Review: The Predator (2018)

The Predator.

The original Predator is a classic and one of my personal favorite monster films. The sequels have been a little iffy though, including the two Aliens vs. Predator movies. This most recent sequel has a lot of ground to make up for, so does it manage to make an impact?

The gist.

Military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is on a mission when suddenly an alien ship crashes to Earth. The alien is injured but McKenna takes a few souvenirs to prove that it’s real, before he gets hauled away to be questioned. The alien is being investigated by a science team (including Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, and Jake Busey). Of course, things go sideways and the Predator escapes and is trying to track down his lost gear, now in the hands of McKenna’s son (Jacob Tremblay). McKenna teams up with a bus full of veterans to fight the Predator, including Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Augusto Aguilera, and Thomas Jane. But then a bigger and even badder Predator arrives on the scene, for some reason hunting the first one that landed. Our humans are caught in the crossfire of this battle and must figure out what these aliens want.

This film is directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys). Black himself also starred in the original 1987 Predator film, so that’s an interesting little bit of trivia.

What works?

This is a fun movie. It’s fun to watch, with all the action and explosions, but you can also tell that the cast had a blast making it. Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane carry most of the humor here, delivering laughs with almost every line. This is a comedy with the occasional horrific death. This is unlike the past Predator films, so fans of the franchise might feel a little uneasy about the shift in tone.

Everyone delivers decent performances, with what they’re given. Boyd Holbrook is the next Sam Worthington, able to get a few lead parts but lacks the chemistry to really be the next A-lister. The standouts are our supporting characters, who are all a little bit messed up, but at least interesting to watch.

What doesn’t work?

Now, this is going to look like a long list but “the movie is fun” might trump a lot of these factors for you.

The story on paper for this movie is a little nonsensical. The first Predator film was amazing because one alien was such a threat that it was able to take down an entire squadron of trained soldiers. Here, our humans are just bystanders. And this Super Predator that gets introduced gave me a similar feeling as what happened in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. To make a sequel, they just created a new version of the Predator. Let’s make it bigger, stronger, scarier. That model isn’t sustainable. A simple classic Predator is still enough to carry a movie but they chose not to go that route. Because of this, we get an entirely computer-generated big bad guy that doesn’t look or feel especially threatening.

So they failed in creating a solid enemy here. They also failed by forcing the idea of sequels, which also reminded me of the Independence Day sequel, which felt almost entirely as a stepping stone to more movies. The final scene in The Predator is silly and stupid and feels unlike everything this franchise stands for.

This movie begins in some really interesting ways and I was onboard for awhile. The cast was interesting and the idea of one lone Predator trying to recoup its lost gear made total sense. The movie then quickly spiraled out of control.

I also was not a big fan of the editing on display here. Very few Predator kills are satisfying, with quick cut edits and blurry camerawork. There’s so many no-name soldiers to kill that these moments stack up but feel generic. I also can’t tell you how most of the named characters die, their deaths were forgettable or crammed into an action sequence so that you almost miss them completely.

Overall…

This is not a great movie. Its story veers even further from what made the original Predator films great and the gruesome kills that you’ve come to expect are uneventful and ruined by quick edits. However, this is a fun movie. If you want to laugh and you’re not too invested in the lore of the Predator films, this is a fun popcorn movie that you can just sit back and enjoy.

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Review: Peppermint

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Peppermint.

Jennifer Garner got her first break in the action drama Alias so it’s nice to see her returning to her badass roots. This rated-R bloodbath is quite different than her other recent outings, so does it succeed?

The gist.

Riley North (Jennifer Garner) was spending a nice night out with her husband and daughter when a car drove by, gang members pulling out guns and killing them both, injuring Riley as well. She disappears for 5 years and returns with both the skills and motivation to kill everyone involved in her family’s murder. This goes all the way from the actual men that did it, all the way up to the leader of the gang (Juan Pablo Raba), with hundreds of people in between. The police and FBI get involved but seem to always be a step behind (John Gallagher Jr and Annie Ilonzeh).

The movie is directed by Pierre Morel, known mostly for directing Taken and From Paris with Love.

peppermint 1

What works?

It’s great to have Jennifer Garner back in this role and she sells it absolutely. You can tell she worked hard to physically prepare for this movie, she looks jacked. Her journey to get this revenge is thrilling, mostly due to her convincing portrayal. She sells it on an emotional level, that you absolutely believe a woman can be driven to this, but she also convinces you that she’s capable of killing almost triple digits of unnamed gang members.

The action is usually pretty great, though maybe a bit choppy. It’s incredibly graphic but it’s in a rewarding context, as she gets closer and closer to her goal. The action sequences are probably the highlight of this film.

I also found the story here simultaneously simple and yet there’s a few moments that had me audibly gasp or shriek. Some of the action is so visceral that you can’t help but yelp out loud in empathic pain.

What doesn’t work?

This whole movie feels like it’s from another time and I can’t tell if it’s intentional. The soundtrack is something you’d see on the rack next to Nickelback or Breaking Benjamin. The smash cuts and stylistic edits reminded me of cheesy action flicks like Crank. If Jennifer Garner wasn’t the star, this would be straight to DVD.

It’s also sometimes unintentionally funny, to go along with its corny nature. Actions aren’t always motivated and dialogue isn’t always realistic. On more than one occasion, the crowd chuckled but there was no intentional joke.

Those are my only real complaints but they add up. The cheesy and dated style of the film docks the film a few ratings.

peppermint 2

Overall…

In 2000, this movie would’ve been killer, right up there with The Fast and the Furious and other kind of cheesy action moviesUnfortunately, this movie feels dated now. It’s got killer action and Jennifer Garner really delivers, but the entire movie is dragged down by stylistic choices that are often really confusing. If you can see through that constant factor, you’ll find something really fun here.

3

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Review: Kin (2018)

kin headeradam reviewKin.

I didn’t really have high hopes going into Kin. It’s based on a short film made by the co-directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, who garnered the attention of some big financiers and were able to recreate it as a full-length movie. It’s a bit under the radar, so I wanted to do you a favor and let you know if this was a secret you needed to know about.

The gist.

We follow Eli (Myles Truitt), a young boy in Detroit. He’s looking through abandoned buildings for scrap when he discovers the aftermath of an alien battle and he finds a gun that he’s able to use. He returns home to his adopted father (Dennis Quaid) and ex-con brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor). His brother owes money to a local scumbag (James Franco) and an adventure ensues that leads Jimmy and Eli across the country, pursued by humans and aliens alike. They encounter a stripper with a heart of gold (Zoe Kravitz) along the way.

kin 2

What works?

For being a relatively low-budget film, the special effects are pretty great. This alien gun has a few ways to fire and each one is pretty spectacular. There are a variety of alien weapons and devices that we get to see used and they’re across the board awesome.

The acting is also to a much higher caliber than I expected. Newcomer Myles Truitt is hopefully here to stay, he does a great job, mostly when he’s paired against other heavy hitters here like Dennis Quaid and Jack Reynor. There’s also a cameo in the climax that shocked me, though when the credits roll, you’ll see their name first as an Executive Producer, so this person was likely one of the causes for this film getting made.

What doesn’t work?

Somehow this movie fails to capitalize on its cool effects and reliable cast, turning this potential adventure into a slow sludge of dialogue. I don’t mind dialogue, but this movie was maybe mismarketed as an action film. In reality, the action is pretty thin until the climax. Unfortunately you’ll likely check out mentally long before this. It’s slow and rather uneventful. Some characters feel unnecessary (looking at you Zoe Kravitz) and the movie ultimately fails to really make much happen. Maybe a short film was a better route, instead of stretching to full-length.

In a movie about aliens trying to recapture an alien weapon, this a major disappointment. I appreciate the brother dynamics and there’s some interesting emotional moments, but 99% of you will go into this theater expecting action. The climax is great and we finally get some cool moments, but the long stretch before that will likely put you to sleep.

Kin 1

Overall…

This movie is unfortunately not what was marketed and will likely be a disappointment to most of you. It has a solid cast, which is why we get some great emotional moments, but the buildup of this alien weapon is a slow burn. Our climax is great and the effects are pretty incredible, but you’ll sit through an hour of dialogue while our characters road trip across the country first. I don’t know if the destination is worth that sort of wait.

2

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Review: Searching

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Searching.

When I first saw the trailer for Searching, I was super intrigued. It’s shot entirely through computers, laptops, phones, etc. So everything we see on-screen is either a FaceTime call or a news report or someone typing and browsing the net. I was hopeful that this would be more than just a gimmick. Did it succeed?

The gist.

We follow David Kim (John Cho), a widower and father who loses contact with his daughter Margot (Michelle La) one night after a study group. It begins simple, as he tries to connect with her friends to figure out where she is, but it slowly becomes something else, as he discovers that she’s lying to him and is up to something potentially dangerous. Eventually, a detective is assigned to his case (Debra Messing) to help figure out the truth.

searching 1

What works?

Searching works in a lot of ways. As an experimental film, told entirely through new media and all the cameras we have in our lives, it totally works. It doesn’t alienate the viewer because most viewers live their lives through this medium already. It doesn’t feel jarring to have a window open for eight different things and to be receiving calls and getting notifications. It feels authentic, though some things are obviously changed for the sake of the movie (like the amount of time that our lead has his FaceTime window open even when he’s not calling anyone). It’s clever and manages to create an amazing amount of suspense. There’s no other film like it.

This would have been considered a gimmick if the rest of the movie was subpar. Luckily, that’s not the case. John Cho delivers an incredible performance, as the movie is 90% him looking at the computer screen. Relative newcomer Michelle La also delivers a great performance, subtle but incredibly effective in her brief moments on-screen.

searching 2

The actual story we watch unfold here is also pretty amazing. My experience throughout was similar to the roller coaster of watching Gone Girl. It doesn’t hit the same beats obviously but it’s the roller coaster of WHAT IS HAPPENING? over and over again. This movie does an incredible job of taking you on this suspenseful journey and yet still delivering a satisfying ending that almost demands a second viewing.

I have to say it again. There’s nothing else like this. It’s immersive, it feels like we’re the ones with our hands on the keyboard. We learn info at the exact same time as our leads. It’s a journey that has to be experienced and I’d recommend this film to almost all viewers, this should please a majority of you.

What doesn’t work?

The only people who may not enjoy this film… If you have difficulty reading text on the screen, this movie is not ideal, since so much info is given to you via text messages and search engines. If you’re also not tech savvy, there may be references to apps that you don’t know and the movie doesn’t always explain what all these things are.

Also, you diehard detectives out there may be able to put together the pieces early and call this movie “predictable” but I found its twists and turns perfectly placed.

Overall…

Searching is unique. In a summer full of reboots and sequels, this is something new and I hope you’ll head to the theaters to reward their good work. It’s a thrilling and suspenseful story, managing to deliver an intriguing mystery and satisfying payoff. The performances are top notch, but the real star of the show is the innovative way to shoot the movie, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

5

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Review: Mile 22

Mile 22.

We follow a covert team of soldiers, off the books and off the record. This team is led on the ground by James (Mark Wahlberg) and is observed from a distance by Bishop (John Malkovich). This movie takes place in a seemingly fictional Southeast Asian country, where a local cop shows up to a US embassy with news about an impending chemical attack (played by Indonesian martial artist Iko Uwais, from The Raid series). This cop says that he’ll release the information if he is safely transported 22 miles to the airstrip and flown to America. The rest of the movie follows their dangerous 22 mile journey, where they’re an open target.

Other special forces officers include Ronda Rousey and Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead).

What works?

As a premise, this is simple enough. Travel from point A to point B and stay alive. And some of this ride is really enjoyable, including high tension car chases and fight sequences. Unfortunately the movie tries to do much and squanders what potential this plot had.

This is Lauren Cohan’s first big movie since The Walking Dead and luckily she does well here, being one of the only characters that has any sort of history or backstory. She’s also the most convincing in her portrayal.

What doesn’t work?

Now it’s not a good sign that there was so little to say in the previous section. Let’s explain why.

This movie had to do only one thing right. Make this 22 mile journey dangerous and suspenseful and give us some awesome action. The plot was simple. Yet somehow, they messed this up in a couple big ways.

The first big mistake was the action itself. When you’re given an incredible martial artist like Iko Uwais, you don’t need to resort to “shaky cam” style action. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s happening. It’s disorienting, confusing, and ultimately a disappointment. There are cool moments but it’s all surrounded by blurry and indecipherable action.

They also messed this up by trying to make this plot complicated. People show up and it takes forever to reveal who they are or what they want. There’s a big twist in the climax, really just the last few scenes, that will leave you scratching your head. It’s meant to turn this film into a franchise but I highly doubt this movie will be received well-enough to actually get those sequels.

Other little things also added up. The movie is full of poor editing, I could spot multiple times when people and objects changed locations when cameras changed. There’s also plenty of dialogue problems and poor acting decisions that really drop this movie down a few pegs.

Overall…

This movie is a bummer. On paper, it sounded really exciting, but they botched it with poorly shot action sequences and an unnecessarily complicated story, turning this into a forgettable film that you shouldn’t waste your hard-earned money on.

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Review: Alpha

Alpha.

This movie tells a fictional story about what could have likely happened 20,000 years ago, when the neanderthals first learned to domesticate dogs and use them as hunters. So in this story Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the son of a chief and is lost during an attack on a group of bison, so he must find his way home, alone and afraid. It’s at this point that he befriends a wounded wolf and they manage to help each other survive. It’s a relatively silent movie, the only dialogue spoken in (what’s credited as) a North American Indian dialect. The only other significant actor in the film is Keda’s father, played by Icelandic actor Johannes Haukur Johannesson.

What works?

This movie is a real surprise. From the trailers, I was expecting something that was straight-to-DVD quality. What we get is something full of heart and suspense.

Kodi Smit-McPhee really carries this movie by himself and it’s very impressive. Since he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, we’re learning about him from the way he views and interacts with the world. It’s convincing and quite an accomplishment.

His interactions with the wolf mostly work but I think why audiences might love it so much is that we have all of this history with dogs and most people have owned dogs, so we’re projecting our experiences onto this wolf. “He makes the same sound that my puppy makes!” or “My dog does that too!” are common thoughts here. It takes our experiences with every dog we’ve ever owned and gives those examples here. It works for the most part.

The other star of this world is the world that they’ve created. The cinematography is stunning, full of huge and interesting landmarks in this ancient landscape. The colors are vibrant and the world is beautiful. We’re not given exposition for any of this but we don’t really need it. We watch the seasons change and we watch as they cross dangerous obstacles, it’s all just a natural part of that world.

What doesn’t work?

While the landscapes and settings look great, unfortunately the wildlife isn’t quite as spectacular. You can tell instantly when the wolf is a CGI creation rather than the real thing. And you can tell when it’s a green screen or when the wolf and boy are not really in the scene at the same time. For a movie relying on this working, it doesn’t always work.

Also, I blame the trailers for this movie for ruining the ending for me. There’s a few scenes that I was expecting the whole time and one of them was literally the last scene in the movie, so that was a huge bummer and marketing misfire.

Overall…

Alpha is a really pleasant surprise. It’s not going to win any awards but it’s a great adventure and does a lot of things right. It’s kid-friendly, though maybe a little scary. If you want something interesting and have a soft-spot for dogs, this might be right up your alley!

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Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians.

We start our story following Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding), a couple in New York City. Nick invites Rachel to head to Singapore for a wedding, where she would meet his family for the first time and he divulges to her that his family is incredibly wealthy. What follows is a Cinderella story of Rachel trying to prove herself to Nick’s demanding mother (Michelle Yeoh).

Rachel also meets up with an old friend Peik Lin (YouTube personality Awkwafina) and her family (including Ken Jeong). We also have a subplot involving Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her husband Michael (Pierre Png), both of them trying to keep something hidden from the other. Other supporting characters include Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Nico Santos (Superstore), and Jing Lusi.

What works?

The real star of this movie is Singapore and how wonderfully this movie explores all facets of life there. As someone with zero knowledge of Singapore, I was enthralled by the landmarks and the food and the customs. It walked a fine line of becoming a tourism video but it never quite tipped the scale for me, which is great. The locations were all stunning and the movie exposes you to this culture without over-explaining anything, leaving it up to you to connect the dots.

This setting would only work if the story was compelling and luckily, it very much does work. It’s not especially unique (woman tries to win over abrasive mother is a common theme in romantic comedies) but it does it really well. There are a few big twists and turns but generally it’s a tad predictable.

Our characters really carry the film. Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) is charming and likeable as Rachel and her fight to win over Nick’s mother seems earnest, so you’re definitely rooting for her the whole time. It’s not so simple though, as Michelle Yeoh delivers an incredible performance as the mother, simply wanting what’s best for her son, so you can manage to understand both sides of the coin here.

The other dramatic standout of the movie is Gemma Chan as the cousin Astrid, who I often found more compelling than the lead characters. In terms of comedic standout, it has to be Awkwafina, who I usually find a little too over the top for my liking, but here delivered the perfect amount of wit to balance with the soap opera-ish drama.

What doesn’t work?

In the end, I have some great things to say but it took awhile in the movie for those feelings to develop. I found the beginning of the movie to be really clunky and uninteresting. It felt as if this movie was shot in order, as Constance Wu and Henry Golding both felt unsure and uncomfortable in the opening scenes. It wasn’t until they were actually in Singapore and we start to get some vibrant scenery and some laugh out loud jokes that I finally warmed up to this movie.

I also mentioned above, this movie is predictable if you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy like this before. From the opening moments, you could likely guess the major beats of the film.

Overall…

Crazy Rich Asians manages to take a familiar storyline and somehow make it interesting, by wrapping that story in culture and personality that is not often seen in Hollywood. Singapore is a character itself here, though the actors and actresses shine as well. It’s a fun, vibrant story but has plenty of heart, resulting in a great time at the movies that will please most fans of the romantic comedy genre.

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