Monster Hunter


Just a couple of video game characters come to life.

(2020) Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Diego Boneta, Meagan Good, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki, Jannik Schümann, Nanda Costa, Nic Rasenti, Clyde Berning, Paul Hampshire, Schelaine Bennett, Bart Fouche, Pope Jerrod, Aaron Beelner, Onur Besen, Adrian Muñoz. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Video games are video games and movies are movies, and these are two worlds that have a very hard time co-existing. Video games based on movies tend to be awful, and movies based on video games tend to be the same. That’s because movies demand attention, patience and passivity, whereas video games demand participation, interaction and hand-eye co-ordination. The are meant for completely different audiences and require completely different disciplines to appreciate. Successful crossovers are rare indeed.

Which makes Anderson something of a national treasure because he has shown with the Resident Evil franchise that he can make entertaining movies out of a beloved game franchise. Capcom, the makers of the Resident Evil game, can be excused for turning to him to bring their second-most popular franchise to the big screen.

Lt. Natalie Artemis (Jovovich) leads the elite Alpha Team of U.S. Army Rangers into the desert to search for the slightly-less elite Bravo Team which has mysteriously disappeared. Quicker than you can say “plot device,” a mysterious portal (accompanied by an impressive CGI lightning storm) somehow transports the team into a parallel world, one inhabited by strange, vicious – and hungry – monsters. As they are attacked by the horned and deadly Black Diablos, they quickly realize that their arsenal isn’t nearly enough to take down the giant creatures and as they run for the comparative safety of the rocks, they discover to their horror that the safety is an illusion as the rocks are inhabited by giant spider-like things. The team is decimated, leaving only Artemis alive and that only because she is rescued by the Hunter (Jaa), whom we first met in the pre-credits sequence that is perhaps the most impressive moment in the film.

The two form an uneasy alliance, trying to survive in a world for which the word “hostile” doesn’t even begin to describe. They are eventually picked up by a sand galleon, a kind of floating pirate ship captained by the Admiral (Perlman) who delivers a fair amount of exposition, and explains that both their worlds are in danger and they must head to the Dark Tower in Mordor…no, that’s not quite right. But it’s a dark tower nevertheless.

This is the kind of role that is right in the wheelhouse for Jovovich and she dutifully knocks it out of the park. Her chemistry with Jaa is surprisingly strong, considering that the two characters speak different languages. I would have wished that Jaa got more opportunities to show off his martial arts skills, which are considerable, but he makes the most of the opportunities he does get.

Perlman is always a welcome sight in any film, even if he is wearing a giggle-inducing wig that they probably had to pay him a bundle to wear with a straight face. Fortunately, it is the monsters that are the stars here. Fans of the game will recognize them and we get a good idea of their scale here throughout. We get a few more in the third act of the film, including the Meowscular Chef (who is, as advertised, absolutely ripped) but the filmmakers have the luxury of several hundred to choose from through the seven (and counting) main games and the plethora of spin-offs.

Do you need to know something about the franchise to enjoy the movie? That is always the question in video game adaptations. Like most adaptations, fans will find it easier to understand than non-fans, and in this case, I think it’s almost imperative you have at least a general knowledge of the game to follow the plot.  Fans, though, might find it a bit too simplistic for their tastes; it is, after all, like starting at the beginning of the first game for the first time. That may not be of interest to gamers in general.

Don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy the ride here. The monsters are as I said incredible, Jovovich and Jaa make a great team and if you can get past the mid-movie exposition dump that helps catch you up (if you know nothing about the game) but unfortunately causes the movie to come to a screeching halt, you should be pretty much okay. This isn’t horror that is essential, nor is it one of the better cinematic adaptations of a video game out there, but it is nonetheless a decent enough one and worth a look if you’re looking for a bit of fun, visceral and essentially mindless entertainment.

REASONS TO SEE: The monsters are mega-impressive.
REASONS TO AVOID: A muddled plot that isn’t easy to follow without some knowledge of the game.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, creature-induced terror and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the seventh movie based on a video game that Jovovich has appeared in, six of them with her husband Paul W.S. Anderson involved as writer and/or director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews; Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pitch Black
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness Concludes with a Classic!

The Fate of the Furious


Why so angry>

(2017) Action (Universal) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Luke Evans, Elsa Pataky, Helen Mirren, Scott Eastwood, Kristofer Hivju,, Patrick St. Esprit, Janmarco Santiago, Luke Hawx, Corey Maher, Olek Krupa, Alexander  Babara, Eden Estrella. Directed by F. Gary Gray

 

There was a big question mark hanging over the latest installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise; with co-star Paul Walker gone, could the series continue to reach the heights it achieved with Furious 7? Well, in terms of box office and spectacle, the answer turned out to be yes. But does it hold up with the best of the films in the franchise?

Dominic Toretto (Diesel) is on his honeymoon with his girl Letty (Rodriguez) in Havana, doing what most new husbands do on their honeymoon; get involved in a street race. He is also approached by Cypher (Theron), a world class hacker who has something on Dom but we’re not sure what. His wolfish smile, which looks for all the world like he’s displaying his fangs, turns into a world class scowl – see picture above.

During the next mission with his crew, Dom betrays them leaving Hobbs (Johnson) holding the bag, Cypher holding some Russian nuclear codes and the team unable to believe that Dom would turn on them. The world thinks Dom has gone Rogue but Mr. Nobody (Russell) thinks differently, even after Dom and Cypher attack their headquarters in New York City. Dom flees and Cypher uses her special skills to take control over every computer-enabled car in Manhattan, raining down cars on the team like a really bad hailstorm.

Cypher is after a Russian nuclear sub and with her launch codes could hold the world hostage for a tidy amount of cash but Letty, Mr. Nobody and the until-recently-incarcerated Hobbs have other plans, and they’re going to get some reinforcements of the most unexpected kind. Friend and foe will unite to take on this deadly femme fatale.

Now, I’m not going to beat around the bush; the action sequences are absolutely outstanding. The New York sequence is right there as is the climactic scene in which Dom’s crew chase down the submarine over ice – don’t even ask for sense here. Nothing here makes any. What we have is just cars going fast, things going boom and attractive guys and gals at the wheels of cars we couldn’t possibly afford. What better fantasy is there for a red-blooded American?

I think that the instructions here were to go big and Gray as well as screenwriter Chris Morgan may have taken it too much to heart. This is more in the James Bond territory now than what was once a simple underground street racing movie featuring a bunch of LA guys in wife beaters driving some cool midlife crisis compensators. There are gadgets, CGI and not a whole lot of character development which may be because there are way too many characters here. Too many to keep track of, anyway.

I wasn’t a fan of this franchise initially but starting with the fourth installment I began to get into it. Unfortunately, this is a giant step backwards and while it’s billion dollar worldwide box office guarantees an ninth episode (there will also be a tenth which has already been dated by Universal), I’m not looking forward to it with quite the anticipation of the previous few installments.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are great. You can’t go wrong with a heavyweight cast like this one.
REASONS TO STAY: This is the weakest entry in the franchise since Tokyo Drift. There are too many characters to keep up with.
FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find plenty of violence and action, some sensuality and brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There were rumors that Diesel and Johnson were having some personal difficulties with one another; after Johnson posted his frustrations online, the two met privately and resolved their differences.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Need for Speed
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: The Cyclotron

The Losers


The Losers

Jeffrey Dean Morgan knows that two sub-machine guns are ALWAYS better than one.

(Warner Brothers) Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Jason Patric, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Holt McCallany, Oscar Jaenada, Peter Macdissi, Ernesto Morales, Peter Francis James, Tanee McCall, Krissy Korn. Directed by Sylvain White

When you want to send in a fighting force, you send in the Marines. When you need a tougher job done, you send in the Navy Seals. When you need the impossible done, you send in the Losers.

The Losers are one of those elite fighting forces who can get just about any job done. They are commanded by Hannibal….err, Colonel Clay (Morgan) who is a cool customer except when it comes to the ladies. His right arm is Roque (Elba), a lethal weapon on two legs. Their technology expert is Jensen (Evans) who has a mouth that just won’t stop, while Cougar (Jaenada) is their quiet and intense sniper who is as deadly with a rifle as anyone you’re likely to find. The man who gets them from place to place is Pooch (Short) whose wife is about to give birth. He gets his name from the Chihuahua bobble-head he takes with him for good luck on the dashboard of every vehicle he drives or flies.

They’ve been sent to South America to paint the home of a drug dealer with a laser target so that it can be targeted with a missile. It all seems pretty routine, although Roque wonders why a team as elite as they are would be sent on a mission that nearly any reconnaissance team could do. Then, as the jet with the missile is approaching, a busload of school children arrives at the hacienda. Clay gets on the radio to abort the mission, but a mysterious voice identifying himself as Max (Patric) tells the pilot to deliver the payload as instructed, then blocks the communications of the Losers. The team goes down to save the day and does, but not before Clay kills the drug dealer (Morales) they were sent to take out. Unfortunately, when the helicopter comes that is meant to fly them to safety, there’s not enough room for all of them. Without hesitating, Clay puts the kids aboard. Then, before the horrified eyes of the team, the copter is shot down and everyone aboard is killed.

Clay realizes that they were meant to be on that chopper and that the world believes they’re dead. In order to avoid becoming that way for real, they need to let the rest of the world go on thinking that. Of the team, only Pooch and Jensen have families although in Jensen’s case its siblings and a niece whose soccer team he follows like he’s got money on them in Vegas. The team is working  menial jobs trying to get back home when Clay is approached by a mysterious but beautiful woman named Aisha (Saldana) with an offer he can’t refuse – she’ll get the team back to the States as long as they help her take out Max. Clay is more than willing to accept the offer, but he quickly realizes that Max has a more insidious agenda on his mind and Aisha’s own motivations are questionable. It will take a good deal of firepower and skill to get out of this situation alive but then again, they were dead to begin with.

This is based on a DC/Vertigo comic series of the same name and yes, there are more than a few similarities to the A-Team and other movies of that ilk; in fact, I can think of three like it coming out this year alone (besides the A-Team feature there’s also the all-star action flick The Expendables coming out later this summer) that have a similar plot. Frankly, I didn’t realize there were that many elite teams being sent to South America only to be betrayed and forced to fight powerful forces in order to clear their names. It would sure make me think twice before joining an elite fighting unit eh?

I really like Morgan in his role as Clay. He’s tough as nails but not without character flaws. His relationship with Roque and the triangle that is formed with Aisha is at the heart of the movie and with Elba, another excellent character actor the heart is beating nice and strong.

Evans is making a career out of the smart-talking team member (he plays Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies) and will be Steve Rogers in the upcoming Captain America movie, which just means he’s comfortable with comic book adaptations. He is one of the highlights here.

I liked Patric as Max, although Da Queen disagrees with me strongly here – she felt Max was the weak link in the movie. I think the character is way over-the-top but let’s face it, the movie really needs someone like it, someone so obsessed and drunk with his own power and sense of rightness that he can casually shoot someone for stumbling while holding the umbrella that was shading him. Now that’s just evil, you know?

Director White has little experience with action movies, but showed himself to be more than capable here. The action sequences are well done, but most importantly paced so as not to give the audience a whole lot of time to catch their breath. There’s enough quirky humor to balance the testosterone-fueled action sequences and there’s a style that gives homage to the film’s comic book roots and makes it a little slicker than the average bear.

Clearly this is meant to be the starting point for a franchise but the opening weekend box office numbers were disappointing so there’s little chance of that happening, which is a crying shame but in some ways perhaps inevitable – as I mentioned earlier there are far too many movies with similar plot points in the pipeline and far more that have come out in theaters and on television over the past five or six years. Still, this is one of the better representatives of the genre and those of you who turned away from the movie last weekend would do well to reconsider, particularly if you’re out for a little mindless entertainment, because this so fits the bill on that score.

REASONS TO GO: It’s big, it’s dumb, and it’s a whole lot of fun. No real new ground is broken but the characters are well-drawn, the action is spiffy and the pacing is breakneck.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is kind of old hat and while the characters themselves are well-thought out, they are nonetheless a bit on the cliché side as elite Special Forces teams go.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of shooting, a good deal of things blowing up real good and one scene that’s on the sexy side. In other words, pretty much what you’d find in your standard broadcast TV show.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The story is somewhat loosely based on the arc published in the comic book series’ first six issues, collectively called “Ante Up.”

HOME OR THEATER: Sure, there are some big bangs and action films tend to work better on the big screen but quite frankly I think it would be just as swell on a good home theater system.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Shotgun Stories