joe Pantoliano (The Goonies). Beyond that, it’s not one I go out of my way to watch again, though I do recognize that it did make some serious bank at the Box Office.

But then the franchise fell into limbo, aka Development Hell. Of the many directors in line to take a crack at the flick for returning producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the name that I found most intriguing was Joe Carnahan (Smokin Aces), coming aboard as both writer and director. I was excited about this, as Carnahan is another from the School of Scott and I’ve loved / liked every film of his that I’ve seen. This looked promising. But then…as things often do in Tinseltown, that plan fell apart. Back to Development Hell it went. After many stops and starts, and 17 years later (Wow!), Bad Boys for Life aka Bad Boys 3, was finally announced and filming began, with a pair of Morrocan-born, Belgian-bred directors going by Abdil and Billal replacing Bay in the Directors Chair, with a script that was at least partially credited to Carnahan. I was prepared to dismiss it out of hand, as generally it’s the 3rd film in a franchise that tends to fuck things up, often under the direction of a different director then the preceding entries (*think Jurassic Park). But the trailers SEEMED to show a stylistic flourish reminiscent of what had come before, so that, coupled with increasingly positive word-of-mouth, had me curious. I went and saw 1917 last weekend (GO SEE IT!), but vowed to catch BB3 next weekend…which was today.

Bad Boys for Life catches up with detectives ‘Lowrey’ (Smith) and ‘Burnett’ (Lawrence) 17 years later, as both men are dealing with Middle Age in their own ways, with ‘Marcus’ on his way to retirement, with a grand-son newly arrived, while ‘Mike’ is taking stock of his station in life as well, and not liking what he’s seeing. This is violently interrupted when a mysterious hit-man begins taking out people from ‘Mike’s past, putting him and those around him in mortal danger. To counter this threat, the detectives join an elite autonomous unit called AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations), consisting of a plucky squad of younger cops, led by a former flame of ‘Mike’s named ‘Rita’ (Paolo Nunez). This leads to many a wisecrack and shootout, with some shocking revelations along the way!

Generally movies that studios lack faith in get dumped into the market in January, where they are expected to quietly die and disappear, so I was a little concerned that Sony and Bruckheimer were having their doubts about a Bayless sequel. If they WERE having concerns, they needn’t worry…as this is a solid entry to this franchise that does NOT embarrass the first two (the second one easily takes the trophy on that!) and even improves on them, lending backstory to our main characters that we never got previously while narrowing the focus and making the stakes more intimidate than…say…a fucking invasion of Cuba by the Miami-Dade PD…fuck you, Bad Boys 2!! However improbable, BB3 actually has a smidgen of emotional gravity running beneath the nothing-new script, something which the Bay flicks noticeably lacked with the Style Over Substance motif that has always defined Bay to a T. With that said, let’s get to it.

Does Bad Boys for Life fit into the established ‘universe’? I can confidently answer with a Yes. And I would even go so far as to call this the most technically proficient of the 3 Bad Boys movies. Abdil and Billal most certainly studied Bay’s signature style, which is a large part of what defines the first two flicks, and took notes along the way. Numerous compositions and edits scream “Michael Bay!” convincingly, but the new fellas also inject some new material into the proceedings, most noticeably increased use of static or drone shots and a more patient pace that gave the story a little more time to breath, which was surprisingly welcome, especially compared to the insensitive coke-fueled carnage of Bad Boys 2.

Do the characters work? Again…yes. Of course Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are champs and bring their A-game to the party as if no time had passed since their last outing. But the supporting cast I found to be an intriguing and entertaining bunch too, namely the AMMO team. Aside from the dead-sexy Nunez, we also get the equally delicious Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton. Countering this group is the mother and son duo of Isabel and Armando Aretes (the also gorgeous Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio) and I thought they were a compelling pair of villains that actually posed a personal threat to our heroes, with some interesting ticks to help define them.

What about as an Action Flick? One thing the Bad Boys flicks do well is action scenes, and BB3 is no different. Abdil and Billal know what they’re doing behind the camera and they deliver a handful of exciting, hard-hitting action sequences that I had no complaints about…some ropey-looking green screen work aside. On a technical level, everything does what it should, with the somewhat generic score (did love the classic Mark Mancina Bad Boys theme though!) and kinetic burst of gunfire and explosions rocking the theatre appropriately.

Stylistically and technically, I don’t have many issues at all, with the exception of the aforementioned green-screen. There isn’t much of it, but what’s there is noticeable and for a split second would remove me from the excitement of the scene it was in. It just seemed funny, given Sony’s and Bruckheimer’s cash behind this thing. On a story level, while I did like how certain characters histories were expanded upon, there is a twist involving one character that was cheesy and hard to swallow, as this character’s actions easily put he / she well into Beyond Redemption territory. It was the one thing where I physically rolled my eyes when it happened. But then more gunfire and wisecracks erupted…and I was back in.

All in all, beyond many an odd…Bad Boys for Life is a success that all involved should be proud of. 17 years later, two freshmen directors pick up the torch and run it to the Finish Line with nary a stumble, capitalizing on the still-crackling, yet appropriately subdued chemistry of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and the support of Sony and Bruckheimer. The action scenes are kinetic and exciting, the banter is often funny, the returning characters haven’t lost their touch and the new cast all contribute to the story in one way or another and actually left me wanting to see more of their shenanigans (which I understand we MIGHT get). I appreciated the added character depth that emerged and how it was aided by a pace that took it’s time when it needed to. I also appreciated the lack of Michael Bay’s adolescent brand of misogyny. Even though several of the female cast members are VERY easy on the eyes, they all got to contribute something meaningful and / or cool to the narrative. Strangely, I noticed the main three were all very athletic and solidly built (but not in that monstrous She-Hulk kinda way) which added to the allure but also lent credibility to the idea that these women were capable and determined ass-kickers who could handle themselves in a scrap. I’m always ok with that! And obviously I’m OK with Bad Boys for Life. If you’re a fan of the BB franchise, this one will hit the spot, even if you’re skeptical about Michael Bay’s lack of involvement (though he does have a strange cameo in the 1st Act). It’s a fun and funny action-packed romp and sometimes that’s all you need. I enjoyed seeing it on The Big Screen…but if you opt to check out the bad boys shenanigans on disc or streaming, it’s 2 hours and 4 minutes of fun and excitement in classic buddy cop fashion.

Ride together…die together.”

*Stick around for the credits. I saw two quick, amusing scenes cut into them that DEFINITELY hint at another adventure in store for our Miami PD Bad Boys.

1917 (2019)

In a word…RIVETING.

If nothing else, proven director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) and masterful DoP Roger Deakins deserve a massive round of applause for the technical achievement that 1917 is. The effort and care that went into crafting this deceptively simple story is clear to see onscreen and I personally found this instant classic of a war film to be more of an experience than just a simple trip to Escapism Land.

Today, I had 3 choices, as I was determined to get my ass to the cinema, as I haven’t been able to nerd out over a new movie since the weather turned to shit a few weeks ago. My options were The Rise of Skywalker, which I’m amazed to realize I don’t give a shit about, (having once been the World’s Biggest Star Wars Fan!), and Bad Boys for Life, which I’m getting more and more hyped for the more I hear about it (I’ll slip a viewing in for next weekend ; ). Both of those, by their very nature, are disposable pieces of pop-culture entertainment…and I felt like seeing a FILM, which by all accounts, is exactly what Sam Mendes had crafted.

Now, I can honestly say…he most certainly has.

I’ve enjoyed almost every movie that Sam Mendes has directed, going back to the excellent American Beauty in 1999 (too bad about that whole Kevin Spacey connection thing…at least Mendes put him down like a dog at the end!) and all the way through Road to Perdition (2002), Jarhead (2005) and Skyfall (2012). Admittedly, his last outing, his strangely lazy-feeling sequel to Skyfall, Spectre (2015), represents a low point in his career (yet individual scenes in that flick still do kick ass!), so coming back into the fold with THIS film is simply a picture-perfect way of how one gloriously rebounds after a professional stumble.

The story of 1917, as noted earlier, is refreshingly simple – In the hellish trenches of WW1 France, two young British soldiers, Lance Corporals ‘Blake’ (Dean-Charles Chapman) and ‘Schofield’ (George McKay) are assigned a daring and treacherous assignment. Aerial reconnaissance has revealed that the retreating German forces have instead set a deadly trap for 1600 British soldiers preparing to surge forward at dawn the next day, ‘Blake’s older brother included. The two soldiers must cross the dreaded No Man’s Land into German territory in order to get the ‘Stand Down’ message to the commander of the imperiled forces. The story follows them through the carnage and devastation, where they have to use their wits and determination to complete the vital mission in the face of lethal odds.

Wow!

That’s how I felt when I walked out of the theatre this afternoon, numb to the world by what 1917’s 1 hour and 53 minute run-time had done to me. That was an intense, masterfully executed exercise in suspense and action that, in my opinion, MUST be seen on The Big Screen. It’s THAT good! I can safely say that 1917 will easily stand shoulder to shoulder with classic war films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Platoon (1986), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Black Hawk Down (2001) and Dunkirk (2017), when it’s all said and done. What sets this one apart from those masterpieces is the ‘gimmick’ of presenting the narrative through the eyes of a single, roving Point of View; the illusion of one, continuous take. I write ‘gimmick’ without a hint of sarcasm or cynicism, as this stylistic choice pays off in spades. It’s shockingly effective at times, and kept me sucked right into the unspooling narrative. It also helped that the Production Design is fantastic as well. During many scenes that lead and follow our two protagonists through various trenches and battlefields, I found my eyes wandering to the backgrounds, to take in the insane attention to detail that Mendes had inserted. Nothing seemed out of place and it all felt ‘real’, based on what I’ve read and seen of WW1. This aesthetic was also greatly aided by the sheer volume of ‘grit’ that’s generously slathered over this production. Mud, blood and ruin in all directions and most of it appeared to be ‘in camera’, which I will always appreciate. I also really liked the music, by frequent Mendes collaborator Thomas Newman. Much of the score was low, ominous tones, that would build in intensity as select sequences played out, often reminding me of the superb intensity of the Dunkirk score, by composer Hans Zimmer. Then…there were the scenes where Mendes wisely omitted score, just letting the natural sounds of the environment frame the movements of ‘Blake’ and ‘Schofield’, further pulling the viewer into the experience. It must also be mentioned that, while this story is a simple one, containing elements that we’ve all seen before, it does still pack a surprise or two. There’s a pair of twists that occur toward the end of the 2nd Act that both shocked and impressed me. They took a chance with the narrative and the audience’s expectations, and I think it paid off nicely. It sent the story in an off-kilter direction I didn’t expect…and that always works for me.

Now for the Negatives…I’m not going to bullshit you…at this point, I have nothing negative to say about 1917. I was very impressed…that about sums it up.

All in all, I was VERY happy with my choice of movie today. I got almost exactly what I hoped for from 1917 and what I got (and hoped for) was a simple, to-the-point story, led a couple of likable, yet believable leads, set against a painstakingly detailed and intricate backdrop that pulled me into the filth and tension of WW1 in a way I’d never seen before. There’s a welcome handful of cameos from a number of accomplished British actors I guarantee you’ve seen before and they all contribute their own little ‘something’ to their scenes, further bolstering the story and the accompanying experience. The music and sound design are also great and technical precision achieved to present this in the guise of one long take is beyond admirable. They set out to do something different and, in my opinion, they pulled it off beautifully.

Obviously, I’m fully recommending 1917…and not just to war movie buffs. This flick is an immersive Experience and would be a terrific introduction to what The Great War may have been like for those who have no idea of the history or mechanics of WW1. Academia aside, just as an ‘adventure’ movie, it more than delivers and I genuinely hope it does well the theatre, as the effort and cash that went into crafting this impressive title are plain to see onscreen…and you should try to see 1917 on the BIGGEST SCREEN you can find.

It’s well worth it.

Waterworld – The Ulysses Cut (1995)

Back in the day, when I was a movie-geek teenage’d nerd in the 90’s, I routinely kept up on the large Hollywood flicks as they moved through Production, usually through my trusty Entertainment Weekly magazine. One such production was Waterworld, a big budget Summer Tentpole action / sci-fi starring Hot-At-The-Time Kevin Costner (The Untouchables), that’s now notorious for the chaotic goings-on’s behind-the-scenes. By the time it was ready for release, it’s budget had hugely swelled, due to clashing egos and a troubled production on the water off Hawaii. At one point, the enormously expensive floating atoll set was ruined and sank in a storm, setting the production back in both time and cash. So anyway, there was all this drama and everyone was braced for the movie itself to simply shit the bed.

It didn’t. Not in my opinion.

When I finally got around to checking it out on The Big Screen, I had a genuinely fun time with it, despite seeing that it was a near toothless retread of the far superior The Road Warrior (1981) that just happened to be set on the ocean instead of the post apocalyptic Outback. It probably helped that all the negative press it got before its release helped set the bar low for me, so I ended up being pleasantly surprised…after I’d turned my brain off. As a result of that, I’ve always had something of a nostalgic soft spot for Waterworld. A couple years ago, I came across mention of an alternate cut of the flick floating around out there, a 40 minute expanded version released for European TV (for some reason). I’d seen snippets of this cut before, particularly the hilarious over-dubs targeting the movie’s mild profanity, but never the whole thing in its entirety, newly buffed up for High Def. Until now. In my searching, I found that a new Blu ray version was due to be released here in North America on Dec. 3rd; a version that had this strange, alternate cut in a restored 1080p included.

So naturally…I scored a copy.

On a cold and grey Sunday afternoon, I sealed myself away with my brand new disc and a notepad, curious to see if this ‘new’ footage would enhance the flick in any meaningful way, like…say…Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven (2005) or James Cameron’s Extended Cut of Avatar (2009).

For those of you who don’t know, Waterworld takes place in an unlikely future were the polar ice caps have completely melted, drowning virtually all ‘dry land’ and forcing the survivors to exist on vast oceans. One such survivor is the nameless ‘Mariner’ (Kevin Costner); a selfish and cruel loner who becomes caught up in the plight of the survivors of a devastating attack on an atoll settlement by a cartoonish villain named ‘The Deacon’ (Dennis Hopper). Races and chases ensue, with a healthy dose of large scale action sprinkled throughout as these forces face off over the fate of a young girl who may hold the key to finding the mythical dry land.

*hits Play*

*starts scribbling*

Still love the score. Rousing and John Williams-like. James Newton Howard is another of Hollywood’s highly talented composers and in my opinion, his energetic score for Waterworld is top notch and very much helps tie the loose narrative together.

Nice Blu ray transfer. Never noticed the sail pattern. I love Blu ray (fuck that 4K shit!) for the small details the less refined versions hid that get revealed at the higher resolution. In the beginning, we’re treated to numerous beauty shots of the ‘Mariner’s unique sailboat and I’d never noticed the intricate mishmash of colored  fabric making up the sail. Cool stuff.

First ‘new’ scenes already add to fleshing things out. Atoll life. Ever since I first saw Waterworld, I’ve had to admit that there is something clumsy in the pacing, and now I know why. There was a lot more connective tissue that they cut out for the North American release that adds nicely to setting up life in this aquatic settlement.

So far, pacing feels better. It says it right there. The story, in this cut, had some time to breath and expand and it was very welcome.

Hilarious new scene. Absurd suspicions about harmless things. There’s an added scene where the towns folk of the atoll gather to go through the ‘Mariner’s mundane (to us) belongings and one character comes up with amusingly panicked and deadly explanations for them, riling people up. Made me chuckle.

Wow! Theatrical version was cut to shit! Again…says it right there. The pacing in this new cut is far more user friendly, when compared to the choppiness of the original release cut, with material that helps organically expand the universe of Waterworld.

Tripplehorn way too clean. Haha!! Back in the day, Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct) was a smoking hot lady and she plays a prominent role as ‘Helen’ in Waterworld…and she looks gorgeous. Maybe some slight smudging here and there…but with gleaming white teeth and beautifully intense and clear eyes that are ready for any camera. She VERY much stood out against all the other grimy dirtbags that populate this flick.

Some cool new snippets in the atoll battle scene. Added carnage, no matter how small…is always welcome!

New Dennis Hopper scenes! Always welcome. Something I noticed was that a lot of Hopper’s new dialogue presented more of a religious extremist angle to the character of ‘The Deacon’ that wasn’t evident before, effectively reducing him to the buffoon that he became theatrically.

Yep. The Mariner is still a dick. One issue I’ve always had with Waterworld is the fact that Kevin Costner doesn’t portray the ‘Mariner’ with very much in the way of redeeming qualities. For a surprising duration of the flick, he’s an unpleasant asshole who only looks out for himself and has no qualms threatening and assaulting women and children to get his way. He’s only barely redeemed by the end, for me.

Still love the Boat vs Sea Plane scene. What can I say…it’s a fun, well-executed sequence that I find genuinely exciting every time I see it.

Is the pilot Jack Black?! A quick IMDB check and…yes, yes it was Jack Black playing the pilot.

Costner really is a dick, not a sympathetic character and hard to root for. We already covered this one but again…he’s this asshole for a substantial part of the run-time, consistently.

Kim Coates more of a creep in this version. The strange, fucked up pedo-guy that our heroes encounter on the high seas is even more of a sleaze bag in this extended cut, all the more deserving of the slightly too tame death he got at the hands of the ‘Mariner’.

Haha! A Discman! In an extended scene, ‘Helen’ comes on deck to hear Miles Davis playing from a rigged up stereo system…with a Discman right in the middle of it. Pssst…I still have one…don’t tell anyone.

Again, love the music, especially in the ‘teaching ‘Enola’ how to swim’ scene. Almost magical. James Newton Howard really did do a slick job on this one and some of the music is gorgeous to listen to just on it’s own. I should know…it’s playing as I write this. So there.

What was that?! Weird, shitty-looking shot of the balloon out of nowhere. Something ‘Gilliam’ about it. There’s a transition that smash cuts to a clearly unfinished effects shot of the improvised balloon craft drifting against a fake background before moving on to the next scene. It felt like cut footage from Terry Gilliam’s highly underrated The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). Just saying.

Some effects suck, especially on Blu ray. Now, while I was praising all the sexy little details in the production that weren’t evident before, the hi-def format can also reveal the limitations of the budget…and this was no different. In the 3rd Act, the quality of the effects takes a serious dive, with some of the new footage suffering even more so, standing out sharply.

This cut is the superior version. Well…I guess that one kinda wraps it up.

Wait…there was one more:

Ah! The Ulysses Cut! I get it now! And so will You…if you check this version of Waterworld out.

All in all, as I find with most Director or Extended Cuts, this European version, coming in nearly 40 minutes longer than the evidently chopped-to-shit North American Theatrical release, is easily my preferred version now. Don’t get me wrong…Waterworld is no fantastic masterpiece, in either version, per say. It IS however, a fun movie…made even more so by this newly unleashed cut. I fully recognize just how disposable this high-budget and notorious product of mid-90’s Hollywood is but it’s on that level that I embrace it and if you’re a fan, I’m confident that you’ll embrace this new version too.

And if you opt to give this ‘Ulysses’ cut a shot…be sure to watch the Blu ray version, not the hilariously censored TV version…though there is some unintentionally funny shit in that one.

Midway (2019)

I had a pretty good idea what to expect going into Midway with two of my nephews (ages 13 and 16, and cool dudes too) this morning…and I was not let down. Given that the WW2 flick detailing the tense and desperate build up to the battle of Midway in the South Pacific was led by ‘popcorn’ movie master Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), I knew that, if nothing else, the visuals would be fun to take in. And for the most part, they were. It was just too bad that the script and editing weren’t as streamlined as they could’ve been. When it comes to Emmerich, it’s my opinion that he’s a mere step or two away from being a ‘Michael Bay’, with his deft embrace of visuals but a less-than-perfect grasp on fully fleshed out characters (and luckily, a little less blatant misogyny). This movie was no different from others in his filmography that fit that template (Stargate, ID4, The Patriot, 2012 etc) . But since all I and the two teenagers I was with wanted to see was some shit blow up real good in a WW2 setting, the bar was set appropriately low, which did work to the flick’s advantage.

Midway opens almost immediately (after a brief, character set-up prologue in 1937) with the infamous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, coming out of nowhere (handled pretty well here), just like the real horrifying event did (which Michael Bay covered in that PoS Pearl Harbor, with WAY too much ‘Michael Bay’ slathered on). As the US military reels from the attack, we are introduced to a series of true-life sailors, aviators, and code-breakers who get caught up in the planning and execution of retaliatory strikes and the escalating action that led to the titular open-sea battle that opened the path for the island-hopping campaign that turned the tide of war with Japan in the Allies favor.

I did have a good time watching Midway, most likely due to having set my expectations at Level: Emmerich before we even entered the auditorium. For an independently financed ‘passion project’, Emmerich managed to pull together one helluva an impressive cast. We get Ed Skrein (Deadpool), Dennis Quaid (Innerspace), Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Mandy Moore (48 Meters Down), Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Luke Evans (High-Rise), among others. The main downfall to having so many talented people turning up is that several of them get short-changed in the ‘characterization’ department, which, as mentioned, is a common occurrence in a Roland Emmerich flick, even though the vast majority of characters are based on real people who were there. That being said, it was still impressive to see how many of these talented people opted to throw their weight behind this story in order to get it made. Cast aside, the main reason that I wanted to see Midway was simply the opportunity the story gave to unleash some potentially slick aerial / sea battle scenes, which I’m always down to see (I have a boner for WW2 shit, especially military aviation…just sayin). Having said that, I have to admit that the effects were a bit of a mixed bag…which was disappointing. At times, especially during wide establishing shots or sequences detailing the movement of aircraft traveling from one battleground to another, the CG was very good, at times surprising. But once the action popped off, the limits of the mere $100 million showed around the edges, with some effects coming in as only slightly better than many video game cut-scenes on the market these days (especially shots of planes crashing into the sea, for some reason). More shots from static positions, for instance, would’ve kept the movie feeling more grounded and epic, something like what Dunkirk (2017) pulled off with its superb aerial action scenes. Once the camera starts ducking and weaving through the action in ways that a real aircraft-mounted camera wouldn’t be capable of, my mind pulls away, recognizing instantly that what I’m being shown simply couldn’t be real and reducing the effect to that of a bystander over-the-shouldering a video game cut scene. Having said that, SOME of the action was genuinely exciting and tense, and gave me and the boys a dose of what we had hoped for. I get the difficulties in pulling off much of the WW2 action, but some alternate choices for compositions, and more time and $ being devoted to fully rendering the visuals, would’ve gone a long way, in my opinion. Same would also apply to some of the choices in the script / editing. Some subplots (the Doolittle Raid, for example) felt shoe-horned in and, despite the historical accuracy, could’ve easily been removed in order to clean up the pace, which often came off as choppy and episodic, and also led to the 2 hr, 18 min movie feeling about 10-15 min too long. This applied to some characters too, like the one tail-gunner who we are very pointedly introduced to, only to have him get unceremoniously taken out with very little preamble or drama. Same went with the uncertain aviator who steps up to do his part after a heavy inspirational speech is laid on him…only to perish unseen in a stupid accident. I found moments like this frustrating (even though they may be based on history), but luckily, once the action gets going, I was able to forgive these less-than-perfect elements.

All in all, I, and the two young fellas I saw this with, got enough of a kick out of Midway, while acknowledging that it wasn’t written or edited well enough to stand out as a monumental cinematic achievement, to say we had a good time checking it out on The Big Screen. Emmerich and Co. MOSTLY delivered the goods, where the high-flying and kinetic action scenes were concerned, but I just didn’t give a shit about the characters we were supposed to give a shit about, and the pacing felt off for a noticeable chunk of the run-time. The cast is solid but not given enough to work with while the production design was decent, though some more grit would’ve been welcome. This also applies to the rating, as this is one of the most bloodless WW2 movies I’ve ever seen! Now I know not every flick can be Saving Private Ryan (1998) or Black Hawk Down (2001), classic war films that proudly and deservedly wear a hard ‘R’ rating, but a little more spilled crimson would’ve helped this one out. There’s a scene where a main character is walking through a warehouse filled with the sheeted remains of US Navy personnel killed at Pearl Harbor…and they are the most pristine white bundles ever, all laid out on the floor! Not one drop of blood, despite dialogue about “pieces” recovered. Obviously, the filmmakers were playing it safe…but just a little too much, IMO. Emmerich has capably handled gore before…he (or the producers, more likely) opted not too push that line, which was a bit of a bummer. I can recommend Midway to war film or history buffs on the merits of some of the historical accuracy (as long as they can handle the Emmerich schmaltz) and the fact that it looks pretty, sounds great and is mostly an entertaining ‘popcorn’ action-movie version of a true story. Midway is a GOOD flick…but certainly not a GREAT one. Should you opt to hold off till this one streams or hits Blu ray…it’d be a good time-waster on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Doctor Sleep (2019)

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel The Shining holds a special place in my horror-loving heart, as it is one of THOSE movies; those that burn a place in the psyche when they first play over your peepers. Having said that, I do first acknowledge that, despite some people insistence, The Shining is NOT a perfect flick…it most certainly has its flaws. But one area that is not flawed is the creepy-ass muthafuckin tone that Kubrick cemented into the fabric of the film! The sinister atmosphere and mounting dread, coupled with an excellent, instant classic of a music score, scared the living piss out of me when I was but a wee lad, and that stuck with me…creeping me out to this day! I’ve also read the book…and loved it. I genuinely think it’s one of King’s best. So I’m well acquainted with The Shining and it’s sizable impact on pop culture.

Then I heard that King was bringing The Shining back in the form of a sequel novel, set 30’s after the tragic events that befell the Torrance Family at the Overlook Hotel. Right off the bat, I was intrigued by this. But then I heard some shit about vampires…and something didn’t add up for me. For whatever reason, I never saw a larger supernatural world outside of the world of The Shining. I know that’s monumentally short-sighted…why couldn’t there be other supernatural forces at work?!…but I just hadn’t considered it. But since it was King, I have faith. In all honesty, there is a hard cover copy of Doctor Sleep under our roof…I just haven’t tackled it yet (have 4 books on the go as is!), but I do intend to…especially now.

It seems like Stephen King is experiencing a second wind in his incredibly impressive career…what with damn near everything with his name attached being in some form of development or release as a film and / or series at the moment. Inevitably, Hollywood found its way to Doctor Sleep.

I saw it.

Doctor Sleep reintroduces us to ‘Danny Torrance’ (Ewan McGregor), now going by ‘Dan’, as he navigates his way through a seedy nightmarish haze of alcoholism, while he tries to cope with his lingering trauma stemming from the events of 1980, at the Overlook Hotel…while also suppressing his ‘shine’. At the same time, we meet a mysterious and powerful woman named ‘Rose The Hat’ (Rebecca Ferguson), the ruthless leader of a travelling caravan of vampires, of a sort, who seek to swallow the soul or energy of their victims, who’s menu currently consists of children with the ability to ‘shine’. One potential victim of this group, who go by the name ‘The True Knot’, is a young girl named ‘Abra’ (Kyliegh Curran), who’s a powerful psychic who’s beginning to harness her abilities. Through doing so, she is able to seek out ‘Dan’, who comes to her aid and also confronts his own past demons along the way.

This was a solid sequel, that effectively honored both pieces of source material, movie and novel. I was actually glad that I had not yet read the book, as it allowed the movie to stand on it’s own two feet and, I will admit, it had me entertained for the whole 2 hr 30 min run-time. I do not feel that it embarrassed the sources of adaptation in any way. Director Mike Flanagan, who is making quite a name for himself in the horror genre, delivered the goods and gave me some really cool shit. Now, just like the original, it’s not perfect, but Flanagan and Co. put in the hours and it really feels like they tried to honor what both King and Kubrick had originally done before them.

First off, the cast is good and feel committed to the roles, especially Rebecca Ferguson, who I first noticed in the last two Mission: Impossible flicks. I really liked how she portrayed ‘Rose The Hat’. She gave ‘Rose’ a savage ruthlessness and determination, coupled with that interesting sensuality Ferguson effortlessly harnesses. There was one scene in which she astral projects that had me riveted, right up to the tension-releasing laugh-out-loud end-of-scene. There was another where she oversaw the swarming and ritualistic murder of a kid (yea, there’s some harsh shit in this one), where she was legitimately scary. But that’s not to take away from Ewan McGregor, who was solid as ‘Dan’. Though he wasn’t AS engaging as I feel he could’ve been, he did get to show a range as the character progressed through the narrative. There’s also some not-embarrassing facsimiles for the characters played by Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers, in The Shining. I have not bothered to look those little-known actors up (though was pleasantly surprised to see ‘Elliot’ himself, Henry Thomas, turn up)…but they were pretty darn good. Something else that was pretty darn good was the Score, composed by The Newton Brothers (never heard of them). It was spot-on, often using key pieces of Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s original and iconic, spooky-as-fuck score, really tying this one in as a direct sequel to Kubrick’s movie, as opposed to connecting closer to the book, despite the fact the King famously disowned Kubrick’s flick. I was surprised at how well the music worked for the story…though it does make sense, as the original’s score is a HUGE part of what makes that movie so fucking unsettling. I also appreciated the hard edge Doctor Sleep had, being not afraid to get under the audiences skin a little. Mike Flanagan had proven he has the chops with his previous work, the last being Netflix’s surprisingly decent The Haunting of Hill House, and I think he’s toe to toe with James Wan (Saw), as reliably consistent genre directors go, who’s not afraid to push the odd boundary or two.

There’s a ton more I’d love to delve into, but I don’t want to bore the shit outta ya, Dear Reader. So…

…on to some Negatives!

There isn’t much for me to gripe about, as I had a legitimately good time watching this flick. That being said, I do feel that Doctor Sleep, despite being 2 hrs, 30 min long, felt like there was some connective tissue missing some where along the way. Some sequences felt rushed or choppy, and the pacing suffered a bit, so I have to wonder if there may be a Director’s Cut in the future, with the flow evened out. I would welcome spending some more time with this story and these characters. Back on the down-note, I can see how some people could look at Doctor Sleep as yet another entry into the soon-to-be-tiresome wave of 80’s nostalgia that Hollywood is traipsing through right now, using all the ties to The Shining to prop itself up, and they may not necessarily be totally wrong…but I say fuck that shit! Also, there was a sequence in the 3rd Act that takes ‘Dan’ back to the Overlook Hotel…and everything is exactly as it was left on the night that he and his mom were nearly murdered. I mean EXACTLY…as in the cops never showed, the hotel kept on operating etc. Which I had to scoff at a little…but then scary shit ensued and all was forgiven.

All in all, I really enjoyed Doctor Sleep, and look forward to seeing it again. It’s a worthy sequel to a classic horror movie that has a good cast, some inventive cinematography, a great music score, some genuinely tense sequences and an oddly welcome mean-streak. It capably progresses the story of The Shining (though I admit that we didn’t really need it) and expands upon the larger world that existed outside the confines of the first movie, and it does so in an interesting, yet strangely logical way, in my opinion. First and foremost, I can easily recommend this sequel to fans of the original, as this was clearly made with YOU in mind. I also think that casual horror movie fans will also dig Doctor Sleep and I do think there is something to seeing this one on The Big Screen. So, especially since it doesn’t seem to be burning down the Box Office at the moment (which is a shame), I definitely encourage you to check Doctor Sleep out, if for no other reason to support a sequel that feels like they actually tried.

 

 

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)


Where to begin…

I love almost every film that James Cameron has directed, going back to the age of 9 when he scared the shit out of me with Aliens, thus altering my entire view of ‘fiction’ and the creation of it, in any medium. This most certainly includes the first two flicks in the Terminator franchise, with The Terminator, released in 1984, and its masterful sequel T2: Judgment Day following in 1991. These two flicks, in my opinion, complimented each other beautifully and brought the story to a highly satisfying and logical conclusion. But money talks, and bullshit keeps trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Every single attempt at a proper sequel to T2 , without Cameron’s hand on the tiller, has failed to capture any of what made his first two movies instant classics in the sci-fi genre. Sure, there’s a scattering of cool action scenes and occasionally an inspired notion would pop up from sequel to sequel, but for me they largely come across as high-budget fan-fiction simply going through the motions and ‘sticking to the script’, if you will. MANY people, including close friends of mine, HATE Terminator Salvation (2009), but I have a guilty-pleasure level of appreciation for it, as it got me closer to what I REALLY want to see out of the Terminator franchise…and that is the war in the future done correctly.

Side Note – I would love to see someone with balls tackle a story set during the darkest years in the battle against Skynet, if not Cameron himself. I want the grit and misery that we glimpsed in T1 and T2, sick fuck that I am. Humans forced to eke out a desperate existence in the ruins while hunted by horrific things that show no mercy. Even the ‘Colorado Mission’ (if I recall correctly), the final attack on Skynet that results in the events of The Terminator. But I digress.

The point is that NONE of the James Cameron-less entries have really done anything for me, especially compared to my appreciation for the emotional core at the centre of both of those first movies, something which none of the others have been able to recapture, even with returning talent from the first two. But then…the rights to the Terminator franchise reverted back to Jim, and he, in a producer capacity, got the next attempt off the ground. When I first got wind of this, naturally I was intrigued…though also skeptical. I had been burned every time since T2, so my cynicism was high. But…I was willing to give it a chance. Director Tim Miller had impressed me with his debut, Deadpool (2016) and I felt that he may be a good candidate to deliver us a James Cameronesque flick, as Robert Rodriguez had masterfully done with the under-rated Alita: Battle Angel (2019). I figured with Jim controlling the puppet strings of the production, we would certainly get something closer in tone and execution to the first two films.

Nope.

*shakes head sadly*

Just stop now, ok…guys? Just let Terminator go. Unless you can deliver me the bleak Future War dystopian epic that I, and countless other geeks, have been craving since we were first introduced to it back in the heady days of 1984, just shut that shit down. This constant repetition is getting tedious and desperate.

Which brings me to Terminator: Dark Fate

I wanted to like this movie! I wanted this to be The One that kicks it up a notch and ties in effortlessly with the two stories it’s leaping off from (it wisely ignores the post T2 sequels) while both complimenting them, but also adding to the substance of the established lore.

That’s not what I got.

Before I delve into this, I will first apologize. In order to really give this flick a true kneejerkreaction, I do have to hit on some SPOILERS along the way. There is no way I can properly execute this review without touching on some spoilery aspects…so consider yourself warned.

OK?

Good!

Terminator: Dark Fate, after opening in 1998 with too young John Connor (a cleverly CG’d Edward Furlong) getting fucking Alien 3’d right off the bat, we fast forward to 2020 where, once again, two time portals gape open to shit out yet two more visitors from the future, this time some ‘augmented’ chick named ‘Grace’ (Mackenzie Davis) and a kinda cool T-800 / T-1000 hybrid (that is a bit more clever than that idiotic shit they tried in Terminator 3!), called a Rev-9. These two are searching for a Mexican girl of some great importance named ‘Dani’ (Natalia Reyes). Of course they cross paths and much destruction ensues (one of the few scenes I genuinely enjoyed), with the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) getting the upper hand, only to be thwarted by a very elderly looking ‘Sarah Connor’ (Linda Hamilton) with a comically-sized shotgun blazing away. From there they sniff out an elderly, undercover family-man T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) going by the name ‘Carl’ (I shit you not) and it becomes this tiresome REPEAT cycle of RUN-SHOOT-‘SPLOSIONS-HIDE- GET FOUND-RUN-SHOOT-‘SPLOSIONS etc.

It seems weird saying this about a Terminator movie, but there were moments in the theatre where I found myself feeling legitimately bored. That’s not good. Just like the last few flicks, there was nothing that emotionally pulled me into the story or the plight of the main characters, which is one of the undeniable strong suits of the first two films. And that’s just the script…the editing and pacing also left something to be desired. It felt very clunky and episodic. There was no sense of scope or passage of time. The choppy editing also allowed the Rev-9 to be able to locate the main characters in no time flat, with seemingly no effort. There was no build up, no tense detective-like search as previous time travelling characters had to undertake. He / it just appears somewhere / anywhere that gives him access to surveillance / computer equipment and he’s got them in seconds. This happened more than once! Going back to problems with the script, much of the dialogue I found to be borderline cringe-inducing, and that’s not just due to Hamilton’s gravelly throat-cancer voice. So much ham-fisted, clumsy dialogue, often for the sake of cheap exposition. And humor…they tried, I’ll give them credit there. But almost every joke they attempted fell flat, cheapening the scene. I may have heard a couple chuckles in the half-full theatre I was in…but that’s it. But how’s the Action? – you ask. There’s an extended fight / car chase sequence in the First Act that I thought was actually pretty sweet but almost all the rest of it is already forgettable (saw the flick about 7 hours ago). There’s a scene involving a mid-air collision of two monstrous military planes that was rendered ineffective given how ‘CG’ much of the shots looked. It was distracting and worse, dull. Even the music is dull and that’s saying a lot considering that it’s by Junkie XL, a DJ / EDM producer who has successfully made a name for himself with impressive music for flicks like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Deadpool (2016). Here, there is no life, nothing iconic, to the tunes. The original music by Brad Fiedel for T1 and T2 is classic but this, much like the other sequels, just lacks personality.

All in all, Terminator: Dark Fate for me was yet another disappointment in the growing line of disappointments that have been every Terminator movie post-Terminator 2. This one also gets in a bit of a ‘Fuck you, T2’ with how it unceremoniously dealt with Edward Furlong’s ‘John Connor’ in the opening minutes, which again just reminds me of how they’d coldly off’d fan favorites ‘Hicks’ and ‘Newt’ during the credits of Alien 3 (1992). A real kick in the head for those fans. Not much different here. Overall, the dialogue is weak, the acting is wooden, the music score unremarkable, the Why and How of Schwarzenegger’s ‘Carl’ / T-800 is laughable and desperate, and there’s a surprising amount of piss-poor CG layered on an uninspired story that recycles plenty from the previous, better installments. There are a couple decent action scenes but that’s really about it. I won’t even bother touching on the ‘woke’ aspect, which isn’t as obnoxious as it could’ve been, but was definitely obvious in a couple lines of dialogue. Even if there was some ‘agenda’, the flick overall isn’t impressive enough to support it. To sum it up…I think they fucked up. Again. This is STILL not the story or execution that I’ve been wanting from this franchise, despite James Cameron’s name being back on the poster. I can only recommend checking out Terminator: Dark Fate if you happen to come across it on Netflix on a boring Sunday afternoon. In that capacity…it’s a decent enough time-waster. Nothing more.

 

*Edit – OK, now that I’ve had a couple of days to dwell on it, and after some discussion with coworkers, I now realize that I have some more shit to say about this flick, mostly bad but some good.

Let’s get the Good outta the way first…

-I will admit that I actually liked the character of ‘Grace’, the ‘augmented’ Kyle Reese-like character played by Mackenzie Davis, more than I anticipated. I also liked the ‘crash’ element, where she would essentially shut down after fierce, super-human activity, and needed a drug cocktail to ‘reboot. BUT…again reflecting on how devoid of originality this script is, just like Kyle Reese in T1, ‘Grace’ is written to heroically sacrifice herself to help kill the Rev-9. Go figure.

-Even though it pisses me off that these flicks maintain little continuity in the ‘science’ of time travel, specifically the light storm entrance in the past, which differs in every single movie, I did like the freezing element, where we see objects in the time portal area instantly drop to subzero temperatures, announcing the impending light show. But again, just like the Alien franchise and their constantly changing fucking cryosleep ‘science’, there is no continuity. C’mon people, a little consistency goes a long way!

-Some of the cinematography is nice and the action scenes are well filmed, even when ‘bolstered’ by sub-par CG. That being said, it didn’t feel much like a stylistic sibling to the first two films, to which it is supposed to be a direct sequel. Even just more use of the color Blue, which Cameron loves. Robert Rodriguez did a slick job with Alita: Battle Angel in lighting and color grading it to look like Cameron’s ‘finger-print’. With Dark Fate, Tim Miller didn’t make much effort to tie it in visually and it hurts the presentation, in my opinion.

Now for some more bullshit…

-The fucking conveniences! There are a ton of stupid ‘conveniences’ that pop up to aid the protaganists at the most convenient moments. There’s one sequence where it’s determined that the only weapon that they can effectively use against this new Rev-9 Terminator is some suit-case sized EMP device. It JUST SO HAPPENS that one of Sarah’s underground contacts is some conveniently high-ranking military official who can access one of these things at the drop of a hat, right when Sarah asks. This same dude also manages to gain them instant access to, and control of, an Air Force transport plane and they just take right off with NO problems, despite being wanted criminals and fugitives. I just shook my head. It was so fucking lazy in the writing!

-Really not happy about the shotgun blast-to-the-chest death of young John Connor in the opening minutes. Overlooking the potential tastelessness of the scene, what with the US’s disgusting and barbaric frequency of gun-related murders among young people these days, the scene is a colossal Fuck You to the story that it’s continuing on from. It renders all of the sacrifice and pain of T2 to a cheap after-thought, and given just how good that flick is, that’s not cool.

-Speaking of young John Connor, as impressive as the de-aging CG is on Edward Furlong for his Oh So brief appearance, it’s stupid that they made him as young as they did. He looks exactly like he did in 1991, when the character was supposed to be 10. Dark Fate opens in 1998, therefore lil Johnny Connor should be about 18 or so. So why the hell does he look like a damn kid still?! Does he not age any more?!! C’mon people!!

-They made the Rev-9 all cocky n shit! One of the cool aspects of Robert Patrick’s iconic portrayal of the T-1000 in T2 was the cold and slightly alien presence he had. The way the character is written here, he speaks and emotes like any of us. The previous, better movies touched on the fish-out-of-water element for all time travelers, Terminators included. Not here. The ole Rev-9 just fires up a cocky Southern accent and bullshits his way to where the hell he’s going. It was lazy.

-Why the hell would you ‘end’ Skynet and just replace it with another enemy, that happens to be EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME AS SKYNET!! The whole ‘Skynet becomes Legion’  is just a little too close to how Disney Star Wars brazenly rebranded the Empire into The First Order, without actually changing anything. added to which, isn’t that basically what Genisys was all about? Been there…done that. Again…lazy.

-The comparisons to nu-Star Wars are apt. Just like how Disney is killing off all the legacy characters in order to get out of paying George Lucas royalties, and to form their own, lame-ass, cash vacuuming plot lines, Dark Fate seems to be following that same blueprint by changing / removing everything JUST ENOUGH so that it’s still Terminator…only not. Put Dark Fate next to The Force Awakens, and many of the cheaper, artistically bankrupt similarities begin to show themselves in these soft reboots.

 

 

 

Beyond White Space (2018)

For whatever reason, this last Friday I came home with a hankering to watch Alien 3 (1992), so my fiancé and I got comfy and fired up the Assembly Cut of the notoriously troubled flick. As the highly flawed but still worthy entry played out, she picked out a young Holt McCallany (Fight Club) among the cast of bald assholes making up the population of prisoners on Fury 161, as we had recently completed the slick and impressive season 2 of Netflix’s Mindhunter series, and she had become slightly enamored with the man (or more specifically, his voice *shrugs*), referring to him as ‘her guy’ (I AM secure in my relationship…I think ; ). Anyway, I remembered that he’d also recently turned up in an intriguing deep-space re-telling of Hermann Melville’s classic story Moby Dick, that somehow slipped under my radar and magically appeared on Netflix one day. So, on a stormy Saturday afternoon, I hit Play on Beyond White Space

With my notebook in hand…

Ready for scribbling…

Beyond White Space follows a ship captain named ‘Bentley’ (Holt McCallany) who leads his motley crew of rogue ‘fishermen’ into an anomalous region known as ‘white space’, guarded by a massive…well…space dragon. It seems that back in the day, there were two of these gargantuan space whale thingies but ‘Bentley’s dad got himself perished in pursuit of claiming one of them as a prize, that he managed to grievously wound. So ‘Bentley’ is holding something of an unreasonable grudge against the Space Whale God, which pushes him as he and his crew try to land the ultimate score, while also contending with espionage, sabotage and motherfucking space pirates!

As usual, the following are the random scribbles that I randomly scribbled…

Good intro. It eases us in with a dreamy montage of slick looking ‘outer space’ shots, as Holt’s soothingly manly voice sets things up. The CG was impressive right off the bat.

Solid graphics. As mentioned above, the CG is MOSTLY of a surprisingly high calibre, considering that I have no idea what the budget was. Some work and imagination went into this US / Hungarian flick and it shows onscreen. I think this would’ve been a sweet one on The Big Screen, if it was ever given the chance…which it wasn’t…as far as I know.

Unexpected fight scene. Short and violent. Didn’t expect it when a Jason Bourne-like fight scene abruptly cut loose during a dialogue scene. There looked like there was some ‘ouch’ in some of the stunts, which made it all the cooler.

Slick production design. VERY ‘Alien’ inspired…not a bad thing. I make no secret about my favorite film of all time being Aliens (1986) and I support many of the clearly influenced flicks that have emerged since the original in 1979. This was one of those that paid homage and did it well, in my opinion.

Total love letter to the Alien franchise. Me likes!! See previous statement.

Nice! Sexy blond bad-ass! Always welcome. ‘Piper’. As played by some actress named Kodi Kitchen.

Entertaining character intros. Characters seem to have ‘character’. This is where many of the Alien / Predator sequels and clones get it wrong. You need to give a shit about the main characters or there are no stakes to the story. Luckily I found that this one gave it’s characters interesting traits and quirky, often amusing interactions, which was conveyed right from the get-go.

Deep space fishermen! Cool idea. Right there. The scribble says it all.

I like these characters! Fun interactions. Yeah, yeah…I know…it seems that I’m repeating myself here. And I am.

Nice ‘nod’ to Moby Dick. Plaque on wall. During a dialogue scene, a whale facsimile is strategically placed between the two characters, just to reinforce the Melville connection.

I’m choosing to overlook the ‘sound in space’ aspect. While I totally understand why flicks like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ would add sound to space scenes to spruce them up, I’ve come to recently embrace the use of no sound, to further enhance the realism. But here, given the fantasy elements already at work in the narrative, I cast my cynicism aside and just went with it. It was worth it.

Awkward. Two hot chicks with a serious grudge locked in a tube. Ouch. So there is some drama between some of the crew members, namely that a crewman named ‘Harpo’ (Jocko Sims) has been banging the sexy brunette pilot ‘Ragsland’ (Tiffany Brouwer) behind his wife’s back. And the wife knows.

Nice! The 1911 prevails! I’m a big fan of the .45 calibre 1911 model semi-automatic handgun, which had been around since…you guessed it…1911, so I don’t see why it’s simple, reliable and powerful design wouldn’t still be kicking around in the 2100’s. It’s proven…no need to change it.

Ambergris? Nice! More whaling references. Just more ties to the source material. The ship get’s splooged by an ocean sized ‘money shot’ of space dragon ambergris and there’s a sequence where they try to recover some of it, due to it’s value.

Some genuinely exciting action scenes. Says it right there. Going back to me saying that it looks like some care and effort was put into this flick also extends to the surprisingly tense set-pieces that play out.

Effective score. The film score, by two dudes I’d never heard of, was solid and helped propel the action along.

Who doesn’t love a good decapitation?!! Apparently there’s a good decapitation somewhere in this movie.

Pinned! Haha! Good death! This particular demise was very abrupt and very satisfying. Just saying.

Abrupt, convenient ending. A little cheap. As it says, the ending felt clunky and obvious, like they ran out of time or money (entirely possible) and had to rush to the Finish Line with a quick, A-B-C of an ending. It works, but it felt out of place with the effective pacing that had led up to it.

All in all, I was surprised by the unexpected quality of Beyond White Space. This is definitely one of those little genre gems you can occasionally stumble across where, despite a lower budget, it comes across as polished and ambitious, and results in a fun time at the movies. It has a good cast that makes most of the hokey dialogue work, a cool concept at its core, surprisingly slick visual effects and a production design that harked back to one of my favorite genre franchises. It’s not perfect, it’s budget does show around the edges at times, some of the dialogue is unintentionally funny and the odd wonky CG effect will rear its head, but overall this is a solid space adventure movie that should’ve gotten a chance with a wider audience, as this movie would be a Fun Time on The Big Screen. But as it’s sitting there waiting for You on Netflix, I urge all geeks out there who dig well-crafted outer space adventures with cool characters and concepts (think Moby Dick meets Alien meets Firefly) to give Beyond White Space a shot. Even if you’re not a ‘geek’ and might just appreciate a science fiction twist on a classic story, that can also offer up compelling character and tense action scenes, then this is a flick for you too!! Get blasted into the White Space!

Joker (2019)

 

Let’s just get it out of the way now – The character of Batman’s nemesis ‘The Joker’ is iconic, made all the more so by some of the impressive talent that’s portrayed him over the years, going back to Jack Nicholson’s energetic turn back in ’89 (Cesar Romero has no part of this discussion), carried through by Heath Ledger’s unlikely-but-amazing take on the Clown Prince of Crime in Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). On the low end, Ledger’s legendary portrayal was followed by Jared Leto’s unfortunate ‘homie’ version of ‘Joker’, which pretty much sucked, and was not Leto’s fault. The dude is a talented guy and he got handed a VERY ‘David Ayer’ garbage version on the page, so he could only do so much. After Suicide Squad (2016) was hit with a luke-warm reception, critically speaking, with ‘Joker’ standing out as a glaring issue, amid the mess that flick is, people waited to see who and what the next Joker-related project might be. But then intriguing word of a ‘stand-alone’ Joker origin story that was in the works reached me, one of those stories where the character’s defining nemesis is nowhere to be seen (think Venom). Then came the kicker – the amazingly talented Joaquin Phoenix (U-Turn) was going to step into this ballsy, R-rated experiment…and my expectations rose. I’ve liked Phoenix going all the way back to his days as a child actor (going by the name ‘Leaf’) in movies like Space Camp (1986) and Parenthood (1989) and have been repeatedly impressed by his commitment to the craft of acting. He would definitely be making his late brother River Phoenix (Sneakers) proud. I also heard that the flick was also going to lean on a heavy ‘70’s feel, with comparisons to Scorsese’s gritty entries from the period Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1982) being bandied about…I was also ok with this idea. We then got a sparse but effective marketing campaign…and I was sold.

So on a rainy Sunday afternoon, my fiancé and I piled into my new/used car, and we bombed over to the cinema to see if Joker could live up to the growing hype (the Oscar’s have been mentioned…not that that means a fucking thing).

Joker takes place in the gritty inner city of 1981’s Gotham City where we meet a meek, tortured soul named ‘Arthur Fleck’ (Joaquin Phoenix), a mentally unstable man who ekes out an existence for himself and his live-in mother as a clown-for-hire, while yearning to take to the stage as a stand-up comedian. Adding to the abuse he takes, he’s also afflicted with a psychological disorder that results in painful, uncontrollable laughter at inopportune times. He’s pushed till he can’t take it any more and violently lashes out, resulting in an act of gruesome violence that becomes a city-wide symbol for the growing discontent, which grows as he begins to discover what he’s capable of amid the chaos in the streets, and in his mind.

This movie is solid! My Better Half and I were both impressed with what we’d just seen, and I was a happy camper. I got from Joker pretty much exactly what I expected and hoped for. Right off the bat (teehee!), I have to say that this is almost 100% Joaquin Phoenix’s flick. He OWNS the role and absolutely makes it his own thing that sets him up impressively among the past portrayals of Batman’s classic arch enemy. And mad props  have to also be given to director Todd Phillips (Old School), who surprised the hell out of me with this most decidedly NOT funny flick, as all I know him from is borderline tripe like The Hangover series. But I think he mostly knocked it out of the park here, especially from a technical and production design stand-point. Joker looks fantastic and they did a terrific job creating the gritty, mean streets of 1970’s Gotham and giving them that urban decay look that is easy to associate with North America from that time. It didn’t feel like people playing ‘make believe’.

It does need to be said however, that anyone going into this expecting some crazy Batman action scene shit is in for a rude shock, as this film is most certainly a ‘slow burn’, operating under a patient narrative that ramps up organically. It’s an exploration of one man’s lethal descent into madness, on a close and personal level, as the world around him also threatens to go crazy. That being said, in the few scenes in which violence does play a role, it is fierce and ugly, a couple times legitimately shocking. It’s these scenes that certainly tipped the scales of the rating into hard R territory and I was elated that Warner Bros had taken the chance to go for ‘edgier’ fare, aimed at a more mature audience. What we ended up with was a disturbing art-house thriller that fleshed out an iconic character in an intriguing way, while presenting just one of probably many Joker origin stories. There is a certain fluidity to ‘The Joker’s back story, so this is a no harm, no foul situation. It’s already been stated by Phillips that Joker was never meant to tie into DC’s newest attempts with the Batman character, which I respect. This is just its own thing, no need for yet another money-hungry, creatively-bankrupt comic book film franchise gumming up the auditoriums. In my opinion, they pulled it off nicely and now it can stand on its own. Coming back to Phoenix, the man is amazing as this strangely complex and damaged character, and pulls off ‘riding the line’ when it came to manipulating our sympathies and our loathing for ‘Arthur’ as the narrative unspooled. His intriguing performance was enhanced, again, by the production design and camera work and editing. The music score was also effective and wove seamlessly among the various period-appropriate songs from the era. A round of applause for all involved!

Negatives – having only seen Joker once (as of this writing), nothing comes to mind as bad. Perhaps with subsequent viewings, flaws will emerge, but as it currently stands, I have no complaints about Joker.

All in all, this movie is a success, in my humble opinion. I really appreciated many of the choices that went into crafting this ballsy little experiment of a comic book adaptation. The cast was great, especially Phoenix (but also Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz and Shea Whigham, among others), the cinematography was gorgeous, the production design was gritty and ‘lived in’, the music was solid and the story was intriguing. It comes with an R-rating that feels deserved but not gratuitous. There isn’t much violence, but what’s there is tough to stomach and its meant to be ugly and taken seriously. The Joker character is premised on murder and chaos and we, the audience, are served some moments that are very true to that. Obviously, I’m recommending Joker, not just to comic book fans but also to anyone interested in a dark, intriguing character study that actually relies on ‘character’ as it takes its time to tell it’s tension-laden story. I sincerely think Joker is worth the trip to the theatre. However, if you miss it on The Big Screen, be sure to put it on a Must See list when it hits the home market.

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Quentin Tarantino claims that he only intends to make 10 full-length feature films and then retire. This movie marks 9. Had he opted to make Hollywood his send-off, it would’ve been nearly perfect, as this is a legitimately great flick! Say what you will about the man, Tarantino knows his shit and he demonstrates that yet again with this engrossing love-letter to Hollywood, circa 1969.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, in one way or another, every title in his filmography, with Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997), Kill Bill Vol. 1+2 (2003, 2004), and Django Unchained (2012) standing out for me. He also wrote my Second Favorite Movie EVER…True Romance (1993)…so you could say I’m a fan. Having said that, I will admit to being less than tickled when I heard that he was going to lend his particular ‘voice’ to the Manson Murders. Having read the morbidly fascinating true-crime book Helter Skelter by star prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, I’m fully aware of how horrifying the murderous cult of Charles Manson was and how the high profile murders of Sharon Tate and her friends, and the LaBiancas, had a profound effect regarding the death of the flower child ’60’s, ushering Los Angeles, and by default, North America, into a cynical and disillusioned 1970’s. Tarantino fares best when spinning his own original ‘Tarantino’ yarns, so him tackling a true-crime story, one with such magnitude and notoriety behind it, wasn’t really working for me. Now if it had been David Fincher, as a follow up to his underrated Zodiac (2007), count me in…Tarantino, not so much. So, on one hand, I was excited to see another QT flick on The Big Screen, but on the other, I was also somewhat skeptical, due to the inclusion of Sharon Tate and the spectre of her impending slaughter acting as a ‘ticking clock’ through the plot. I’d seen the trailers, and was won over a bit more by the impressive visual style and production design I saw…but I still had my doubts.

Boy, was I wrong!

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a genuinely great movie…and not just as a Tarantino title either! I had a great time being sucked into QT’s highly detailed world of Hollywood, 1969 and will definitely be adding this oddly feel-good flick to my collection. Yes, you read that correctly…feel-good. I walked out of a QT movie feeling Happy, not just due to snappy dialogue and gruesome, stylized violence (as is usually the case), but because I was given an intriguing story and more importantly, compelling, interesting characters, that I could root for.

As I mentioned, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes place in the heady days of 1969, in the heart of Hollywood, where we meet TV actor ‘Rick Dalton’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his pal / stunt double ‘Cliff Booth’ (Brad Pitt) as they navigate the changing societal fabric of Los Angeles and the accompanying effect on the film industry. As ‘Rick’ struggles with his stalled career and ‘Cliff’ puts up a brave front in the face of diminishing relevance, we also fall in line with the life of actress ‘Sharon Tate’ (Margot Robbie) as she also acclimatizes to her growing star in Tinseltown, while also just happening to be ‘Rick’s next door neighbor, all leading up to that tragic night in August of 1969.

Again, I was thoroughly impressed with this flick! For a former Video Store clerk (something I can definitely relate to), Tarantino has earned his spurs as one of the most historically influential writer / directors to have ever emerged from the Hollywood Movie Making Machine. As I mentioned in my intro, had QT decided to make this his final movie, it would’ve been SO fitting on several levels.

Where to begin…?!

This flick feels like a MOVIE, if that makes any sense. Tarantino favors going old-school and has used 35mm film stock to shoot all of his work…and Hollywood is no different and it looks gorgeous. It helped pull me into the story he was trying to tell and added that rough, filmic ‘sheen’ that all my favorite films of days gone by have. I also loved that QT changed up his style just a little and instead of chopping his narrative timeline to shit for his own amusement, he instead let Hollywood just play out in an agreeably straight line. There are a couple flashbacks and time-jumps, but no puzzle-like chapter breaks that play out-of-sequence. Don’t get me wrong, his past style is most definitely HIS style, and I think it’s great, but a new approach is cool too, and it was certainly welcome here. An obvious plus is also that who’s-who of Hollywood players that show up, some in just the tiniest of cameos (lookin at You, Michael Madsen). On top of DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie, we also get Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning, Luke Perry (his last role) and Bruce Dern, among many others. As expected, under Tarantino’s slick direction, their characters come to life and drew me in right away. Another shift QT took with Hollywood was getting to the fucking point with his dialogue. There have been times (lookin at You, Death Proof!) where he’s laid out reams of hip-sounding but plot-useless dialogue, for the sake of jerking himself off to the prowess of his own words, and it can be noticeably self-indulgent and draggy, where the  pace is concerned. Not here. There are a few conversations that exist for the sake of humor alone, but they don’t carry on forever and I felt that even when the substance of the words wasn’t bolstering the plot, the manner the scenes played out added to the characters. So good choice there too, QT! Once again going back to earlier scribbles, I had mentioned that I found Hollywood to have left off on an almost heartwarming, feel-good note, despite some characteristically gross (but cartoonishly hilarious) violence that erupts in the 3rd Act, and I say that because my fears of QT exploiting the true crime in question, for his own screenwriting eccentricities, were proven totally unfounded. I don’t want to spoil it but I’ll just say that those of you who remember how he handled his own revisionist version of the fate of Hitler in Inglourious Basterds (2009), may be on the right track for how the Manson Murders are tackled. There’s some serious Tarantino wish-fulfillment at work in this one…and I was A-OK with it. Not going to lie…I actually laughed out loud. Truthfully, I laughed out loud several times, as I found it to be a surprisingly fun and amusing movie. There are some dark elements, of course, but there’s also an unexpected level of whimsy…or so I found.

Naturally, the soundtrack kicks ass. Don’t really need to go much further than that. Hit Play on that one as I was writing this review and bobbed my head as I worked the keyboard. Like all his music choices, there’s a great period-specific selection of famous and not-so-famous tunes, and it all added to the vibe of ’69, especially in conjunction with the constant background of radio, TV, commercials, and movies from the time.

As for Negatives…at this moment, not a goddamn thing comes to mind. Maybe a hint of lag in Act 2, but that’s about it.

In a nutshell, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was legitimately better than I was expecting and can easily be counted as one of QT’s most accomplished films. The cast is excellent, the production design is awe-inspiring, the tunes are great and the story goes in unexpected, and often funny and oddly heartwarming, directions. Don’t worry, gore-hounds, there are a couple good ones in here to write home about too. Even though it runs in at 2 hours and 41 minutes, I never noticed the time…like, at all. I could’ve effortlessly spent another 30 minutes in this world. What I was watching was fascinating and easy to get caught up in and was definitely worth the trip to the tiny theatre a few towns away that I saw it in. I will be adding Hollywood to my collection in Blu ray form when available, with no hesitation. If you’re a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, obviously this one will work for you but even if you have an issue with his style or content, he does change it up here. I would actually go so far as to deem this QT’s most accessible, least esoteric film to date, therefore casual movie going audiences who just like DiCaprio and Pitt stand to get something out of this one too. Easy recommendation!

*There’s a great mid-credit scene that’s a hilarious tie-in to Tarantino’s larger cinematic universe. I walked out chuckling. Stick around for it.

**This is the first time I’ve ever had a film’s end credits tell me that an actor / character had been cut from the final product…in this case, Tarantino regular Tim Roth, who is credited as some butler, but who’s credit also carried ‘cut’ in brackets next to it. Again, a first.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

I must confess that, as an admitted fan of well-crafted ‘Westerns’…I’ve never seen the original 1960 version of this flick. I’ve always known about it, it just never presented itself at a time when I could check it out. It was one of those ones that I was sure I would EVENTUALLY catch up with. And I still need to keep on waiting, because this here is the Antoine Fuqua-directed, medium-budgeted remake (in all fairness, the ‘original’ is a Western retelling of an older Japanese Samurai movie too), that I just happened to stumble upon the Blu ray for a whopping $5 at Walmart (don’t judge me!). Either way, to me, this was a good deal, as I’m a fan of the vast majority of Fuqua’s work. He’s impressed me with titles like The Replacement Killers (1998), Training Day (2001), Tears of the Sun (2003), Brooklyn’s Finest (2009), and the two Equalizer flicks (2014, 2018), to name just a few. Even his lower-calibre efforts like King Arthur (2004) and Olympus Has Fallen (2013) have their entertaining merits. He’s a very versatile director with a strong visual aesthetic that I like. Occasionally he’s let down by shitty CG, but I’m usually pretty happy with what I get from his movies. And that streak has yet to be broken!

In a nutshell, The Magnificent Seven focuses on a small, rustic town in the American ‘Old West’ which has fallen under the violent, oppressive rule of a ruthless industrialist named ‘Bogue’ (Peter Sarsgaard), who intends strip the area of gold. A couple of plucky towns-folk strike out to find guns for hire, first off enlisting the services of a bounty hunter / Marshal name ‘Chisholm’ (Denzel Washington) who in turn leads them to a piss-tank gun-fighter named ‘Josh Faraday’ (Chris Pratt), a ‘rebel’ sharpshooter struggling with PTSD named ‘Goodnight Robicheaux’ (Ethan Hawke), a monstrous trapper / tracker named ‘Jack Horne’ (Vincent D’Onofrio), a skilled knife-man partnered with ‘Robicheaux’ named ‘Billy Rocks’ (Lee Byung-hun), a Mexican outlaw named ‘Vasquez’ (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a Navajo warrior named ‘Red Harvest’ (Martin Sensmeier). This magnificent 7 rally the town in a desperate bid at self-preservation, leading to a clash with a literal army brought in by ‘Bogue’.

So on a hot Saturday afternoon, I sealed my self in our new theatre room, grabbed some munchies, along with my pen and paper, and hit PLAY.

Here are my scribbles…

Nice cinematography. A ‘Tony Scott’ feel. This has been true for Antoine Fuqua’s films, going all the way back to his first, The Replacement Killers. From that flick on, it was clear that the man had stylistically bent his knee at the alter of Tony and Ridley Scott. And since those two brothers are / were two of the best who ever worked in the medium of film, that very much works for me!

Sarsgaard! Solid ‘bad guy’ vibe. The introduction of Peter Sarsgaard’s character ‘Bogue’ was well executed, strongly suggesting menace and violence just below the surface, which does not take long to manifest. The stakes are set almost immediately.

Good tone-setting intro. Brutal and tense. Dramatic. As I just mentioned, the intro to ‘Bogue’ and the outcome of that scene definitely sets a tone, and makes you almost instantly start wishing for characters deaths. Good start for a Western!

James Horner?! Was this the last thing he composed before dying? I hear shades of ‘Patriot Games’. Turns out…yes, this was the last score composer James Horner (Aliens) worked on before he was tragically killed in a plane crash in 2015. Interestingly enough, he had composed and recorded a bunch of material before having seen any footage to work with. Fuqua found this out after Horner’s death (I believe) and together with the late composer’s producing partner, tailored what was written to the final film and completed that which wasn’t done. As with most of Horner’s past work, the end result is solid, rousing even… though I will admit that Horner has been accused of reusing his own music and themes, and that does turn up here too. I LOVE his music for 1992’s Patriot Games, but some of this sounded very similar. At least the stuff he’s recycling is great!

Great entrance, Denzel! Killer stache. Pretty much says it all right there. The man takes the clichéd ‘cowboy badass strides dramatically through swinging bar doors’ scene and makes it his own. Rockin a deadly soup strainer along the way.

Sweet bar scene. Denzel’s pure badass. Subtle undercurrent of humor. It works. Going from a killer entrance to a slick scene of tension, violence and humor that moved along at a good pace.

Very Django Unchained. Claiming bounty scene. Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 flick has a classic scene where, after killing his target, Christoph Waltz has to tactfully explain the situation to the up-in-arms townsfolk in order to claim his bounty and get out with his life. VERY similar scene here.

Pratt’s a goof, but he’s funny. Magic card trick. In real life, Chris Pratt is allegedly a total douchebag, with a weird mix of religion and trophy hunting thrown into his mechanics. But like how I feel about Tom Cruise and his fucked up cult of Scientology, I still appreciate Pratt as a performer, and this role helped solidify that. There’s a scene where he cleverly gets himself out of a potentially lethal jam using a card trick on a pair of gun-wielding scumbags, and it was a good time.

They’re playing it safe on gore! Damn! Like with my favorite gangster flicks, I like some spraying red in my Westerns. One of my favorites is 1988’s Young Guns, which came with a well-earned R rating, given the graphic nature of some of the deaths. I’d been hoping that Fuqua, with his capable embrace of the Restricted rating on past films, would just go for the gold with this one. But…it would seem he wasn’t allowed to (damn film studios protecting their investments!). But, to his credit, he does do a good job SUGGESTING violence in the several quick-paced action scenes.

Great theme! Big smile. One aspect of the ‘original’ 1960 version that I was familiar with was the main theme, which has a great rousing quality to it. It’s been reused here, to really nice effect, I thought.

Hawke! Lookin cool! I’ve been a fan of Ethan Hawke’s work going back to his debut in one of my favorite childhood sci-fi/fantasy films, 1985’s Explorers. I appreciate how he’s aging (and allowing himself to age) and he always brings something to any role he takes on, and this is no different. He definitely brings some interesting nuance to this role here.

Good cast chemistry. That’s it…they all work well off each other and feel like a team by the finale. Much of the subtle humor is found in their interactions.

D’Onofrio! Loving this cast! Vincent D’Onofrio is another of those actors I ‘ve been following since I was a teen, when I first saw him in Full Metal Jacket (1987) and then in the highly underrated Strange Days (1995) and, like Hawke, always brings a little extra to any role he seems to take on.

Characters feel like characters. And I wrote that as a compliment. I easily found myself accepting and getting caught up in the exploits of this cast of rogues, as the characters (mostly) feel like there’s substance or credible reasons behind them and their actions.

Eeeewww! Raw deer liver! Right outta the deer! Yeah…pretty gross.

Again, rousing score. I’m clearly still digging the tunes as I write this.

Sweat and grime. I love it. Not so much in Real Life, but in movies, especially ones taking place in rough n tumble settings like the Wild West…the more, the merrier! Fuqua conveys this nicely.

Totally Red Dead. I haven’t actually played any of the Red Dead Redemption games, but in some of my stoned time-wasting, I’ve come across many Youtube compilations of hilarious and brutal rag-doll footage from the game, so I get the point. A couple of the scenarios that turn up in Seven VERY much reminded me of some of those snippets.

I like the suggested brutality. Believe it or not, I don’t always think that gore makes a movie better. 9 times out of 10…it does, but that last one can be well used too, to hold to a studio-mandated PG-13 rating. The suggestion, without the graphic, onscreen follow-through, can be highly effective, as it can put the gore into the audience’s head, without actually showing it. A good example of this is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Everyone seems to remember it as this hyper-gory flick, but it you go back and re-watch it, the vast majority of the violence is suggested, not overtly smashed into your face. The same approach works well here.

I like Hawke’s PTSD angle. If I had to compare the Robicheaux character to any other Western character, it would easily be Val Kilmer’s immortal Doc Holiday, from 1993’s Tombstone. Sort of the mysteriously dangerous gentleman dandy sort, who has skeletons in the closet. The idea of him being a former Southern soldier during the Civil War, who was traumatized by his war experiences and has since changed his views, was a cool one and Hawke did well with it, in my opinion.

Good sound design. Solid ‘Ooomph!’ on the lower end, especially gunfire and explosions, of which there are several.

Nice A-Team montage. Exactly what that says. Just like in that forever awesome 80’s show, there’s a montage of the wacky assembled crew putting their plan into action, which was fun to see.

Energetic gunfight finale’. A Saving Private Ryan feel. Someone could easily plot a parallel between the epic close-quarters combat of Spielberg’s 1998 classic’s Third Act and how the climax of The Magnificent Seven plays out. Very similar beats.

Total cliché’, but cool Gatling Gun scene. We’ve seen this shit EVERYWHERE in Westerns – the ‘bad guys’ ALWAYS seem to trundle out the fearsome hand-cranked Gatling Gun at the height of a gun battle, laying waste to everything and knocking our heroes into the dirt, down to their last chance. Exactly the same thing happens here…but it’s pretty awesome!

D’Onofrio has a Sizemore death. Again going with comparisons to Saving Private Ryan, D’Onofrio’s demise *SPOILERS* comes after he absorbs a shit-ton of punishment in service of the fight, just like Sizmore’s ‘Sgt. Horvath’ did back in ’98.

Hawke has Pepper death. And AGAIN with the Private Ryan comparisons! Just like in that movie, Hawke’s sharpshooter character *SPOILERS* takes to a bell tower, where he and another character rain gunfire down on enemy…until the Gatling Gun is turned their way. Goodbye!

Cliché, but well done. This is my summation of the film, pretty much in it’s entirety.

The Blu ray for $5 was worth it. I really enjoyed turning my brain off and just going on this well-crafted and energetic ‘cowboy’ adventure. The cast was great, the production design was admirable and the action scenes were surprisingly good. I do think a harder rating would’ve been nice, but Fuqua pushed PG-13 pretty far with this one, and I’m happy with what I got. If I did have to complain, I would say that, while the movie does move at a good clip, 10-15 minutes shaved off could’ve leaned it up nicely. It is a little long for the story that it’s telling. But aside from that, I had a good time settling back and taking this strangely unnoticed addition to the mostly dormant ‘Western’ genre in. If you like the genre, or just exciting action movies in general that are well produced, give this better-than-it-should-be remake of a remake a try. It was a fun 2 + hours of dramatic Western conflict, gritty gunfights and fiery explosions, all riding on a great cast and solid production design! Check it out!