I gotta be honest with you folks: I didn’t expect to have so much fun with this movie. While the original 1987 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is highly regarded as a classic in the action genre, the sequels/spinoffs were pretty terrible (except 2010’s “Predators” which was pretty entertaining). Enter director Shane Black, who, incidentally, has a role in the original film, and who seemed like the right guy to revive this franchise. The result is campy fun, fueled by non-stop action scenes and over-the-top acting, the kind you would except from an old-school Predator film. In terms of plot, all you need to know that the Predators return to earth many years later, and it’s up to a new crew of “misfits” to try and save the day. It’s true that the film is covering old grounds, but it does it well enough to satisfy fans of the series. The strongest asset here is the tangible feeling of a team at work. Black has assembled an interesting array of characters, and they all deliver the goods. References to the old films? You’ll find plenty of those, and you’ll definitely enjoy pointing them out to your friends. Weaknesses? I would say that the movie gets chaotic at some point, but not enough to ruin the whole experience. Let’s put it this way: if you’re going to revive an old franchise, you can’t ask for a better way to do it. “The Predator” doesn’t pretend to be more than it is, and the result is old-school entertainment.
It’s an age old tale: prehistoric man meets man’s best friend for the very first time, and the rest, as they say, is history. That’s the story at the core of “Alpha”, a familiar but visually stunning film that has to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. Director Albert Hughes knows that his material isn’t particularly deep, so the focus is on making the ride as emotional as possible, and this is where his movie scores points. In telling the story of how a young man struggles to return home after being separated from his tribe, Hughes tackles themes of loyalty, family, and friendship. It’s breathtaking to watch a wolf racing alongside our hero, looking for their next meal. It’s even better when the opening and closing scene is narrated by Morgan Freeman. There’s a lot to admire here, even if it all feels familiar somehow. If you enjoy a good survival story, look no further. “Alpha” may not be a masterpiece, but it’s a visual feast.
Destination Wedding ★★
It wouldn’t be completely unfair to say that this movie has no reason to exist except to showcase two of Hollywood’s most beloved actors of the 90’s: Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. These two have been friends for 30 years and appeared in several movies together. But “Destination Wedding”, written and directed by Victor Levin, is a missed opportunity. It relies way too much on the chemistry between these two, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I couldn’t care much about the story itself. Reeves and Ryder play two strangers who meet on their way to the same wedding. Basically they just talk and talk and talk and talk until the credits start rolling. Usually I don’t mind this type of storytelling (I love Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy), but Levin is relentless with his dialogue and rarely allows his characters to stop and take a deep breath. Worse, the dialogue itself is pointless most of the time and my mind started to wander at some point. Instead of being pulled into their story I felt myself drifting away from it. That’s a damn shame, because both actors are great, and surely they deserve something better than this forgettable rom-com.
Crazy Rich Asians ★★½
It would be tempting to call this comedy the “Asian” version of “Meet the Parents”, but considering the thought process that went into it, I won’t. For those who may not know, “Crazy Rich Asians” is Hollywood’s first major film in years starring an all-Asian cast. This is a big deal for Asians around the world (I watched it in a packed theater here in Montreal), and I expect it to be a major hit. Usually I don’t ask much from this type of comedy: I want it to keep me entertained, and this one does exactly that. It helps that the events take place in Singapore, which means it’s an opportunity to discover a new culture. It also helps that the cast seems to be having a great time, despite a familiar plot. Henry Golding plays a New Yorker who decides to take his girlfriend (Constance Wu) to visit his family in Singapore. The ultimate joke of this movie is that his family is “crazy rich”, which makes things a little bit awkward. Like I said, there isn’t much to say about the plot itself, but the performances are first rate, and the movie managed to keep me amused. It’s a modest but disarming comedy that will most definitely entertain a wide audience this summer.
Here’s a pleasant surprise: a remake that doesn’t suck. It would be easy to dismiss it at first as an updated version that has no reason to exist, but once you warm up to it, it’s just as brutal and poignant as the 1973 classic starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. The “heroes” this time around are Charlie Hunnam (“King Arthur”) and Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot) who show real acting chops as two prisoners who spent years together planning their escape. If you’ve seen the original movie, then you probably know the outcome of the story. Either way, you’ll find yourself rooting for these characters, every step of the way, as they try to survive the horrific conditions of this merciless prison. If I’m being completely honest, I still prefer Steve McQueen over Charlie Hunnam in the title role. But there’s no denying that Hunnam gives it his very best, and you can’t possibly dismiss that. Same goes for Malek. I guess if you had to remake a film, at least hire the right actors for the job, and the people behind this film got it right. It’s a long, and quite often violent ride. But it’s a ride worth taking.
The Spy Who Dumped Me ★★½
It’s the dog days of summer. Some people take advantage of this period to spend some time on the beach. But if you’re anything like me, you’d be looking for the next “summer” film at your local multiplex. There was nothing about “The Spy who Dumped Me” that encouraged me to seek it out upon its release. But having watched pretty much everything playing this week, I decided to give it a shot. Much to my surprise, this was an entertaining action/comedy (think “The Heat” and “Spy”), fueled by a solid performance by Mila Kunis and scene-stealer Kate McKinnon. The trailer only offers a glimpse of what this dynamic duo has to offer in this rowdy, and often raunchy buddy comedy. Kunis plays a 30-something woman who finds out that the man who just dumped her is actually a spy. That’s cue for some deadly assassins to come looking for her. It’s also cue for her best friend (McKinnon) to encourage her to jump into action and save the day. From that moment on, the movie relies heavily on the chemistry between the two actresses, and indeed, they make a good team. That’s not to say that this is an instant classic (far from it actually). It borrows a lot from other successful comedies and the last third feels awfully stretched (they could have easily trimmed it a bit). But until then, I had a good time watching it. If you’re looking for summer escapism, look no further. “The Spy who Dumped Me” will keep you amused, at least for a while.
Christopher Robin ★★★
I’d be lying if I said that the opening sequence in “Christopher Robin” didn’t leave me in tears. This is the kind of impact that these characters have on me. In a multiplex filled with summer blockbusters, it’s good to revisit old friends and rediscover the charming world of Winnie the Pooh and his friends. But “Christopher Robin”, directed by Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”) with a gentleness that seems damn near irresistible, takes a different approach. Years have passed and Christopher (nicely played by Ewan McGregor) is all grown up now and living with his wife and daughter in London. But that’s not all: somehow he has lost his way, constantly working and barely spending any time with his family. So it’s up to Pooh (of course) to help him rediscover his childhood, even when it seems impossible. The voice work is impeccable; I never thought I’d see a live-action film starring Winnie The Pooh, but Jim Cummings has Pooh’s voice down to perfection. All these characters mean so much to me, so I hoped they wouldn’t ruin it. But as soon as it opened, I breathed a sigh of relief: this is a joyful film, the kind Winnie (and his fans) deserve. And when it ended, I had to wipe a tear from my eye. It’s a tear of nostalgia for the happiness these characters have brought us for so many years. Needless to say, it’s good to finally have them all back in a movie that parents and their kids can all enjoy.
To describe “Disobedience” purely as a lesbian drama is to miss the point. This is a devastating story of love, that happens to take place in an “obedient” society. When the movie opens, we are welcomed with a speech by a rabbi, talking about angels, beasts, and, ironically, freedom of choice. It’s a gripping speech, and the hook that will lead you into this mesmerizing drama. Rachel Weisz ignites the screen as the daughter of the rabbi, who returns home following his death. We learn that she was somehow “disowned” by this society for having a love affair with another woman (Rachel McAdams) many years ago. The two eventually meet again, and their passion is aroused once again. The confident Weisz and the shy McAdams (now married to a man) seem to have little in common, but you can tell heir love is mutual and deep-rooted. Although the film takes place in modern-day England, director Sebastian Lelio doesn’t miss a chance to remind us that obedient societies still exist, and such matters are not to be discussed in public. This allows us to root for these characters even more, especially when things get even more complicated. As their story unfold, we feel their pain and anguish, which gives the movie its much needed emotional impact. “Disobedience” flows at a deliberately slow pace, which means it won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re a patient viewer, you’d want to savor every moment of this rewarding piece of work.
Slender Man ★
It’s 2018 and movies like “Slender Man” still exist on the big screen. This truly horrible horror movie shouldn’t even exist on DVD. But here we are, on a hot summer day, watching this preposterous film…on the big screen. Why? Why waste a perfectly decent budget on a movie that: 1) isn’t scary at all. And 2) doesn’t even make sense. This mess of a film will confuse even the most avid fans of the genre. Where do I even begin? Ever heard of the boogie man? Well, Slender Man is pretty much the same “man”, and he’s about to unleash hell on a group of teenagers who attempt to prove that he doesn’t exist. Ha! You know the drill: endless “boo” scenes that lead nowhere. Nothing works here. Nothing. From the amateur acting, writing and directing (was anyone even in control of this?), “Slender Man” will have you looking for the nearest exit to request a refund. Or better yet: avoid it altogether. It’s that bad.
The Equalizer 2 ★★½
Denzel Washington kicking ass is probably everything you need to see this summer. This sequel to the 2014 hit follows the same formula, which means you won’t go in expecting a fast-paced action flick like “Taken” or “Mission Impossible”. But director Antoine Fuqua, who is often hailed as a lyrical filmmaker, does things his way, taking his precious time developing his characters and story. Washington yet again plays retired special-ops agent Robert McCall, who uses his regular job as a cover while he roams around the city fighting criminal scum. “Not all heroes wear cape” they say and McCall embodies that, taking justice into his own hands. Then things get personal, perhaps a bit too personal, and it’s up to our hero to step in and deliver justice. The movie runs long, and much like the first film, I could have done without many of the subplots. No matter, Fuqua deliver the goods when it matters the most, and it’s always a pleasure watching Washington kicking ass. I can’t think of anyone else capable of carrying the film through. Is it predictable? Probably. Is it still worth watching? You bet. Heck, I’d watch Washington in almost anything.