The Mountain Between Us

Based on a novel of the same name written by Charles Martin in 2011, The Mountain Between Us is an interesting take on the romance genre by fashioning it as a survival movie and whose greatest asset is the always terrific acting performances of Golden Globe winner Idris Elba and Academy Award winner Kate Winslet. Both are strangers who find themselves chartering a small plane out of Idaho because they need to be somewhere after flight cancelations. Dr. Ben Bass, played by Elba, is a talented neurosurgeon who must be back in Baltimore to perform an emergency pediatric surgery, while Alex Martin is an acclaimed photographer who must be home for her wedding the next day. Piloted by Beau Bridges’ character and accompanied by his loyal dog, their small aircraft crashes in the extremely remote mountains of the High Uintas Wilderness somewhere in Utah en route to Denver. Both Ben and Alex, along with the dog, survive the crash but quickly realize that they are stranded because no flight plan was filed and none of the radios and cell phones are working. The more pragmatic and cautious Ben urges Alex who injured her leg that they must stay at the crash site in hopes that rescuers will come to them. Despite her condition, the much more adventurous and emotional Alex decides that it would be in their best interest to hike down the mountains to find civilization and survive. Eventually, they decide to venture through the increasingly brutal wilderness even with the full knowledge that it could lead to their deaths. Throughout the ordeal, they discuss fairly intimate details of their lives, including Ben’s wife and Alex’s engagement and marriage ceremony that she is missing. Their unique bond caused by the human desire to survive over time leads to a romantic spark, which puts their future lives into question if they make it out of the mountains alive. For better or worse, the movie is a relatively simple romantic story of two strangers coming together and finding love in the most unusual way possible. Overall, I was expecting more of a survival movie with thrilling adventures and came feeling like something was lacking to create a movie worthy of the immense talents of the two actors.

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The sequel to the widely successful 2015 film Kingsman: The Secret Service from the director Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a crowd-pleasing action spy comedy that like its predecessor has an irreverent twist and is brimming with comically over-the-top violence. It takes place a year after the original and follows Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, as a newly recruited member of the secret British intelligence agency known as Kingsman. Towards the beginning, he is still dealing with the loss of his mentor and fellow agent Galahad, played by Colin Firth, when the entire Kingsman organization is obliterated after missile strikes on its safehouses, including its London headquarters at a high-end tailor. Eggsy along with the only other surviving agent Merlin, played by Mark Strong, are confronted with a vengeful former recruit and a secretive criminal organization known as The Golden Circle. They must activate the so-called Doomsday protocol, which connects them with a similar secret American organization based out of a whiskey distillery in Kentucky called Statesman and led by Jeff Bridges’ character Champagne. Eggsy and Merlin must join forces with the very Western Statesman agents Whiskey, played by Channing Tatum, and Tequila, played by Pedro Pascal from the hit Netflix TV show Narcos, and are subsequently taken on a globe-trotting, shootout-filled mission to save millions. They are put into action after a previously unknown and extremely powerful drug trafficker named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, has laced her illicit drugs with a deadly poison that will kill millions of drug users throughout the world unless the President of the United States agrees to legalize drugs at which point she will release the antidote. One of the more bizarre characters, Poppy is portrayed as ridiculously vicious and lives in a 1950s-themed headquarters in the jungles of Cambodia where she also has Elton John held captive. Eggsy learns that no one can be truly trusted and must also please and protect his beautiful girlfriend who happens to be the Crown Princess of Sweden during some particularly inappropriate missions. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining movie that contains some of the same elements of fun and thrills as the original, but, unfortunately, falls short of the first film’s originality and hilarity and is hampered by its bloated two and a half hour runtime. 

War for the Planet of the Apes

The third installment of the third movie series franchise that began with 1968’s Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston and was revamped in the current series starting with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes like the previous two films represents a dramatic tonal and quality shift, arguably for the better. The movie takes itself much more seriously and delves into the negative impacts of modern science and the oppression of the unknown other. Portrayed by the great CGI motion capture artist Andy Serkis who is best known for creating the Gollum character in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first real intelligent ape Caesar is the leader in hiding with the remaining faction of apes in Northern California. Caesar’s desire for peace is destroyed by a renegade unit of the American military trying to eradicate the Simian Flu that has decimated the human population and made the apes intelligent. Serving as a prequel to the original 1968 film before the apes take over the world, Caesar and his followers are portrayed as sympathetic downtrodden minorities that are brutally oppressed by mankind out of fear. The plot line follows Caesar who suffers a tragedy at the hands of the humans and tries to lead his group to safety in the desert far away from humans. To protect the other apes and avenge the murder of his family, Caesar breaks off into a small group to enact “gorilla” warfare on the barbaric human militia, including its ruthless leader simply known as the Colonel, played by the terrifically vicious Woody Harrelson. Along with a orphaned young girl suffering from a mysterious ailment, Caesar’s ragtag group discover that the Colonel has imprisoned the remaining apes that were supposed to escape to the desert. The apes who prove to be smarter than the humans must figure out a way to rescue those enslaved at the remote former military outpost on the California border. The Colonel’s forces are also faced with an attack from a different group of soldiers to the North that has a more sympathetic view of the apes. Although it may sound strange, the movie does an excellent job of humanizing the apes through the emotionally powerful script and the remarkable magic of CGI to create realistic human-like apes. Overall, I found it to be a very high-quality blockbuster that brings a certain level of seriousness and cinematic beauty wholly unexpected from a story about talking apes.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

The second reboot of the Spider-Man film series with the first starring Tobey Maguire beginning in 2002 and the second starring Andrew Garfield beginning in 2012, Spider-Man: Homecoming is rather unnecessary but nevertheless spins a entertaining web that takes a more lighthearted approach to the superhero. Played by the fresh-faced British actor Tom Holland, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is approached by Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., about the possibility of becoming a full-fledged member of the Avengers after assisting in an operation featured in the 2016 Marvel movie Captain America: Civil War. Unlike the prior Spider-Man films, Parker appears to be much younger and is shown as a relatively typical highschooler who tries to fit in and impress his popular crush Liz. Without telling anyone, including his guardian Aunt May, played by Marisa Tomei, Parker dons his Spider-Man outfit to combat mostly petty criminal activities throughout New York City. Eventually, he is faced with a much more dangerous criminal, a spiteful weapons dealer named Adrian Toomes who has stolen alien technology from the Department of Damage Control following an alien attack on New York. Toomes, played by the film’s real star Michael Keaton, uses the alien weaponry to develop a flying suit to become the villain Vulture and continues to steal more alien technology to enrich himself and increase his powers. Parker is faced with the dangers of being a superhero after he must rescue Liz and his other classmates during a trip to Washington, D.C. Back home in his “real life,” he makes a shocking discovery when he takes the young and beautiful Liz to the homecoming dance and must make a fateful decision to finally stop Toomes. Overall, I found it to be a fun cinematic experience that told a funny and more human side of Spider-Man, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would because of my initial misgivings about the originality of a movie that has been rebooted several times in the past decade.

Transformers: The Last Knight

The fifth film in the Transformers franchise that started in 2007, Transformers: The Last Knight is what you would expect from a Transformers movie: it is a loud and over-the-top CGI-heavy action extravaganza with a silly plot based on a line of Hasbro toys and filled with eyeroll-inducing dialogue. It is the second movie starring Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, an inventor now living in a junkyard in South Dakota, who is friendly with the good Transformers the Autobots at a time when all Transformers are oppressed by the government. Eventually, he joins forces with a young and beautiful British female professor (with the requisite tight clothing and excessive cleavage for the stereotypical female lead in a Transformers film) and later an English Lord tied to a lineage of secret Transformers protectors played by Anthony Hopkins. Humanity’s survival depends on their actions as the bad Transformers the Decepticons led by the evil Quintessa and the brainwashed Optimus Prime set in motion for the Transformers’ dead home planet Cybertron to destroy Earth in order to bring life back to Cybertron. With a connection to King Arthur readily apparent by the Medieval battle sequence at the beginning, the trio must travel the world to discover historical artifacts, including a powerful staff, that may help in their quest to save Earth and the human race. The best part of the movie is Anthony Hopkins for his perfect narration voice, but I was constantly thinking why on Earth would such a fine actor participate in such a preposterous action porn. Overall, I found it to be your typical Hollywood blockbuster franchise film that does not really add much to the genre besides showing off new ways to blow up stuff and lining the pockets of the movie studio. 

The Mummy

A reboot of three different franchise series beginning in 1932, The Mummy is a fairly average Hollywood summer blockbuster action adventure monster flick that simply seems to be a money-making vehicle for the action superstar Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise portrays Nick Morton, a treasure hunter and mercenary for the U.S. Army, who, along with his wisecracking partner Chris Vail, played by comedian Jake Johnson, discover a large mysteriously secret Egyptian tomb in present-day Iraq. They soon realize with the help of the young and beautiful archaeologist Jenny Halsey, played by British actress Annabelle Wallis, that the mummy is a cursed Egyptian princess named Ahmanet, played by Algerian actress Sofia Boutella, who comes to life to make a pact with the evil Egyptian god Set. Morton finds himself possessed by the malevolent undead mummy princess and as a result survives a horrific plane crash in England with the sarcophagus. After battling reanimated corpses under Ahmanet’s spell, Morton and Jenny meet up with Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, who runs a secret organization known as Prodigium with the purpose of hunting down and destroying evil and supernatural forces. The organization’s soldiers are able to trap and keep Ahmanet prisoner in their underground base in London. However, her supernatural powers allow her to escape and wreak havoc on London with a dramatic CGI-enhanced sandstorm and creation of an undead army. At the end of the movie, Morton makes a drastic sacrifice in order to save Jenny and prevent Ahmanet’s further reign of terror. Overall, I found the so-called horror sequences not so scary and rather cheesy, and the film was less of an entertaining thrill ride like the most recent series starring Brendan Fraser that started in 1999. Its lackluster quality as a movie that did not really need to be rebooted and poor reception among critics and audiences is not a good starting point for Universal’s new Dark Universe movie series that wants to bring back the classic horror monsters.

Wonder Woman

Directed by the first female director of a superhero film with a female protagonist, Wonder Woman is one of the better comic book superhero movies that I have seen because it effectively blends action, humor, and drama, all underscored by a unique feminist approach. We first meet Diana, later known as Wonder Woman and played by the beautiful and strong Israeli actress Gal Gadot, as she grows up on the mystical island of Themyscira, which is home to the female warriors the Amazons, and begs her mother Queen Hippolyta to train as an Amazonian warrior. Her aunt General Antiope considered the greatest fighter, played by Robin Wright, secretly trains Diana to become one of the best warriors on the island. Throughout the first part of the film, we learn the back story based on ancient Greek mythology of the Amazons: they are a group of strong females created by Zeus to protect humanity against Ares, the god of war who murdered all of the gods except Zeus, and his corrupting influence on mankind to engage in war. Suddenly Diana’s idyllic life changes after she rescues Steve Trevor, played by the charismatic Chris Pine, who is an American pilot spying for the British whose airplane crashes off the coast of Themyscira. Eventually, Diana travels with Steve to help bring World War I to a peaceful end and prevent the use of a new deadly chemical weapon developed by the evil female scientist Doctor Maru, also known as Doctor Poison, under the guidance of the equally villainous German General Erich Ludendorff, played by Danny Huston. When Diana first arrives in London, the movie becomes more of a funny fish out of water story as she tries to understand feminine fashion and that she cannot carry a sword and shield out in public. Eventually, Diana and Steve along with Steve’s hodgepodge team, including Sameer the North African spy, Charlie the drunk Scottish marksman, and Chief the Native American smuggler, make their way to the Western front in Belgium in hopes of discovering Ludendorff’s weapons factory. In an unusual twist for the superhero genre, Diana is the one with super-strength and superhero powers who helps the male protagonists complete their mission and kill most of the bad guys. At times, Steve and other men are shocked and somewhat embarrassed when they see Diana outmaneuver and outfight them. The film ends with Diana facing an unlikely enemy and losing a newly loved one, but, otherwise, she successfully completes her mission to save human lives. Overall, I found the movie to lend a greatly refreshing take on the wildly successful yet male-dominated superhero genre by creating a strong-willed feminist superhero who can take down the bad guys herself without male intervention. The filmmaker is able to avoid the pitfalls of many recent DC Comics movies and craft a greatly entertaining action hero film, complete with realistic World War I settings and explosive CGI effects while subtly relaying a message of female empowerment and equality for Hollywood and beyond.