Death Wish

death_wish_ver3_xlgThe sixth installment of the Death Wish movie franchise and a direct remake of the original released in 1974, Death Wish is an average action flick that relies heavily on the stale genre conventions of the revenge/vigilante action thriller and ultimately feels like an unnecessary exercise in re-creating the original movie starring Charles Bronson. An aging Bruce Willis plays Dr. Paul Kersey, a talented emergency surgeon living in Chicago, who one day becomes a vengeful vigilante after a home invasion leaves his wife Lucy, played by Elizabeth Shue, dead and his high school senior daughter Jordan, played by Argentinian model Camilla Morrone, comatose. Angry that the police led by Detective Kevin Raines, played by Dean Norris of Breaking Bad fame, is unable to fully investigate the crimes and identify the culprits, Dr. Kersey transforms into a typical Bruce Willis character who takes justice into his own hands and eventually discovers those responsible. He keeps his violent retaliations secret even from his brother Frank, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, and becomes known by the public as the Grim Reaper, either vilified as an unjustified killer or lionized as a justice warrior. Typical of the director Eli Roth’s oeuvre as a well-known horror filmmaker and producer of such films as 2005’s Hostel, the movie contains some graphically violent scenes that sensationalizes vicious acts involving weapons and overall brutality. Overall, I did not find it to be a particularly satisfying moviegoing experience and was underwhelmed by the simple premise of a revenge thriller that has been used far too many times; furthermore, the glorification of violence and assault rifles comes at a particularly bad time as a result of the recent mass shootings occurring just prior to the film’s release.


Maze Runner: The Death Cure

The final installment in The Maze Runner trilogy that was first released in 2014, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fairly typical action movie based on a series of young adult books about a dystopian future, reminiscent of the wildly successful Hunger Games franchise. The plot follows a group of young people led by Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien, who are immune to a virus that has killed off much of humanity and become members of The Right Arm rebellion against the all-powerful organization known as WCKD who experiment and torture those who are immune to find a cure. Thomas along with characters Frypan and Newt, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, go against the orders of The Right Arm leaders Vince, played by Barry Pepper, and Jorge, played by Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame, by breaking into the heavily fortified Last City, one of the few remaining uninfected cities and home to the headquarters of WCKD led by Patricia Clarkson’s character, to rescue one of their immune friends Minho. After meeting up with the resistance forces outside the city walls led by Lawrence, played by Walton Goggins, the group are reunited with their friend Gally, played by Will Poulter, who can help them fight their way in against the vicious leader of WCKD troops Janson, played by Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones fame. They must also convince a previous member of the group Teresa who now works for WCKD to align with the rebels to undermine the malevolent organization. However, things get more complicated after Teresa discovers that Thomas may help lead to a cure for the deadly virus. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat entertaining film that helps pass the time but ultimately does not add much to the already bloated genre of young adult dystopian movies.

12 Strong

Based on the 2009 non-fiction book Horse Soldiers written by Doug Stanton, 12 Strong is a fairly typical war movie whose main strength is telling a fascinating true story about one of the first military operations in Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks. It follows a group of twelve United States Army Special Forces soldiers who are sent to Afghanistan on a covert mission known as Task Force Dagger in October 2001 to combat the Taliban harboring the al-Qaeda terrorist group responsible for the deadliest attack on American soil. The group known as Operational Detachment Alpha 595 within the elite 5th Special Forces Group are commanded by Captain Mitch Nelson, played by Chris Hemsworth, on his first leadership role in combat and is tasked with joining Afghan General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Northern Alliance fighters. Their mission is to recapture the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, a Northern Afghan city strategically vital to the Americans in the forthcoming war, and eliminate Taliban and al-Qaeda soldiers in the region. Once they arrive in Afghanistan, the American troops, including soldiers played by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon and Michael Peña, discover they are outnumbered by the Taliban heavily armored with tanks and rocket launchers. Earning their nickname the Horse Soldiers, the men are surprised to learn they must ride horses into combat due to the rough terrain. As to be expected from a Jerry Bruckheimer production, the film contains several well-coordinated and thrilling action sequences involving the Special Forces on horseback firing machine guns at the relentless Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Overall, despite the talented cast and spectacular scenes of modern warfare, the movie never transcends the generic formula of an action flick as a result of the lack of character development and the bloated runtime. Unfortunately, it does not really do justice to the truly remarkable story of one of the first military responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an operation that up until recently was classified.

The Commuter

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra best known for 2016’s The Shallows and collaborating with Liam Neeson on such action thrillers as 2014’s Non-Stop, The Commuter is a fairly typical action thriller in the spirit of Liam Neeson’s Taken movie series that does not really add much to the genre. Oscar nominee Liam Neeson plays an insurance agent named Michael MacCauley who finds himself mixed up in criminal intrigue on his daily train commute back home from Manhattan. He meets a mysterious woman named Joanna, played by Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga, who promises him $100,000 if he finds a particular person she is looking for that is out of place on the train. While interacting with several other people he has gotten to know over their daily commutes, including Walt who is played by Jonathan Banks of Breaking Bad fame, Michael surreptitiously tries to uncover the person he is tasked with finding. Similar to other action movies starring Liam Neeson, he uses a particular set of skills to fight much younger men and race against time before Joanna and the secret organization she works for harms his wife and teenage son. Eventually, towards the end of the movie, he discovers a criminal conspiracy in which not everyone is as they seem, and he himself is suspected to be a criminal or terrorist by authorities, including two police officers played by Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill who Michael knew when he was a NYPD detective. Overall, I found it to be a mediocre and silly action thriller that is good to pass the time with an entertaining performance from Liam Neeson but ultimately fails to transcend the stale stereotypes of an action flick.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

A follow-up to the popular 1995 film Jumanji starring Robin Williams, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fun and surprisingly clever adventure movie that successfully recreates the creativity of the original. The story begins when the Jumanji board game is discovered in the 1990s and a young man is sucked into the magical world of Jumanji. Then, the plot fast forwards to today when a group of high schoolers find themselves in detention and discover the game Jumanji that has been transformed into an old video game. Unaware of its powers, each teenager chooses a character to play in the game and are sucked into the jungles of Jumanji. The nerd in the group Spencer becomes the strong archaeologist and explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by Dwayne Johnson, the popular jock “Fridge” becomes the scrawny and squeamish zoologist and weapons valet Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by the hyperactive comedian Kevin Hart, the pretty popular girl Bethany becomes the obese middle-aged archaeologist and cartographer Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, hilariously played by Jack Black, and the shy unpopular girl Martha becomes the attractive commando and martial artist Ruby Roundhouse, played by Karen Gillan. With all their practical skills and only three lives before they actually die, they must work together to navigate several challenges to finish the game and return home. They have to fight off the villain Van Pelt, played by the devious Bobby Cannavale, who wants to take control of Jumanji by possessing the mystical jewel “Jaguar’s Eye.” Defeating him and his army of mercenaries is the only way they can escape Jumanji. Eventually, they receive help from a pilot and adventurer named Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, played by Nick Jonas. There are several unexpected moments of hilarity that makes for a truly entertaining movie, especially the scenes with Jack Black’s character who talks like a flirtatious teenage girl and freaks out at the littlest things. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised to find the movie to be a light-hearted and fun-filled comedic adventure that goes beyond simply rehashing the original movie without much imagination.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Directed by Rian Johnson who is best known for 2005’s Brick and 2012’s Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a terrific follow-up in the Star Wars saga film series that effectively recreates the magic and creativity of the original trilogy in addition to creating an entertaining epic story with emotional heart. It takes place immediately after the 2015 installment Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the appearance of Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, who lives a solitary life on a remote island when he is visited by the Resistance fighter Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. She urges him as the Last Jedi to help the losing cause of the Resistance against the First Order led by the Supreme Leader Snoke, played by Andy Serkis, and the powerful Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. As Rey struggles with the reclusive Luke, the relatively few remaining ships of the Resistance led by General Leia Organa, played by Carrie Fisher, with the help of the stubborn X-wing fighter pilot Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, are under siege by the First Order and General Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson. In what could be the last hope for survival, the former Stormtrooper and now Resistance fighter Finn, played by John Boyega, joins forces with the unlikely hero and mechanic Rose Tico, played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, on a secret mission to prevent the destruction of the Resistance’s fleet. Besides the spectacular CGI action sequences characteristic of a Star Wars movie, the filmmaker also employs intimate interactions, particularly the philosophical relationship between Luke and Rey, to engender a powerfully emotional story. As such, it is also able to provide a touching and fitting farewell to Carrie Fisher who tragically passed away before the film’s release. In an ode to nostalgia and the legion of Star Wars fans, the movie additionally works beloved characters into the story, including Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2, while developing such new and adorable creatures as porgs and crystal foxes. Overall, I found it to live up to the original trilogy first released 40 years ago and exceeds the expectations set forth by the well-crafted first reboot of the series in 2015. With thrilling action and rich storytelling, the latest Star Wars movie will definitely please die-hard fans and casual moviegoers alike.

Justice League

Directed by Zach Snyder who is best known for 2006’s 300 and 2009’s Watchmen, Justice League follows a long line of superhero comic book movies that ultimately falls short of reaching the more entertaining adaptations in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the sixth installment in DC Comics Extended Universe that desperately tries to emulate the success of Marvel, the film is unfortunately only marginally better than the other critically unsuccessful installments, including 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and 2016’s Suicide Squad. Similar to The Avengers, the plot revolves around a group of famous superheroes who come together to fight off a villain trying to destroy the world. An alien creature awoken after thousands of years, Steppenwolf, along with his army of Parademons, is set on conquering Earth by locating three so-called Mother Boxes whose combined power would set off the destruction of the world. Eventually, Diana Prince who is better known as Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, is alerted to Steppenwolf’s malevolent goal and eventually joins forces with the superheroes Batman who is played by Ben Affleck, The Flash who is played by Ezra Miller, Aquaman who is played by Jason Momoa, and Cyborg who is played by Ray Fisher. After their first major battle with Steppenwolf in Gotham City, the team learns there may be a way to resurrect Superman, played by Henry Cavill, who died at the end of Batman v Superman and is universally mourned as one of the last great heroes. The ending is fairly formulaic because it involves the newly formed Justice League entering into one epic final battle with the villain Steppenwolf and the outcome has major repercussions for Earth and humanity. Overall, although it has many fine actors, the movie feels like a hodgepodge of several different superhero action flicks that includes several new characters that are not properly introduced for the casual filmgoer. It should have followed the extremely successful formula of 2017’s Wonder Woman in which the characters’ back stories are told in greater detail and thereby the audience feels a greater emotional connection.