Archives for posts with tag: action

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star in “Shaun Of The Dead,” a British comedy/horror about two best friends who are caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in their hometown.  First order of business, find a way to rescue Pegg’s mom and ex-girlfriend, then head to a secure place: The Winchester Pub!  But as everyone knows, there’s what you plan for, and there’s what really happens.  Fans of British comedies and zombie flicks will love this great collaboration of the two genres, giving its core audience lots of funny jokes, zombie action and gore, silliness, and a few well acted scenes of drama.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Shaun Of The Dead” is the scene when Pegg’s group runs into another group of survivors led by Pegg’s friend; and both groups are nearly identical!

— M

Grade B +

1945, Germany.  The Americans are pushing hard toward Berlin.   Hitler has mobilized every German he could get his hands on (old men, women, children) to try to stop the American advance.  At the front lines is a Sherman tank crew headed by a tough Sergeant played by Brad Pitt.  Short one crewman who was killed in action, Pitt receives a completely green, teenaged soldier (played by Logan Lerman) who specializes in typing and never had one minute of training in a tank.

Knowing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, Pitt forces Lerman to grow up much faster than the kid is able to.  With a huge push deeper into enemy territory coming up fast, Pitt’s crew must work together as one, cohesive unit if they are to have even a small chance of staying alive.

My most memorable, movie moment on “Fury” is the scene when Pitt’s platoon of tanks line up side by side and fire at a treeline ahead of them where German soldiers have taken a defensive position.  With all guns firing (main cannons, .50 Browning heavy machine-guns, .30 machine-guns) the Germans are slaughtered within seconds, with many bodies blown to pieces.

The outer shell of “Fury” is a vicious, gruesome tale of WW II combat.  Within this shell is the story of Pitt, a veteran warrior who is near his breaking point, and is further burdened with a boy he must teach to be a hardened soldier; and in doing so, risks further dehumanizing himself as well as the boy.

“Fury” is one of the best war movies made in the last 20 years; and had it not been for the slight — I’m being kind here — unbelievable nature of the final battle, “Fury” would have been destined to become a classic.

— M

Grade B –

The eighth movie of “The Fast And The Furious” line, “The Fate Of The Furious” is just as outrageous, ridiculous, unbelievable, funny, and entertaining as the preceding seven movies.  Part 8 has Charlize Theron playing the villain.  Her problem?  She wants to have the means to threaten and carry out punishments to various governments when they do…whatever it is they do that upset her — the movie wasn’t really clear on that.  She blackmails Vin Diesel’s character to steal what she needs.  No, she doesn’t need ex-Navy SEALs; she doesn’t need ex-Special Forces; she doesn’t need ex-SAS or even ex-Delta Force soldiers — she needs Vin Diesel!

So what has Theron have on Diesel that makes him turn on his fellow fast and furious crew?  That is a secret I won’t reveal.  But Diesel is now on the most wanted list, and not only is his former crew after him, U.S. secret agents are also coming for him.  In fact, so many people are angry at Diesel turning rogue that his old crew are working with former enemies.  We are treated to ludicrous chase scenes and giant, action set pieces in Cuba, Berlin, NYC, Europe, and the unfriendly skies as Diesel’s motivations and actions unfold.

My most memorable, movie moment is the sequence of the bad guys hacking the computers of dozens of vehicles in NYC and driving them all remotely with a decent amount of precision…all done by one or two people.  Adding to the craziness of this sequence is seeing what is supposedly Manhattan’s streets fairly open to fast moving traffic during the day time.  People familiar with this island are probably laughing after reading that last sentence.

Hey, “The Fast And The Furious” movies will never be Oscar contenders for Best Screenplay, we know this.  These movies are for a specific audience of hundreds of millions of people all over the world — myself included — and they never fail to entertain us.  And so we keep watching them, regardless of how silly things get.  In fact, silly is something we’ve come to expect with the package.

— M

Grade C +

In this live action re-make of the classic 1995 anime, Scarlett Johansson plays a highly advanced cyborg who has a human brain (which contains her human essence, or ghost) that is placed into a tough, weapons grade body (the shell).   She and her team of government agents are tasked with finding a hacker who is killing top executives of a robotics company.

Through the crowded streets of Japan littered with giant, holographic advertisements, Johansson’s perspective on who she is, what she is fighting for, and who the real enemy is will change the closer she gets to the truth about the hacker.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Ghost In The Shell” (2017) is the scene when Johansson fights a Spider-Tank using inadequate weapons, forcing her to use her body to save another being that is similar to herself.

This iteration of “G.I.T.S.” dumbs down the complex storylines of the 1995 movie, making the 2017 version easier to understand but less satisfying.   It’s like driving a Dodge Viper ACR with the engine swapped out for one that belongs in a Toyota Camry to please those with inferior driving skills.  “G.I.T.S.” (2017) misses the whole point of a computer program becoming a sentient life form that seeks to evolve, and the arguments of what life is.  As disappointed as I was, this version is somewhat entertaining, and it was fun to see many scenes that were virtually identical to the original movie.  Still, this is a classic example of Hollywood focusing on style instead of substance.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: One of the best animated movies of the 1990s, “Ghost In The Shell” has secret agent/cyborg Motoko searching for a hacker nicknamed Puppet Master who can hack into a cyborg’s “ghost,” or human essence.  Her investigation — often culminating in violence — will have her looking into her own government and make her ask questions about the definition of life and the basic principles of what makes a creature a human being.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Ghost In The Shell” (1995) is the scene when Motoko, armed with a submachine-gun and a few grenades, takes on a tank as she pursues the Puppet Master.  Every anime fan is aware of this movie and loves it; and that love is well deserved.  Watch the movie and you’ll see and hear for yourself.

— M

Grade A

 Expertly directed by Angelina Jolie, “Unbroken” is the true story of U.S. soldier Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell) who survived weeks in a raft in the ocean after a plane crash, then is taken prisoner by Japanese soldiers and brutalized by the commander of the P.O.W. camp.

A dangerous bombing run, an attack by Japanese Zeros, a search and rescue operation that turns into a disaster, the agonizing weeks of starvation and thirst in a life raft, flashbacks of Zamperini’s troubled childhood and redemption, and the never ending days of torment in two Japanese P.O.W. camps give the audience insight to who this amazing person is and how he was able to survive the hardships during World War II.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Unbroken” is the scene when O’Connell is in the life raft with two of his friends who also survived the plane crash; there is a wicked storm and each wave is as big as a three-story house.  O’Connell grips tightly on the ropes attached to the raft, praying to God to help him make it through this horror.

“Unbroken” is a story made more powerful because it is true.  Both the beauty and ugliness of the human spirit are shown, with the “better angels of our nature” winning.

— M

Grade B +

 Based on the true story of Private Desmond Doss who single-handedly saved dozens of U.S. soldiers on Okinawa in a place nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge”…all without using a weapon.

Andrew Garfield plays Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who has made a vow not to kill nor handle a gun, yet volunteers to join the Army during WW II to serve his country in a way that doesn’t conflict with his religion, i.e. he will be a combat medic and save the lives of his fellow soldiers.  Basic training in the U.S. Army becomes a nightmare for Garfield because his Conscientious Objector status makes his unit think that he is a coward, and that Garfield will just stand by as his comrades get attacked by the enemy.  For his refusal to pick up a weapon during training, Garfield is ostracized, beaten, and court-martialed.   But with Garfield’s faith and inner strength, and the help of his fiancée and his father, Garfield’s C.O. status is upheld and allowed to finish his training.  The bloody battles in Okinawa await.

It is in combat that all soldiers are ultimately tested; and Garfield proves his worth in every way when the bullets fly, charging in when a soldier cries “medic!” despite the dangers all around.  As the men in his company fall from their wounds, Garfield is there to help save their lives; but with only a helmet for protection, how long can Garfield survive the enemy’s onslaught before he is killed?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hacksaw Ridge” is the scene when Garfield’s Company reaches the Ridge and sees the landscape before them: torn bodies of soldiers everywhere, black sand, sharp rocks, trees splintered by the shelling, and smoke that hides the Japanese soldiers that are waiting for the Americans to walk into the killzone.

Taking second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Vince Vaughn (playing a Sergeant in Garfield’s squad/platoon) addresses the new recruits for the first time.  One recruit is completely naked, but Vaughn ignores him and instead hurls insults at other soldiers who are more presentable.  It’s a fine example of comedic writing.

Director Mel Gibson did an excellent job with “Hacksaw Ridge,” taking his time to tell the background story of Garfield’s character to show us why he believes in what he believes.   And once we are on board with what this humble, C.O. is all about, the second half of the movie throws him into the meat grinder, where the audience will see what the man is truly made of.

— M

B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Firestarter” adapts Stephen King’s book of the same name, and stars Drew Barrymore playing the title role and David Keith as her protective father.  Both father and daughter have super powers (Barrymore can set almost anything on fire) due to a government experiment, and now they are hunted down for more experimentation and ultimate disposal.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Firestarter” is the scene when Barrymore walks out of a burning barn, ready to kill and burn everything and everyone she sees — a little girl with an adorable face but with the power of the devil.  Although “Firestarter” has the feel of a movie of the week and has several shenanigans (e.g., the bad guys make the laughably bad assumption that Keith has lost his powers and therefore doesn’t need that much supervision), overall it is very entertaining (mostly due to Barrymore’s adorable portrayal of her character), and the part when Barrymore goes off on the bad guys is very satisfying.

— M

B+

A terrific start to a fresh take on the “Planet Of The Apes” movies.  Andy Serkis plays the role of Caesar, a chimpanzee with heightened intelligence due to an experimental drug that was developed by his owner (played by James Franco).  Living in the house of Franco, Serkis grows strong and freakishly intelligent.  But he is still basically a chimpanzee; and that inner, savage nature takes the best of him when he escapes from the house to protect a loved one.

Serkis is placed in a “sanctuary” for great apes, which is basically a prison.   Serkis must learn to carefully navigate this madhouse, avoiding the vicious alpha male of the group, and cultivating friends as he plots an escape.  But where can he and his kind escape to?  He doesn’t belong to the human world, and he certainly doesn’t belong in a zoo nor a “sanctuary.”

As Caesar tries to make sense of his situation, Franco creates a stronger version of the virus that made Serkis super intelligent, hoping for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.   But viruses being what they are, Franco risks unleashing a curse instead of a cure.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” is the scene when Serkis speaks for the first time when he is being mistreated by a human.  He utters one word, a simple word that bullies, tyrants, and dictators fear.  A word that can spark a revolution.

— M

Grade A –

Mostly taking place days before “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” puts us at the tip of the spear of the Rebel Alliance.  Said tip is headed by two rebels (played by Felicity Jones and Diego Luna) who volunteer to infiltrate a heavily defended, Imperial base to steal the plans to the Empire’s dreaded, new weapon, the Death Star.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the scene when Darth Vader boards a Rebel ship.  Invisible within the dark hallway, his breathing can be heard…then the red light saber ignites.  Vader straight up murders dozens of rebel soldiers within a span twenty seconds, an unstoppable, evil force moving forward as he kills.  It is Darth Vader’s most terrifying moment in all of the “Star Wars” movies.

What makes “Rogue One” more satisfying than the last four “Star Wars” movies (Episodes I, II, III, and VII) is mostly due to a tight screenplay that does not contain many head-scratching moments that put off “SW” fans; and a more brutal depiction of combat where characters that you grow to like may not survive.  The “dogfights” are also faster paced, have better dialogue, and have great choreography.  And last but definitely not least: the numerous characters from Episode IV that are brought back, either through CGI or from unused film footage from the 1977 movie.

My ticket to “Rogue One” was money well spent, and this title will be part of my Blu-Ray library in the near future.

— M

Grade A

Director Ang Lee has a knack for packing a serious, emotional punch in even the most quiet moments of a movie; and he does that again with “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a mostly quiet movie that contemplates the craziness of war: started by the rich; fought by the poor and young; the physical and emotional damage it does to the soldiers and their families; the lies that are told to keep the war effort going; the lip service that most civilians give to the soldiers as life goes on as if there is no war happening, etc.

After his heroic actions during the second Iraqi war are captured on video for all of America to see, Joe Alwyn (who plays the title role) and his infantry squad are paraded throughout the U.S. to be used as living propaganda for America’s war against Iraq.  On the last day of their “vacation” in the U.S. before being shipped back to the war, Alwyn’s experiences in Iraq and his first days of coming home are told in flashbacks.  He clearly suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and he finds a way out of going back into combat duty thanks to his loving and tenacious sister played by Kristen Stewart.  But he must make a tough decision whether to take care of himself and take the way out, or take care of his squadmates and go back into combat with them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is the scene when a civilian starts making fun of soldiers during a football game.  One of Alwyn’s squadmates puts the loudmouth in a sleeper hold, silencing his big mouth in seconds.

Ang Lee does a great job with “BLLHW,” focusing on Alwyn and allowing the audience to see what this soldier has seen and what he is thinking.  I especially enjoyed the unpredictable nature of this movie, as it could have gone in so many clichéd routes in the third act under the guidance of untalented directors/producers/writers; but the filmmakers chose to take the road less travelled, and produced a relatively quiet ending that is still emotionally powerful.

— M

Grade B +

One of the best suspense/thriller movies from 2016, “Don’t Breathe” has three teens (Jane Levy playing the main character of the bunch) breaking into the home of a blind man (played by Stephen Lang) to steal a lot of cash that he supposedly has in the house.

It’s supposed to be an easy job for the teen burglars: Lang lives alone in a Detroit neighborhood where almost every house is abandoned (few witnesses); one of the teens has a master key for the burglar alarm that Lang uses; Lang is old, the teens are young and they outnumber him.  But once inside Lang’s home, the young thieves get much more than they planned for when Lang proves to be a very tough and vicious opponent who also harbors some very dark, nasty secrets.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when the burglars discover a hidden room in Lang’s basement that reveals a shocking secret.

“Don’t Breathe” has a few, minor shenanigans that most viewers will easily forgive because overall, the entire movie works very well.  It is very suspenseful, the pacing is fast, the acting is good, you’ll want to know what happens to each of the four characters, and there are a few surprises thrown in there that seasoned movie fans should be able to foresee.

— M

B+

From the mind of J.K. Rowling comes “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them,” an amazing tale of the adventures of a young wizard (perfectly played by Eddie Redmayne) who goes to NYC in the 1920s in order to retrieve and find homes for fantastic, magical beasts that would otherwise be destroyed by the wizarding community.

Redmayne will face many serious hurdles during his mission: not knowing how to navigate NYC (specifically Manhattan); being unfamiliar with the rules of the wizard community in NY; both wizards and non-wizards fearing the fantastic beasts and wanting them destroyed; and the wizarding community not sanctioning his search, capture, and release (into safe zones) of the beasts.

A larger threat is a powerful force that wreaks destruction and death in NYC, threatening to unveil the wizarding world to the normal humans.  A fantastic, magical beast is blamed; and Redmayne has little time left to prove to the wizards that the cause of the mayhem is some other, supernatural force.  If Redmayne fails at what he must do, a war between normal humans and wizards may erupt; and all the fantastic beasts in Redmayne’s care will be destroyed.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Redmayne and his wizard friend/love interest are sentenced to death, and we see the manner in which the execution is carried out.  The executioners mention that it won’t hurt, but I think it will!

“FBAWTFT” was much better than I anticipated, and it is a very good companion piece to the “Harry Potter” movies.  But it does suffer from two huge plot holes — or shenanigans, as I like to call it — that cannot be easily dismissed.  The wizards have the power to reverse any damage to property, and remove memories of magical experiences by normal humans.  In addition, the wizards can wreak such havoc upon the world and there is very little that the normal humans can do about it.  One wizard can probably destroy a small country in a day.  So why do the wizards fear having their existence revealed, and some possible war against the normal humans happening?

— M

Grade C +

The third movie in the “Fast And The Furious” movies — but chronologically takes place much later in the series — has a teenager (played by Lucas Black) sent to school in Tokyo because he’s been a naughty boy in America and his illegal racing activities will get him sent to prison unless he goes to another country to live with his father.  Huh?  What?  Hey, never mind…this isn’t a movie about logic and realism.  Anyway…

Black is now in Tokyo, gets the hots for a classmate who is dating a gangster (played by Brian Tee), and is introduced to drifting (a controlled, sideways movement of a fast moving car).  Ah!  “Tokyo Drift” you say with a big grin.  Not wanting to look like a punk who can’t drive, Black is taken under the wing of “TFATF” alumni Han (played by Sung Kang) to be taught how to drift so Black can settle all his problems by racing and drifting.  Makes sense?  No?  Well, it’s not supposed to!  This movie is for people who like to drive fast cars and want to see crazy, fast driving in the movies.  I’m one of those people, but I also appreciate a well-written story.  Oh, well, at least I get half of what I want.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Kang is being chased by Tee, and Kang’s car flips over and explodes, killing Kang.  Why is this so memorable to me?  Because the Han character played by Kang is my favorite in all of “TFATF” movies.

Although “Tokyo Drift” is my least favorite movie of this series, it still ties in to the storyline, especially to the later movies, so it’s a must see for “TFATF” fans.

— M

Grade B

Director Antoine Fuqua teams up again with Denzel Washington to remake “The Magnificent Seven,” a story of farmers and miners who are being forced out by a rich, vicious gold miner (played by Peter Sarsgaard).  Those who take Sarsgaard’s deal are given the short end of the stick; those who refuse the deal will wish they had taken the deal.   But a handful take an alternative route: hire their own gunmen to fight Sarsgaard and his henchmen.

The townspeople end up with seven hired men: a peace officer extremely fast with a pistol; a sneaky gambler who likes to use magic to get the upper hand on his enemies; a notorious killer; a sharpshooter; an Asian who is fast with guns and knives; a legendary tracker; and a Native American deadly with a longbow.  Seven against a hundred.  But the seven have an edge…they have time to fortify the town and set up their defenses; and they have dozens of civilians at their disposal to train and help in the upcoming fight.  The good guys are confident of their chances to win; unfortunately, Sarsgaard has his own surprise for the seven and the rest of the townsfolk.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Magnificent Seven” is the scene when Sargaard brings out a Gatling Gun (an early machine-gun) to bring hell to those who dared oppose him.  This scene gives a major wow factor, and it also gives its biggest shenanigan.  Why did Sarsgaard wait until his men were getting their asses kicked to bring out his special weapon?  Also, at the range the Gatling Gun was used for in this movie, I wonder how effective the bullets would have been once they reach the town.

The Western movie, as far as I know, is an art form originally created in America.  As long as entertaining movies such as “The Magnificent Seven” keep getting made every few years, this American art form will never die.

— M

Grade B

Two brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob banks in order to make the payments on the family ranch that is about to be foreclosed by a bank.  They need to come up with a certain amount, and then they’ll be done and will no longer have to worry about money — the family ranch has been found to contain a tremendous amount of oil that would provide an income to the owners of about $50,000 a month.  Using multiple vehicles to do their illegal transfer of wealth, Pine and Foster attack the banks early in the morning to minimize resistance and witnesses.  But Foster, an ex-con, has a wild streak; and he may be the one to provide the mistake that a Texas Ranger (played by Jeff Bridges) is depending on to get an edge on apprehending the brothers.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hell Or High Water” is the scene when Pine and Foster are being chased by armed civilians after the brothers robbed a bank — this takes place in Texas, by the way.  Sick of running, Foster stops his vehicle, grabs a fully automatic assault rifle, and just lights up the vigilantes.  It is an awesome display of firepower from just one rifle and one man who knows how to use it.

“Hell Or High Water” is a good drama/action/suspense movie that will have some people rooting for the bad guys.  The constant reminders of unemployment, billboards of “easy” loans and debt relief to those desperate for money, and of course, what we know of the government’s and big banks’ roles in the great financial collapse a few years ago…it’s easy to want Pine to get away with what he is attempting.  Foster’s character, on the other hand, is different animal.

**SPOILER ALERT** I would have given this movie higher marks, but the shenanigan of Pine getting away with everything he’s done is just too much to let go.  The story offers a detailed but unsatisfying explanation as to why Pine remains free at the end, and it just does not ring true.  With so much damage done, no way the law would allow this to be swept away and be happy to pin it all on Foster.

— M

Grade A

Disney has produced another hit with “Moana.”  Playing the title role, Auli’i Cravalho is a princess of a South Pacific island.  Kind, intelligent, brave and adventurous, her desire to see what is beyond her island home is impeded by her father’s warnings of the dangers that are out in the deep ocean and Cravalho’s duty to stay home and learn how to be the next chief of the people.   She reluctantly gives up her dream of sailing into the ocean far from home…until the plant and fish that Cravalho’s people depend on to survive either die off or disappear.

Learning of an ancient tale of a demigod named Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) who stole a precious stone that provided life to the ocean and islands, Cravalho goes on a treacherous journey to find Johnson and force him to put the stone back; and hope that would bring balance, peace, and life back to her world.  There will be many challenges for the young princess: she lacks knowledge of deep ocean sailing; she has a mentally challenged chicken as a stowaway; Johnson does not share Cravalho’s eagerness to return the stone back to where it belongs; a swarm of tiny, coconut-headed pirates roam the ocean; Johnson’s magic hook must be taken from a giant crab who will not give it up so easily; and a fearsome god made of lava guards the entrance to where the stone must be returned.  Yup, it’s going to take a team of brilliant writers to get her through all this!

My most memorable, movie moment of “Moana” is the scene when the princess gets a visit from her grandmother at a time when the princess is at her lowest, ready to give up and go home.  It is a touching scene, especially to viewers who have lost a loved one and believe that our spirits go on, and one day we will see them again.

Fully realized, likeable characters; a great story; positive messages; amazing animation; scenes that are very funny and scenes that put a lump in your throat; catchy songs…these are all present in “Moana.”  Bottom line, it’s a great movie that adults will enjoy with their children because, like most Disney movies, it just makes you feel better about life.

— M

Grade B –

It is the 1980s.  The uneasy peace between mutants and humans will be threatened when a powerful mutant named “Apocalypse” (played by Oscar Isaac) is freed from his prison.  Having the power to amplify the powers of other mutants, Apocalypse recruits and empowers four mutants to protect him (the four horsemen of the Apocalypse — yeah, I know, it’s kind of corny) as he implements his plan to destroy humans and create a new world for mutants.  Standing in the way of Isaac’s nightmarish dream are James McAvoy (who plays mutant Professor X) and his mutant students called X-Men.  It will take all their combined efforts — and maybe a bit of outside help — to defeat Isaac and his four minions.

My most memorable, movie moment of “X-Men: Apocalypse” is **SPOILER ALERT** the sequence that had mutant Quicksilver save all the X-Men in the Westchester mansion from an enormous explosion.  This outstanding display of Quicksilver’s powers makes one wonder how he could not destroy Isaac and his four horsemen by himself.  I find this to be a huge shenanigan that forced me to take a lot of points away from this movie.

Although “X-Men: Apocalypse” is one of the better X-Men movies (the sheer number of mutants going toe to toe is a comic book lover’s dream), it suffers from two huge plot holes (one already mentioned in the previous paragraph).  The second plot hole is this: why doesn’t Isaac just make a general call for any disgruntled mutants to join him from the beginning?  Take over a tv station and make his offer to the world.  With so many mutants being abused throughout the planet, Isaac would have amassed an army of hundreds, if not thousands, of mutants; and he would have been unstoppable.  So why didn’t the movie have this take place?  Probably because the writers were like “Uhhh…we’re not going to deal with that, and hope no one notices.”  Well, we noticed.

— M

Grade B –

With more metahumans coming out of the woodwork, the U.S. government creates a secret, task force made up of metahumans to fight other metahumans who do not have the world’s best interests at heart.  Viola Davis, playing a top government agent who creates this metahuman squad, unwisely chooses villains to fill out the group.  Yes, at first this seems like a ludicrous idea…after all, how can you trust these villains to do your bidding?  And the character of Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie…how can this psychopath be expected to follow orders, even under the threat of having her head blown off by implanted, miniature explosives?  The idea of this “Suicide Squad” is so far-fetched, how can the audience blindly accept it and sit back and have fun with the movie?  Well…let me tell you…

The U.S. putting madmen and psychos under payroll and setting them up to acquire a tremendous amount of power is very real, and very common.  Manuel Noriega, Ferdinand Marcos, Osama Bin-Laden, and Saddam Hussein are a few examples.  Soooo…the idea of the U.S. government hiring maniacs to fight other maniacs isn’t that far-fetched after all.

Soon after Davis sets up her squad under threats and/or promises of freedom and extra goodies, a metahuman threat arises.  Ironically, it is a threat that is borne from a squad member!  Will Smith (playing Deadshot) leads the “Suicide Squad” into the fight, and as expected, things do not go smoothly.  How can it?  The squad has never fought as a group before; one is psychotic; another made a promise to himself to not use his powers anymore; two of them just want to escape; and the squad wasn’t given the full story of who they are fighting and how this threat came to be.   Working together and defeating a powerful enemy will take a miracle, and they need that miracle to happen fast because the entire world is about to end.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Suicide Squad” is the scene when Robbie finally puts on her outfit.  ‘Nuff said.

“Suicide Squad” is a reasonably entertaining, somewhat mindless action flick that has two memorable characters: Deadshot and Harley Quinn.   While Robbie killed it as Quinn, Smith seemed miscast for his role as Deadshot.  Add to this a script that needed more polish and focus, and what could have been a great movie is reduced to one that is just okay.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings:  Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States are hunted and killed by a sadistic American (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his bloodthirsty dog.   Equipped with a scoped, high-powered rifle, an off-road pickup truck, a well trained dog, and plenty of supplies, Morgan seems to be unstoppable in “Desierto”…until he goes up against two illegals played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Alondra Hidalgo.  Although the movie touches on some current topics in the U.S., “Desierto” is predominantly a story of a psycho taking out mostly innocent people.   My most memorable, movie moment of “Desierto” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Morgan comes upon what Bernal did to his dog.  It was the only time I took pity on Morgan — as evil as Morgan was, he loved his dog; and I know what it’s like to see one’s four-legged friend suffer and die.

— M

Grade A

Somewhere in Africa, a boy (played by Abraham Attah) and his family are caught between warring factions in their country.  Most of Attah’s family are killed, and the boy barely escapes, running into the jungle until he is lost and alone…but not for long.   Attah is found by a rebel faction led by a brutal and charismatic leader played by Idris Elba.   Instead of being killed, Attah is offered to join the rebels and fight the soldiers who killed his family.   Not having much of a choice, Attah joins the rebels who are mostly children.

With little training, Attah is thrown into the fight, first as an ammo bearer, then as a full-fledged fighter armed with an assault rifle.  He experiences combat on a regular basis which desensitizes him to the brutality of warfare; but somewhere deep in his heart, a bit of goodness remains…a goodness that may be extinguished when Attah discovers a terrible secret of Elba.  Like his fellow child soldiers, Attah will find himself trapped in constant battle as Elba goes rogue against his superiors.  Not part of the main rebel force, and not part of the nation’s army, Attah and his group are “Beasts Of No Nation.”

My most memorable, movie moment of “Beasts Of No Nation” is the scene when Attah is given a machete to make his first kill: a man on his knees, pleading for his life, telling his captors that he is not a soldier but an engineer who is going to build a bridge.

Taking second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when we see one of Elba’s soldiers, a fully naked man carrying a light machine-gun.   No, he wasn’t taking a shower; no, he wasn’t sleeping and got caught off guard in a surprise attack.  This dude went into combat naked with his weenie proudly swinging back and forth as he engaged the enemy!

“Beasts Of No Nation” is a terrifying look into some of the horrors that still go on in some African nations.   No solutions are given, just a glimpse of what is.

— M

Grade A

Based on an incredible, true story that I think most people have never heard of, “Free State Of Jones” is about a Confederate soldier who deserts and creates an army of deserters, runaway slaves, and their families to fight the Confederate Army in Mississippi.

Matthew McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a Southern soldier who has had enough of war, had enough of fighting what he believed was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, had enough of Confederate soldiers in his home county of Jones, Mississippi taking almost everything from poor families to supposedly help out with the war effort, and had enough of slavery and all the cruelties that go with one person owning another person.  McConaughey’s insurrection starts off small but dramatic, slowly building up until he and his company are at war with the Confederate States of America.

This movie doesn’t just deal with what happened during the American Civil War, it also delves into the “reconstruction” phase after the war, and the barbaric and ironic aftermath for the former slaves.  Adding further interest and depth to “Free State Of Jones” is the separate story within the movie regarding one of Newton Knight’s descendants (a white man who is part black) who is on trial for marrying a white woman in Mississippi — at the time of the trial, interracial relationships were illegal; and Knight’s descendant, despite looking white, was considered black.   How hypocritical, since white masters often raped their female slaves for hundreds of years while the Southern society turned a blind eye to it.

“Free State Of Jones” is a powerful movie about a small segment of America’s past that should always be remembered.   This story is not just about the evils that men do to one another, it is also a story of hope, love, sacrifice, and redemption.  It deserves to be told.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Free State Of Jones” is the scene when McConaughey, after teaching three little girls and their mother to hold and shoot guns, holds off Confederate soldiers from taking the family’s supplies as “tax” for the war effort.  Now that’s what I call a fine example of the Second Amendment being exercised.

— M

Grade A

The lives of two men, a bank robber and a cop (played by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, respectively), will violently collide and alter their lives and of those near to them.   Gosling and Cooper both have sons who are one-year-old when the fateful day happens; and the sins of the fathers will come back to haunt their sons 15 years later.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Place Beyond The Pines” is the scene when Cooper is pulled over by a fellow cop, played by Ray Liotta.  Cooper has snitched on some cops, you see, and one of those cops is Liotta.  Liotta, known for his intense, fearsome stares, has not lost his touch, as evidenced by this scene.

“The Place Beyond The Pines” is an odd duck because it doesn’t follow the typical 3 act structure of virtually all movies.  It feels like 2 acts followed by 3 acts.  Let me explain.  The first 1/3 of the movie is Gosling’s story, then the last 2/3 of the movie is Cooper’s story as well as the two sons of Gosling and Cooper.  Basically, at the 50 minute mark, it’s like watching another movie…a sequel to the first 1/3 of the movie, if you will.  We get this huge build up, and then the movie flatlines as we are introduced to a whole new set of characters.   Surprisingly, this does not harm the movie overall.  Why?  Because almost everything else works like magic.

Two little shenanigans though that I can’t let go: 1) Cooper’s son is a problem teen, and Cooper doesn’t implement any kind of measures to keep his teen from having an out of control party while Cooper is away; 2) a character buys a motorcycle in cash, and immediately rides off…no license, no registration, no plates, no insurance…how far does this guy think he can go before he sees flashing blue and red lights behind him?

“The Place Beyond The Pines” is like a slow burning, dramatic mini-series that takes its time to develop the story and characters.  At some point, you, the audience, gets hooked; and you just have to watch it all the way to the end.  That’s a good thing, because this movie is one hell of story.

— M

Grade B

“The Bourne Legacy” is the 4th “Bourne” movie and the first one that doesn’t have Matt Damon, unless you count pictures of the actor shown in a few scenes for reference.  Taking over the leading role in this movie is Jeremey Renner, playing a super-secret spy working for a super-secret agency within the CIA.  Unfortunately for Renner, he is part of a spy program that produced Jason Bourne (Matt Damon); and since Damon has turned rogue, the CIA fears other agents of the program might also flip out and turn against their handlers.  The super spy programs are torn down, and the super agents are killed off…except for Renner, who barely manages an assassination attempt on his life.

Renner must now evade CIA assassins, which he is very adept at.  His biggest problem are the meds that he has to take on a regular basis so his body doesn’t break down.  This leads him to Rachel Weisz, a doctor whom he has had frequent contact with within the spy program — a doctor who knows too much and is also a target for termination.   Alone, they have no hope of survival — Renner needs his meds and Weisz needs someone to protect her from the assassins and get her “off the grid.”  But together, they might be able to come out of this nightmare alive.

“Legacy” is a good offshoot of the “Bourne” movies, almost as good as the previous three movies.  Where this movie falls short of its predecessors are: 1) the Jason Bourne character is much more likeable; and 2) “Legacy” doesn’t really take off re: intensity and action until about 30 minutes into the movie.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Legacy” is the **SPOILER ALERT** scene when Weisz reveals to Renner what his meds do: they enhance his body and mind, essentially making him a superhuman.  This explains how Damon (as Bourne) and Renner can do the amazing things we see them do in these four movies, like beating the hell out of multiple enemies within a matter of seconds.

Fans of the “Bourne” movies will, of course, be disappointed in not having Damon reprise his role.  But this movie is a must-see for “Bourne” fans because it gives more backstory to Jason Bourne and the overall programs that he was tied with; and “Legacy” in and of itself is an entertaining, action flick.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Taking place immediately after the end of “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” once again stars Matt Damon as the ex-spy whom the CIA just can’t leave alone.   With the information Damon received in “Supremacy,” he sets out for the U.S. to find out more about who he is and how he came to be the way he is.  Some members of the upper management of the CIA aren’t so happy with Damon being alive and actively seeking information that could bring prison time to said members of CIA upper management, so a standing order to shoot on sight is greenlit on Damon.  But Damon does have two friends in the CIA, possibly giving him all the edge he needs to stay alive and finally unravel the mystery of how he came to be spy.  Director Paul Greengrass ups the ante in this third “Bourne” movie, giving us a faster pacing, more intensity, longer action set pieces, and bigger stakes.  This was a good “end” to the series…if this was truly the end — we know now there were more to come.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Ultimatum” is Damon’s fight scene with an assassin named Desh.  As with previous “Bourne” movies, the fights are long, raw and savage, with Damon using household objects to fight and kill his opponents.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Matt Damon returns for the second of the “Bourne” movies in “The Bourne Supremacy.”   Living in India with his girlfriend (played by Franka Potente), Damon’s worst fears comes true when he is pursued by a secret agent (Karl Urban).   Believing it is the CIA out to kill him, Damon takes the fight to them, unaware that Urban works for a rich, Russian businessman who wants Damon dead to tie up loose ends that began in the first movie.  Complicating matters is that Urban has framed Damon for the deaths of a few CIA agents.  With two groups out to kill him, Damon not only has to fight to stay alive, he has to figure out why he is being targeted for termination and by who.  Although “Supremacy” has a new director, the feel of the first movie carries over to this one — in other words, if you liked “Identity,” you will like “Supremacy.”  Fast pacing, frenetic action, a likeable hero, and a new revelation of Damon’s past all lead to a very entertaining movie.   My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Supremacy” is the scene when Damon fights another Treadstone agent.   The fight is raw, brutal, and nasty — something “Bourne” fans have come to expect.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, a highly trained, U.S. spy whose wounded body is found floating in an ocean by a fishing boat.  With no memory of who he is and what happened to him, he has to piece together how he came to be shot in the back and left for dead; and most importantly, who and what he is.  But Damon must do it fast, as time is running out and the ones he worked for are sending assassins to find him.  “The Bourne Identity” is  top-notch spy movie, filled with action, suspense, and a mystery that is slowly explained as the movie goes on.  Matt Damon is well suited for the role, and with the help of fancy editing, he comes off as a martial arts expert who can quickly dispatch multiple foes in a few seconds.   The movie moves along very fast, making the near two hour running time feel like it’s thirty minutes shorter than it is.  Fast pacing and a likeable hero (Damon) are two big strengths of this movie that fans of spy/thriller/suspense movies should not miss.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Identity” is the scene when Damon evades the police with an original Mini car!   Hey, it’s not the car, it’s the driver that counts.

— M

Grade D +

Manny’s Movie Musings: It should be called “Independence Day: Regurgitation.”  The same director; the same logical flaws; the same unfunny jokes; the same main actors; the same aliens…I’d be okay with the same of many things except all the logical flaws of the story.  Okay, first the plot: it’s been 20 years since the original invasion, and humans have merged alien tech with human tech, and we now have super duper military hardware.  People think they have what it takes to defend against another attack, but they are mistaken.  From the aliens’ home world comes a ship that is 3,000 miles wide, ready to destroy us pesky humans.  But the aliens didn’t count on one thing: a screenplay so full of plot holes that the aliens are sure to be defeated in the most stupid and ridiculous ways.  “Independence Day: Resurgence” is just one big shenanigan of a movie.  For example: the mother ship, at 3,000 miles wide, has its own gravitational pull.  It destroys anything that it flies over…sooooo…why not just do a fly-by over the entire surface of Earth and wipe out the humans?  Hey, don’t look at me…ask the 5 screenwriters — which includes the director — whose combined talent (or lack thereof) couldn’t see that most of this movie made no sense.  I have to admit though: “ID: R” was somewhat amusing.  Not exactly a glowing recommendation for a $165 million dollar project (plus the cost of distribution).  My most memorable, movie moment of “ID: R” would be the final seconds of the movie when it is clear Roland Emmerich is thinking about another “ID” movie.  If there is anyone deserving of a painful, alien, anal probe, it is Emmerich.

— M

Grade A

Director Walter Hill’s gritty movie about NYC gangs in the 1970s stands the test of time, with each new generation of movie lovers being introduced to and enjoying this cult, classic hit.

On a hot, summer, NYC night, the most powerful gang leader, Cyrus, organizes a meeting among the hundreds of street gangs of NYC.  The Warriors, coming in from Coney Island, Brooklyn, is one of the gangs attending.   During Cyrus’ speech on organizing the gangs to take over NYC, he is shot and killed by the leader of the Rogues gang (played by David Patrick Kelly).  Kelly shifts the blame to the Warriors, and now every gang is after them, as well as the NYPD.

Michael Beck (playing the leader of The Warriors) must lead his small group from The Bronx all the way to Coney Island, fighting their way neighborhood by neighborhood.   The odds are heavily against The Warriors, with 100,000 “boppers” and about 20,000 cops looking to take them out any way they can.  The Warriors consider themselves to be the best, and tonight, they will have to prove it.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Warriors” is the scene when four Warriors are being chased in Central Park by a gang called The Baseball Furies (guys dressed in the familiar pinstripes of The Yankees, but wearing face paint like the rock band KISS).  Beck and another Warrior veer off to the right, and the Furies continue after the other two Warriors.  Moments later, Beck and his companion appear behind the Furies to attack the enemy stragglers from behind.   It’s a great example of Beck’s strong, battlefield tactics that will give The Warriors a slim chance to get home.

For those too young to remember what NYC looked like decades ago, this is an eye opener.  “The Warriors” is a snapshot of how savage the city that never sleeps was back in the 70s: graffiti everywhere, a gang in almost each neighborhood, the high crime rate, the overwhelmed police, and the grime that seems to seep out of the walls and streets.  But it is also a very engaging movie with many memorable characters, lots of action sequences, great pacing and direction, a charismatic leader (Beck) whom the audience will want to see find his way home, and a music score that enhances the frightening nature of the city streets at night despite its sometimes disco-rock infusion.

— M

C+

Manny’s Movie Musings: A deaf/mute woman (played by Amanda Adrienne) is kidnapped, tortured, raped, and left for dead by a gang of racist “desertbillies” in New Mexico.  At the point of death, the spirit of an ancient, Apache warrior inhabits her body, giving her the opportunity to exact bloody revenge upon those who defiled her; but she must act quickly, as her body is dead and is quickly rotting.  What could have been a very bad, B movie is saved by the great acting of Adrienne and a lot of action sequences.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Savaged” is the scene when Adrienne’s broken body tries to save her kidnapped boyfriend: the pickup truck of the bad guys take off with her b/f, and she cannot pursue them because of her injuries; she reaches out and screams…and it’s just heartbreaking.

— M

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