Furious 7 (2015)

Furious7Score = B+

(Action, Thriller, Crime)  PG-13

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline: “Cars dont fly, Dom!”

Movie euphoria.  That’s the first thing that came to mind after watching Furious 7. By no means does it indicate a perfect movie, but it does mean you will not be bored watching it.

The movie kicks off its one hundred and thirty seven minutes with an adrenaline pumping fight between Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).

Shaw and Hobbs dukin' it out.

Shaw and Hobbs dukin’ it out.

Talk about setting the stage.  If you watched the extra scenes at the end of the 6th movie, you know that Deckard was responsible for the death of Han (Sung Kang).  Of course, if you didn’t watch the 3rd Furious movie then you’re probably lost as to how Han ended up flipped upside down and trapped in the car in the first place, since Deckard had nothing to do with that part. Yup, the order of the movies is not exactly chronological, but the writers did a half way decent job of mashing them together.

Like many insane action flicks, the plot in this one is razor thin, but it is just enough to give us some foundation for checking out the movie in the “second” place. 🙂   Deckard is seeking revenge for the Furious team’s involvement in permanently crippling his brother Owen (a government agent gone bad) during their London antics in the 6th movie, which apparently takes place before the 3rd movie that is Tokyo Drift.  Again, you’ll have to watch them all to figure out the time lines.  I think 4,5 and 6 all happened prior to the 3rd one.  Most likely has something to do with having the original crew back together after the 2nd and 3rd movies had some…issues.  Deckard — who is also a European ghost assassin badass — is ultimately hunting down our Furious team and ends up in the states to take everyone out of commission.

There are a couple subplots so as not to make the movie too simple in delivery. The team ultimately looks to turn the tide and hunt down Deckard with a hacker device dubbed God’s Eye.  It has the ability to pretty much hack any digital device with a camera or microphone and locate anyone anywhere on the planet.  Of course retrieving this device is easier said than done, since it was stowed away in a hard drive and unwittingly sold to a trust fund chap out in Abu Dhabi. The pieces connected to this subplot seem more like time filler aspects than actual necessary elements, but the great action happening –flying cars– and other elements make up for it.

The remaining subplot dealing with Brian’s (Paul Walker) turmoil and life changes is more directly tied to the series and makes perfect sense.

Brian and Mia

Brian, Mia, baby Jack and Dom

His relationship with Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) and taking it to the next level with the family situation was a great set up to the end of the movie.  The writers were absolutely on point with Paul’s mental struggle to let go of his dodging bullet days and settle down with a wife and kids.  I also spent a nice portion of the movie wondering how they were going to end his character due to Mr. Walker’s untimely death, and I was pleasantly surprised at how they did it. There may have been a tear or two… Maybe.

flying car

Look ma! No wings!

The best part of a Fast and Furious movie is non other than the insane car chases and stunts.  This is ultimately the reason some of us adrenaline junkies watched the series, right?  Well that and to see some sweet rides grace the screen at 200mph. Some of the stunts like flinging a super car through penthouse windows (yes multiple) a few dozen stories up were pretty sick and reminded me of the old Knight Rider days.  Had to stow the excitement in the theater on that one.  Felt like a roller coaster!

There were a few cameos in the movie.  Some greatly welcome, others… not so much.  Iggy Azalea’s performance can be summed up in one word…”Why?”   Ronda Rousey’s two minutes of screen time wasn’t all bad.  She did well in the fighting scene.  Although her actual speaking parts were a tad rough (to put it nicely).  I also wasn’t too thrilled with the dress they put this otherwise lovely (when she smiles anyway) woman in.  The dress and the way they styled her hair made her look bloated and didn’t show that chiseled figure she has.  Didn’t do her justice at all.  And then there’s Kurt Russell. Freakin’ KURT RUSSELL!!  Damn I’ve missed this guy in movies.  Sure he’s gettin’ up there in years just like the rest of us, but once he puts on those sun glasses, he’s still got the swagger. Acting chops are still in tact as well!

Furious 7 delivers the high octane goodness that one expects from the series. Even though the acting and cheesy points — like everyone apparently having Teflon skin and walking away from these insane car crashes with nothing more than a scratch — are down right laughable at times, it’s good to know that the seventh installment still manages to not take itself too serious and keeps us entertained.

I give this one a B+.

And this hottie’s in the movie.

Nathalie Emmanuel

Nathalie Emmanuel

Just wanted to put her picture in, ‘cause she’s hot.  Chow!

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guardians small

Score = B

(Adventure-Action–Sci-Fi / PG-13)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  “Dance off, bro!”

You ever just feel like being entertained for a few hours?  Or maybe just feel like kickin’ back with a good movie and havin’ a little “me” time?  Well Guardians of the Galaxy allows you to do just that.

Let me start by noting what this movie does NOT do.  It does not provide you with a love story, nor bog the experience down with some long drawn out moral cause that ends up making you hate your life because you — just like the rest of us — color outside of the lines at times.  Although it does hint at both to make things interesting; and that’s quite alright.

What Guardians does encompass is a heavy dose of action and comedy. Rocket (the raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper) heads up the comedy by successfully throwing out zingers at the crew and occasionally himself at just the right moments to keep things light.  Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is our main protagonist, and his occupation is an intergalactic black market dealer.  He gets paid to acquire things that others want, but for one reason or another are unable to obtain these items themselves.  His latest job has him gathering a particularly powerful orb that seems to be a hot commodity on the black market.  So hot that he almost dies gathering it, as well as almost dying a second time trying to collect the money for it.

Our antagonist, Ronan (Lee Pace) is also tasked with finding this strange orb by an all powerful being, Thanos.  Of course once he discovers the contents of the orb, Ronan switches the plan and wants to keep the prize for himself just like any respectable villain should.  He stays true to the evil mastermind guidebook in wanting to destroy everything and everyone for some unspecified reason, which I think is this movies weak point.  I haven’t read the source material from the comics and all, but I’m thinking the screen writers could have added maybe five to ten minutes of background story to give us a solid sense of meaning behind this guy’s motives for wanting to destroy the universe.

The rest of the guardians round out with the over-literal Drax (Dave Bautista), a sentient tree who calls itself Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Gamora the assassin ( the always lovely wear-any-color-of-paint-in-a-movie-and-still-look-good Zoe Saldana).  Everyone brought their A-game so It was a blast watching each character on the screen.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy flies off of the screen with a solid B in my book.  It has good sci-fi action and a comedic story with just a smidge of drama to anchor things down before getting back to the good stuff.  Other than giving us a peak into the antagonist’s motives behind his actions, this movie gives us just what we want out of an easy Sunday afternoon; entertainment.

Sean Gunn

Sean Gunn

Oh yeah, and I thought it’d be worth mentioning that this guy is in the movie for a little bit.  Haven’t seen him in anything solid since Gilmore Girls, (yes Gilmore Girls, it’s a damn good show…watch it!) well, at least not anything in my viewing circle. Then again, maybe I need to expand my horizons.  🙂

Maleficent (2014)

maleficent main small

 

Score = B

Maleficent (2014)

(Action–Adventure / PG)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline: Sleeping Beauty; the other truth

 Maleficent is a fairy, but not just any fairy.  She’s the strongest fairy among the Moor folk.  In Disney’s latest film we get a snippet of her childhood, which consists of growing up parent-less in a forest brimming with all types of non-human beings.  As strange as this seems, it succeeds in revealing a new depth to the character’s psyche.  We see that she wasn’t always the queen of all evil portrayed in the tales of old.  She was actually a sweet and caring young fairy.  She first appears in the movie in what looks to be her pre-tween years (in human time tables), and it still tugs at my brain to see how mentally developed she was at such a young age with no formal guidance.  I guess some fairies are just smarter that way.

Maleficent Faries small

Thistletwit (Juno Temple), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Lesley Manville (Flittle)

As intelligent as the younger Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) was, there were still many lessons she needed to experience first-hand to truly understand; and one of them was a lesson in love.  Her first sniff at this powerful emotion happened during her young age when she met the human boy, Stefan (Michael Higgins) invading her domain.  Although she told him it was dangerous to be in the forest, he threw caution to the wind and revisited her throughout the years which sparked an emotional connection between the two.  There was a non-essential scene where they showed the main characters as teens, but if you blinked, you missed it.  I’m guessing it was an attempt at transitioning to adults, but I’m thinking it would have been better to extend the story showing them as youngsters.  Either that or have something more significant happen while in their teen years.

Time passes and both are now adults.  The adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley) has higher priorities on his list and has been absent from the forest for some time.  One of those priorities includes becoming the next king; by any means necessary.  King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) is not thrilled at being thwarted in his attempts to go deeper into the forest by the now infamous Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), and the ailing king presents an opportunity for Stefan’s dreams to come true.  The cost to be the boss?  Kill Maleficent.

Angelina Jolie does an excellent job in the retelling of Maleficent.  As expected, her acting prowess carries the movie forward with excellent timing and just the right amount of cynical delivery that makes her character pop on the big screen. As a small caveat to the previous sentence, I do think her gut wrenching, “I’m in the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life” chops need a bit of work.   Copley’s acting is quite the opposite to our heroine.  A great percentage of his acting and line delivery seemed struggled and awkward.  At times it even felt as if he forgot his lines while the camera was running before finally blurting out an ill-timed sentence.  Sam Riley had great chemistry along-side Jolie as her side-kick, Dival.  Their banter definitely kept things a bit light during movie.  Screen veterans Kenneth Cranham and Imelda Staunton were great to watch on-screen and right at home in their roles as well.  Isobelle Molloy also made a great Young Maleficent, which definitely portrayed the surprising side of our protagonist.

Maleficent Aurora-creature small

Ellie Fanning as Aurora

Sleeping Beauty is our silent hero without being the hero in this movie; if you catch my drift.  If not, you’ll get it when you watch the movie. *Wink-wink.* No spoilers, my friend.  We see her at two younger ages; one of them including Angelina’s real daughter, Vivianne, before the teenage version played by Ellie Fanning.  I always find it interesting when actors put their young’uns in films.  It makes you wonder if their child will follow in their parents footsteps and do as great a job.  No pressure!

There are always three sides to every story:  The protagonist’s side, the antagonist’s side, and what really happened.  Since 1959 we’ve been reminded of the human version of this good versus evil tale.  Over half a century later, we’re finally treated to the other side of the story.  I have to admit, I have always sensed there was more to the story than meets the eye.  I mean, come on, hexing the king’s daughter due to being snubbed from a celebration is a tad extreme.  Gives a new meaning to a scorned woman, right?

This years Maleficent was a good time.  Small blips like stiff flying in some CG scenes and Shalto’s acting didn’t deter the movie from being an enjoyable hour and a half.  I give Maleficent a solid B.

Stolen (2012)

Stolen

Score = C

(Action/Crime/Drama) Rated-R

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  …About that ten million dollars you owe me.

Will Montgomery (Nicolas Cage) is a master bank heist-er with a small, but thorough team in his corner.  His current job will net the team a cool ten million dollars which is surely enough to get through a few rainy days, to say the least.  The FBI has tracked the team’s movements for a while and is fully aware of today’s current events when they break into a local bank.  Foreseeing such unfortunate circumstances, Will has everything under control until an unplanned variable gets between him and a clean break with the cash… his hot-headed partner.

As far as action movies go, Stolen succeeds in keeping things moving well enough to prevent boredom; which is why we watch action movies in the first place, right?  A lot of scenery is happening in this movie to keep things fresh as well.  From Fat Tuesday street parties and shabby apartments to lush bank lobbies and confined underground tunnels; our eyes are constantly treated to the multifaceted world of Stolen thanks to director Simon West.  He’s one of the few who can keep the action interesting in an otherwise stale environment, such as: the writing and characters in this movie.

David Guggenheim does well with the protagonist’s plot and all, but left the rest of the characters flailing around in half-hearted bliss.  Even our antagonist (Josh Lucas) left much to be desired; despite his unmitigated ramblings about…well whatever it was he was rambling about (that guy really just made me tune out of the moment for some reason).  I guess it was the writer’s attempt at making him seem like a psycho, but frankly I just wasn’t buying it.  Then again, that could have just been a bad role for Mr. Lucas.  I’ve seen sub-par writing get turned into some great acting depending on the caliber of the actor, so maybe a more explosive person playing this character would have made it believable.

I would have liked to have seen some sort of deeper connection or back-story with Will and Riley Jeffers (Malin Akerman) in the movie.  It seems a lot of potential was left untapped with the interaction between these two and could have elevated the entertainment level of things.  Were they exes, current lovers, BFFs since high school or something, what?  Aside from that, the FBI characters were pretty unidimensional as well and seemed to be where the movie made a play at a bit of comedy, but I’d say that was wasted time that could have been made more useful by giving these guys a bit of depth or in-house drama.

Overall, Stolen was a pretty good movie considering it was a freebie for Xbox Live’s free movie weekend dealio.  Hell, it had me invested for the bulk of time it occupied my television and that’s all we really want some days anyway, no?

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Good day to die hard

Score = C+

(Action/Crime) Rated-R

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline: The things we do for our kids…

After watching this movie, it makes perfect sense why they released it on Valentine’s Day.  A Good Day to Die Hard is not a love story, but a story about love.  The love between a father and son.  John McClane (Bruce Willis) hasn’t seen his son Jack (Jai Courtney) in a couple of years and gets word he’s been arrested over in Russia.  Figuring he’s got to do whatever he can to help his son, John jumps on a plane with no idea of what he’s about to get into.

Skip Woods does a great job in setting up the plot of this movie.  Dramatic entrances of key characters are also done nicely by director John Moore.  The dramatic sense turns dull toward the middle of the movie as we start to see evidence of the writer’s high octane content losing horsepower.  The “vacation” catch is used one too many times and it seems the characters are written with little to no personality.  In watching all the Die Hard movies, this one seems to be the most shallow in terms of plot AND action.  Sure we’ve got explosions, a car chase and guns, but where’s the tension?  We need more than an occasional quip from our main star, who, by the way, is really not the protagonist in this film.  The obvious protagonist in the movie is Jack, but the way the film is written, we are more focused on John McClain; the side-kick.

That’s right.  Bruce Willis’ character is actually the side kick of the movie, but written like he is the main character (make sense?).  This is part of the problem here.  If you’re going to make someone the side-kick, then do it, but, the main protagonist should be fleshed out bigger and better.  Aside from maybe Kato and Green Hornet, this recipe needs to be thought out a lot better than an old school cop and his CIA son.  They seemed to have let the formula end a that rather than give the son say, a hot temper (reminiscent of his father as a younger cop), or maybe would’ve been better if they wrote John in a way that changed his attitude after the last film, got his stuff together, and hit the gym to pave the way for a return to his former hot-headed self; although we’d probably have to find a way to get Mr. Willis in the gym for that one…  Maybe get Sylvester Stallone in there to train him up a bit.

The point is, the Die Hard series has always been about revenge, money, and/or making things personal.  Sure the greater good of “saving the world” is a broad reason to do pretty much everything in stories, but the great stories always have more complex subplots which make things interesting.  A father and son reuniting after a couple years…not really that compelling.  This iteration of Die Hard made me long for the days when Steven de Souza’s pen was in the mix during the first couple of movies.  It seems he may have been the brain child behind those 80’s one liners and suspense plots that are sorely missed here.

Yuliya Snigir–Russian actress, model, bomb-shell, chess prodigy–makes her American movie début in this film and actually does better in her support role than the majority of the other actors in the film.  The rest of the cast was a bit “vanilla” for my taste.  There was a trifecta of bad-guys, none of which were really memorable either.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes a five-minute appearance in the movie, which honestly is a damn shame considering she’s fun to watch on-screen.  Bruce Willis plays the old man role just fine, but is he really acting these days?  Love his earlier works, but unfortunately his spark just isn’t there anymore.

As a stand-alone movie, A Good Day to Die Hard is a decent action flick.  Not much in the way of story-telling or fisticuffs, but enough stuff gets blown up or shot to scratch that itch of wanting to watch some action; just not necessarily great action by Die Hard standards.  There are a few points where things are so poorly done the effects/CG almost look comedic (watch the car chase closely) in this age of technology.  With that said, it’s probably past time to wrap this series up unless…nah, let’s just wrap it up.  I mean seriously, once you get “side-kicked” in your own movie franchise, it’s safe to say the fat lady has hit that high note.

Bullet to the Head (2013)

Bullet_to_the_Head

Score = C

(Action/Crime) Rated-R

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline: Set me up, and I’m gonna put you down!

Adapted from a graphic novel written by French author Alexis Nolent entitled: “Du plomb dans la tête,” Bullet to the Head kicks off with a bang!  Literally.  Starting a film somewhere in the middle and then taking you back to the events that led up to said moment, always makes for a bit of intrigue.  But, unfortunately for this film, the intrigue doesn’t make it to the closing credits.

Bullet to the Head is a movie about hit-man James Bonomo, AKA Jimmy Bobo (Stallone), who has been contracted to take out a high profile mark, but after the job, gets double crossed and ends up losing his partner in the process.  The rest of the film is the classic revenge-shoot ‘em up-more double cross-kidnap-trade formula.  The action is decent, but could have used more balance.  It’s a given that the main character will do some battling, but we should have seen more action from the by-the-book police officer Taylor Kwon(Sung Kang) than simply calling in data dumps from his Blackberry.

The more semi-entertaining aspects of the movie included banter between our protagonist and police officer.  Every now and then Jimmy would throw out colorful observations/anecdotes to Taylor’s prowess with a phone and maybe once or twice Taylor would counter with a “dig” of his own.  Again, balance was missed in these exchanges, making the banter feel one sided and a bit out of place but still good for a snicker.

This movie is one of the few recent American films that Sylvester Stallone has starred in but actually NOT had a hand in writing; and it shows.  Sure he’s always known to kick some ass in his films, but there’s an overshadowing punch to the material when he adds his pen to the ink.  And that’s not to say Alessandro Camon did a horrible job with the adaptation—I mean hell, how many Americans can fess up to actually hearing about the graphic novel, let alone reading it.  But, when it comes to a movie, the viewer—even the action movie viewer—want’s a bit of mystery throughout the plot lines (Otherwise on a scale to ten, the action should probably be turned up to twenty five to stay interesting.).

Bullet to the Head is one of those movies you watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon when there isn’t much else to do and nothing more pressing to watch.  A number of famous folks are here: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, Jon Seda, and of course Sarah Shahi who brings some much needed eye candy to the otherwise cliche’d movie.  I give Bullet to the Head a middle-of-the-road “C” for it’s fairly decent experience and Stallone’s ability to still carry an entire movie on his back after decades of entertaining movie goers everywhere; ’cause let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for him, this would probably be a straight to DVD release…

The Man with the Iron Fists

Score = C-

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

(Action/Adventure/Historic / R)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  Have high-profile friends, will make movie.

Let me start this review by applauding anyone who goes outside of their comfort zone to attack different projects.  It takes focus, determination, and, dare I say it, pretty big cojones to attempt adding a sixth gear when the ride is already maxed out at fifth.  With that said, let’s shift to second.

Wu-Tang’s RZA is world renown in the world of music and has been known to make the occasional guest appearance in random movies here and there, but The Man with the Iron Fists marks his first feature-length film of significant presence.  The plot of the film involves a large shipment of the governor’s gold and a whole lot of folks that want it.  The shipment sets off a domino effect of deceit and lies between clans, assassins and family alike.  The Lion Clan is the main focus of the movie as Gold Lion—summoned by the governor to protect the incoming gold shipment—is assassinated by his mentee, Silver Lion.  Where Gold Lion’s focus was peace, Silver Lion wants war.  He appoints himself head of the Lion clan in the wake of their leader’s demise and is determined to bulldoze anyone in his path (and otherwise) to the incoming gold.  Gold Lion’s true son receives word of his father’s murder and returns to the village for vengeance.

The plot unfolds through the eyes of Jungle Village’s blacksmith (RZA)– a former slave with a talent for creating deadly weapons– which, coincidentally, were wielded by both Lion and Wolf clans involved in the war.  All he wants is to leave the town with his girl, but feels remorse for creating the weapons used in such a pointless war and decides to stay to help take down Silver Lion for his discretions.  The story-lines played out very well in this movie.  Everything had a point, and all the dots connected.  Unfortunately, the majority of writing within the story reeked of yester-century.  Lines like: “I’m gonna drill you like I drilled your whore!,” nowhere near compares to the tasty cheese factor of 80’s action movies and makes you seriously wonder just how cheesy the film was meant to be.

Speaking of aged fineness, the amount of gratuitous blood spatter and high school theater stage props throughout the film had me wondering why they didn’t just make the film into a stylish, animated film.  It would have upped the movie points and definitely gave the film an unmistakable cool factor for RZA’s directorial début– even with the lackluster writing.  The Man with the Iron Fists is a movie starring, directed and co-written by RZA.  While having a hand in all the puzzle pieces, in addition to the music, one could not necessarily call this project a cinco-threat for the iron-fisted gent, thanks to some ill-fitting pieces.

Many high-profile actors were involved with the project; Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Daniel Wu, Chia Hui Liu– this guy is a friggin legend and you shall address him as “Mr. Kung Fu,” Grace Huang, Eli Roth and a slew of other folks are in this movie.  RZA probably had a bit of an “excitemident” from starring in a movie with folks he watched on-screen over the years.  My biggest request would be that Mr. RZA takes many acting classes to do his future acting roles justice when these opportunities come along.  The contrast in the now is quite staggering and simply embarrassing.  If you’re going to be in the movie, be great in it!

There were plenty of comic-book- retro film transitions (a la Quentin Tarantino) throughout the movie, in addition to abrupt quick cuts to no-doubt bring the movie down to its ninety five minute mark, but I couldn’t help having that nagging familiarity with ninety percent of the movie.  It was so familiar, in fact, I found myself asking if I had missed the Red Apple brand cigarettes…  The Man with the Iron Fists gets a C- for decent action scenes, grand plot and overall acting from the veterans, but poor writing and acting from our main persona.