Patriots Day

Released: January 2017

Director: Peter Berg

Rated R

Run Time: 133 Minutes

Distributor: Lionsgate Studios

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Mark Wahlberg: Tommy Saunders
Kevin Bacon: Special Agent Richard DesLauriers
John Goodman: Commissioner Ed Davis
J.K. Simmons: Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese
Alex Wolff: Dzhokar Tarnaev
Themo Melikidze: Tamerlan Tarnaev

Ever since 9/11, terrorism has unfortunately become something that you hear about on a daily basis through news, YouTube or other forms of media.  When 9/11 happened, it woke America up to the unfortunate reality that anybody could become a target for terrorists, extremists or other forms of evil.  But what also happened on that day was a strength and unity from across the world that nobody had seen in a long, long time.  Terrorists don’t seem to understand that when they try to tear us down, we as a people and a nation have a very strong tendency to band together and bounce back.  That is who we and what we are.  No matter what your political or religious beliefs are, it is important that we are stronger together than we are divided.  Today’s review is about Patriots Day, a film inspired and based on the true events of April 15, 2013 in Boston.

I want to do something a little different here.  Instead of describing the story, I want to describe how important is to TELL a story like this.  When the bombs went off on April 15, 2013, everybody across the nation was glued to either the TV sets or their computers hoping and praying for the people of Boston.  Patriots Day is not necessarily a story about the actual bombing, I feel, but rather a story about people.  Specifically, the people of Boston, Massachusetts.  The stories that came out of that tragic day were extraordinary.  When the explosions hit, people didn’t run away, but rather towards the people that were directly affected.  It’s important for a movie like this to show how important that kind of unity is.  It wasn’t just the police who stepped in to help, but marathon runners and other spectators as well.  Movies like Patriots Day or Deepwater Horizon tend to show people at their best, and that’s why I love movies like this.  The story is incredibly gripping and emotionally powerful.  There are not a lot of movies out there that can tug at the heartstrings the way Patriots Day did.

To tell a story like this properly, you need the right crew, the right talent, and most importantly, you need to cooperation of the city that was directly affected by this: Boston.  Peter Berg, who recently helmed the disaster flick, Deepwater Horizon, takes the lead here with Mark Wahlberg as the producer and star of the film.  Mr. Wahlberg IS from Boston, so this a very personal project for him, because he does have an actual stake in being able to tell this story the right way.  The cast they assembled for the film is extraordinary.  Wahlburg plays a fictional character caught in the middle of all of this, but many of the other actors take on the roles of the people who were actually there.  Kevin Bacon plays the lead FBI agent DesLauriers.  He grounds the character in a very realistic and surprisingly logical and sympathetic way.  John Goodman is absolutely phenomenal as Commissioner Ed Davis.  The most surprising thing about the whole thing is the support that these actors had from the people and the victims.  They wanted their story to be told, and I think Patriots Day does a very good job with the acting.

The support that the film crew had from the people and city of Boston, really helped in the film’s authenticity.  The entire movie was filmed in Boston so nothing seems out of place.  The way the sequences are shot are nothing less than spectacular.  From the opening marathon sequence to the final part of the manhunt, everything has been done as realistically as possible, so as not to break the immersion.  Immersion is what you need in order for any kind of story to succeed, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.  If the immersion isn’t there, you’re not going to feel the emotional impact of what’s happening on the screen.  Everything about this film, from the setting, the characters, and the story, is top-notch.  It’s a gritty movie that doesn’t shy away from the bloodshed and violence of the bombings, but it’s not exploitive.  It captures the chaos of the event, perfectly.  The subsequent chases and the man-hunt are right out of a proper white-knuckle thriller.

While Patriots Day is a movie that’s supposed entertain first and foremost, it’s still a very inspirational story about how communities can come together in the face of tremendous adversity.  I’ve never been to Boston, and I would love to travel there one day, but from what I’ve seen through the interviews and the newscasts, the people of Boston are one of a kind.  They’re strong, kind and diverse.  I think the film definitely captures the spirit of the people of Boston perfectly.  It’s a powerful, thrilling and moving story that I think that everybody needs to see.  I’m not going to give this film a score, not because it’s a bad movie, no.  It’s a great movie, but I feel that putting number to a movie like this would diminish what the film was trying to accomplish, and for Patriots Day, I’m not going to do that.   It’s a great movie with an astounding cast, with a very compelling story and characters.  I couldn’t recommend this movie enough.  Please go see it.


Power Rangers (2017)

Released: March 2017

Director: Dean Isrealite

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 124 Minutes

Distributor: Lionsgate Studios

Genre: Action/Science Fiction

Dacre Montgomery: Jason(Red Ranger)
Naomi Scott: Kimberly(Pink Ranger)
RJ Cyler: Billy(Blue Ranger)
Ludi Lin: Zack(Black Ranger)
Becky G.: Trini (Yellow Ranger)
Elizabeth Banks: Rita Repulsa
Bryan Cranston: Zordon
Bill Hader: Alpha 5 (Voice)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 24 years since Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers hit the airwaves.  It was a show about 5 teenagers who were recruited by an intergalactic being known as Zordon to fight the forces of evil led by the villainous Rita Repulsa.  I was only 10 when that show came out, so I was the right audience at the right time.  I loved it all: The martial arts, the suits, the teenagers, Zordon, the Zords, and the bad guys.  It was just so damned cool to me when that came on.  Power Rangers has been a world-wide phenomenon for so many people and so many kids.  The original show is nothing short of iconic.  Now, to be fair:  Watching those old shows today reminds me of how truly cheesy they were.  I do mean cheesy, but in the best possible way.  Each episode culminated in a final battle between the rangers and one of Rita’s monsters.  It was simple and fast-paced, but I didn’t realize how much of a story there really was beneath all of that.  The original show lasted three seasons before changing into Power Rangers Zeo.  It’s surprising to me how Power Rangers has been so popular.  Yet, here we are in 2017 with another season of Power Rangers on the way and a new film that just hit theaters.  With two previous movies that were……questionable at best, is the third time the charm?

The film opens as a group of teenage misfits are in detention for various reasons.  Three of these teenagers stand out: Jason, Kimberly and Billy.  Kimberly is the cheerleader, with Billy as the nerd and Jason as the fallen football star.  Offering to help Jason with his ankle bracelet, Billy takes Jason to a rock quarry because he’s been looking for something.  Encountering Kimberly, Jason runs into Zack and Trini when Billy blows up the side of the quarry, revealing a mysterious glass formation.  Inside this formation are 5 coins.  When these kids take the five coins, they discover they have immense physical strength and speed.  Returning to the quarry, they discover a mysterious ship with a bizarre robot named Alpha 5.  They are then introduced to Zordon, who was the first Red Ranger who was determined to protect a mysterious Zeo crystal from the evil Rita Repulsa.  Honestly, I really like this setup better than the TV show.  In the show, Zordon essentially kidnaps the 5 teenagers and drafts them into service as Power Rangers.  Here, it’s a bit more expanded on how they become the Rangers.  It is an origin story, so there is some buildup to be expected.  Honestly, I thought the story was well thought out here.

One of the things that surprised me most about this film is the attention to the characters.  While the kids in the original show were pretty much stereotypical, the teens in this new film are actually given time to grow and expand.  They are fleshed out in a way that makes them feel like real people.  While Zack and Trini are shortchanged a little bit, their characters are just as compelling as the other kids.  I like the fact that these kids are not the upstanding kids from the original show.  These kids have flaws, they make mistakes, but they ultimately do become friends and ultimately a team.  Zordon, however, feels like a crotchety old man just constantly nagging on these kids to get better so they have a chance against Rita.  Rita Repulsa is rather interesting in this one.  In the show, she was just an evil space witch out to destroy the universe.  In this movie, she has a more personal connection to Zordon and why she hates him.  I really like how the film expands upon such memorable characters.  It would all be for naught if the characters were portrayed by actors who weren’t up for the task.  Thankfully, the acting is really, really strong here.  The actors that play the teenagers do an incredible job, and the fact that they are relatively unknown actors makes it even more impressive.  I can’t really single out just one person in that team, that’s how good they are.  Bryan Cranston, who actually did some voice-work for the original show in ’93, plays Zordon.  While the character isn’t particularly well-written, Bryan Cranston is such a good actor, he makes it work.  There’s been a lot of controversy over the casting of Elizabeth Banks as Rita.  I’ll be honest, I don’t necessarily think that she was the right person for the role, but she did a pretty good job with what she had.  Her character is very intimidating and is willing to get her hands dirty.  Overall, the characters and the acting are fairly top-notch in my opinion.

Before I talk about the action, let’s talk about the suits.  There’s been a lot of controversy over the past year concerning the Power Ranger suits.  In the original movies and shows, the actors wore spandex and were generally pretty silly-looking.  Here, they have a more mechanical look to them.  People were concerned about the suits being CGI only, and yeah.  They are, but they’re done in such a way that it looks real.  The helmets are familiar looking and there’s no sign of that goofy spandex.  I actually rather like the new suits.  This being a Power Rangers film, you would expect there to be a lot of action.  Not quite, and that’s where the film falters a little bit.  Because the film spends so much time building up the characters and having the audience get to know them, not enough time is actually spent in showing what these are truly capable of.  The action that IS there is pretty solid, even though it’s really a bunch of CGI effects.  The putties are…meh.  So, seeing the Rangers take them on is alright.  When the Zords enter the picture to take on Rita’s monster, Goldar, that’s where things get really interesting.  Each Zord is given its moment to shine, and I just love the designs for these things.  The Megazord left me with a huge smile on my face.  That’s what I wanted to see.

Brian Tyler did the music for the film, and for the most part it’s really epic, emotional and very personal at certain points.  I really like what this guy can do with music.  So, what about the Power Rangers theme song?  It’s in there.  It definitely is, but not as often or as loud as it needed to be.  It’s a very iconic part of the original show and I’m sad to see that it doesn’t really have a more prominent spot in the movie.  Aside from that, the music is absolutely phenomenal.

For all the good things I said about this movie, there are some negative aspects to the whole affair.  One, Rita Repulsa comes across as a bit cheesy at times.  While the actors playing the 5 kids were giving it their all, Elizabeth Banks felt like she was trying to channel the original Rita, and the tones kind of collide.  Zordon, as I said above, is more of grouchy old windbag this time around, and doesn’t really give the kids that much encouragement.  Alpha 5, while annoying in the original show, is still annoying, just not as much.  I’m still not sure I like what they did with Goldar, but it’s done.  There’s also a very blatant use of product placement in the film which bugged the hell out of me.  I’m sorry, Krispy Kreme is highly overrated as a donut shop.

Overall, though, I would have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised by the new Power Rangers.  I was on the fence before, but now I’m convinced.  This is easily the best Power Rangers movie yet, although that bar was not set particularly high.  It may be the nostalgia talking to me, but I loved this movie.  While I’m sure that there will be detractors, but this film hit the mark for me.  I would definitely recommend it for fans of the show and for those willing to give it a chance.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Assassin’s Creed

Released: December 2016

Director: Justin Kurzel

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 115 Minutes

Distributor: Fox Studios

Genre: Action/Adventure

Michael Fassbender: Callum Lynch/Aguilar
Marion Cotillard: Sofia
Jeremy Irons: Rikkin
Brendan Gleeson: Joseph Lynch
Michael Kenneth Williams: Moussa

I may have said this before, but I think it’s worth reiterating:  Movies based on popular video games generally don’t do very well.  Why?  While studios want to try to bring these games to the big screen, they often fail to see why the game is so popular in the first place.  It’s not because we don’t want to see some of this stuff hit the big screen, some of us do, but movie studios often miss the point of the game and why we play them.  Most gamers, myself included, would rather play these titles than watch them.  There’s something about directly affecting the world in the game that’s unlike any other experience.  Movies are pretty much a static experience.  It’s the same thing over and over again.  With video games, you don’t necessarily have to play it the same way.  In my experience, less than a handful of movies based on video games are somewhat decent.  Mortal Kombat, Prince of Persia, Warcraft and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children are the only ones that I’m aware of that are okay at best, but even then, they have a lot of problems, and that’s generally due to the transition from video game to movie.  Today I’m going to talk about the latest video game-to-movie adaptation, Assassin’s Creed.

Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, a man who was convicted of a capital crime and is sentenced to death.  Waking up after being “executed,” Lynch finds himself in a mysterious medical facility run by CEO Rikkin and his daughter, Sofia.  Lynch is at this facility because the people who brought him there believe that through witnessing memories of a past life, Lynch can lead them to the mystical Apple of Eden.  Apparently this object contains the genetic code to eliminate the aggressive nature of mankind.  As it turns out, Callum Lynch is the descendant of one Aguilar, who lived during the Spanish Inquisition and was the last known person to hold the object.  Behind all this, is the Order of the Knights Templar who have been at war with a group of Assassins who have dedicated themselves to keeping humanity free from tyranny.  For a movie that runs two hours, it throws a lot at the audience in terms of lore and backstory.  For people who aren’t familiar with the game, they may end up getting lost as far as the narrative goes.  For those of us who have played the games, the story here is rather original as it features a main character that wasn’t featured in the games, so it does try to do something different in that regard.  So the story is not terrible.

The acting in the film is surprisingly not terrible, either.  They’ve managed to include a rather impressive cast which includes Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons.  Everyone bring their A-game.  Michael Fassbender is fantastic as Lynch AND Aguilar.  Fassbender is no stranger to the physical demands of an action movie, and while he doesn’t do all of his stunts in the film, a lot of the fight sequences involve Fassbender as an actor.  Mr. Fassbender is one of my favorite actors of the past decade and a half because he throws everything into whatever he does.  He’s fantastic.  Marion Cotillard is also great as Sofia, the scientist behind the program at the facility.  Her character truly believes that what she’s doing could benefit humanity.  I’ve always like Miss Cotillard as an actress.  She’s beautiful and absolutely dedicated to her craft.  Jeremy Irons is….well….Jeremy Irons.  I don’t think I’ve seen this guy in a movie where I didn’t enjoy his performance, no matter how over-the-top he gets.  Thankfully, he doesn’t go over-the-top in this film.  His character is far more restrained and honestly that makes him that much more threatening.

Let’s talk about the action and the stunts in Assassin’s Creed.  During the scenes that take place in 1492, that’s where the film is at its best.  It’s epic and sprawling and spectacular.  The Assassins use the buildings as their own personal mode of transportation.  The parkour sequences are phenomenal.  The actual fight sequences are well-choreographed and hard-hitting.  From a visual standpoint, it’s absolutely remarkable what they accomplished with the Inquisition scenes.  When it switches back to present day, that’s when it gets a bit more generic.  While the fights are still decent, it’s just not as amazing.  When you consider that the majority of the games are played in the past, it’s kind of disheartening to see the movie mostly take place in the present.  That being said, the stunts in the film are absolutely amazing, especially the “leap of faith” moment.  For those who don’t know what that is, the “leap of faith” happens when your character is in a high building and the fastest way to get to the ground is to jump.  Damien Walters doubled for Michael Fassbender in many of the stunt sequences due to his background in martial arts, stunts and parkour.  He actually did a real leap of faith from 120 feet from a crane, which is the highest free-fall stunt ever done.  That was pretty cool.  There were also sequences where the Assassins were using ropes to escape and a lot of those stunts were done without wires.  THAT is damned impressive.

With all that said, is Assassin’s Creed going to be able to make video game movies a legitimate thing?  Not the moment.  For all the good that the movie has achieved, it still has problems.  Some of the visual effects and CGI are not what they should be.  Some of the script is fairly lackluster and the sequences that take place during the present?  Not that compelling.  There was an action sequence involving wagons and horses that was a little difficult to see because of how the camera was shaking.

Overall, the film was a lot better than I was anticipating, but it was no where near as good as it could have been.  Had the film taken place mostly in 1492, it would have been a far more interesting experience, since we haven’t seen a lot of movies take place during the Spanish Inquisition.  That being said, I really did enjoy a lot of the action sequences and the performances by the film’s three leads.  In my opinion, Assassin’s Creed is one of the better video-game to movie adaptations.  So, yeah, I did like this one quite a bit.

Final Score: 8/10

Point Break(2015)

Released: December 2015

Director: Ericson Core

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 114 Minutes

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Genre: Action/Crime/Sport

Edgar Ramirez: Bodhi
Luke Bracey: Utah
Ray Winstone: Pappas
Delroy Lindo: Instructor Hall
Teresa Palmer: Samsara

I’ve said this time and time again:  I have no problems with remakes that try and add something new to the mix.  Movies like John Carpenter’s The ThingThe BlobCasino Royale, and Jet Li’s Fist of Legend are all examples of how to do a good remake.  That being said, Hollywood is generally afraid of doing something original, because they might not make money on the venture.  I understand, it’s a business, but risks are part of it.  Sadly, though, the ratio of good movies versus bad remakes tends to lean more towards the bad ones.  Movies like Ben-Hur, Brick Mansions, Clash of the Titans, Ghostbusters, and Psycho are perfect examples of what you DON’T do with a remake.  It’s even more frustrating when they remake a movie that really didn’t need it in the first place.  So, imagine my surprise when a remake to Kathryn Bigelow’s original Point Break was being made.  So, this review is about the new Point Break.

The new Point Break follows FBI newcomer, Johnny Utah, as he’s assigned to solve robberies that involve a group of people who are doing extreme sports during their robberies without rhyme or reason.  Tasked with infiltrating this group, Johnny befriends a man named Bodhi, who is apparently on some kind of spiritual quest.  I have to admit, I haven’t seen a remake in years that was THIS shallow in terms of narrative.  If you’ve seen the original film, you know how this ends up, so I won’t go into the story any further.  The original film was no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but at least it was fun and there was some moments of genuine tension.  See, in the original film, the character of Johnny Utah was not an expert extreme sports enthusiast as he is in this movie.  No, he had to learn to surf, and do all these things.  Because of that, Johnny felt like he could actually die if he made a mistake.  Here, Johnny is already an expert and isn’t afraid of anything.  That saps ALL the tension out of the movie.  You can’t really relate to a character if you don’t believe that he/she is in any danger.

The characters and the way they are written are the core of what’s wrong with this movie.  As I was saying, if you don’t believe a character is in danger, you’re not going to feel anything for them.  But it also helps if the characters have chemistry with each other, and there is no chemistry whatsoever between Johnny, Bodhi or even Hall, Delroy Lindo’s character.  You have some pretty good actors here:  Delroy Lindo, Edgar Ramirez and Ray Winstone.  These guys are good.  The problem is, is that these characters are poorly written.  We’ve got some good actors, but the material isn’t anywhere up to their level.  Johnny and Bodhi are extremely wooden and the girl is just in there to pretty everything up.

What this movie does have going for it are the action sequences.  These stunt sequences are absolutely breathtaking.  The visuals and the backdrops for these stunts are mindblowingly awesome.  The whole bird-man sequence is jaw-dropping, because they did that for real.  There’s also another sequence where the bad guys create a landslide to bury some trucks.  Visually impressive and pretty exciting, if I do say so myself.  Here’s the thing though, you can find most of those sequences done better on YouTube.  It makes absolutely no sense to go out and spend your hard-earned cash on a movie that is essentially nothing but extreme sports stunts.  It isn’t even the first movie to do that.  xXx did the whole extreme sports super agent thing first and did it better.  The other action sequences in this film are like Luke Bracey’s character and have no personality.

Honestly, if you have to pick between this movie and the original Point Break with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, go for that one instead.  It’s just better all around.  The remake of Point Break is a vapid, hollow affair that runs for far too long and has nothing to offer between the giant stunt sequences.  Spend your money elsewhere.

Final Score: 4/10