Archives for posts with tag: action

Grade B+

 

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Letters From Iwo Jima” is one half of a two movie set about the World War II battle on the island of Iwo Jima. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie focuses on the Japanese soldiers’ perspective; and is based on the letters the commanding officer of Iwo Jima wrote to his family.  “Letters…” shows the hopes, fears, and struggle of the island’s defenders in a way that humanizes them.  Strip away the combat and uniforms, and what you have are mostly young men who love their families and just want to go home and live ordinary lives.  Sounds like most people, right?  My most memorable, movie moment of “Letters From Iwo Jima” is the scene when an officer commands his men to commit suicide, and one by one, each grabs a grenade, pulls the safety pin out, and holds the small bomb close to their chest until it explodes.  This is the rare scene in this movie that shows a drastic difference between American and Japanese soldiers in WW II.

— M

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Grade A-

From the “fake” trailer that was in the “Grindhouse” double feature movie, “Machete” is the fully realized version, starring the incomparable Danny Trejo as an ex-Federale who winds up as a day laborer in the U.S.  Picked by a man to assassinate a Donald Trump type politician (played by Robert De Niro), Trejo takes the job and before he can fire a shot, he is double crossed and set up to take the fall for De Niro’s attempted assassination.  Wounded and on the run from the police and De Niro’s henchmen, Trejo is helped by an underground network of Mexican immigrants to get his revenge on those who wronged him.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Machete” is the scene when Trejo goes to the house of De Niro’s main henchman.  Holding garden tools, Trejo tells the bodyguards that he is the new gardener.  The bodyguards let Trejo pass; and one of the bodyguards says something like “You ever notice how we let a Mexican inside our homes just because he’s carrying garden tools?”  It’s the funniest line in the movie.

“Machete” is a hyper-violent, often silly, fast paced, action/comedy that revels in its absurdity and glorifies the 1970s cheesy action/revenge flicks.   Obviously not meant to be taken seriously, this movie is best viewed with friends as you munch on unhealthy snacks and drink unhealthy beverages.  As a bonus to viewers, “Machete” has a surprisingly complicated plot for a movie that focuses on outrageous, bloody violence.

— M

Grade B-

If you set aside the fact that our military cannot be duped so easily as to believe that the enemy on the radio is a U.S. soldier, you may find this movie very entertaining.

“The Wall” is about a sniper team (Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the spotter, and John Cena as the shooter) who are sent in to investigate the killings of a pipeline crew and their security force by a possible sniper.  Having watched the area for almost one full day, Cena decides the enemy is long gone, and takes a walk toward the killzone.  Cena is soon shot in the stomach, Johnson tries a rescue and gets shot himself; and Johnson takes cover behind one crumbling wall.  With Cena a possible KIA and Johnson’s radio broken from being shot, Johnson is stuck where he is.  If he makes a run for it, the sniper will kill him.  If Johnson stays put, he’ll either bleed out from his wound or die of thirst.  Making matters worse is that the enemy sniper is on the same frequency as Johnson’s and Cena’s radio headsets, setting up a tense, psych warfare that will test Johnson’s will to keep fighting.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Wall” is the final scene that reveals what happened to the enemy sniper.

“The Wall” is a decent suspense/thriller that is undermined by the writer and director who chose to ignore realism in order to move forward with the story they wanted to tell.  But as I wrote earlier, if you choose to ease up on your critical thinking of the story, “The Wall” will be worthy of your time.

— M

Grade C-

An inferior remake of the original, “Planet Of The Apes” (2001) has Mark Wahlberg playing an astronaut who gets sucked into a time warp thingy in space and crash lands on a planet where apes rule and enslave primitive humans.   Luckily for Wahlberg, a female ape (played by Helena Bonham Carter) has the hots for him (!) and sets him free.  With the help of a couple of apes and a band of humans Wahlberg has set loose, they search for his ship that contains a device that can send an S.O.S. to Wahlberg’s mother ship.  Closing in behind Wahlberg’s group is a large, ape army all stirred up to kill Wahlberg and any human who dares defy the dominance of apes.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Planet Of The Apes” is the final scene, which is a surprise, twist ending.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense.  I suspect idiot, studio executives were to blame, probably counting their chickens before they hatched (or should I say counting their monkeys before they were born), looking for a way to introduce a possible sequel and didn’t care that it made no sense.  Damn you, idiot, studio execs!   Damn you all to hell!

In a nutshell, this remake of “Planet Of The Apes” is a rock covered in a fancy wrapper.  It doesn’t matter how pretty the wrapper is…what you have is still a rock.

— M

Grade C +

The second movie to try to capitalize on the hit, video game series “Silent Hill,” “Silent Hill: Revelation” has a father and daughter (played by Sean Bean and Adelaide Clemens, respectively) forced to go back to a place where evil waits to be unleashed upon the entire world.  Clemens knows she is the key to the release of this great evil, but she risks it all to save her father.  Into the nightmarish world of Silent Hill she goes, where failure will doom her and the world into an eternity of hell.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Silent Hill: Revelation” is the scene when Clemens’ sort of love interest — played by Kit Harrington — sees some weird and scary stuff in Clemens’ apartment.  Having known her for less than a day, and having been warned by Clemens that Harrington does not want to know her, he still stays with her and helps her!  He’s either an extremely nice guy or extremely horny.  As it turns out, there is another reason for his decision to stick it out with her.

The biggest flaw of “Silent Hill: Revelation” is that it’s not scary enough.  I’ve played some of the “Silent Hill” video games…those were scary as hell (I played them in the dark).  The movie’s focus is on action instead of palpable dread and terror, giving the audience a lot of eye candy at the expense of horror.  This is an inexcusable failure on the writer, the director, and the studio.  All they had to do was follow what the video games did.  Simple, right?  Apparently, not for some people.  There’s a saying: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

— M

Grade B+

Samuel L. Jackson plays the hitman and Ryan Reynolds plays the bodyguard in the action/comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”  Why would the most feared hitman need a bodyguard?  Because a dictator is on trial for war crimes, and the only one who could incriminate him is Jackson.  Taking Jackson from prison to the courtroom will be a hell of an ordeal, because the dictator has his goons out in force to stop Jackson from testifying.  And that’s where Reynolds comes in…unofficially hired by Interpol to protect and escort Jackson to the trial.  Unfortunately, both men are sworn enemies, and they may kill each other before the bad guys get to them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is the flashback scene when Jackson meets his future wife (outrageously played by Salma Hayek) for the first time.  It was funny and sexy with an overdose of hyper violence.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is loaded with shenanigans; but this is a movie that isn’t meant to be analyzed for story logic.  This is a fun and very funny, graphically violent movie that shines every time Reynolds and Jackson are onscreen together.  Kudos to director Patrick Hughes for adding energy to the story with his slick direction that really complements the script and lead actors.

— M

Grade B-

It’s a rare thing to have the sequel of a movie to be equal to or better than its predecessor.  “28 Weeks Later” is one of those rarities.

28 weeks after the outbreak of the “rage” virus that turns people into rabid, maniacal killers, an American led NATO force begins the clean up and reconstruction of England.  Displaced survivors are now filtering in to a large district controlled by the military.  But two children, a brother and sister, will enter the district and set forth a chain of events that will bring back infection, death and destruction.  Two U.S. soldiers (played by Jeremy Renner and Rose Byrne) have the opportunity to minimize the effects of the new outbreak; but their chances are slim when they are going up against hundreds of infected and soldiers ordered to kill everyone on sight.

My most memorable, movie moment of “28 Weeks Later” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Renner gets out of a stalled car to push it — and those inside the car (Byrne and the two children) — to safety, while soldiers behind Renner are getting their flamethrowers ready to burn him and the car.

A few glaring shenanigans destroyed the A grade I wanted to give this movie.  1) a woman who is a carrier of the virus doesn’t have armed guards posted at her door 24 hours a day; 2) the lead infected has thinking abilities that are not present in any other infected, and the movie never explains why; and 3) a glorified janitor has access to the most sensitive areas of the military compound.  Still, “28 Weeks Later” is an above average horror movie.  Very good acting, direction and editing; a fast pace, numerous tense and horrifying scenes keeps the viewer entertained all the way to the last second.

— M

Grade A-

Four people desperate to survive a virus that turns people into maniacal, rabid killers make a desperate escape out of London.  With a taxicab full of food and plenty of hope, they gamble their lives on a place that offers food, weapons, and protection.  But what lies in wait for them may be a bigger nightmare than the hundreds of thousands of the infected.

My most memorable, movie moment of “28 Days Later” is the scene when Cillian Murphy (playing the lead role) is chased by the infected who were lying in a dormant state in a dark church.  To me, this was the scariest part of the movie, and it shows early on the skills director Danny Boyle has in creating a horrifying and suspenseful atmosphere.

As far as I know, “28 Days Later” is the first movie that has fast moving, non-zombie/infected/seriously angry people who can infect others within seconds, so it gets a special mention for that.  Although technically not a zombie flick, I put this movie in the same category as zombie movies, and it is one of the top 10, best zombie movies ever made.  Yes, it has some shenanigans such as: the taxicab able to ride over a heap of abandoned cars in a tunnel; and the bad guys unnecessarily moving someone miles away from their base to kill them, which leads to an escape (reminds me of those old, corny James Bond movies where Bond escapes because the bad guy wants to be too fancy with the way he wants to kill Bond).  But everything else works very well, and it was all done on a low budget, which makes this movie more deserving of praise.

— M

Grade D

Manny’s Movie Musings: “The Expendables” is awesome; “The Expendables 3” is awesomely bad.   There are too many characters that are undeveloped, and so we don’t care about most of them (the original members are sort of safe, as fans already have an attachment to them); the editing seems like it was done by a film student; it’s rated PG-13 (so we get that corny, 1990s style James Bond violence); the action sequences are incoherent and so over the top that they can’t be taken seriously, and therefore the audience has no emotional connection to them because you get the feeling that no Expendable will be killed off; and many characters doing things that make no sense.  Oh, there is somewhat of a story here: The Expendables are hired to capture an arms dealer, things go bad, and many characters say lots of bad inside jokes that puts this movie into the comedy genre.  Lots of wasted money and talent, and lots of disappointed 1980s/1990s action movie fans like me.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Expendables 3” is the scene when Mel Gibson (playing the lead bad guy) explains to Sylvester Stallone why Gibson became the way he is.  It’s the only well acted scene that gave this movie any real depth.

— M

Grade A

From the talented and eccentric mind of Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained” is a violent, surreal story of an ex-slave (Jamie Foxx) teaming up with an extremely well-spoken bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to get back the wife of Foxx who was sold to a barbaric slave owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).   This being a Tarantino movie, going from point A to point B is done in an unconventional way which makes it hard for the audience to guess exactly what happens to the main characters (this is a good thing).  Along the journey, we are treated to Tarantino’s style of writing and directing: mimicking some camera movements of the 1970s; copying the look of the film stock of the 1970s; and the rich, expansive, mostly witty  dialogue.

Although Waltz and Foxx are the main characters, it is the relationship between DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson (DiCaprio’s head slave) that is the most interesting.  The roles of master and slave seem to switch back and forth at various times, and I believe many viewers will be very puzzled by this; but it’s really simple — the DiCaprio and Jackson characters go way back, and the decades spent living together obviously led to a mutual respect, trust and love for each other.  They have essentially become father and son.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Django Unchained” is the scene when Foxx is hanging upside down, completely helpless; and one of the bad guys is about to castrate Foxx using a red hot knife!

Tarantino fans won’t be disappointed with this movie, as it has everything you’d expect from a movie written/directed by him.  Although part satire, and therefore cannot be completely taken seriously overall, the movie’s depictions of punishments of slaves are very disturbing; and disturbing people is something Tarantino doesn’t shy away from.

— M

 

Grade B

Set in 1973, a “monster hunter” played by John Goodman scams the U.S. Government into funding an expedition into an island to supposedly look for valuable resources; but what Goodman really seeks is validation into his theory that monsters live within the earth, and at some point they will all come out and eat us like chicken nuggets.  With a tracker (played by Tom Hiddleston) by his side and a unit of the Army’s Assault Helicopter Company led by Samuel L. Jackson as an escort, Goodman and his fellow scientists begin their exploration of the island in a violent way…and they are all met with violence by the island’s largest and most fearsome monster, King Kong.

Their helicopters destroyed, the human survivors have a small chance of escaping the island and getting back to their ship.  But Kong and the island monsters aren’t the only ones the humans must fear.  Jackson, in his quest to avenge his men who were killed by Kong, turns into Capt. Ahab and risks everything and everyone to exact his pound of gorilla flesh.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Kong: Skull Island” is the scene when King Kong fights the big, underground lizard thing.   King monster against king monster; and a monsterfest is what this movie is all about.

“Kong: Skull Island” suffers from numerous shenanigans, such as Vietnam veteran helicopter pilots staying too close to Kong, with the result of being swatted and crushed by the giant ape.   Then there’s Hiddleston’s character who never loses his cool no matter how many giant, ugly creatures are trying to eat him — I’ve seen people show more emotion while playing video games.  Enough of the negatives.  What this movie has going for it are: 1) a fast paced, dynamic direction by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, giving this flick a tremendous amount of fun energy; and 2) monsters, monsters, and more monsters.  I’ve been a fan of Japanese monster movies from the 1950s/1960s…they are silly, and generally make no sense; but they are fun to watch.  Well, “Kong: Skull Island” is like that.

— M

Grade B

Part 3 of “The Hobbit” trilogy shows the fate of the dragon Smaug, Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman), dwarf king Thorin and his band of dwarf followers, the “lonely mountain” and the enormous treasure hidden within it, and the five armies that will do battle for the mountain fortress and its riches.   But more things are unexplained.  Perhaps in the extended cuts more will be revealed; but it’s still inexcusable for a theatrical cut to omit so many answers to so many questions.

Multiple storylines play out in rapid fire sequence — this movie has probably the shortest running time of all six “Hobbit” and “LOTR” movies — resulting in a very fast paced movie that sometimes feel a bit rushed.   Of course, the usual shenanigans are here: characters that defy the laws of physics — or maybe physics are different in Middle Earth — and able to take a great amount of battle damage without being truly harmed.  Hey, if a character is fairly invincible, it kind of takes away the element of suspense that he or she may be killed.  Granted, a few of the characters get killed after killing millions of the enemy, but at this point it becomes a bit silly and the impact of those deaths are greeted with a shrug and another bite of the hotdog.

Now, my most memorable movie moment of “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies”: the scene when Thorin (played by Richard Armitage, who looks a lot like Mel Gibson’s Braveheart in his dwarf look) has an internal struggle, realizing what his greed has done to him and the choice he has to make if he doesn’t want to follow the dreadful path his ancestors took.

Although full of problems that would be deserving of a much lesser grade, “…The Five Armies” was still an enjoyable, entertaining feast for my eyes.  Although I wonder if my forgiving nature is the result of having watched this movie for free (thanks, Library!).

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Part 2 of “The Hobbit” trilogy leaves part 1 in the dust with faster pacing, more interesting characters (Legolas, Galadriel, and Tauriel — played by Evangeline Lilly), more character development, better action sequences, and what we’ve all been waiting for…the dragon Smaug in all his evil and crazed glory.   Whereas “An Unexpected Journey” was like an old man wheezing his last breaths, “The Desolation Of Smaug” felt like a youngster getting his second wind during a race.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug” is the scene when Smaug is awakened and his gigantic, fearsome body is fully revealed.   This movie suffers from the usual shenanigan found in the previous four Tolkien movie adaptations: characters who can kill dozens of enemies per battle and never seem to get harmed; they fall from great heights, get hit very hard by giant creatures, and they dust themselves off and keep fighting as if they were made of steel.  Yes, these movies are fantasy, but there is a limit of how much b.s. people are willing to put up with.

— M

Grade B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” has a young, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) reluctantly going off on a great adventure with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a bunch of dwarves to reclaim the home and treasure of said dwarves.  The problems: a giant, bodybuilder orc is after the leader of the dwarves, and he isn’t alone; the trek is a long way off and filled with enemies big and small; and the dwarves’ home/treasure are guarded by a dragon that can incinerate armies.  My most memorable, movie moment of this first part of the trilogy: the riddle challenge scene between Bilbo and Gollum.  “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” unexpectedly did not live up to the standards “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy had established.  The music is good, the special effects are amazing, the scenery is incredible…but the characters are…eh.  Freeman, McKellen…no problems there.  But the majority of the dwarves are forgettable and irritating.  Except for the king dwarf and the old dude dwarf, they were filthy and disgusting creatures, like teeny Klingons.  I really didn’t give a damn whether they lived or died or got their home and treasure back.  To make things worse, most of the dwarves were introduced so fast it’s hard to tell many of them apart, and virtually no time was given to get to know most of them.  If it wasn’t for Freeman and McKellen being part of the group, I would’ve rooted for the dragon to incinerate them all.

— M

Grade B +

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a successful, fresh start to one of the most loved, Marvel Comics character.  Playing a 15-year-old Peter Parker/Spidey is Tom Holland, who is perfect for the role, and better at it than any other actor who played the webslinger in previous movies and tv specials (yes, there were live-action, Spider-Man tv specials a long time ago).  After coming home from his epic battle in Europe (“Captain America: Civil War”), Holland is back in Queens, NYC, itching for a new mission from his mentor, Tony Stark/Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.).  But his dream of another epic fight doesn’t come, and Holland is forced to do street level superhero stuff while juggling the cruelties and confusion of High School.

Then one day, Holland comes upon a weapons deal that leads him to a gang of criminals who deal in modified, alien tech.  A gang that is led by The Vulture.   A gang that will test the teen-aged superhero in every way. With his pleas for assistance from Downey Jr. seemingly going unanswered, Holland takes it upon himself to stop The Vulture from stealing more alien tech that will kill many more lives.  But the cost of saving lives may cost Holland his own.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the final scene of the movie.  I won’t spoil it, but I will say it was shocking and very funny.

Let me address a big problem many fans/moviegoers had with this movie: Spider-Man’s lack of his “spider senses,” which warn him of dangers.  I do believe he does have his spidey senses; but it is done in a very subtle way.  In the comics and cartoons, Spidey says things like “My spider senses are tingling…”  Well, we can’t have that in the movie, because it’ll just sound retarded.  When Spidey is dodging bullets or items being thrown at him, we just have to assume part of him doing that is because of his spidey senses.  And yes, I know Spider-Man gets hit quite often in this movie…that’s not proof of his lack of spidey senses.  In the comics and cartoons, Spider-Man takes hits also, despite having spider senses that warn him of immediate danger.  He’s not perfect, once in a while he gets hit.  Also, remember that in this movie, Spider-Man is 15-years-old, and still adapting to his newly-found powers, powers that sometimes overwhelm his senses.  His suit addresses that sensory overload, but not completely.  So, bottom line, this isn’t an issue for me.  Moving on…

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a very good movie that I think will satisfy most fans of this character.  Tom Holland once again kills it with his portrayal of a teen version of Spider-Man, as does Downey Jr. with his flawless take on Tony Stark.  Add to this lots of huge, action sequences, numerous funny moments, an interesting villain, great special effects…it all adds up to a very memorable, Spider-Man movie.

I do have to mention a huge shenanigan though: a plane full of extremely valuable/dangerous items is flying solo, no guards inside, no automated Iron Man soldiers, no military escorts?  It just relies on a stealth tech, and it has a “blind spot” that The Vulture takes advantage of?  Get the hell out!  But for this huge, glaring shenanigan, I would have given this movie an “A” grade.   It doesn’t ruin the movie, of course; but it does take quite a bit of the shine off.

— M

Grade B

After being dumped by her boyfriend, a woman (played by Amy Schumer) goes on vacation with her mother (played by Goldie Hawn) to Ecuador.  Although polar opposites — Schumer is outgoing and ready to drown her sorrows in booze and penis, and Hawn is happy to stay home and feed her cats — there is enough of a bond between mother and daughter to warrant Schumer to cajole Hawn to go with her…and there is the fact that the tickets are non-refundable and no one else wants to go with Schumer.

Not long after landing in the touristy spot of Ecuador, Schumer befriends a handsome local who takes great interest in her despite her craziness.  Too good to be true?  Damn right!  It turns out the local is part of a kidnapping ring; and because Hawn accompanied Schumer on her second date with the guy, it’s a two-for-one kidnap special.   Mother and daughter must find a way to set aside their differences and work together to escape the clutches of the vicious, deadly, and moronic gangsters who have taken them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Snatched” is the scene when Schumer is being dumped by her boyfriend: it is sad, pitiful, and very funny.  Her pain, our entertainment!

It’s not lost on me that “Snatched” has been torn apart by many viewers.   I gave this movie a shot, and I laughed my ass off.  And that is the bottom line for any comedy, right?  A special mention goes out to actor Ike Barinholtz, who stole the show playing Schumer’s agoraphobic, mildly retarded and slightly insane brother.

— M

Grade B

Based on the one-shot comic book of the same title from the late 1980s, “Batman: The Killing Joke” is a disturbing story that deals with four main issues: Joker’s vicious assault on Batgirl; Batman’s uneasy alliance/relationship with Batgirl; Joker’s origin story; and Batman’s perverse affinity for The Joker.

After an unnecessarily lengthy intro of Batgirl’s/Batman’s relationship which doesn’t truly mesh with the second and third acts (said intro not part of the comic book, as far as I can remember), “Killing Joke” gets to the meat of the story, when The Joker attacks Batgirl and kidnaps her father, who is Police Commissioner Gordon.  Batman goes on a rampage, going after every criminal he comes upon to get evidence of where The Joker is.  But when Batman finally finds The Joker, will it be too late?  Will The Joker bring out the madness in Commissioner Gordon?  Will Batman finally succumb to his own rage and kill The Joker?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Batman: The Killing Joke” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Batgirl, not in costume, opens her apt. door expecting a friend and instead sees The Joker pointing a gun to her stomach.

Fans of the source material — I’m one — will most likely not find this adaptation as satisfying as the original.  The comic was less than 48 pages if my memory serves me correctly, and in those few pages it packed one hell of a story that was well-paced and intense.   This movie, by expanding a short story into near-feature length, adds scenes and sequences that slow the movie down.  Yes, the extra stuff adds backstory which yields greater understanding of the main characters; but the pacing and high intensity are sacrificed.

Although far from being great, “Batman: The Killing Joke” is a good movie; and Mark Hamill’s performance as The Joker is outstanding, as usual.

— M

 

 

Grade A

Manny’s Movie Musings: a tale of love, grief, loss, and redemption that spans three generations.  Set in Montana before the start of World War I, the lives of a father and his three sons (played by Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Henry Thomas, respectively) are forever changed with the arrival of Thomas’ fiancée (played by Julia Ormond).  The secret passions and a tragic death will threaten to tear the family apart.  Love can heal many things, but will it be enough for this family?  “Legends Of The Fall” is a romance story on steroids.  Great acting, amazing scenery, beautiful cinematography, expert direction, a memorable score and a script filled with drama — in some instances melodrama — makes this movie a romance/drama fan’s dream.  My most memorable, movie moment is the prolonged, trench warfare scene, which gives us a glimpse of the brutal and gory nature of that war.  It was unexpected in my first viewing, but the scene was necessary to set up the spiritual/emotional journey of the main character, played by Pitt.

— M

Grade B

Ten years after “Prometheus,” the crew of the colony ship, Covenant, experiences a serious malfunction of their ship.  Forced out of their expected 7 year cryo-sleep to make repairs, the crew’s focus switches from their destined planet to one that is much closer and supposedly more suited for humans.  Only Katherine Waterston, who plays the second in command, is hesitant to alter the plans; but the acting captain (played by Billy Crudup) and the rest of the crew are insistent on checking out the newly discovered planet, and off they go.

An exploratory team lands on the planet that turns out to be beautiful and teeming with plant life — but no animals or even insects can be seen or heard.  Despite this oddity, some of the crew are already planning on starting their new colony here…until two crewmen suddenly become sick and the horrifying, true nature of the planet is revealed.

Alien spore infestations/gestation/gory emergence, frenetic bursts of intense fights against aliens, impeccable cinematography, good and evil synthetic people (both played amazingly by Michael Fassbender), the mystery of what happened to the last two crew members of Prometheus, and claustrophobic bug hunts are all here.   There are moments where you — the “Alien” movies aficionado — will tell yourself “Oh, I’ve seen this before in previous ‘Alien’ movies,” but it shouldn’t be looked at negatively.  It’s simply director Ridley Scott giving fans what they want to see.  What should be treated negatively are the two, huge shenanigans in “Alien: Covenant” that, had they not been there, would have earned this movie a grade A.

Shenanigan #1: **SPOILER ALERT** Fassbender, as David, easily places his stolen spaceship above the city of “Engineers” and drops a crapload of bio-weapons on the Engineers below.  So these Engineers, with their highly advanced tech capability, had no way of knowing who was piloting their ship, and just let one of their own spacecraft hover above their city without any sort of vetting on who was actually inside the ship?  And where were the other space vessels of the Engineers throughout the city?  This highly advanced race looked like they forgot to pay the bills and all the good stuff were repossessed.  Shenanigan #2: Crudup, despite seeing the evil nature of Fassbender/David, lets himself fall into a trap that even a stoner whose brain is half-baked would’ve seen coming.

The fact that I gave this movie a B despite those two giant shenanigans tells you that I really enjoyed watching this.  Yes, I am a serious fan of “Alien” movies; but beyond that, “Alien: Covenant” is a good movie that combines old school elements with the new, and it definitely deserves to be part of the “Alien” lore.

And now, for my most memorable, movie moment of “Alien: Covenant”: the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Fassbender/David fights Fassbender/Walter.  For a brief moment, this sci/fi flick becomes a kung-fu flick.  It was surprising and entertaining.

— M

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

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