Action

REVIEW: My Spy

STX Films
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 99 minutes
Director: Pete Segal

(*Disclaimer: This movie review was originally written on March 12, 2020. My Spy is not screening in theaters, but is available streaming on Amazon Prime.)

Let’s just start out by addressing the elephant in the room: COVID-19. Also know as the Coronavirus, COVID-19 continues to impact societies, peoples, industries and businesses all over the world. Whoever you are that is reading this review, and wherever you find yourself, I wish you well. Stay safe, stay healthy, and be smart about your decisions. Who knows when things will settle back into what we consider “normal?” Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.

With that said, I want to quickly focus on the current impact COVID-19 is having on the movie industry. James Bond: No Time to Die was the first domino to fall in what is now a long chain of movie release delays. My Spy was set to release March 13 nationwide, until it wasn’t. On March 9, STX Films announced that the movie was going to be pushed back in little more than a month with a new release date of April 17. Compared to recent announcements concerning release delays, My Spy came out fairly unscathed. Whether or not that new April 17 release date will remain unchanged is still to be seen. I’m not predicting anything, but I imagine the studio will stick with this date. There are a lot of moving parts that go into changing movie release dates. It’s a complicated task to delay a movie, so to move it again after an already announced second date seems highly unlikely. The only scenario I could see keeping this movie out of theaters on April 17 is if movie theaters nationwide shut down. I really hope it doesn’t come to that.

Even with the movie delay already certain, Salt Lake City still hosted a screening of My Spy this week. (As long as movie theaters are still letting people inside their doors, you know where to find me). My Spy is the most recent project from Director Peter Segal. Perhaps most known for his iconic 1995 comedy, Tommy Boy (1995), Segal has a long list of well known movies that have both hit and missed for audiences and critics alike. From 50 First Dates (2004) and Anger Management (2003), to Get Smart (2008) and Second Act (2018), Segal’s filmography are all movies you’ve likely seen before, and maybe even enjoy to a certain extent, but just don’t quite capture that memorable quality that really great films often do. And so it is with My Spy.

Chloe Coleman and Dave Bautista in a scene of My Spy | STX Films.

Every so often in Hollywood, a big, muscly, charismatic action-movie-hero graces us with his presence (and I say “his” because we have yet to get the big, muscly action-movie-heroine of the same caliber as Stallone or Schwarzenegger. I believe that Gina Carano could be the first). And they seem to come in waves. Stallone, then Schwarzenegger and now Dwayne Johnson; physical specimens that have a real commanding presence on screen, but also a very likable way about them no matter which movie they play in. These three actors seem to be in a category all to themselves. That’s not to say there are no other great action-movie-heroes in the business. Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Mark Wahlberg, Tom Hardy, Vin Diesel, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham etc. all fit the bill of a really great action-movie-hero, but when lined up against those aforementioned three, it’s an unfair competition. Now we enter a category of action-movie-heroes that is hard to define. This is the category of actors that are without a doubt, physical specimens themselves, routinely score roles in action movies, but still somehow have not achieved that status of any of the previously mentioned actors. I’m talking Dolph Lundgren, Carl Weathers, John Cena, Dave Bautista etc. Don’t get me wrong…in no way am I attempting to criticize these actors or their careers. I just wonder what kept, or has kept these actors from really breaking out and a making a name for themselves that can rival those of their contemporaries…if you have any ideas, please do share them with me.

To Bautista’s credit, My Spy really seems to be his kind of movie. Not much is asked of Bautista outside of just being himself. There is a natural chemistry between him and Chloe Coleman that helps endear the characters to the audience. My Spy uses the same DNA as the 90’s classic Kindergarten Cop, but emphasizes the relationship between JJ (Dave Bautista) and his smaller counterpart, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), more so than his potential romantic interest in Sophie’s mother (Parisa Fitz-Henley). This is a refreshing take on an already used storyline, and helps to distinguish it from its DNA predecessor.

Chloe Coleman and Dave Bautista in a scene of My Spy | STX Films.

As likeable as Bautista is in My Spy, it’s Chloe Coleman that steals the spotlight. Starring in her very first feature film, Coleman plays her part like a seasoned actress. I’m always impressed by child actors that display levels of talent on screen that many adult actors fail to achieve. Coleman is no exception. Her character, Sophie, is able to go toe to toe with JJ in wit and bravery, which will keep any of the younger audience members entertained and engaged in the film. Coleman’s acting career seems as if it’s about to take flight, as she is slated to star in a few upcoming films, namely Avatar 2, scheduled to come out in 2021.

Without a doubt, families and children were the intended audience for My Spy. But given its PG-13 rating, and the amount of violence and language that does happen in this movie, I would caution parents to maybe watch the movie first before bringing children, or maybe just check out the review from Common Sense Media, which will detail the content in full.

Overall, I enjoyed My Spy for what it is, and the audience it was intended for. If you’re looking for a fun night out with your family, and this is an option in theaters, maybe wait for a discount movie night or a matinee.

Recommendation: Maybe a Matinee

REVIEW: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Warner Home Video
Rated: R
Run Time: 90 minutes
Directors: Matt Peters & Christina Sotta

It’s extremely rare when you watch an animated movie and forget that you’re watching…an animated movie. It’s extremely rare that an animated movie has a production, story and overall quality that takes you out of a normal animated experience and gives you (to a certain extent) the feel of a live-action film. Thus was my experience while watching Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.

Apokolips War‘ is the fifteenth and final film in the current DC Animated Movie Universe (DCAMU), and the direct sequel to Justice League Dark (2017). It debuted on May 5, 2020 as a direct-to-video release by Warner Bros. Animation. The movie was co-directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, and is loosely based on the graphic novel, “The Darkseid War” by Geoff Johns. ‘Apokolips War‘ tells the story of our DC heroes taking on their arch nemesis, Darkseid, on his home planet of Apokolips in an all-out final battle. Unlike many happy-go-lucky superhero movies of today, ‘Apokolips War‘ does not shy away from showing real world consequences to having these god-like beings duke it out, and the inevitable casualties and collateral damage that ensue.

Apokolips War‘ is going to have wide appeal to any DC fan. Whether you’re a fan of DC Comics, DC movies, or both, you’ll find a lot to like about this movie. Superhero team-ups are abundant; you’ll see most of your favorite DC characters ranging from the Justice League, to the Teen Titans and the Suicide Squad. With so many characters to juggle in one movie, it can be very challenging finding enough screen time to give to each character, while also not feeling overcrowded and bogged down with too much at once. ‘Apokolips War‘ does well in finding enough screen time for the DC superhero favorites to shine, while also allowing the less popular characters to have their own moments and appeal to their own subset of fans.

As first time directors in the DCAMU, Peters and Sotta do well in guiding the movie along a fairly complex storyline, and doing it in just under 90 minutes. Peters and Sotta deliver a dark, bloody, and sometimes shocking film with this animated feature. With the critical and audience reception being very successful, don’t at all be surprised when Peters and Sotta ultimately find themselves back in the director’s chair for future animated movies.

The Justice League listens intently to Superman’s plan on how to defeat Darkseid in a scene of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War | Warner Home Video.

As much as I enjoyed this movie, there are a couple of things that really bothered me on initial watch—something that Superman said that felt…well, just felt very “un-Superman”-like. Here is the quote:

“I want to make this perfectly clear—we are facing an existential threat to the planet. We can’t wait for Darkseid to make the first move. That could mean the end of us. We have to attack!”

Superman in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020).

The notion that Superman is willing and ready to make an offensive attack on his enemy without his enemy attacking first seems to go against everything that Superman stands for. It’s a statement and sentiment that feels hopeless, and one based on fear. Even after Superman presents this plan to the Justice League and the Teen Titans, neither Batman nor Wonder Woman make any objections. The only voices of reason come from Flash, Cyborg and Lex Luthor—yes, THE Lex Luthor—who offered the only other alternative plan opposed to Superman’s. This plot point felt all too convenient, and just too sloppy for my liking. With an extra 10 minutes of movie time, a backstory sufficient enough could have helped to build up to this point.

Lastly (and not to give any major spoilers away) I’ll be very vague with this critique. Time travel has become an oft used plot convenience for many superhero movies today. I would like to see some writers let go of that crutch and really dig deep in giving audiences something more…permanent.

If you’re an animation fan; if you’re a DC fan; if you’re just a fan of superhero movies in general, I definitely think you should give Justice League Dark: Apokolips War a shot. You might find yourself wanting to go back and start at the beginning of the DCAMU. For those of you who are interested in where to start, the following is the DCAMU in order from beginning to end:

  1. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
  2. Justice League: War (2014)
  3. Son of Batman (2014)
  4. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)
  5. Batman vs. Robin (2015)
  6. Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
  7. Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016)
  8. Justice League Dark (2017)
  9. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)
  10. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)
  11. The Death of Superman (2018)
  12. Reign of the Supermen (2019)
  13. Batman: Hush (2019)
  14. Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (2019)
  15. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020)

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: The Lovebirds

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 87 minutes
Director: Michael Showalter

Did you know that lovebirds are actually a species of parrot? I accidentally discovered this while doing research for this review, and I am fascinated. I learned that if you want one as a pet, it’s recommended that you only get one rather than a pair. Why just one lovebird, you ask? Because they will breed you out of house and home if you have two. Like it or not, the loving will never stop; it’s like a lifelong “honeymoon stage” that can spread parrots faster than handshaking can spread coronavirus (*not a real medical fact; please wash your hands). Also, lovebirds usually don’t talk like other parrots do; just as the humans we refer to as lovebirds don’t spend much time talking either, as their mouths are usually occupied with other activities. Also, their scientific name is “Agapornis.” So many facts, so many jokes, so little time… The good news is that The Lovebirds is funnier than I am.

The Lovebirds follows Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae), a couple traversing the highs and lows of love-life when they are carjacked and become witnesses (and sort-of abettors) to a murder. As they try to exonerate themselves by solving the ensuing mystery and simultaneously avoiding the authorities, they end up in some pretty wild and hilarious situations, my favorite of which includes a unicorn hoodie. Much of the humor is due to the couple’s dynamics and their inexperience in crime-fighting/crime-solving, which was reminiscent of Date Night (2010) with Tina Fey and Steve Carrell. The Lovebirds is raunchier and targets a younger audience and features the cult from Eyes Wide Shut (1999), but it’s still difficult not to compare the two. Suffice it to say that if you enjoyed one then you’ll probably enjoy the other, as the same sort of shenanigans take place.

The reason you should see this movie is the hilarious duo that is Rae and Nanjiani; though both are comedic stars in their own right, whoever teamed them up deserves brownie points. Their chemistry is near perfection, as is their comedic give-and-take as their characters embark on their hilarious misadventure. In addition to their comedic chops, both Rae and Nanjiani nail the ups and downs of real relationships, complete with brutal honesty; you can feel the burn from your couch. Also, I have to add that the Amazing Race scene is absolutely hilarious. I love the tie-in so much and would actually love to see the couple team up on my favorite reality TV show.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in a scene of The Lovebirds | NETFLIX

There’s not too much to complain about; the movie started out strong, with timely jokes and excellent performances. It did become less entertaining after the halfway point, but I can’t decide if outrageousness fatigue or predictable plot points is the culprit. Despite a slower third act that lost the spark a bit, the movie is only 90 minutes, so it’s not likely you’ll get bored amidst interrogations, glass-smashings, and the bickering banter of talented leads.

Paramount was supposed to release The Lovebirds to theaters back in April, so you may have seen the trailer for it in February (as I did). But thanks to the pandemic it was pulled from the schedule and sold to Netflix, who released it on their streaming service just this weekend. I would have gone to see this in theaters just from watching the trailer, but I was glad to see it on Netflix with family and happy Huskies. It’s funny and fresh, so barring sensitivities to profanity, there is little reason not to give this comedy a gander very soon. It is almost certain to make you laugh.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Guns Akimbo

Saban Films
Rated: R
Run Time: 95 minutes
Director: Jason Lei Howden

Every now and then I find myself contemplating on the child actors of certain movies that shaped my childhood—where they are now, and where their acting careers have led them. There have been certain occasions when I realize that a child actor in one of my favorite childhood movies actually never stopped acting, and had made quite the career for themselves. I think it was in 2007 with the release of No Country For Old Men that I realized this was the same Josh Brolin that played Brand in the 1985 classic The Goonies! And what a career Brolin has had, especially in the last decade. But what about some of those child actors that seem to have quietly disappeared even after starring in some of the most iconic movies that shaped us? This is the question that led me to watch Guns Akimbo, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

I had not heard a thing about this movie before watching it, and don’t be surprised if this is the first time you’ve heard of this movie either. Guns Akimbo had a limited release in U.S. theaters back in February of this year, just before the Coronavirus outbreak (it likely was not playing in a theater near you anyway). You can rent the movie on most digital movie platforms which is how I was able to find it. I came across the movie while searching for cheap digital movie sales on iTunes (yes, I love digital movies, so sue me!), and the vibrant yellow and purple poster with Daniel Radcliffe in the middle holding up two guns immediately grabbed my attention. That’s when the previous question about child actors popped into my head, “Where have you been, Daniel Radcliffe? What have you been up to all these years?” I had to get to the bottom of this, even if it cost me $6.99 for a rental.

… And I totally regret my decision.

Guns Akimbo takes place in the near future as society has continued to plunge itself into the ever deepening hole of smartphone and social media addiction. Radcliffe plays a computer coder named Miles who works for a game app company designed to swindle its users out of more and more money through addictive play and in-game purchases (think Candycrush). Miles lives alone, has no friends, and spends his free time online stalking his ex-girlfriend while pining for the past. There is a monotony to his life that many of us are likely able to relate to: we wish for more of our life only to find ourselves spending hours and hours wasting time mindlessly scrolling through the Internet. And just like Miles’ own place of work, there are others organizations in the film that are ready to take advantage of our smartphone zombie-like, vegetative state specifically through an illegal underground game called Skizm.

Daniel Radcliffe in a scene of Guns Akimbo | Saban Films

Skizm has achieved worldwide popularity through live-streaming actual death matches of willing participants. The organization has become so popular and operates under such secrecy that the authorities are struggling to shut them down. This is when we find Miles alone in his apartment, on his computer, trolling the viewers and participants of Skizm in a very relatable “holier-than-thou” moment. But Miles can’t stay hidden behind his Internet anonymity for long as the Skizm game-makers notice his trolling comments and decide to bring the death match game to him. Within minutes Miles’ apartment is broken into by some goons that look like they stepped out of a Mad Max movie. Miles is drugged, passes out, and wakes up the next morning with guns bolted to his hands, and is forced to play in a Skizm death match against top player, Nix (played by actress Samara Weaving). Everything up to this point in the movie felt somewhat promising. It felt like there were some decent narratives and social commentary setup that could be explored in a crazy, fictional way. Social media and smartphone addiction, trolling behavior online, our desensitization of violence, monotony of life while not feeling motivated to make any real changes—this really could have been an interesting way to explore these questions and issues. Unfortunately, the movie fails in every aspect to address these commentaries, and even fails to be remotely entertaining. Once Skizm begins and Miles is trapped in the game, the movie takes the viewer on a bloody, violent, reckless mayhem journey through the city without revisiting any of the aforementioned commentaries. The violence is absolutely senseless, the plot is incoherent, and the acting is so poor that I really struggled to even finish the movie. My policy with any movie I watch is once I start it I have to finish it, no matter what.  It’s been a long time since I was this tempted to turn a movie off and call it quits. 

I was also really disappointed with Samara Weaving’s performance.  She was genuinely great in the surprisingly good indie horror flick Ready or Not (2109), and I believe that she has the talent to be a very good actor, but maybe any actor would have struggled to be good in this movie and this screenplay.  And what about Daniel Radcliffe?  You might almost feel sorry for the guy after watching Guns Akimbo.  No actor had a brighter spotlight in the early 2000’s than Daniel Radcliffe did in the Harry Potter series.  I know he’s done a handful of movies in between this movie and the final Harry Potter movie, but after watching this film, I’m not at all inclined to search out any other Radcliffe-starred movies.

At this point you should not be surprised that my recommendation on this movie is 100% SKIP IT.  Save your money and your time, and watch literally anything other than Guns Akimbo.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Extraction

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 117 minutes
Director: Sam Hargrave

After experiencing weeks of relentless Facebook ads, I decided to sign up for six-weeks-free of Chris Hemsworth’s workout app. It’s been fairly successful at putting distance between me and the COVID-15 (like “the freshman 15”… no?), but I don’t look like Thor yet, and there is not nearly enough of him in it. He’s all over the ads, but he is nowhere to be found when the action starts and it’s time to do push-ups.

The same cannot be said for his newest film, a Netflix Original titled, Extraction. Playing a mercenary tasked with rescuing the kidnapped son of a drug-lord, Hemsworth wreaks havoc in this film—killing his enemies with guns, grenades, cars, furniture, architecture, and his own musculature. His character, Tyler Rake, even uses a rake at one point to dispatch an unfortunate enemy. His rescue of Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswa)—and subsequent escape—take them through jungles, rivers, and crowded cityscapes, keeping the landscape fresh and full of new obstacles and things to hit people with. Naturally, the extraction goes awry and Rake must decide if this job is just a job for him or something more.

A lot of effort went into this film and it shows. The action sequences are awesome, feeling visceral and real without shaking the camera like a maraca. It’s easy to appreciate the top-of-the-line physicality and coordination of hand-to-hand combat by Hemsworth and a whole slew of stuntmen. The director, Sam Hargrave, is a stuntman himself, and performed a few risky maneuvers with camera in hand to get the shots he wanted. There’s an 11-minute “continuous” shot action sequence that is brilliantly captured and incredible to watch. The film as a whole is held under a tide of grit and violence and rarely comes up for air, and even those brief respites are home to heavy conversation. Maybe it’s because Rake’s objective was escape and protection rather than vengeance or mass destruction, but this film felt less indulgent or gratuitous than other movies I’ve seen recently.

Chris Hemsworth and Rudhraksh Jaiswal in a scene of Extraction | NETFLIX

What keeps Extraction from becoming “Call of Duty: The Movie” is the exploration of relationships between fathers and sons, men and boys. Granted, it is an action movie with a triple-digit death toll, so don’t expect ocean-level depth here, but the theme gives enough weight to the movie to keep you interested. Whatever patterns the fathers (or father figures) set, the sons tend to follow, including those of violence, trauma, and vengeance. Tyler Rake is haunted by the loss of his son and this shows in his treatment of Ovi and the child soldiers he encounters. Armed with a natural Australian accent and significant athleticism, Hemsworth is compelling as Rake, capitalizing on the opportunity to portray trauma and loss when it’s not played for laughs. He’s backed by an intriguing and talented supporting cast, among whom Nik Khan (played by Golshifteh Farahani), is my personal favorite.

The third act is probably the biggest let-down of the film.  The action ramps up, but in doing so ceases to be impressive and becomes a lot of faceless, unending CPU’s falling victim to our hero’s inability to miss or run out of bullets. The ending was semi-satisfying and didn’t leave me bitter or upset. Brutal, bloody, and bombastic, Extraction can’t be described as a good time, but I do think it’s a good movie. As far as Netflix originals go, it’s nearing top tier. If you happen to be craving Jason Bourne or John Wick, add this to your queue; especially if you like Chris Hemsworth or want to support stuntman directors. After all, it’s more enjoyable than push-ups.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

John Wick: A Modern Day Greek Tragedy

Keanu Reeves as John Wick has quickly become one of the most iconic action-movie stars | Summit Entertainment

Last “Black Friday” I decided to rectify a huge error I made as a cinephile and watched the John Wick trilogy. Walmart had a pretty good deal for all three movies on Blu-Ray, so I went ahead and bought them. Flash forward to last month when I wanted a break from the cycle of television binging and decided to finally see what all the fuss was about. Turns out that all the films totally lived up to the hype! All three films were nearly perfect action films that actually had great fight choreography, unlike our modern, almost-epileptic, overly cut and edited fight scenes (looking at you, Black Panther). But even more enjoyable to watch was the way John Wick utilizes different aspects of Greek, Roman, and Christian mythology to tell its story. I originally was going to use this editorial to describe the various myths and the way they were portrayed in the John Wick franchise, but I think Movies With Mikey has me covered. Instead, I decided that I would use this time to explore the ways that John experiences grief and loss, and how the story is more in line with a typical Greek tragedy.

Ancient Greek mythological tale of Orpheus rescuing his wife, Eurydice from Hades.

Orpheus: What if?

The Greek Tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice is a tale about a man (Orpheus) who descends into the Underworld to retrieve his wife (Eurydice) from Hades. He is told that he can take her, but only if he does not look back during the long road up to the surface. At the very end of the journey, Orpheus, unable to resist, looks back and thus loses his wife forever.

In the John Wick universe, The Continental rules the crime world, and can be symbolic of the Greek Underworld. In the first film we learn that John has a chance to leave the Underworld (The Continental) to be with his wife Helen (a reference to Helen of Troy), on the condition that he could not return to the life he had known. Unlike Orpheus, John does not look back. He and Helen stay happily married for (presumably) many years. This retelling of the Greek legend doesn’t end in tragedy—or rather, the same kind of tragedy…

Keanu Reeves in a scene of John Wick (2014) | Summit Entertainment

The Boogeyman

 At the start of the first film, Helen dies from an illness and leaves John with an adorable little beagle in order to make the grieving process a little easier to bear. Unfortunately, Ioseph, the son of a notorious Russian mafia boss, has his eye on John’s car and decides that he wants it for himself. After having John refuse to sell it to him, Ioseph and a couple of his cronies break into John’s house, steal his car, and kill his dog. This act sets in motion a chain of events that leads John to taking on the Russian mafia, The Continental, and the all-powerful High Table. He plows down wave after wave of enemies in order to take vengeance on those that wronged him. But the ripples he makes in the Underworld only cause him to be noticed by prying eyes as more and more people seek an audience with him—for good or ill. The legend of ‘Baba Yaga’ (the Boogeyman) grows from a ghost story of the past into a threat of the present. 

John’s legendary status in the Underworld, and his actions in taking back the mantle of ‘Baba Yaga’, ultimately condemns John: he loses not only his dog and car but also his house, and finally his wedding ring. 

Keanu Reeves in a scene of John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) | Lionsgate

Looking Back

 The reason we love John Wick is that it gives us the ultimate injustice—the loss of the ability to grieve. John has almost everything taken from him, and goes on a rampage to seek catharsis; and we, the audience, need the catharsis too. But that feel of relief comes at much too high of a cost. What starts as a simple revenge spirals into complete chaos until John is forced to take on the entire Underworld. Near the end of the third film, Winston, the owner of the Hotel Continental, tells John, (and I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t find the exact quote) “You have a choice: you can either give up now and honor her, or you can become the monster she’d always feared you were.”

In the ultimate twist of irony, John Wick (the modern Orpheus) turned back after all. In seeking revenge against Ioseph, John returned to what he sacrificed in order to be with Helen; and as consequence, lost all physical reminders of her: his car was stolen and destroyed, his dog was killed, his house was blown apart, and even his wedding ring was taken by the Elder of the High Table. Throughout the course of the trilogy, the man known as John Wick slowly died, taken over by ‘Baba Yaga’.

Keanu Reeves and Anjelica Huston in a scene of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum | Lionsgate

The End?

 Ultimately, I predict that the story of John Wick will not end happily. In my opinion, there are only two ways the story will conclude. The more optimistic way to end will have John finally refusing to kill, and lay down his weapons of war. This act of defiance to the High Table would lead to his death, but he would die as John Wick—the man who loved his wife.

 The more tragic end that could possibly occur is where John Wick fully embraces the mantle of Baba Yaga: the Boogeyman of the High Table—he would live, but now fully trapped, in the Underworld.

 But no matter when and how the series ends, there is one thing for certain: the John Wick franchise will go down in cinema history as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. I am super glad I picked up the series on Black Friday, and I can’t wait to see what the future installments have in store!

REVIEW: Bloodshot

Sony Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: David S.F. Wilson

The Story/The Direction:

Bloodshot is a superhero film based on the Valiant Comics character of the same name. It is supposed to be the first installment in a series of films set within a Valiant Comics shared cinematic universe. The film was directed by first-timer David S.F. Wilson. It obviously stars Vin Diesel, and has Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, and Guy Pearce as co-stars. Bloodshot tells the story of a marine who was killed-in-action, only to be brought back to life with technological superpowers by an organization that wants to use him as a weapon.

If viewers have seen and liked a Vin Diesel action film before, there is a lot of stuff in this to like as well. This film has a muscular man running around with explosions, shootouts, and beatdowns. Most of the action scenes in this film, aside from the first one, are pretty well done and engaging—they definitely look a whole lot better than other Diesel films. The pacing is pretty decent, and one who enjoys the action won’t feel bored as there are a lot of quick cuts during fight scenes. The director’s experience with computer graphics (CG) is noticeable in the action scenes in both good and bad ways. The good is that some of the action looks very coherent and engaging. 

The Characters:

While I have never read the Valiant Comics’ ‘Bloodshot,’ it does have a lot of fans, both domestically and internationally; and when Diesel is added as the character—who also has his own fanbase—theoretically, a good film would be produced. Diesel himself does do a decent job as this action hero who grunts and flexes some decent action sequences. He kicks a lot of butt, which is the most that can be expected from a film like this. His character basically looks like he should have been from TerminatorGenisys in some scenes. This actually looks fairly cool and keeps the film entertaining. He does add his characteristic machismo which effectively makes him an action hero, but the actor’s performance itself doesn’t bring any depth to the role.

Vin Diesel’s character shown regenerating after being shot in a scene of Bloodshot | Sony Pictures

The Flaws:

Overall, however, this is not a good film. The CGI is really bad at points, the characters are very underdeveloped, and the story is all over the place. There is even a line of dialogue in the film that has Pearce’s character, Dr. Emil Harting, making fun of one of his designer’s stories because he had done every cliché in the book, which honestly seems meta in a way? Because this film is really—and I mean really—cliché. Pearce is okay, but he really isn’t that villainous as an evil-scientist character. He seems more emphatic towards his creations than anything. There is a comedy in this film which seems off from a film aspect. If this film had been made more as a complete action story, it could have been better. The comedy made me laugh, but that was from how corny it is than anything else. Also for a film called, ‘Bloodshot,’ there is very little blood. This is probably due to the PG-13 rating, and maybe an R rating would have made this film better in that aspect. However, this film is probably marketing for young teenagers, which an R rating would prevent them from seeing it. 

Overall:

Bloodshot is a popcorn movie that one might want to watch while doing laundry. It does have solid action scenes and a relentless pace that normally would have been really good for a 4DX theater. The film definitely was fun to see in this format, but it is not needed as viewers probably won’t be watching this film too many times, or would be willing to pay extra. It’s a shame because Diesel is put into a terribly written film that could have been so much more. However, it does have some solid Vin Diesel action and thus some entertainment value, but maybe wait for it to be on television or a streaming service. If you’re not a fan of Vin Diesel, skip it altogether.

Now, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section, and hit me up on social media. The Formal Review is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

REVIEW: Spenser Confidential

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 111 minutes
Director: Peter Berg

I’ve often heard people compare Netflix’s original content selection model to “throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks,” which often seems to be a fairly accurate statement; especially if you’ve spent a good amount of time watching Netflix original content. There’s a lot of good, but there’s also a lot of bad. Spaghetti that’s stuck: Stranger Things, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Bright (I personally love this David Ayer movie), Daredevil, Murder Mystery, Grace and Frankie, Queer Eye, The Haunting of Hill House, Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, etc. That list is pretty long, and substantial. Netflix has really begun to hone in on their craft. But it’s been a bumpy road along the way. Spaghetti that has not stuck: Rim of the World, The Open House, Polar, How It Ends, The Titan, The After Party, Everything Sucks, Disjointed, etc. (If I called out any show that you’re a fan of, please do tell me why you like that show!) Here’s what I’m getting at: What happens if that spaghetti you threw against the wall stuck but is slowly sliding down, making its way to the floor? That’s exactly how I feel about Spenser Confidential. It’s really not that great of a movie, but it was free! (kind of)

Spenser Confidential (loosely based on the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins) stars Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, and Bokeem Woodbine. The movie takes place in Boston, MA, where it was also shot and filmed. This is Mark Wahlberg in his natural habitat doing Mark Wahlberg things. I like Wahlberg. I’m not sure there’s a movie of his that I didn’t enjoy to a certain extent. And any time you go see a movie starring Wahlberg, you kind of already know what you’re going to get. Like many actors in the business, Wahlberg just plays himself. So it’s a good thing that he’s got a charismatic way about him, because without Wahlberg, this movie likely would have sunk like a rock in the Boston Harbor. Wahlberg plays Spenser, a disgraced Boston police officer, who has spent the last five years in prison for assaulting his superior in his own home. Spenser re-enters society after his five year prison stint with hopes of leaving Boston and starting his life over (Why as a truck driver living in Arizona? I’m still trying to figure that one out). Spenser has help acclimating back into society from his old fighting coach, Henry (played by Alan Arkin). Henry allows Spenser to live with him, where Henry is also mentoring and housing an up-and-coming fighter named Hawk (played by Winston Duke). Shortly after Spenser leaves prison, other Boston police officers are murdered, which sparks Spenser’s policing instincts to begin his own investigation into these suspicious murders.

The plot plays out in very familiar fashion. You’ve definitely seen this kind of movie before—think Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, 16 Blocks, or The Other Guys—the buddy-cop action-comedy, but just not nearly as good or as memorable as those classics. Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke make a really interesting pair; although, I wish Duke had more to do in this movie. Every time his character is given some light, he shines, but only long enough for the spotlight to be taken away, leaving you wanting more from him. Duke is a very talented actor; he was fantastic in Jordan Peele’s Us, and I’m ready for him to take on a true starring role. The more tense and serious moments of the movie are broken up well with bits of comedy from Spenser’s jilted lover, Cissy, who is not happy about the five years she’s spent alone waiting for Spenser to get out of prison. Cissy definitely plays the part of a strong, confident Bostonian woman: she takes what she wants when she wants, and is not scared to get her hands dirty. Wahlberg really is in his element playing an ex-cop in Boston. This is his city, and he feels right at home in this movie.

(From left to right) Winston Duke, Alan Arkin and Mark Wahlberg appear in a scene of Spenser Confidential | NETFLIX

Where the movie’s wheels fell off for me was the ending. It was far too predictable, and felt like a cheap way to end the movie. Corruption in law enforcement and local elected officials is not an uncommon story, but I always find myself eager to watch these kinds of movies. Maybe that’s because deep down we all know (or want to believe) that these kind of stories are real. We want to see that dirty underbelly of the city we’ve grown up in; we want to swing that door open as fast as we can and expose those filthy rats in the basement; we know they’re there—we just can’t see them. Movies like Spenser Confidential help to fill in the gaps of what we already suspect is happening in real life. So when the movie approaches the ending, and both my wife and I are audibly predicting what is going to happen, and then rolling our eyes when it does, it just feels cheap. Good thing this is a Netflix movie, which means we got to sit in the comfort of our own home, on our own couch, and just veg.

Now it comes to it: my recommendation. Like I stated earlier in this review, Spenser Confidential really isn’t that great of a movie, but I didn’t regret spending the 1 hour and 45 minutes it took to watch it. The reason I will give it a “Stream It” is because this is a Mark Wahlberg-starred movie, and he is able to do enough to keep the movie afloat. The only thing this movie will cost you is your time. So if you’ve got some time to spare, give Spenser Confidential a watch.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

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