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Reviews

The Matrix Resurrections
(2021)

While not all that necessary, The Matrix Resurrections is unquestionably the best Matrix sequel (and the best sequel with the subtitle Resurrection)
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a successful game programmer whose trilogy of The Matrix video games earned him recognition and success, but despite this he is a depressed and isolated man who routinely sees an Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) to discuss his fragile state. The high point of Thomas' days are his chance encounters with a married woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) whom despite never having met her he shares a connection. Thomas is under pressure from parent company Warner Bros. To deliver a new Matrix game despite him not wanting to, and his encounters with inane focus groups and marketing notes is beginning to wear on him. However when Thomas starts seeing Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) a supposedly fictional character from The Matrix games, the lines between real and unreal are blurred.

The Matrix film series ended pretty definitively with the two parter films Reloaded and Revolutions back in 2003. The Wachowskis were routinely approached by Warner Bros. With questions about continuation and rumors had even circulated since 2011 regarding Warner Bros. Desires for continuation of the series and franchise. Eventually Lana Wachowski came up with a pitch that Warner Bros. Accepted (and according to Lana and dialogue in the movie itself Warner Bros. Would've made a sequel with or without them) and Warner Bros. Readily accepted the offer. Lilly Wachowski does not return along with Lana due to prior commitments on the Showtime series Work in Progress. While I do give the movie a recommendation, I completely understand why people wouldn't like it, but it's probably my second favorite Matrix after the first one.

During the first hour of the movie, the film plays itself in a metatextual fashion similar to Wes Craven's New Nightmare where's it's a sequel while also blurring the lines between fiction and reality with elements bleeding into one another. Keanu Reeves performance is really strong as Thomas Anderson and its unquestionably the most human and relatable the role has been since the first film back in 1999. The romance between Thomas and Tiffany is also really well done and the fact that the movie isn't cramming in techno-babble suffocated exposition with long drawn out scenes of Navel-gazing makes the story much stronger and more resonant (for me anyway) on a character level than either Reloaded or Revolutions ever did. The first hour is definitely the best part of the movie where it plays with the audience's understanding of reality but once we reach the remaining 60% we're basically just another Matrix movie.

Despite us traversing very familiar territory in the remaining 90 minutes I did enjoy seeing the advancements and divergences in the world since we left it twenty years ago. Some elements are interesting but aren't as fully developed as the could've been such as different factions of machines that are hostile and friendly, and there's a returning secondary character who's featured in some of the worst "old person" make-up I've seen since Guy Pearce in Prometheus. For me this part of the movie was okay. It had clear direction and an emotional core with the romance unquestionably the strongest it's been in any of these movies (and yes, I'm including the first one) and it's not overburdened with ancillary characters who were given more prominence in video games or direct to video animated projects that the movie expects you to already be familiar with.

The Matrix Resurrections has many flaws and criticisms that I can see people pointing as their reason for disliking the film and I really can't fault them on it because they'd be perfectly valid. With that said, I enjoyed the movie overall and was entertained by the themes (even if in Wachowski fashion it's as subtle as a sledgehammer) and the returning performances of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as well as new performances such as Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. The movie doesn't reach the level of the first Matrix, but for my money it exceeds Reloaded and Revolutions.

The Matrix Revolutions
(2003)

And so it comes to end, not a satisfying one but an end
Following the events of the previous film, Neo (Keanu Reeves) finds himself trapped in a world between The Matrix and the Machine world. In the real world Neo lies in a coma-like state and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Neo's love interest Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) travel back into the Matrix to bring back Neo. Meanwhile back at the human city of Zion, Commander Lock rallies the force for the impending machine invasions, and in the Matrix, the rogue Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) continues to replicate and spread intent on taking control of both the matrix and the machines.

The second part of the back-to-back produced Matrix follow-ups, Revolutions was released a mere six months after its predecessor Reloaded. Serving as the capper to the Matrix trilogy and paying off the dangling plot threads and cliffhanger ending of Reloaded, there were high expectations for Revolutions to provide closure to the saga. Unfortunately Revolutions followed the descending trajectory indicated by Reloaded and was rather underwhelming as a result.

I will say that much like the previous films the action is spot on. With the exception of the final confrontation at the end of the movie, the action remains engaging and intense. The siege of Zion is well done with solid effects work and a sense of spatial geography and despite running long the Wachowskis do know how to structure an action sequence even if it's a lot to take in.

As with reloaded, the story becomes quite messy especially in regards to Neo who in the end of Reloaded was able to exhibit his "The One" powers in the real world and Revolutions pretty much runs with that interpretation of Neo's powers. The characters don't really evolve and are pretty much the same steadfast believers they've been throughout the series so there's not really anything all that interesting characterwise (not that character has been a strong suit of this franchise). In the climax of the movie a good chunk of the action is done by characters like Nathaniel Lees as Captain Mifune, Clayton Watson's "The Kid", or Nona Gaye's Zee and while they do fine with the action beats, these characters aren't all that engaging and despite being played like they're important we're not really given much as to why we should be invested in them. The movie does have a note of finality for Neo, but despite all these proclamations that "the war is over" the machines are still very much in this world so the attack stopped on Zion but there's still the question of what happens with those remaining in The Matrix or The Machines themselves. I was always a little ambivalent about bringing back Agent Smith in the first place, and here my fears were founded because Smith is positioned as a "final boss" to give an artificial resolution to the narrative because they wrote themselves into a corner and needed a suitable bullet sponge for Neo to fight against. With that said at least the movie goes for it with closing the door on Neo and Trinity (even if it's not all that satisfying).

The Matrix Revolutions is what it is. It's a capper to an already shaky follow-up to an above average movie that was in the right place and the right time to tap into the cultural zeitgeist. While the original film's open ending may have invited sequelization, the blatant astroturfing Warner Bros. Went through with two matrix movies, the Enter the Matrix video game, and The Animatrix dvd was too much too fast. Maybe if the Wachowskis had done their original plan of producing a prequel then a sequel instead of a bloated two parter who knows what I'd be saying. But unfortunately what we got was two movies collectively with 6 times the original's budget and only maybe 60% the original's appeal. At least it's an ending, I'll give them that.

Mitchell
(1975)

A meandering and unengaging cop thriller headlined by an unlikable and incompetent hero.
When trade union lawyer named Walter Deaney (John Saxon) kills a burglar in his house, most of the police believe it to be a case of self-defense, but detective Mitchell (Joe Don Baker) believes otherwise. Ordered by his captain to steer clear of Deaney who is claimed by the FBI, Mitchell is ordered to stake out the home of James Arthur Cummins (Martin Balsam) who specializes in the import and export of illicit and stolen goods. As Cummins deals with the annoyance of Mitchell's surveillance, he also has to deal with an unexpected shipment of stolen Heroin coming into one of his ports that he wants nothing to do with.

Mitchell was one of many "gritty" cop films spurred by the success of films such as The French Connection and Dirty Harry that shifted the police dramas and film of TV from Joe Friday-esque paragons of virtue and justice to shades of grey. As typical with the success of anything, The French Connection and Dirty Harry inspired scores of imitators with some decent or good, while others were slapdash efforts to ride the coattails of larger successes, such is the case with Mitchell. What's most interesting regarding Mitchell is the names attached to it. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen who directed a number of Westerns throughout the 50s and 60s many of which were vehicles for John Wayne, written by Ian Kennedy Martin who would go on to create the influential UK police drama The Sweeney, and even the producing debut of Benjamin Melniker who would go on to have his name on several Batman and DC Comics based films up to and even after his death. Even Joe Don Baker had seen success in this type of role with the low budget breakout hit Walking Tall. With all those elements you'd expect something decent if not exceptional, but with Mitchell it's a low uninteresting slog that stretches itself to 90 minutes and wouldn't even pass the bare minimum of standards for a TV movie of the week.

The biggest problem with the movie is undeniably with Mitchell himself as he's a beer guzzling lout who stumbles his way through the movie with no real insights or skills and just kind of happens upon crimes because the villains are stupid enough to draw him into them. It's really only through dumb luck Mitchell gets anywhere on the case (except when that "case" is of beer) and there's nothing all that endearing or likable about Mitchell. That's not to say a character like this NEEDS to be likable, but when you're protagonist is abrasive and lacking in social skills you need to offset that by giving them something that justifies the lack of those traits. But even the movie seems to not think very highly of Mitchell as there's a lengthy sequence after Mitchell has a garbage can shoved on his head (long story) that a comedic song plays seemingly mocking Mitchell as he has sex with a prostitute played by Linda Evans. The plot is also pretty unengaging. While I did like John Saxon as Deaney, he's pretty much wasted as a secondary antagonist who does very little especially with the driving point of him shooting a brugular not carrying any weight for us to root for Mitchell against him. Martin Balsam is a proven character actor, but his role as the primary antagonist is so anemic that you just can't muster up any enthusiasm for it.

Mitchell is just a bad movie, with threadbare production values, an unengaging plot, and a hero lacking in charisma or even interesting characteristics, Mitchell is a crash course in how not to do a cop thriller. Only viewable as a source of cheap laughs from its incompetence.

The Matrix Reloaded
(2003)

The Matrix Reloaded has indivual moments of inspiration that are suffocated by bloated excess
6 months after Neo (Keanu Reeves) became The One, Neo continues the fight to free humanity from The Matrix with Morpheus (Laurence Fishuburne), and Neo's love interest Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). When the machines begin digging to the underground human city of Zion, Zion's leadership believes it's best that all ships should return to Zion and prepare for defense against the impending invasion. Morpheus however steadfast in his belief in the prophecy and trust in Neo organizes his team to go back into The Matrix where the long awaited message is delivered from the Oracle (Gloria Foster) that they must access the mainframe. However along with upgrades in The Matrix's agents, the seemingly destroyed Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has returned more powerful than ever.

Following the massive success of the first Matrix film, Warner Bros. Quickly struck while the iron was hot bringing back both The Wachowskis and Keanu Reeves for two back to back sequels with most of the cast soon following suit. Originally envisioned to be followed by one prequel film and one sequel, it was decided that the sequels would be a two parter detailing the last stand of Zion against the Machine invasion. When the first part, The Matrix Reloaded was released in May 2003, it broke records for the biggest R-rated movie at the box office previously held by Terminator 2: Judgement Day and would not be broken again until 2016 with the release of Deadpool. While reviews of the film skewed (mostly) positive at the time, there was a feeling that Reloaded was a step down in quality from the first film. The movie was also criticized for its overstuffed exposition and dangling plot threads and cliffhanger ending which were pretty naked attempts to set up ancillary franchise material like The Animatrix, the video game Enter the Matrix, and of course the second part The Matrix Revolutions. While The Matrix Reloaded does boast some solid elements and memorable scenes, it also often succumbs to the weight of its own bloat and excess.

As with the first film, the production design, effects, and action are spot on with the human city of Zion only hinted at in the first film now fully realized and the movie is given a larger sense of scope and scale than the first film had. The movie also tries to bring up twists on its "chosen one" narrative with Morpheus' status as a true believer contrasted against the more cynical and grounded elements of Zion such as Harry Lennix's commander Lock or more on the fence elements such as Anthony Zerbe as Councillor Hamann. The action scenes also go for more elaborate and large scale sequences such as the "money shot" where Neo finds himself fighting against multiple copies of Agent Smith which is really well done.

What doesn't work is the lack of a core like we had in the first film. While the first The Matrix didn't have the greatest depth when it came to character, it had a strong enough core to compensate with Thomas Anderson/Neo's journey of an everyman learning his world is a lie and dealing with the fallout from that and going on a journey both personal and literal to find out if he was The One. Most of Neo's scenes in this film consist of him dealing with the pressures of being The One (with multiple scenes of Zion's denizens bringing offerings to him and asking him for protection of their loved ones) or chasing McGuffins whose purposes aren't made clear. Most of this movie is a barrage of exposition broken up by fight scenes but the characters aren't engaging enough to overcome the dry exposition and the fight scenes are so overly long that it becomes exhausting to watch. One sequence where our characters encounter a character known as the Merovingian leads to what feels like a 20 minute long stretch of action. The fact that Neo also retains his nigh invincibility poses problems for creating tension which is probably why the filmmakers routinely sideline him because he has "god mode" on with only the legions of Agent Smith posing any real threat.

The Matrix Reloaded has some good scenes, but it's so burdened by exposition and non-stop action sequences that it loses a lot of the appeal it got from the personal journey and memorable (if clunky and unsubtle) themes it tackled. While there are moments where we get glimpses of that such as The Architect Scene, more often than not it feels like a streamlined larger scale version of the first film without the novelty.

The Matrix
(1999)

The Wachowskis career defining film that changed action filmmaking and blockbuters forever
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) on the surface is a program writer for a software company, but on his off hours is a hacker known as Neo. Following an encounter with fellow hacker Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Neo is soon contacted by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who tells him he's being hunted by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). When Neo finally meets Morpheus, he learns the world as he knows it is in fact a simulated reality known as The Matrix created to imprison the minds of humanity as their exploited by machines. Furthermore, Neo learns he may be the one who will free humanity.

Following The Wachowskis initial works of the screenplay for Assassins and their critical success the duo scored with the lesbian neo-noir Bound, the Wachowskis were able to parlay this into the momentum they needed to get The Matrix into production with the help of noted action producer Joel Silver. Made for $60 million and grossing $450 million, the film redefined the action genre with not only its utilization of iconography synonymous with Hong Kong heroic bloodshed and Japanese anime (such as Ghost in the Shell), but also in its attempts to tackle themes of Buddhism, transhumanism, reality vs illusion, and has even achieved revised retrospective analysis for its Transgender subtext. In its initial release The Matrix became a massive hit easily becoming the biggest success of a wave of other simulated reality movies (Dark City, eXistenZ, The Thirteenth Floor, etc.). The movie has some truly amazing visuals and action sequences to it, and while its ideas and themes are about as subtle as an anvil they are well integrated into the film to create an engaging experience. But with that said there are some cracks that have made themselves more noticeable with time.

In terms of creating a fully realized visually interesting world, The Wachowskis gave audiences something truly amazing. Utilizing the artwork of comic artists Geof Darrow and Steve Skroce in combination with some dazing and revolutionary effects, the film creates a visually engaging world consisting of the overly ordered and generic "City" within The Matrix, and the harsh cyberpunk infused and at times almost Giger-esque apocalyptic future that makes up the real world. The film does a good job of distinguishing between the two worlds flawlessly with the color coding giving a good sense of what's The Matrix and what's "real" and visually speaking you could watch the movie on mute and still understand what's going on. On the action side, The Wachowskis use those same elaborate effects with a mixture of Hong Kong influenced wire-fu and gun fights choreographed by noted martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping. The Matrix came at a time when the United States was seeing a greater influx of Hong Kong action talent in their productions with John Woo having established credibility as a director with Hard Target, Broken Arrow, and especially Face/Off which came the closest to capturing his poetic elegance seen in his films like A Better Tomorrow as well as Jackie Chan's successful attempt at international crossover with the sleeper hits of Rumble in the Bronx and Rush Hour. The Matrix was unquestionably the pinnacle of Eastern influence on Western action cinema and with its energy and sense of scale it's no wonder why it spawned so many imitators (The One, Bulletproof Monk, etc.) that tried to recapture its appeal to diminishing returns.

While stylistically and visually The Matrix endures, over time the film has seen its initial novelty wear off with some of its flaws more noticeable with the passage of time. The biggest flaw is probably in the film's lack of subtlety with its themes presented pretty bluntly with its allusions to Jesus Christ, Buddhism, and Transhumanism delivered with the impact of a sledgehammer with exchanges such as "You're my savior man, my own personal Jesus Christ". I think because action films tended to avoid trying to discuss anything of weight audiences were blown away by the novelty of seeing such themes discussed gave the film some leeway with audiences and made the chunkiness of the dialogue more forgivable. The characters are also pretty bland with Thomas Anderson/Neo basically being an "everyman" serving as an audience proxy and Morpheus and most of the human resistance playing their roles in a very muted and stoic manner. The only ones who manage to break from this emotional muteness are Joe Pantoliano and Hugo Weaving who without question give the best performances in the film by virtue of the fact they're given more than one note to play. With that said though, Keanu Reeves does well as an everyman and the journey he goes on is still thematically and visually engaging even if it holds your hand most of the way.

The Matrix was and remains one of the defining action films of the 90s and its success opened the door for imitators, yes, but also for more ambitious themes and ideas to be attempted in large scale Summer tentpoles. Without The Matrix we definitely wouldn't have more "out there" films like Inception or Doctor Strange and thematically and visually speaking it still holds up. However despite the craft to The Matrix there is a chunkiness to the dialogue and pretty much every theme and idea touched upon in The Matrix is spelled out with little opportunity for missing it. But despite its lack of subtlety it's a very passionate film that pulls you into its world (if not necessarily its characters) and its transhumanist allegories have been given additional meaning with the passage of time.

Cruising
(1980)

William Friedkin's divisive sleazy murder mystery is an engaging ride from start to finish.
When body parts of men start showing up in the Hudson River, police come to believe a serial killer is targeting gay men. Under intense pressure from the media, gay advocacy groups, the city's elected officials, Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is assigned to go undercover in the fringe S&M gay scene as he has a similar profile and build to the men being killed. As Steve adopts the alias of John Forbes, he finds himself further and further entrenched and drawn to the lurid allure of the scene.

Based on the 1970 novel Cruising by Gerald Walker, French Connection producer Philip D'Antoni had approached Friedkin earlier in his career only for Friedkin to turn it down due to lack of interest. D'Antoni then approached Steven Spielberg, but was unable to find studio backing. When the rights were bought by Jerry Weintraub years later, Friedkin had warmed up to the idea thanks to his exposure to a series of articles by Village Voice writer Arthur Bell as well as encounters with former police officer Randy Jurgensen who had done similar deep cover work to investigate a series of gay murders. Not only was the film prone to frequent conflicts with the MPAA to secure an R rating with nearly 40 minutes of deleted footage of explicit material in the various bars, but the film was also subject to massive protests and pickets from gay rights groups who characterized the film as homophobic and anti-gay. In the years since it's troubled release the film continues to be discussed and has found appreciation among directors such as the Safdie brothers, Nicholas Winding Refn, and Quentin Tarantino.

The movie is very giallo like with its lurid sexualized murders investigated by a where the film is more concerned with crafting an atmosphere and sense of character as Friedkin captures the seamy side of New York's nightlife. While Al Pacino does well playing the audience proxy as he reacts to the world crafted by Friedkin's film, there is a sense that Pacino is a bit more secured in his sexuality than the filmmakers intended. As an experience the film is simply unforgettable.

William Friedkin's Cruising is a tense and thrilling film that captures its lurid atmosphere so vividly you can feel it with every scene. While the movie's loose structure and ambiguous payoffs will challenge viewers, in terms of craft of filmmaking Cruising has few equals.

Point Break
(2015)

Pointless and hollow, the budget's been expanded while the personality and energy is gone
Former extreme sports athlete Johnny "Utah" Brigham (Luke Bracey) following the death of his friend on a motocross run leaves the extreme sports world for the FBI. After attending a briefing on a gang of thieves who've been hitting various locations around the globe connected to Multi-National Corporations with American interests by base jumping off skyscrapers or doing heists in mid-air but never keeping the money, Utah shares info that the thieves are basing their heists around the Ozaki 8, a list of eight extreme ordeals to honor the forces of nature. Utah is assigned to the case to work alongside Angelo Pappas (Ray Winstone) an FBI agent based out of their London offices, and Pappas and Utah head to France for rare surfing conditions that are part of the Ozaki 8. Once there Utah rides the wave and faints but is rescued by another surfer Bodhi (Édgar Ramírez), and is introduced to his team Roach (Clemens Schick), Chowder (Tobias Santelmann), and Grommet (Matias Varela) at a party hosted by their sponsor, Al-Fariq (Nikolai Kinski). Eventually Utah joins up with Bohdi and his crew and Utah finds himself torn between the case and the rush of Bohdi's lifestyle.

Based on the enduring cult film and action classic, Point Breaks, the long in-development remake of Point Break was eventually willed into existence as an international co-production among American, German, and Chinese film producers. Helmed by The Fast and the Furious cinematographer Ericson Core who also directed Invincible, Core pitched his take on Point Break as a large scale tentpole movie which was instrumental in getting the film made. Written by Kurt Wimmer who also wrote the 2012 remake of cult classic Total Recall, the movie was released on Christmas Day of 2015 where it garnered horrendous critical reception and audience indifference accumulating a paltry $28 million stateside against its $105 million budget, though thanks to international revenue the movie squeeze out enough revenue to get to $133 million though when accounting for marketing and distribution costs that doesn't even come close to success. At least with Total Recall you could at least make an argument for "going back to the original book" (not that they did) so there are grounds and justification for a remake. But Point Break was a smaller scale movie filled with strong characters and personalities which has now turned into a large scale behemoth where the characters might as well be stick figures.

Easily the biggest drag on the movie is Luke Bracey stepping in for Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah (sorry, Johnny Brigham because Utah is a nickname from YouTube). While Reeves has been mocked for his somewhat stilted delivery as an actor with the stage show Point Break Live! Using that stiltedness as an enduring part of its appeal, there's a passion, energy, and charm that Keanu Reeves exudes that draws you to him as an actor even in his lesser films like Johnny Mnemonic or Chain Reaction. When we see Luke Bracey in the opening motocross sequence, Bracey doesn't carry himself like a leading man and is a charisma vacuum where in later scenes if he's in a room with other people you'd be hard pressed to say he's the lead in this movie. But it's not like Bracey's the only bad point in this movie. Bodhi is played by actor Edgar Ramirez, a strong actor as seen in his Carlos the Jackal biopic and the police procedural exorcist film Deliver Us from Evil, but here Ramirez doesn't have that laid back charisma Swayze brought to the character in the original film. We also have the very strange casting of English actor Ray Winstone filling in Gary Busey's role as FBI agent Angelo Pappas, and not only does Winstone sleepily grumble his way through the film, but FBI agents are REQUIRED to be U. S. Citizens even in international offices of the UK in one of many hiccups from Wimmer's script.

Speaking of Wimmer's script, if surfing is no longer integral to your story like it was in the first film, why is it even called point break (a surfing term)? Well I guess even Wimmer realized that, so Wimmer's bent and twisted it into a stupid exchange with the line "The Point at which you Break" around the halfway mark to give some level of justification for the title. While the original Point Break didn't have airtight logic, it made up for it by the fact that it never took itself too seriously with lots of humorous and or charming exchanges between Utah and Pappas, Utah and love interest Tyler Ann Ednicott (we'll get to her), and Utah and Bodhi that engaged you. Point Break 2015 takes an almost comical level of stoic seriousness to it characters and delivery and everyone just seems bored as a result. And then we have our revised version of Lori Petty's Tyler with Teresa Palmer's Samsara...I want to preface this by saying Palmer's a good actress as seen in the zombie romantic comedy Warm Bodies, but you would not know that from this movie as her relationship with Johnny feels very ancillary and she and Bracey have the chemistry of a wet sparkler. Palmer's role is basically "she's there", and because "she's there" she and Utah get together only for it to not really affect much of anything (especially with Wimmer's inclusion of a stupid non-twist).

I will say the action is large scale and the locations are varied, but the action is also overly clean and bereft of tension. The filmmakers have taken away the plot point of Utah's injured knee which gave him vulnerability and relatable as a hero and instead make Utah completely perfect with regards to every sport he does. This has been a recurring problem in Wimmer's work dating back to 2002's inexplicable cult film Equilibrium where every action protagonist Wimmer writes is pretty much nigh invincible and Utah is no different here. The original Point Break placed Utah in danger many times such as the Bunker Weiss shootout, the skydiving scene where Bohdi packed Utah's chute, the footchase between Utah and Bohdi. All the action is large scale but there's no tension mined from the premise so it's less Point Break and more Extreme Ops or xXx. It's also a very ugly movie with much of the film carrying this unappealing bluish green filter that washes out the colors from every locale and makes everything look visually unappealing.

Point Break 2015 is a pointless remake of a silly but enjoyable action thriller that had a strong action director and many charismatic actors. The new incarnation of Point Break with its bland characters, uninteresting action, and general boredom feels less like it wants to be Point Break and more like it wants to ape The Fast and the Furious.

Point Break
(1991)

A great cast and strong direction by Kathryn Bigelow make Point Break an action classic
Rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is teamed with veteran agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) in investigating a string of bank robberies by a gang of robbers known as Ex-Presidents (so named because they wear rubber masks of Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson). Rather than robbing the vault, the Ex-Presidents only demand the cash the tellers have in their drawers, and are gone within ninety seconds. Banking on Pappas' theory the gang are surfers as their crime sprees over the past 4 years have begun and ended with the Summer surfing season (among other factors), Utah goes undercover in the surfing community where he meets Tyler Endicott (Lori Petty) who teaches him to surf and learns of Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the charismatic leader of a gang of surfers consisting of Roach (James LeGros), Grommet (Bojesse Christopher), and Nathanial (John Philbin). As Utah becomes more ingrained in the surfing scene he finds the lines blur between his dedication to the case and his connection to surfing.

Beginning development in 1986 with Matthew Broderick, Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer, and Charlie Sheen all at one point considered for the role of Johnny Utah and even Ridley Scott coming close to directing, the movie eventually became the fourth film for director Kathryn Bigelow following The Loveless (1981), Near Dark (1987), and Blue Steel (1990). Released in July of 1991, Point Break became a decent success at the box office, but over time ingrained itself as a cult film and gave Keanu Reeves his first outing as an action lead setting the stage for follow-ons such as Speed and of course The Matrix.

What makes Point Break work so well is in its strength in its core actors. Be it Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Lori Pretty, Gary Busey, and even John C. McGinley, everyone leaves an impression with not only their own performance, but also their interactions with the others. Reeves and Busey have fun banter as Utah and Pappas respectively, Reeves and Swayze have some fantastic scenes be it in fighting or espousing surf philosophy, and the strongest is in the interactions between Reeves and Petty who bring strong credibility to the relationship between Utah and Tyler and you buy their romance in the movie because of it.

The action is exhilarating with Bigelow knowing how to immerse the camera in the heart of the action as she mines tension not only from the action scenes, but also the lulls between them so we're kept engaged throughout the film. We get a strong sense of the surfing lifestyle and why it would be so tempting to someone like Utah and it's made all the more engaging as a result.

Point Break is an action classic for a reason. Absolutely oozing with charisma and filled with tension, Point Break has a charm to it that brings credibility and passion to its undercover surfing robbers narrative. A welcome addition to any action fans viewing rotation.

Jexi
(2019)

A horror film disguised as a comedy.
Phil (Adam DeVine) is an underachieving writer at social media based news site Chatterbox. Phil is always immersed in his smartphone until a chance encounter with a bike shop owner, Cate (Alexandrea Shipp) breaks him away from his phone only for a passerby to destroy it by accident. Phil buys a new phone which comes with a virtual assistant named Jexi (voiced by Rose Byrne), who browbeats Phil into "making his life better" and often causes havoc in his life.

Jexi comes from writer directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore who left their stamp on film with 2009's The Hangover and have worked steadily in film comedy finding other success such as the Bad Moms series. Jexi reunites Lucas and Moore with Bad Moms' producer Suzzanne Todd in a satirical rom-com satirizing our smartphone reliant society. While the film does yield a few laughs from Rose Byrne's deadpan Siri like delivery of vulgar browbeating, it can't disguise the fact that Jexi is pretty horrifying when you step back from it.

For me personally the movie never really got into a rhythm that worked for me comedically because on the one hand Adam DeVine's Phil is supposed to an underdog we want to root for and on the other we're supposed to laugh at the hell he's put through by a rouge A. I. that berates, belittles, and even threatens him in ways that are pretty creepy. While the initial set-up where Jexi makes his life better by pushing him out of the comfortable mediocrity is one thing, the movie I think loses itself with a third act that was reminding me of a gender flipped take on Dean Koontz' Demon Seed except playing it for comedy. The zany antics of Jexi just don't match with the very sincere quiet moments the movie often goes into and it feels really jarring. Also this movie came out the same year played an AI in the sci-fi thriller I Am Mother, which only adds to the already unsettling atmosphere created by the movie.

Jexi doesn't have a terrible premise for a high concept comedy, but in execution it seems blissfully unaware of just how creepy this situation really is. It feels like Lucas and Moore took the Spike Jones movie Her and crudely stapled their raunchy style of humor to it without thinking about the implications. There are some moments that are kind of funny, but for everyone of those there's three that are spine shudderingly offputting.

The Cloverfield Paradox
(2018)

A step down from 10 Cloverfield Lane
In the midst of an imminent energy crisis, a multinational crew aboard the Cloverfield Space Station tries to stabilize an experiment that will end the energy crisis and curtail escalating tensions between the nations. When the latest attempt at stabilizing the experiment goes awry, not only is the station damaged but the Earth has seemingly vanished. As the crew attempts to investigate what has gone wrong strange occurrences happen throughout the ship that defy explanation.

TheOren Uziel penned spec script God Particle was acquired by Paramount as a low budget feature for their InSurge label in 2012. Much like previous InSurge film The Cellar which was engineered into 10 Cloverfield Lane, God Particle was eventually engineered into a Cloverfield sequel but was best by numerous release delays and pushed around the calendar for several months. Eventually Paramount sold the rights to Netflix for $50 million, and much like prior Cloverfield entries was given a unique marketing treatment where the first and only trailer for the film, now titled The Cloverfield Paradox, appeared during Super Bowl LII and announced it would premier on the service immediately after the game. While there's no way to know for certain how many viewers the movie drew, critical reaction skewed negative and as of now ranks as the lowest rated Cloverfield film. While not completely without merit, The Cloverfield Paradox is a rehash of better and/or more entertaining films of a similar ilk.

The Cloverfield Paradox is the sophomore directing effort by Nigerian-American director Julius Onah whose previous effort was the low budget crime film The Girl is in Trouble. Onah shows a reasonable grasp on the stylings of the sci-fi genre (even if they're undone by scripting problems), and we get a good sense of identity with the station and relative location of where everything is. The effects work is also quite solid with the Cloverfield Station nicely rendered with a memorable design. There's also a surprising amount of gore work for a PG-13 film with solid body horror scenes that are nicely cringe inducing and downright painful to look at.

What doesn't work with Cloverfield Paradox is mainly in regard to the story and the characters. Pretty much everyone on board Cloverfield Station (Aside from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris O'Dowd) is bereft of any real character and is primarily defined by their nationality. The movie features a fantastic cast but they're so bland that you feel nothing when they die and the tension never goes above a light simmer. The only ones who leave an impression are Chris O'Dowd as an Irish Engineer who's the "funny one" of the group and Gugu Mbatha-Raw who has an underdeveloped "survivor's" guilt arc that leads to some really stupid motivations when we learn what's going on with the weird things on the ship. The movie in terms of its story is like a combination of Event Horizon, Solaris, and bits of The Fly and it doesn't have the schlocky charm of Event Horizon nor the intelligence and character of Solaris or The Fly. Even in the loosely defined context of what the Cloverfield Paradox is, the movie features laughable scenes such as severed arms writing things they somehow know while attached to nothing or foosball tables spinning by themselves for no real reason, and the movie undermines the tension of its premise by having a subplot set on Earth that's only there to tie in with previous Cloverfield movies and it does so pretty sloppily at that.

The Cloverfield Paradox has some solid gore scenes and individually scary moments, but as a whole it's a mess of other movies of this type you've seen before. It's not over the top and violent enough to be schlocky fun nor is it intelligent enough to be strong sci-fi. I would like to see more Cloverfield movies because I think Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane are proof positive it's a strong brand with lots of possibilities, but Cloverfield Paradox is not a showcase for the series potential.

Chronicle
(2012)

A mixture of Cloverfield, Carrie, and superheroes, Chronicle is an engaging ride even if it loses structural integrity in its third act.
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is a high school student from Seattle, Washington whose mother Karen (Bo Petersen) is dying while he is subject to physical and verbal abuse from his unemployed father Richard (Michael Kelly) and is a social pariah in high school. Andrew adopts an interest in filming everything in his life from now on. Andrew's cousin, Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), is Andrew's only real friend and tries to bring Andrew to social events to bring him out. When Matt and popular student Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) stumble across a crater near a party they have Andrew follow and record them as they find a strange glowing crystalline artifact. Following their encounter with the artifact and its mysterious disappearance the three begin to display telekinetic abilities allowing them to perform incredible feats including flight. The three form a bond over their shared abilities gradually expanding how far they can take their new powers, but Andrew's darker impulses gradually reveal themselves as his despair and isolation turns to destructive rage.

Based on an idea director Josh Trank came up with in High School, Trank teamed up with writer Max Landis following a previous effort with Jeremy Slater on an unrelated spec script. The script was purchased by 20th Century Fox with Trank as director and the film received a marketing treatment similar to 2008's Cloverfield with a similar release date. The movie became a massive success both critically and financially making $120 million against its $12 million budget launching the careers of Josh Trank and Max Landis as up and coming talent (before both crashed and burned for different reasons, but that's neither here nor there) and serving as a strong showcase for the talents of its three leads in Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan. The movie has a lot going for it, but there's also some story beats that never quite worked for me.

Despite being marketed as a "found footage" movie, Chronicle makes no such pretense about this footage being found as the movie uses multiple points of view from different camera sources and its more a movie told from the point of view of cameras than a proper "found footage" film. The ways Trank utilizes different POVs with the cameras especially with Andrew's ever increasing powers leading to more elaborate shots that wouldn't be possible with a handheld do a nice job of incorporating the super power element with the video camera POV. Our three leads are played well by Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan and the scenes in the first half of the movie showing them bonding over their powers, engaging in pranks with them, or Steve trying to help Andrew get more ingrained socially at High School are well done and makes you care about them as characters.

What I didn't like was the second half of the movie. Without giving too much away Trank has said films like Carrie, The Fury, and Akira were inspirations for the story direction in the film, but when I saw the film I felt Dane DeHaan's character was less Carrie White and more Hayden Christensen's take on Anakin Skywalker with the powers of X-Men's Magneto (note: this comment is stolen from my friend's reaction to the movie upon exiting the theater). The movie clocks in at about 74 minutes excluding credits, and I think for the type of climax the movie wanted I never felt like the journey we took to get to it was given proper development. I think DeHaan's transition from awkward introvert to self described "apex predator" felt really forced and sacrificed a lot of the strong character dynamics seen in the first half.

Chronicle is a strong showcase for its cast and crew and what they can do with a small budget, but the first half is a stronger film than the second half in terms of character, but it continues to be a well made film right through the end. I'm personally not a fan of the direction the movie takes after the second act, but it does deliver on spectacle and entertainment value.

10 Cloverfield Lane
(2016)

A high tension chamber piece anchored by three strong leads
In New Orelans, Louisiana, a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has left her fiancé following a fight. When Michelle has a collision on a rural road she is rendered unconscious and awakens in a bunker belonging to doomsday prepper Howard (John Goodman) who claims he rescued her from an attack that has left the air unbreathable outside. As Michelle talks with the bunker's other occupant, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the hired hand who helped Howard build the bunker, Michelle must now determine if the danger outside is real or a paranoid delusion of Howard's.

Based on the spec script The Cellar by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken that appeared on The Hit List" of 2012, an annually published list of spec scripts written within the year that have impressed its voting members, the film was purchased by Paramount and originally intended as a low budget feature for their Insurge label. When J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions became involved, rewrites were done by Damien Chazelle who was initially slated to direct as well, but pulled out when his project Whiplash got funding. The movie instead became the feature directing debut of Dan Trachtenberg who came to prominence with his work on the fan film Portal: No Escape. Produced in secrecy under the code name Valencia, as the project developed producers noticed similarities between the film and Cloverfield and gave it branding as a "blood relative" of the original film. While the film only has the loosest of connections to Cloverfield, the movie is a solid suspense thriller thanks to its surehanded direction by Trachtenberg and a trio of great performances.

At its core 10 Cloverfield Lane is a chamber piece where once we're in the bunker the audience is stuck in the bunker with them. We have no idea what's going on outside and Howard's speculations are the predominant source of information throughout 70% of the film's runtime. Trachtenberg does a good job of establishing the bunker as a character itself with its décor and different rooms carrying distinctive identities and a sense of where and how things work that we come to know the bunker almost as well as the characters do. The tension built from being trapped in the bunker is masterfully done with Trachtenberg mining tension wherever he can and even during moments of relative peace you never feel at ease.

Trachtenberg's direction is helped by the fact the three leads are quite strong. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is terrific as Michelle who's established as being someone who runs from conflict early on and is given a strong resonant arc of learning to meet challenges rather than run from them which culminates in a satisfying crescendo in the film's climax. John Gallagher Jr. Is very good playing Emmett and brings some welcome levity to interactions without being grating (such as Hud from the first Cloverfield movie). But the best performance hands down is John Goodman as Howard. Goodman is frightening and intense in the role of this paranoid doomsday prepper as he portrays the character with a hair trigger temper but also a sense of tragedy and sadness that makes him relatable while also making him someone you're always suspicious of. In many ways his performance reminded me of Kathy Bates' performance as Annie Wilkes from Misery where there's a fully developed character there who's even capable of humor, but you know that façade will crack any moment and unleash the beast behind it.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a strong genre piece where its isolated setting and limited scope are put to strong effect as a paranoia powered thrill ride. With three engaging leads and tension that doesn't let up until the end credits, it's not only a strong feature directing debut for Dan Trachtenberg, but a strong showcase for its talented cast and as a thriller in its own right. Highly recommended.

Cloverfield
(2008)

Blair Witch meets Godzilla, either it works for you or it doesn't
During a party in New York City celebrating Rob Hawkins's (Michael Stahl-David) promotion to Vice President at his company as well as a last hurrah before he goes to Japan to take the job, Hudson "Hud" Platt (T. J. Miller) at the request of Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel) goes around the party recording testimonials and well wishes from the partygoers inadvertently stumbling upon tension between Rob and his girlfriend Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman) much to the annoyance of Jason's fiancé Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas). When a blackout briefly strikes the city and news of capsized tanker reaches the partygoers, they investigate only to find a giant creature is rampaging through the city. With Hud still recording the events, the group go through the ravaged remains of Manhattan to rescue a trapped Beth with the threat of the creature looming over them.

Thought up by J. J. Abrams during production of Mission: Impossible III, Abrams upon visiting Japan was inspired by various Godzilla toys to create his own American monster movie free from the "adoribility" of King Kong or the "charm" of Godzilla and make a legitimately scary take on giant monsters. Produced by Abrams and written and directed in secret by Drew Goddard and Matt Reeves respectively, the movie's marketing campaign began with a title less trailer attached to the first Michael Bay helmed Transformers movie in 2007 fueling speculation for an entire year until the reveal of its full name Cloverfield, which was one of many working titles floating around (along with Slusho, Cheese, and Greypoint). Released in January 2018, the year long marketing campaign and secrecy of the project paid off resulting in the biggest January opening at the time making $170 million against its $25 million budget and earning solid critical praise. The movie's found-footage style applied to larger situations has been a sticking point with audiences (and even became a source of mockery in many parodies and comedies). Cloverfield remains a fun ride even if the faded novelty of the format and presentation has diminished its appeal somewhat.

In terms of what you expect from a giant monster film, the movie certainly delivers with lots of city wide destruction, military skirmishes with the beast doomed to end in failure, and a pretty memorable monster design. The monster (known as "Clover") with its pale white skin and elongated arms gives it a very alien appearance that doesn't fully align with any particular creature and is quite striking. The movie also adds an element of parasites that fall off the creature that serve as a secondary threat which is also pretty well done.

While the experience watching the movie is solid, the characters range from bland and passable to grating and annoying. While the fact that it's a found footage movie means you have to suspend some level of disbelief as to the "why" behind the filming, the filmmakers cameraman in T. J. Miller's Hud is given the reason by being an aggravating presence in the film who only serves to be obnoxious in just how glib he's being about the situation. Hud talks WAY too much and when he does it's usually either inane commentary or stupid jokes like "Remember that guy who was lighting homeless people on fire? I'd hate to see one of those now!". The found-footage element does have some unique applications such as with older footage that shows the relationship between Rob and Beth before their spat which was a unique addition that built upon what was established in Blair Witch.

Cloverfield is reasonably enjoyable as a monster film despite often disorienting camera work and a bland cast of characters, but in terms of delivering on a frightening take on giant monsters it succeeds giving us a memorable journey through ravaged Manhattan as an unstoppable monster plows through it.

Clerks
(1994)

Kevin Smith paints a funny (and uncomfortably accurate) picture of minimum wage tedium that rings true
In Leonardo, New Jersey, underachieving 22 year old Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) is called into his job at the Quick Stop convenience store on his day off. While his boss promises him it's only until noon, Dante ends up spending the entire day there dealing with inane questions or encounters with customers, complaints against Dante's friend and Clerk at neighboring RST Video Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), and getting into a series of misadventures while Dante reconciles his conflicted feelings for his former girlfriend Caitlin Bree (Lisa Spoonauer) whom he still carries a torch for, and his current girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) who routinely tries to convince Dante to take more control and direction with his life.

Released in October of 1994, Clerks was the inaugural writing and directing debut of cult filmmaker Kevin Smith. Made for $27,575 Smith had scraped together from various sources, Smith utilized the same convenience store he worked at during the night over a 21 day shooting period and pushed himself to bring the movie to existence. Critically well regarded in its day, and financially successful making $3 million dollars against it's final $250,000 budget, the movie has been rightfully praised for its vulgar true to life dialogue, its memorable characters, and its all too familiar approach to the tedium and inanity that comes from working thankless clerk jobs.

Brian O'Halloran is really good as our focus Dante Hicks. Although Dante isn't all that likable as he spends most of his time complaining about his life while doing absolutely nothing to make it better, and his indignation as Veronica's previous sexual partners while he's been secretly talking to his ex, Caitlin trying to rekindle their relationship from high school makes him pretty difficult to like. But while the movie doesn't ask us to "like" Dante, it does ask us to understand him. The movie gives an insight into Dante as someone who's comfortable being miserable and rather than try and find any sort of happiness or take any initiative or direct control of his life, it's his irrational attachments to the past (such as Caitlin) and his attributing of blame to every one else that allows him to excuse himself from responsibility by letting himself be subject to external whims. Throughout the movie Dante routinely says "I'm not even supposed to be here today" and when questioned by his friends as to why he's there he never has a good answer. Jeff Anderson is quite entertaining as Dante's friend and fellow clerk Randal Graves who has as much disdain for the job as Dante does, but is more outward in his expression of it often closing the video store to hang out with Dante at the Quick Stop and casually insulting the customers because he often sees himself as the "smartest guy in the room" and to a degree he is, but he's also working at a lower tier video store and doing a terrible job of it.

The writing by Smith is really sharp with the movie filled with really fun exchanges as Dante and Randal kill time commentating on various customer interactions or talking about the innocent contractors who were killed in Return of the Jedi due to the second Death Star still being under construction. Clerks came out the same year as Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and like Pulp Fiction the dialogue has this layered "reference" based approach that rewards the audience for their knowledge of ancillary material not related to the plot, but it's also augmented with that acerbic and vulgar approach that makes it feel real. As someone who used to work retail, the exchanges Smith crafts in the film can sometimes be uncomfortably close to interactions I've had or been privy to with customers in those environments. The movie does have some of the expected quirks in a first time film such as issues with the audio, some pretty obvious recycling of actors playing different characters throughout the day, and some of the tangents aren't all that funny or memorable, but aside from those very minor points Clerks is a solid slice of life that rings true to minimum wage tedium.

Clerks is a strong debut effort from Kevin Smith and shows his craft with character and dialogue that overcomes some of the rougher elements that happen with first time projects. The cast is filled with memorable performances and characters who engage in equally memorable exchanges and if you've ever worked retail you know people like this exist.

Vacancy
(2007)

A well made b-movie with aspirations of Hitchcock's Psycho, that doesn't reach that point despite its best efforts.
Unhappily married couple David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale respectively) upon returning from a party at Amy's parents find themselves lost on the backroads. Still dealing with the grief over the accidental death of their son, David and Amy plan to get divorced upon return home. When their car breaks down with no garages nearby or open the two reluctantly stay at the dilapidated Pinewood Motel owned by Mason (Frank Whaley). Passing the time David finds some VHS tapes in their room, only to find the grisly murders on the tapes are not only real but happened in their room. Now David and Amy must survive the night as their hunted by vicious killers.

The Hollywood debut of Hungarian-American director Nimrod Antal and the first major film of writer Mark L. Smith, Vacancy upon release was given a similar marketing campaign to mid-2000s horror films such as Saw and Hostel right around the time the "torture horror" genre was experiencing audience blowback. While Vacancy was marketed as though it were in line with Wolf Creek or Captivity, stylistically speaking it's influences run more towards the likes of Psycho or Homicidal from the 1960s with a snuff film component added to the mix. While the movie doesn't reach those heights, it's a well made thriller with fast pacing and solid craft that makes for an enjoyable ride.

Easily the best reason to watch Vacancy is for our antagonist Frank Whaley as motel manager Mason. With his scrawny moustache, double bridged glasses, and weaselly demeanor, Whaley creates a memorable villain who's not overtly scary, but falls into a more subdued creepiness from how seemingly mundane he is. While Whaley struggles with scenes in the climax where he has to be more overtly aggressive, most of his performance is exactly what you look for in a horror film that takes inspiration from Ed Gein-sploitation. The production also lovingly builds the sleazy and disgusting Pinewood Motel with its soiled carpets, grimy bathrooms, and hidden passages make the location a nicely creepy setting. Even the opening credits have a style reminiscent of the Saul Bass credits from Psycho while still doing their own thing.

What isn't as good are Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale as our leads. While they're perfectly serviceable for a movie of this type, most of our interactions with them in the beginning are petty bickering and sniping that doesn't make them the most engaging of protagonists. The writing also makes a lot of leaps in various contrivances such as why the killers left the VHS tapes in their room to begin with.

Vacancy is okay. It's got a really good villain performance in Frank Whaley and the Pinewood Motel is lovingly constructed to be as sleazy and creepy a place as possible, but certain logical leaps and somewhat hard to relate to leads make the movie just okay. Perfectly serviceable time killer.

Modern Romance
(1981)

Albert Brooks' sophomore feature tackles jealousy and insecurity in the perfect anti-date movie
Film editor Robert Cole (Albert Brooks) having broken up with his girlfriend Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold) yet again decides to reinvent himself by focusing on the B-rate space opera he's editing for American International Pictures, taking up jogging, and throwing himself in the dating scene. However, Robert begins feeling regret at his decision and tries to get back together with Mary only for his jealousy and paranoia to get in the way.

The second feature from Writer/Director Albert Brooks, Modern Romance while technically a "romantic comedy", fits that definition by way of the neurotic approach coined by Woody Allen's films such as Manhattan and Annie Hall. Featuring a couple who are in a repeated cycle of ending and reconciling their relationship, Brooks crafts a wickedly funny take on two people who are wrong for each other yet keep coming back together.

The movie speaks to a lot of those petty insecurities we've either experienced ourselves and seen in others as well as the overly forgiving "well maybe this time it'll be different" mindset that is the breeding ground of many bad decisions. From ill defined grievances to overcompensating attempts at making up that only serve to be undermined by poorly thought through interrogatives, Brooks creates a couple who have chemistry, but the audience REALLY doesn't want them to.

The movie also features some solid comedy and character outside of its core examination of a relationship that doesn't work, with a subplot about Robert dealing with the inane requests of the director whose film he's editing, ably played by James L. Brooks before his breakout with Terms of Endearment. The sheer ridiculousness Robert puts up with from the director's request such as "thumpier stomps" in a corridor chase are quite funny especially with how the get the effects. There's also some solid work with Brooks' brother Bob Einstein playing a pushy sports equipment salesman.

Modern Romance is an uncomfortable sit in many places, but it's a funny and insightful uncomfortable sit. With fleshed out characters and an unapologetic portrayal of a couple that just shouldn't be together, it's a guarantee for awkward and uncomfortable laughs.

Riverdance: The Animated Adventure
(2021)

The Stage Show is adapted to animated format in less than satisfactory results
In the Irish village of River's End a boy named Keegan (Sam Hardy) is raised by his Grandma (Pauline McLynn) and Grandpa (Pierce Brosnan) and grows up learning of Irish traditions and tails such as the legend of the Megaloceros Giganteus whose dancing keeps the river and life alive and of the lighthouse which keeps the emissary of darkness, The Huntsman (Brendan Gleeson), at bay. When Keegan's grandad passes away, Keegan finds himself soured on the traditions he used to take joy in and becomes depressed. Keegan's friend from Spain, Moya (Hannah Herman Cortes), takes it upon herself to cheer Keegan up, and she takes him to the Megaloceros Giganteus where they meet their king Patrick (Pierce Brosnan) and two others with Penny (Lily Singh) who struggles with Riverdancing, and Benny who's self-conscious about his small antlers and short rotund physique. Keegan, Moya and the Megaloceros Giganteus' engage in dancing, curling, and other activities unaware The Huntsman has made his way to their domain.

Based on the stage show of the same name by Bill Whelan and Donal Lunny, the song Riverdance was first performed as an interval act on the 1994 Eurovision with lead performers Michael Flatley and Jean Butler where it was a rousing success receiving a standing ovation from the 4,000 attendees and spurring expansion to a full length show. The expanded Riverdance: The Show became a massive success and its success lead to performances in New York City and the United States and becoming a stable of the 90s whose legacy endures to this day. The show serves as a showcase for predominantly Irish Folk music and dance as well as some bits of The Russian Dervish, Spanish Flamenco, and even Gospel. Production began in 2016 as a joint UK-Ireland venture with The Riverdance Company including Bull Whelan who returns to do the music with two new original songs. Initially released on Sky Cinema in the UK in May of last year, Riverdance: The Animated Adventure makes its debut internationally on Netflix. While the movie does feature the music and choreography of Riverdance, it doesn't really work all that well with this rather slopy narrative they've wedged it into.

Riverdance primarily being a showcase for Irish dance and music didn't really have any overarching narrative or story to it so it's understandable to a degree the filmmakers would create one, but the movie feels really misguided with its opening death of Keegan's grandad which is treated with the weight it needs for about 20 seconds before immediately transitioning to the song Riverdance and its accompanying choreography, and when I say immediately I mean still in their funeral clothes. There's this really uncomfortable subtext throughout the movie where Keegan is bombarded with all this bouncy exuberance from the community and festivities and it plays really tone deaf in this context because grief at the death of a loved one isn't something you can just "dance away" and the fact that this is all happening seeming mere hours after Grandad's funeral is just really grating. The movie is written by Dave Rosenbaum and Tyler Werrin and co-directed by Rosenbaum who've done production work on a number of Illumination Entertainment films and "mini-movies" and there is definitely a feeling that they're trying to capture that same bouncy aesthetic to the animation and it just doesn't work for something of this tone.

Outside of the ill advised take on loss of a parent/parental figure, the movie has ill advised comic relief and slapstick elements with Lily Singh and Jeramine Fowler as Penny and Benny playing a Megaloceros Giganteus "comedic" duo who obnoxiously spout slang and modern day dialogue in some of the most grating performances I've heard in a recent animated film with some truly cringe worthy lines like "Pull the alarm cuz Penny's on fire" or "O-M-G". We also have a number of creatures such as frogs and sheep who do very minions-esque humor that only provides more excuses for tonal whiplash including multiple fart jokes and a scene where the sheep do the "ball thing" from Critters 2.... I'm not even joking. The one element I thought worked reasonably well was Pierce Brosnan's dual role as Patrick and Grandad which while not executed flawlessly did at least seem like it had a nugget of a good idea, and despite sporting a character design that looks like a mixture of Elmer Fudd and Doctor Robotnik, I rather liked Brenden Gleeson in the role of The Huntsman even if he wasn't used all that well.

I will say the songs and choreography are reasonably well done and they do try to capture the form and energy seen in the show, but with the show being what it is, it often feels like the movie often stops dead just so it can have a dance number from the actual stage show because when the dances are done our main characters of Keegan and Moya often are pushed to the background while it happens and it's basically a dead stop in the story until the dance ends. The story is also pretty thin because the major source of conflict is resolved in the hour mark and the movie keeps going for another half hour fifteen minutes of which is made up of credits. If that's not an admission that this movie's not anorexically thin, I don't know what is.

Riverdance: The Animated Adventure takes the largely plotless stage show and painfully adapts it to bouncy slapsticky animation that feels like an Illumination imitation with the Riverdance songs and dances crudely inserted. The movie tackles thematic elements it's not capable of properly addressing, and while the Soundtrack and Choreography of the show are captured in movie, they often feel like tangents from the movie's anemic narrative and stop what little story there is dead in its tracks. If you want to expose your kids to Riverdance just show them one of the stage show recordings, if you want to show them a quality animated film about Irish culture, watch Wolfwalkers, Song of the Sea or Secret of Kells.

Le sommet des dieux
(2021)

A journey through the deadly beauty of the mountains, and the minds of those who brave them
Makoto Fukamachi, a young Japanese reporter for a hiking magazine, encounters a mysterious mountain climber named Habu Joji, who might possess George Mallory's camera from the lost 1924 expedition, which might reveal if Mallory and Andrew Irvine really were the first to climb Everest. Fukamachi sets to work searching for Habu Joji and his search digs deep into the mindset and drives of mountaineering.

Adapted from the Seinen manga The Summit of the Gods by Jiro Taniguchi, The Summit of the Gods is a French backed production by Luxembourg based Melusine Productions best known for their contributions on Cartoon Saloon productions like Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner, and Wolfwalkers, as well as Melusine's own Ernest and Celestine. The novel had been previously adapted back in 2016 as a live-action feature. Directed and co-written by Patrick Imbert, Imbert himself has said he's not a mountaineer and wanted to look into the minds of mountains and what drives them to do the dangerous things they do. The Summit of the Gods is an absolute visual marvel that also looks into what drives these mountaineers.

The movie is told primarily from the point of view of hiking journalist Makoto Fukamachi as we follow his search for Habu Joji who may be in possession of photo evidence of the lost 1924 Everest expedition. Throughout Fukamachi journey he interviews various friends and associates of Habu as we get a more detailed picture of what motivated Habu's mountaineering adventures often enduring physical punishment, death of friends, or his obsession with mountaineering driving a wedge between him and his relationships. The mountaineering scenes in the film give a good sense of both the beauty of the mountains as well as the danger as even the smallest mistake could mean plummeting to one's doom. If there is a criticism, it would be in the film's flashback reliant narrative where I often found myself confused by some of the time jumps and wish there could've been text establishing where and when we were in the narrative.

The Summit of the Gods is a beautifully animated journey through mountaineering that also serves as an engaging character study. The movie features some thrilling and tense sequences but also allows you to soak in their beauty as the scene will linger on the beauty and enormity of these marvels. Even if you're not interested in mountaineering, I think it's still a very strong character study and animation showcase.

Commando
(1985)

Schwarzenegger's defining role and picture with spectacular action and knowingly ridiculous humor abound.
Former U. S. Special Forces Colonel John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has retired to a quiet life in the mountains with his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). When Matrix's old superior Franklin Kirby (James Olsen) comes to tell Matrix someone is killing his old unit, he leaves two guards with him to protect him. Shortly thereafter Matrix's home is under siege and Jenny is kidnapped despite Matrix's best efforts. The masterminds behind the plot are revealed to have been Matrix's disgraced comrade Captain Bennett (Vernon Wells) who's working for the deposed dictator of the South American country of Val Verde, President Arius (Dan Hedaya), both of whom hold a grudge against Matrix. Matrix is given an ultimatum to kill the sitting president of Val Verde or his daughter will be killed. While Matrix on the surface agrees, in actuality he's planning to create a window of opportunity where he can track down Arius and Bennett's whereabouts and rescue his daughter. With the reluctant help of stewardess and pilot-in-training Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), John Matrix initiates an unstoppable rampage of destruction to get Jenny back.

Stemming from then president of 20th Century Fox, Barry Diller's desire to create a vehicle for up and coming star Arnold Schwarzenegger, Diller had only one condition: Keep the budget under $12 million and it would be greenlit with no questions asked. Combing through various potential scripts, the one that stood out the most was Commando by Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman writers of the Michael J. Fox starring sleeper hit Teen Wolf. Originally developed as a much more serious action film amount an Israeli soldier who had renounced violence, the script was punched up by Steven E. De Souza to cater to Schwarzenegger's larger than life image. When de Souza pitched the script to Schwarzenegger, Schwarzenegger responded favorably (barring a brief faux pas where de Souza accidentally slipped into a Schwarzenegger impression while reading the script then excusing it by saying "I do all the greats! Wanna see my Cary Grant?"). Schwarzenegger liked the fact that he was playing a relatively normal character as opposed to a loincloth clad barbarian or killer robot from the future and jumped at the chance. Opening at number one in October of 1985 and staying there for three weeks, Commando established the image we know and love of not only Schwarzenegger but 80s action movies in general expanding on the frame put into place by the likes of First Blood.

Commando came out the same year as Rambo: First Blood Part II, and when comparing the two the edge belongs to Commando. While Rambo: First Blood Part II had slightly more scale and spectacle to it, it also had an air of "self-seriousness" and Vietnam War "this time We win!" revisionism that made its script unintentionally hokey much like 1984's Red Dawn that played up that very "Cowboys and Indians" type mindset you saw in war movies of the 50s and 60s and came back in the 80s with Reaganism and the "Moral majority". Commando has no such airs about it. From the fact the country in question is the fictious Val Verde created by Steven E. De Souza as an apolitical stand in to the fact the villains are motivated by personal grudges against Matrix, there's a sly level of self-awareness throughout the film where Schwarzenegger is playing it straight but also being utterly ridiculous in a way that almost takes the piss out of Rambo and its various sequels and knock-offs. Everything people love about Schwarzenegger from the action, to the deadpan delivery, to the cheesy puns is on display here and it's really the first glimpse we got of the "definitive Arnold" and not the image defined Barbarians and killer robots.

And of course Commando features a terrific set of supporting characters. Rae Dawn Chong is terrific playing Matrix's sidekick Cindy who although initially reluctant to be part of Matrix's one man war finds herself getting more engaged and involved in the proceedings to the point she rescues Matrix at one point in an "explosive" manner. Chong makes a great straight man to Matrix's action shenanigans and while often panicked as typical for comic relief, she's never annoying and often makes herself a useful asset to Matrix that keeps her from falling into the many common traps these types of characters fall into. Alyssa Milano is quite good in an early role as Matrix's daughter Jenny, and much like everything else in the movie Jenny's relationship with John is absurdly perfect but the opening montage with her and John really sells them and they show good chemistry together that makes you want to see John put the villains in their place. Speaking of the villains not only do we have two "big bads", but we also get some solid and memorable henchman. David Patrick Kelly and Bill Duke have some memorable encounters with Matrix that are not only action packed but filled with over the top humor. Dan Hedaya is also nicely intimidating as the conniving sadistic mastermind President Arius. But it's Vernon Wells as Captain Bennett that is the biggest scene stealer of the supporting cast. Wells is no stranger to intimidating (see Mad Max: The Road Warrior) and not only does Wells bring it, he dials it up to 11 and rips the knob off. Bennett is played like a dark reflection on Matrix. While Bennet is big, imposing and commanding like Matrix, he's also a gleeful sadist who admits he's doing this job for free for a chance at vengeance. The final showdown between Bennett and Matrix is everything you could possibly ask for from such a confrontation with two larger than life personalities. The movie is pretty solid for the type of movie it is, and it's such a knowingly ridiculous movie there's really no need to critique most of it, but some of the more elaborate action scenes do have some pretty obvious "dummy" work that isn't all that well hidden (but these are minor nitpicks).

Commando on the surface seems like its in line with the avalanche of First Blood and Rambo knock-offs that dominated the 80s, but as it goes on there's a cheeky self-awareness that sneaks up on you where it falls into a zone that delivers on both brainless action and sublte/but sharp (sometimes literally) humor. While audiences saw Schwarzenegger in the Conan and Terminator films, this was the first time we actually "saw" Schwarzenegger with his trademark style of self-referential humor ("I'll be back" second appearance after Terminator) and his commanding near super heroic feats of strength. Commando is the archetypical Schwarzenegger action film, explosive, destructive, and silly, but also funny, likable, and committed.

Marmaduke
(2010)

The single panel comic strip character is given the Garfield movie treatment with even less substance.
Marmaduke (Owen Wilson) is a rambunctious Great Dane who lives, along with cat and best friend Carlos (George Lopez), in Kansas with his family, the Winslows. The Winslows consist of patriarch Phil (Lee Pace), Phil's wife Debbie (Judy Greer), oldest daughter Barabara (Caroline Sunshine), son Brian (Finley Jacobsen), and youngest daughter Sarah (Milana Haines). When Phil gets a lucrative job offer as marketing director of an organic dog food company in southern California, the family and Maraduke move to Orange County where Phil finds himself not paying enough attention to his family, and Marmaduke has trouble fitting in with the dogs at the dog park.

Marmaduke is an adaptation of the newspaper comic strip of the same name by Brad Anderson. The strip was written and drawn by Anderson from 1954 until his death in 2015 and is still syndicated with Brad's son Paul still writing the strip. Having read the strip it's really just "there". It's not offensively awful or anything, but in comparison to better newspaper comic strips like Peanuts or The Far Side, Marmaduke hovers closer to the likes of Family Circus or Cathy that are there, but you forget as soon as you read them. It's pretty clear from the presence of Producer John Davis and the fact the movie is based on a newspaper comic strip that Davis wanted to capture the same financial success he saw with his two Garfield movies staring Bill Murray (more the first than the second), but having read Marmaduke it's so devoid of substance in its repeated pay off of Marmaduke doing something destructive and/or odd that there's really not all that much to even adapt. Also Garfield had not only a stable of developed characters with distinguished personalities, but Garfield was also more thoroughly ingrained in popular consciousness with multiple animated prime-time specials and the successful cartoon series Garfield and Friends. If Davis couldn't passably adapt an already winning and beloved property like Garfield, what chance did he have with a property like Maramduke who's only exposure was as a B-segment on Heathcliff? Well hiring the writers of License to Wed and Smother certainly didn't help, but I will say unlike License to Wed I was only annoyed at Maraduke and never creeped out....mostly.

From the first scenes in Marmaduke, it doesn't feel like a movie or even a TV sitcom. It's acted like a commercial, it's framed like a commercial, even the production values and special effects are on par with what you'd see in a TV commercial from around the late 2000s, though even that's being generous as I've seen cat little ads that had better "talking effects" on their animals in the ads. The actors have all done good work before ranging from TV shows like Archer and Pushing Daisies to even working with David Mamet, but here they're all giving very exaggerated and broad deliveries that once again you'd expect to see in a commercial. The effects to bring the dogs to life look terrible as the dogs are clearly not looking at each other and often feel distracted by things off camera, and the CGI used for the mouths and elaborate dance sequences just look gross and unnatural with how rubbery the effects are. The humor is the typical level you've come to expect from this type of film, likes of slapstick, lots of butt sniffing gags, and pretty much touching upon every lowest common denominator kids movie cliché of the post 2000s.

There might've been an opportunity to adapt Maraduke during the 90s before the internet got a hold of the comic strip and made its repetitious banality a joke of turning the panels dark or depressing with added text, but even then it wouldn't have been anything approaching "good". Maraduke had so little to distinguish it in the newspaper the only way to get this concept to feature length is to add to the anemic strip and get blood from a stone. And they basically added all the elements from every other talking dog movie that preceded it (except for Scooby-Doo). I can't even recommend it to people who like the strip (whoever they may be) because they've added so many extraneous and cliched elements it's lost what little personality/identity it had (which wasn't much to begin with). But like I said, at least it's only annoying and not sinister and creepy like the writers' previous film License to Wed.

Summer School
(1987)

Fun if slightly uneven 80s school shenanigans comedy.
Laid back P. E. teacher Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is eager for Summer vacation so he can spend 10 weeks in Hawaii, but his plans are stonewalled when following the unforeseen resignation of the Summer School's Remedial English teacher, Shoop is strongarmed by Vice Principal Phil Gills (Robin Thomas) into serving as the interim teacher under threat of having his tenure denied. Schoop takes a laid back approach to his Summer school class consisting of jocks, airheads, gorehounds, and other assorted misfits which often leaves his job in a precarious positon. With the help of Honor's history teacher and Gills girlfriend Robin Bishop (Kirstie Alley), Shoop attempts to find a way to connect with his students and help them pass the class.

Summer School was the second feature writing project by TV sitcom writer Jeff Franklin who also co-wrote the Twelfth Night inspired crossdressing comedy Just One of the Guys with Dennis Feldman in 1985. Directed by noted writer and contemporary of Mel Brooks Carl Reiner best known for his collaborations with Steve Martin, Summer School fits well within that era of loosely structured "slob" comedies that were jump started by the success of Animal House and Meatballs and permeated throughout the 80s with a number of entries that copied that formula. Summer School probably falls somewhere around the middle in regards to this subset of comedies. Much like the previous year's Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield, the plot is basically an excuse to shepherd the audience from one gag setup to the next and is carried by its central star, in this case Mark Harmon. But while Mark Harmon is effortlessly likable in the film and there are some inspired set pieces, the writing is only intermittently sharp and there's a number of dead spaces or floundering gags.

Mark Harmon does well for his first time headlining a feature comedy as Freddy Shoop, as Harmon was more known for TV work at this point, and Harmon shows real screen presence and charisma with a natural laid back likability that makes him relatable and likable. Harmon plays off well against the assortment of misfits that make up his remedial English class and while most of the class are pretty one note, the movie does a good job of spacing out their quirks and paying them off in satisfying ways,

Much like Back to School with its Diving Team plot with Billy Zabka, Summer School tends to stumble with its story beats that feel more like baggage than comic assets. A subplot with Courtney Thorne-Smith as Shoop's student Pam House is one of the more uncomfortable subplots in the movie as it's not funny and its usage in the plot just makes scenes related to it awkward and uncomfortable. I also didn't find the romance segments with Kirstie Alley all that engaging as Alley doesn't show much chemistry with Harmon nor does she really have any standout comic moments. If you compare the pairing of Kirstie Alley and Mark Harmon in Summer School to the pairing of Rodney Dangerfield and Sally Kellerman in Back to School the differences are night and day as not only is Kellerman allowed to be funny, but she had fantastic chemistry with Dangerfield. It's probably a little unfair to hold other comedies to the standards of Harold Ramis (even if Ramis was only 1/4th the writing team of Back to School) but the plots of Back to School and Summer School are so similar that it kind of calls attention to the fact.

Summer School is an okay comedy. There are some really solid comic setpieces in the movie that deliver solid belly laughs, but the inconsistent comic rhythm coupled with moments that either grind the pacing to a halt or are just uncomfortable detract from the movie's highpoints. Mark Harmon is really good in the movie, and without a strong presence like Harmon this movie would not work, but Harmon is tasked with propping up the weaker elements of the script (which he does, successfully).

211
(2018)

A bland and unremarkable cop/heist thriller that's filled with noise and chaos, but not the meaning or investment that engages the audience.
When four mercenaries are double crossed by their employer in Afghanistan, they head back to the United States intent on staging a heist at one of the banks of their employer in Chesterford, Massachusetts. Soon to be retired cop Mike Chandler (Nicolas Cage) and his partner/son-in-law Steve MacAvoy (Dwayne Cameron) are assigned a ride along with teenager Kenny Ralston (Michael Rainey Jr.) and over the course of the day become embroiled in a shootout as the mercenaries stage a daylight robbery on the local Savings & Loans.

Yet another film from B-movie production house Millennium Films, the movie is another one of their generic actioners shot in Bulgaria doubling for the U. S. and headlined by a prominent actor so it can be sold internationally. Directed by former snowboarder turned film director York Shackleton, the movie was humorously marketed as "End of Watch meets Black Hawk Down" and was loosely based on the 1997 North Hollywood Shootout. To a degree there is some level of truth to that pitch in that there are superficial similarities between the events in 211 and the North Hollywood Shootout, and it's clear there's an attempt by Shackleton to ape the style of David Ayer's grit or Ridley Scott's handheld cam intensity that defined the styles of End of Watch and Black Hawk Down, but underneath the surface level understanding the movie is dull generic action fodder to take up space on streaming services.

The movie undermines its desire to make a gritty cop action thriller with an unnecessary prologue in Afghanistan that pointlessly establishes the four mercenaries turned bank robbers as being motivated by the betrayal of their employer who set them up to die so they learn where one of his accounts is and then kill him, you could have easily cut this out of the movie as this doesn't factor into the plot and along with Alexandra Dinu as INTERPOL agent Rossi only serve to add extraneous elements that add nothing to the film. The movie features a number of contrivances one we get to Chesterford with the establishment of a number of relationships and character connections that feel like "stars aligning" levels of coincidence and leading to a bunch of hackneyed melodrama which frequent Power Rangers actor Dwayne Cameron struggles with considerably as his "I'm dying" scene is acted with less a sense of desperation or panic, and more a feeling of mild annoyance. There are brief moments where we see that energy in Nicolas Cage's performance that we know and love, but for the most part he often looks bored and has few standout moments in this movie.

Even the action isn't all that great as it abuses shaky cam by shooting the action too close and its frantic disjointed editing makes its sequences more challenging to follow than it should be. The movie doesn't have the writing or characters of Ayer's End of Watch nor does it have the intensity of Scott's Black Hawk Down, even its attempt to recreate the North Hollywood Shootout is a brazen lie because other films or TV shows have done a much better job of recreating that shootout such as the opening sequence in 2003's S. W. A. T., the episode of the History Channel show Shootout that covered the shootout with a mixture of digital maps, archival news footage, and interviews with the cops on the group, or even the TV movie 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out. If you already know about the North Hollywood Shootout, you're going to be really disappointed with the liberties taken with 211's take on trying to recapture that intensity.

211 does capture some superficial elements of its influences, but cobbles them into a bland and uninteresting mess with bored actors and chaotic messy action sequences that are undone by sheer incompetence and ineptitude. On occasion some of the performers ever so briefly come to life in their performances, but most of the acting is wooden or detached and a convoluted explanation involving the bank robbers past as mercenaries being tracked by an INTERPOL agent is extraneous and only serves to break tension in an already tension poor film.

Leave It to Beaver
(1997)

Leave it to Beaver is given the theatrical treatment in what basically amounts to a bouncier version of the TV show.
The movie focuses on the misadventures that befall Theodore "Beaver/Beav" Cleaver(Cameron Finley) and his relation to his older brother Wally (Erik von Detten), father Ward (Christopher McDonald), and mother June (Janine Turner).

1997's Leave it to Beaver is one of many TV to film adaptations the decade saw. Some adaptations such as The Addams Family, The Fugitive, Maverick, or Mission: Impossible were solid films that adapted the shows while justifying themselves as films in their own right, but others such as Car 54 Where are You?, The Beverly Hillbillies, McHale's Navy, or The Flintstones were either tired retreads content to spin their wheels or missed the mark on their series. Leave it to Beaver adapts the 1957 to 1963 television series of the same name that did have some notable milestones in TV (such as the first scene featuring a toilet in the second episode) but it portrayed a very idealized vision of the 1950s middle class that really only existed for a small subset of Americans at the time. While Leave it to Beaver has had staying power with syndication, a reunion movie, and a sequel series in the 80s, it's honestly a show that never spoke to me because it never resonated with me especially in its rather naïve in hindsight view that children's only real source of tension comes from when they misbehave or engage in mischief with the family life shown as unrealistically idealized. The show Leave it to Beaver really can't be critiqued from a modern viewpoint because it's so ingrained in that era of Father Knows Best or My Three Sons and I always gravitated towards either the more gimmicky sitcoms like I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched or Get Smart, or the outliers like The Honeymooners that broke from the mold established by shows like Leave it to Beaver. A adaptation of Leave it to Beaver just wouldn't have worked in the 90s unless of course you reframed it in a manner similar to The Brady Bunch movies did, and of course they don't.

Leave it to Beaver 1997 sets its tone from the outset with a lot of the same cartoonish "mess" and slapstick humor that defined most post Home Alone family films of the 1990s and with Brian Levant of The Flintstones adaptation writing the script, it falls pretty much in line with the quality seen in The Flintstones with its flabby directionless narrative that feels like several condensed episodes of the TV series stapled end to end. Outside of maybe modernizing the familial dynamic to contemporary times there's not really all that much you can do with Leave it to Beaver that wasn't already being done by the numerous Home Alone inspired clones of the day. I will say that the actors are all perfectly fine with Christopher McDonald having some "okay" moments here and there when the script and direction aren't forcing him to mug, but the rest of the movie is so aggressively bouncy in its tone that it becomes pretty aggravating. There's also a bit involving Adam Zolotin as Eddie Haskell, Jr. Where he shows his stalkerish behavior over a girl he likes that the movie seems blissfully unaware of how creepy it is.

Leave it to Beaver is another bad 90s film adaptation of an old TV show. It's not particularly funny or charming with the only real laugh coming from the fact Universal signed the cast for two sequels that never ended up happening. Some of the actors try to rise above the hackneyed shenanigans and bounciness of the movie, but it's just not enough to save this banal and obnoxious film.

Red Dawn
(2012)

A hollow passionless remake of a dated film that can't even match the tradecraft of the original.
Following a series of financial crises that leave NATO fractured and much of Europe in disarray, North Korea is able to consolidate their power on the world stage with the help of backing from ultra-nationalists in Russia who've come to seize power. In the town of Spokane, Washington, recently returned U. S. Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) and his estranged high school football star brother Matt (Josh Peck) are reunited only for their home to come under siege by the invading North Korean army. In the initial chaos and confusion, Jed and Matt travel to their family cabin in the woods along with several of Matt's classmates and overtime fight back against the occupying North Korean regime.

In 1984 MGM released the film Red Dawn, a teen targeted take on cold war paranoia written and directed by John Milius (repurposed from a script by Kevin Reynolds). While absolutely ridiculous in hindsight with its naive fantasy of not only a Soviet invasion but a ragtag group of high school kids fighting them off, it did capture the popular consciousness of Reagan era America with it catering very much to the mindsets of middle America. In 2008, it was announced that MGM would be remaking Red Dawn with the threat of the Soviet Union replaced with an occupying Chinese force motivating by the U. S.'s defaults on their massive debt to China prompting "repossession", to be directed by Dan Bradley, a noted stunt coordinator on Spider-Man, Bourne, and Bond films. When the script was leaked, China's state run media issued statements condemning MGM of feeding anti-china rhetoric and like many MGM films at the time ended up getting caught in release limbo due to MGM's bankruptcy. When MGM emerged from Bankruptcy the film underwent re-editing to switch the antagonists from Chinese to North Korean (with MGM hoping to secure a Chinese theatrical release, seriously) and MGM secured a deal with then upstart distributor FilmDistrict in 2012. The movie went over poorly not even recouping it's $65 million dollar budget and audiences and critics gave the film a cold response. Deservedly so because Red Dawn is a massively misguided remake and dull and boring to boot.

Regardless of your thoughts regarding the 1984 original Red Dawn, it's undeniably an ambitiously made movie with good pacing, a feeling of passion behind the camera, and from the actors. From pretty much every frame of the original film there's a sense that John Milius is dedicated to selling this concept to the audience despite the inherent ridiculousness. Even if you don't like Red Dawn '84 it's a sure bet you remember its iconic moments such as the opening paratrooper invasion, or the "Avenge me!" line, and the "Wolverines!" battle cry. Red Dawn 2012 doesn't have that feeling, it's very dully and inertly directed by Dan Bradley as he overindulges in the shaky cam often filming the action too close and the visuals are very bland as the switch from small town Colorado to Spokane, Washington just look visually generic with no real visual standouts or moments that match the original, outside of a scene at a Subway restaurant that seems to be operating still under the occupying regime (and doing incredible business) that leads to a stupid scene where two of the Wolverines steal sandwiches from the Restaurant then later eat them at their hideout in some of the most brazen product placement I've seen in a recent action film. Speaking of the Wolverines, not only are they less defined than they were in the original, but they can't even overcome their thin roles with their charisma and screen presence because Bradley's direction and Carl Ellsworth Jeremy Passmore's script don't give the cast any strong moments or opportunities to make an impact with the exception of Josh Peck whose role as Matt comes off as a selfish braindead brat whose ineptitude leads to the death of one of his friends because he deviated from the plan to save his girlfriend.

Red Dawn was a product of its time from when people were less informed and Russia and its inner workings were less well known among the masses so you could sell them this "invading boogeyman" concept with a straight face and that World War II era "give 'em Hell boys" attitude. Even if they had kept the original antagonists as the Chinese, this concept still wouldn't have flown in today's world because most of the audience knows (to an extent) that there'd be no real benefit to invading and occupying the United States because the cost will always outweigh the benefit by a considerable margin. The fact that MGM thought they could somehow sell this movie to China for a theatrical release is quite funny because even though they've taken away the "China", it's still a very anti-authoritarian "freedom fighter" movie with featuring prominent color schemes inspired by propaganda either real or fictional associated with countries not dissimilar to China's system of Government. It just goes to show that making this remake was a complete mistake because Red Dawn was only able to exist in that specific moment in time in the 80s and it wasn't going to get recaptured.

The Red Dawn remake takes a bad but somewhat entering 80s relic and turns it into a bland homogenized sit that will be forgotten immediately upon viewing. I'll always remember scenes and exchanges from Red Dawn '84 despite thinking the movie is bad. I'll never think about Red Dawn 2012 ever again and will most likely forget it exists except for when I stumble across it and remind myself: "oh, yeah, that was a thing". And that's all you can say about it, it's a thing that exists.

Red Dawn
(1984)

A relic of 80s cold-war paranoia that makes a preposterous wish fulfillment hero fantasy, that is admittedly elevated by the tradecraft and sincerity of director John Milius
In an alternate 1980s, The United States is left standing alone after NATO disbands and the Soviet Union expands its political reach with the Warsaw Pact and a communist revolution in Mexico. In the mountain town of Calumet, Colorado the soviets initiate an invasion as soviet soldiers parachute all over town and firing upon civilians. Brothers Jed and Matt Eckert (Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen respectively) along with several of the classmates flee the town for the mountains along with weapons, ammunition and supplies to wait out the situation in the surrounding mountains. Sometime later, their hometown is now under martial law with their parents and loved ones in "re-education" camps. The group adopt the name Wolverines after their school mascot and initiate guerilla warfare against the forces occupying their home.

Initially written under the title Ten Soldiers by Kevin Reynolds, the initial concept followed Ten children in the Southeastern United States who flee for the hills after a joint Russian-Cuban invasion and become guerilla fighters. The project was described as a Lord of the Flies type story with an anti-war bent that drew the interest of some such as Walter Hill but ultimately it went on the backburner but did get Reynolds the attention of Steven Spielberg who helped him with his directorial debut Fandango. MGM had bought the script and eventually got the idea to capitalize on the trend of more "catering" war films of the Reagan era that began with Sylvester Stallone's First Blood that initiated a slew of copy cat revisionist takes on war films that tried to provide "we win" wish fulfillment with Vietnam. Collaborating with Nixon and Reagan affiliate General Alexander Haig, John Milius and Haig crafted the backstory that would lead into the events of Red Dawn. The movie had the distinction of being the first film released with a newly created PG-13 rating and became a decent sized success tapping into the cultural zeitgeist of the era shaped by Cold War paranoia. Red Dawn is certainly a product of its time, and while well made it's also stupid, ridiculous, and melodramatic.

Red Dawn when you look at it is basically an update of that old style of "Give 'em Hell boys!" war pictures from the 40s and 50s (and to a degree 60s) with the likes of Hitler: Dead or Alive or the many war films of John Wayne that basically repurposed the time tested "cowboys and injuns" framework of his movies into things like The Green Berets. The movie with its establishment of the same "small town" iconography Reagan used in his Morning in America campaigns invaded by soviet paratroopers aims for the same areas of pathos that old World War II propaganda such as The Spirit of '43 or The New Spirit tried to evoke with "everything and everyone you love is at stake" as the town is shot up and bombarded in its memorable opening sequence. Given the time this movie was made and the lack of awareness among the public in how unfeasible a situation like this is given that occupation forces are expensive and difficult to manage as well as the fact the Soviet Union didn't have the resources to pull this off, it's easy to imagine contemporary audiences buying into this unlikely and far fetched paranoid fantasy.

If there's anything to be said for Milius as a director, it's that he knows how to stage carnage and action. The setpieces are all well-coordinated with memorable sequences showing skirmishes between the Wolverines and the Soviets, and his willingness to kill off characters on a whim including ones who are seemingly important do lead to some shocking moments. Most of the performances are pretty one note with the actors not really playing characters so much as "types". Aside from an always welcome supporting turn from Powers Boothe in the second act that is gone way too soon, most of the cast are basically proxies for the audience to project themselves into as they're just a bunch of blank slates who we're supposed to cheer for as they shoot soviet invaders. The original Ten Soldiers script focused more on interpersonal conflict than Skirmishes against the invaders and there are very brief glimpses of Reynold's original intention but it's pretty obvious the movie has no actual interest in those and just wants to "give those commies hell!"

Red Dawn is what it is, a bad movie made in the best way possible. The movie has an edge over many of the other Reagan era wish fullfillment war films of the era that rode Rambo's coattails with the multitudes of other Rambo knock-offs usually being produced on the cheap to strike while the iron was hot, but that doesn't make Red Dawn rise above its inherent ridiculousness and stupidity. If you view the movie as an 80s relic of pandering to Cold War paranoia in middle America you've probably found the funniest comedy ever made.

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