Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: American Assassin (dir by Michael Cuesta)


Probably the best thing about American Assassin is how simple it is.

The film opens on the beach, with Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) asking his girlfriend to marry him.  No sooner has she accepted than suddenly, terrorists are washing up on the beach and, in a genuinely frightening scene, shooting everyone that they see.  Mitch is wounded.  His girlfriend is killed.

Mitch seeks revenge against the man who killed his “future wife” (to borrow a phrase from The Room) but U.S. Special Forces kill the terrorist seconds before Mitch gets the chance.  However, the CIA is so impressed, by Mitch’s single-minded and obsessive desire for revenge, that they recruit him to join Orion, a black ops unit.  Under the guidance of grizzled veteran, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), Mitch becomes an American assassin.  His first mission?  To stop a renegade mercenary known as the Ghost (Taylor Kitsch).

In many ways, American Assassin feels like a throwback to the action films of the early aughts.  There’s none of the moral ambiguity of the Bourne films and Mitch Rapp never indulges in any of the self-loathing that’s marred the Daniel Craig James Bond films.  Remember how Bond got drunk and tried to interrogate that rat in SPECTRE?  Judging from American Assassin, that’s something Mitch Rapp would never do.  And, if he ever did, Stan Hurley would probably tell him to stop whining and get back to work.

In American Assassin, the bad guys are undoubtedly the bad guys and the good guys are undoubtedly the good guys and, while that may not be the approach that leads to Academy Awards and overwhelming critical acclaim, it still makes for an undeniably entertaining movie.  Director Michael Cuesta does a good job with the action scenes and he gets good performances from the entire cast.  Taylor Kitsch is far more compelling as a villain than he ever was in any of his heroic roles and, not surprisingly, Michael Keaton steals the whole show as the tough but caring Stan Hurley.  Michael Keaton is definitely one of the best actors working today.  He can slide seamlessly from a prestige drama like Spotlight to an action film like American Assassin to a comic book film like Spider-Man: Homecoming and he can do it without missing a beat.  Those are three very different films and Keaton was the best thing in all of them.

And, finally, we have Dylan O’Brien.  Last year, as we all know, O’Brien was seriously injured while filming the third Maze Runner film.  At the time, it was announced that O’Brien’s injuries were “substantial but not life threatening” but I know there was a feeling that his career might be over.  Even though American Assassin was not his first film since getting injured, it was his first starring role and I have to admit that it was good to see O’Brien back and looking good.  O’Brien brought a lot of gravity to the role of Mitch Rapp.  He had the haunted look of a man obsessed with revenge.  When I saw O’Brien in The Maze Runner and, before that, in Teen Wolf, I thought he was a pleasant young actor but, in American Assassin, he gives his most mature performance to date.  With American Assassin, Dylan O’Brien grows up.

As I said, American Assassin is a simple film.  There’s not much going on beneath the surface and it you’re looking for anything deeper than pure entertainment, you might want to look elsewhere.  American Assassin is what it is and makes no apologies.  What it does, it does well.

Doctor Strange Trailer Arrives At SDCC 2016


Doctor Strange

San Diego Comic-Con for the past decade has always been a major mainstay for Marvel Studios when it comes to releasing their latest news and trailer for their upcoming films. There has been rumors the last couple years that Marvel Studios may skip Comic-Con and it’s venerable Hall H altogether in the near-future. Marvel Studios being owned by Disney means they have access to their parent company’s own D23 event. There’s even talk of just having a yearly Marvel Con to showcase everything Marvel.

Until that occurs many who attend San Diego Comic-Con will stand hours (some even days) to be able to get into Hall H and be the first to see what Marvel Studios has up it’s sleeves. This year we get the latest trailer on their biggest gamble to date: Doctor Strange.

A gamble in that it will delve deeply into the one aspect of the Marvel Universe it has so far avoided: magic.

One cannot make a film about Doctor Strange and not portray the magic and sorcery, the otherworldly dimensions and demons, spells and illusions. This is the bread and butter of the Sorcerer Supreme and if this latest trailer is any indication then filmmaker Scott Derrickson may have just broken the code in how to integrate this aspect of the Marvel Universe into the grounded, albeit hyper-reality, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Doctor Strange arrives this November 4, 2016.

Doctor Strange Trailer Makes It’s First Visit


Doctor Strange

This coming November sees the arrival of not just another new character from the Marvel Comics pages onto the big-screen, but the parting of the curtains to give the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s first glimpse at the mystical and magical.

The MCU has been mostly about advanced technology, techno-thrillers and a corner or two of the cosmic, but Feige and company has never truly explored the esoteric and occult side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the release of tonight’s teaser trailer for Doctor Strange we will finally get a glimpse into this unseen corner of the MCU.

Doctor Strange is set for a November 4, 2016 release date.

Two Late Reviews: The Legend of Hercules (dir by Renny Harlin) and Pompeii (dir by Paul W.S. Anderson)


As I mentioned in a previous review, I’ve only got a few months left before I’m going to have to make out my list of the 16 worst and the 26 best films of 2014.  With that in mind, I really need to get caught up on reviewing some of the films that might appear on those two lists.  For the most part, I try to review every single movie that I see but, occasionally, a movie or two will slip through the cracks.  And now, with Oscar season approaching but not quite arrived, seems like as good as time as any as to try to get caught up by reviewing two films that came out earlier this year: Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules and Paul W. S. Anderson’s Pompeii.

Hercules_(2014_film)_poster

The Legend of Hercules is a film that I first saw with my BFF Evelyn way back in January.  And while I meant to review it after I first saw it, I simply never got around to actually doing so.  Some of that is because, when Kellan Lutz first showed up on screen, Evelyn said, “Nice tits,” and I ended up laughing so hard that I nearly fell out of my seat.  This led to Evelyn spending the entire film trying to make me laugh again and, in between all of the whispering and the giggling, we undoubtedly missed out on a lot of the film.

However, I recently rewatched The Legend of Hercules on Cinemax and I was quickly reminded about the other reason that I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it.  There’s really just not that much to say about The Legend of Hercules.  It’s just not a very good film but yet it’s not bad in a fun way either.  It’s just boring.  As played by Kellan Lutz, Hercules wanders through the ancient world and he does all the stuff that you would expect Hercules to do.  Actually, he does all the stuff that you would expect any character in a rip-off of 300 to do.  The film could have just as easily been called The Legend of Eammon, an Irishman in Greece.  

In fact, I’d really like to see a movie called The Legend of Eammon, an Irishman in Greece.  Get on it, someone.

According to Wikipedia, The Legend of Hercules had a budget of 70 million dollars, which makes it a bit odd that the film itself just looks cheap and generic.  At one point, Hercules fights a lion and the CGI is so bad that, for a few minutes, the movie looks like one of those senior projects that students occasionally upload to YouTube.  (I was half-expecting to see a comment apologizing for the “crappy special effects” flash across the screen.)  During the film’s many fight scenes, director Renny Harlin does that thing where every punch is shown in slow motion.  It gets annoying after the hundredth time.

A few words about Kellan Lutz.  I happen to like Kellan Lutz.  I think he’s been likable in other roles.  But, in The Legend of Hercules, he really did spend the entire movie looking like he was wishing that he could be anywhere else.  But can you blame him?

Pompeii-posterFor a far more enjoyable trip into the past, allow me to recommend a film that came out a few months after The Legend of Hercules, Pompeii. 

Now, before I review Pompeii, I should admit that, as you all know, I am a history nerd and, as you all might not know, I’ve always been fascinated by the Roman Empire.  The summer after I graduated high school, I took a trip to Italy and I actually walked through the streets of Pompeii.  My two main memories of Pompeii: while we were touring an ancient brothel, an Australian man lay down on one of the slabs.  My other memory is that it was a very windy day and I was wearing a skirt so I can legitimately say that not only have I visited Pompeii but I’ve flashed Pompeii as well.

Anyway, Pompeii the Movie tells the story of the final days of Pompeii the City.  A Celtic slave and gladiator named Milo (Kit Harrington) is sent to Pompeii where he, in quick order, meets and romances the noble Cassia (Emily Browning), establishes a friendly rivalry with fellow gladiator Atticus (the always intimidating Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), spots the evil Roman General (Kiefer Sutherland) who killed Milo’s mother, and then eventually has to run for his life as a cloud of ash and a river of lava crashes down on Pompeii.

Pompeii is a lot of fun.  Harrington and Browning have a lot of chemistry, all of the actors are obviously having a good time with their melodramatic dialogue, and Kiefer Sutherland was born to play an evil Roman.  As opposed to the Legend of Hercules, Pompeii looks good and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is genuinely impressive.  Perhaps best of all, the film actually allows things to play out to their natural and logical conclusion.  For once, history is not changed just to force a happy ending on the viewers and Pompeii is all the better for it!

So, in conclusion: forget about The Legend of Hercules and give Pompeii a chance.  Actually, you’ve probably already forgotten about The Legend of Hercules so just try not to suddenly remember it.  But seriously, Pompeii is better than you might think.

Trailer: Zero Dark Thirty


After the success Kathryn Bigelow had with her award-winning film The Hurt Locker it was just part of the norm that people began to wonder what she would do to follow-up the film which gave her the Oscar for Best Director. There was talk of her making an action thriller about the Tri-Border Region in South America that many intelligence agencies consider a major haven for global organized crime and terrorist groups of all kinds. This particular idea bounced around for months then nothing came of it. Then news came about around late-Spring to early Summer 2011 that Bigelow and The Hurt Locker writer and collaborator Mark Boal came upon the idea that would be Bigelow’s follow-up.

The film that the two decided upon would be an action thriller detailing the global manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but this decision became even more important once news broke out on May 2, 2011 that the hunt for America’s Most Wanted criminal was finally over and that Operation Neptune Spear was a success with the death of Bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirtyis the title of Bigelow’s film about the details and backstory which led up to this special operations mission on May 2, 2011. The first trailer for the film has been released by Sony and it’s short on details other than some voice overs over satellite imagery. I’m sure there’ll be more trailers that will open up what this film will truly be about leading up to it’s December release date (just in time for awards season).

It’s going to be interesting how Bigelow will do with this follow-up to The Hurt Locker. If her history is anything to go by then it shouldn’t disappoint even if some of her detractors will be chomping at the bit to see it fail and further see her Best Director Oscar win as a fluke done to keep the award from her ex-husband James Cameron.

Zero Dark Thirty is scheduled for a December 19, 2012 release date…just two days from the end of the world.

Trailer: The Expendables 2 (Official)


In 2010 Stallone released his love letter to all things 80’s action with his ensemble actioner The Expendables. The film was a modest success, but not the huge one some thought it would be considering it’s cast was made up of action stars of the past 20-30 years. Yet, it’s box-office numbers made the studio heads at Lionsgate happy enough that they greenlit a sequel.

This sequel, The Expendables 2, finally gets it’s official trailer and it looks to be more of the same as the previous film, but to a new level. The previous comes back with expanded roles for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenneger who had brief cameos in the first film. This sequel also adds Chuck Norris to the cast and Jean-Claude Van Damme in the role of the film’s villain. There’s really no need to explain the plot of the film. What audiences should expect is lots of gunfire, explosions, testosterone-laced interaction between the actors and more explosions.

Stallone backs off the director’s chair this time around and hand’s over to veteran action director Simon West.

The Expendables 2 is set for an August 17, 2012 release date.