VANGUARD - Chinese teaser #4 (2020) Jackie Chan Action Movie - YouTube

What can you reasonably expect going into a Jackie Chan vanity project with a Metacritic rating in the 30s? A big bucket of popcorn, a few laughs, a lot of stuff blowing up, and some hand-to-hand fisticuffs?

I guess we got that, but, boy was this one tough to sit through. The story was stupefying. The CGI was objectionable. The car chases were worse. The movie kept trotting out a series of unconvincing villains. The jingoism was omnipresent. And the action wasn’t really that good.

There were some high points. There was one guy who made a funny face when he got knocked out and zapped with a cattle prod (we thought it would be a running gag, but it wasn’t). The man pictured above had a really hilariously large gun. There was a not bad kitchen scene where the good guy kept besting the bad guys with various dimensions of culinary splendor. And the end credits were actually quite a bit more entertaining than the rest of the movie.

I would say the best part of the movie is thinking about where you draw the line on stupidity. The entire project is so bafflingly stupid that any specific complaints probably reveal something about the element of the complainer. My companion, Dr. B., was particularly annoyed at the young woman who cuddled lions in the wild like kitty cats, and at the guy who was dead for 10 minutes (spoiler alert) and then was miraculously revived. I thought a car falling 100 feet and landing intact was a bit of stretch and two cars was a bit stretchier. But, in fairness, they were Volvos!

So if you want a chance to enjoy a movie in the comfort of your own theater (who in their right mind would go see this?) this is the movie for you. But let’s just say that 35 Metacritic rating is at least 10 points too high.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

“Wait, that’s not the ending?”

Something unusual is going on at our local Taco Bell restaurants.   As L&D reported last week, from all outward appearances the store was closed as we drove past — the interior lights and the giant outdoor Taco Bell signage were dark, yet the driveup line was sprawling into the street.   Turning the lights off in Paree still won’t keep them on the farm, evidently.

As it happens, I was at a different Taco Bell on the other side of town earlier in the week, featuring both an extended drive up line and a massive back up in the interior of the store.  Indeed, the customers and workers alike shared the sour countenance that you might find at the DMV.  At one point, the manager locked the door to prevent further entry and proceeded to hand out coupons to placate those of us who had been patiently waiting for semi-warm tacoesque offerings.  You read that correctly: the manager locked the door to keep customers out.  This is around 7:30 p.m. on a Sunday. Peak taco?

And it came to pass that L&D headed out to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters Thursday night, once again the lights were out and we were having trouble locating the building (even the outside sign was dark), but we evidently were the only ones who couldn’t find the building because once again the line was epic, and only the illumination of the drive up window gave any indication that the restaurant was open for business.  I was driving and L shifted excitedly in his seat to survey the situation.  This was easily the highlight of the evening.

Okay, so I was just going to leave the review at that, but Godzilla: King of the Monsters, while terrible, is not entirely bereft of merit.   The sound is incredible and the credits are astounding — the army of animators (?) and sheer number of FX companies that worked on this defies credulity.  How do they put all of this together so seamlessly?

Well, how did they put all of the effects together so seamlessly?, that is.  The plot, the dialog, and the pacing of the movie started poorly and didn’t get much better.  The script is weak and the timing seems off by a beat through much of the film, despite boasting a number of A-list actors in the cast (Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance).

In fairness, there are a number of potentially interesting aspects of the movie, including:

  • the overt religiosity;
  • the few attempts at humor;
  • whatever the Monarch agency is and its role in tracking and monitoring the beasts;
  • the various’ beasts effects on the global ecosystem (making the news clips in the end credits a semi-highlight for me).

But even with good potential, some good action, and some amusement, the movie is almost completely inane.  On the way to the parking lot, L lamented the fact that there were actually other movie patrons, as this was the best candidate for “L&D Mystery Science Theater” since Kong.

And, speaking of the big guy, evidently he is on a collision course with the big lizard in Godzilla vs. Kong, set for 2020.   I have a feeling we will be seeing that one, though I kind of wish we wouldn’t.


Yes, that’s soldiers riding on sharks.

L&D continued our busy December with tickets for the late opening-night showing of Aquaman this past Thursday.   Regular readers probably know that we don’t particularly like trailers and try to time our arrival right for when the Marcus Theater promotion hits the screen.  This turned out to be something of  a problem, as the building was locked when we arrived, and we had to wait a good five minutes before an errant customer finally exited the building, allowing us to get into the theater and to our seats during the opening aquarium scene starting around midnight.

Well, let’s just say that we probably would have been better off had we remained locked out the the building.  The movie is spectacular and it is a spectacular mess.  By 12:20 I was looking at my watch.  At 12:45 I almost asked L if he wanted to leave.  After that, I just kicked back in my recliner and got what I deserved from expecting more from a DC movie.

So what about all of those critics and fans who say this is a triumph?   I’d say, yes, Jason Momoa plays the title character with gusto.  And, yes, the underwater visuals are pretty “trippy.”  Actually, the above-water visuals are pretty outstanding, too — I’m definitely up for a trip to the beach.  And, yes, it is an action packed affair.

But, there’s always a big but…

This story?  Really?  It’s a combination of canned story (evil stepbrother, disputed line to the throne, quest for world domination) and make-believe backstory rubbish thick enough to make the writers of the Star Wars prequels blush.  Even if there are seven kingdoms of Atlantis, do we have to visit all of them and have the evil stepbrother (Patrick Wilson) carry out a gratuitous execution followed by a series of explosions at every one of them?  It’s like Thor and Loki meet Jar Jar Binks and Kylo Ren (Black Manta?).  At least there were no annoying alien sidekicks in this one.  Even the extra scene during the credits is a disappointment:  that guy was mad before, but he’s really mad now.  Sorry for that spoiler.

As for the acting, aside from Momoa, the script doesn’t really allow for much.  L&D favorites Willem Dafoe and Nicole Kidman are both in the movie and both remarkably forgettable.  Is that fun for them?  Were they even in it?  Or is it just a CGI recreation?  Maybe we can ask next time they are in town.

What we are left with is $200 million in beautiful visuals and lots of drama-free action, and I just shake my head and wonder what could have been.  It amazes me what some of the most talented people in the world choose to spend their time doing. The recommendation for this one is to keep your money in your pocket.  On the other hand, “box office don’t lie!”  But, in this case, it might be telling you a little bit of a fib.





Kong: Skull Island.  The scenery is pretty spectacular. The monkey isn’t bad. There are many moments of surprise, intrigue, shock and awe (as well as “aw, that’s gross”).  But the storytelling is poor and that sinks the project.

The movie is set in the final days of the Vietnam War and with its constant allusions to Apocalypse Now forces us to ask where the line is between “homage” and “painfully derivative and stupid.”  From the choice and use of music to the helicopter sequences to the journeys up and down various bodies of water to the napalm detonations to the singularly obsessed military officer, there are many points of comparison (though never even remotely favorably).

Of course, it is difficult to compete with the classics and, in fairness, there are a few bright spots.   Samuel L. Jackson has some good lines in a pretty cool trip through the clouds.  There are some good action sequences, particularly with the big guy tossing stuff around with the accuracy of Greg Maddux and his UFC-style grappling with various slimy creatures.  I also really liked the island itself, particularly the glow of the nighttime lights.

Unfortunately, the list of things to object to runs so much longer that I’m not even sure it’s worth dredging them up.   John Goodman is completely wasted.   John C. Reilly is worse than wasted, as his lines and his story trajectory are painful. The Brie Larson “anti-war” photographer angle is even less developed than her would-be romance with the  pro-war mercenary Tom Hiddleston character (If Kong had accidentally squished the Larson character in his clenched fist, that would have really made up for a lot of the movie’s other shortcomings).  John Ortiz, who I loved in Drop, has no discernible role. Indeed, there must be four or five story arcs falling into the categories of undeveloped, underdeveloped, stupid, insulting to the intelligence, and poorly thought out (most falling into several of these categories) passing time until we get to the climactic sequence.

So the verdict here is to keep the $5 in your pocket.  How this isn’t completely panned on Metacritic is definitely a mystery.  I would have walked out, but when I looked over my colleague was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake him up.

The horror, indeed.

Collide and John Wick Chapter 2 — Essay


I am not the intended audience for these films. In fact, they demand a suspension of disbelief that only a child could allow. “Collide” could easily be renamed “Implausible”. Let’s consider human consciousness, it resides in the brain, right? But you can’t quite put your finger on it. It doesn’t reside in one exact part of your brain. You can’t take human consciousness, put in a bottle and then display it in a museum. In fact, human consciousness, like PTSD resides in every part of your body. My friend, the filmmaker Wynn Padula, just released his latest documentary, Resurface, about combat vets who take on surfing as a way to deal with PTSD. It’s an official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival next month. Wynn did a Zoom session with the documentary film class I teach and told us about his experiences with the soldiers and how PTSD affects them. No one in Collide or John Wick ever had PTSD. They just get a few scratches, dust themselves off, elude a thousand rounds and keep going.

When Collide gathers together bona-fide actors like Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley to rehash successful performances, when it takes us on high speed chases on the autobahn and includes sexy, sexy, ladies. Well, isn’t that a recipe for success? Or is it, as it turns out, just a recipe for a Frankenstein monster of film. One with no consciousness and no heart. If it was that easy to stick together a hit film, then everyone would do it.

Now if you are going to be over the top with violence, totally blurring the line between first person shooter video game and movie — in a sense creating a first person shooter game where the player can eat pop-corn and never be killed or even wait to spawn again — you should at least have a sense of humor and some humanity about it. When John Wick enters the Continent Hotel after one of his many bloody firefights, he doesn’t even ask the concierge, who is in charge of his beloved dog, how the old fella is. Those seemingly benign moments are perfect opportunities to inject a little comedy, humanity and even sympathy for a protagonist whose exploits make them more and more robotic. And besides, the audience wants to know how the dog is doing! Don’t forget about us. We paid to watch this. Even if it was only $5 and with free pop-corn in the reclining La-Z-Boy red leather loungers of the Valley Grand Marcus Cinema. We. Still. Care.

I watched another film last night. It was at the Wildwood Film Festival here in Appleton, Wisco. The film is called Halfway and stars Quinton Aaron, who you might recall from “The Blind Side”, as an ex-con who ends up living with his extended family on a farm in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin.  Aaron’s portrayal of life on the outside was truly stirring and there were times in the drama when I got chills. Films like “Halfway” are the ones we should be watching and celebrating as a society. If I want to play a video game, or in the case of these films, watch someone else play a video game for me, I will go to gammer convention or head over to D’s house. I know he gets his video game on in the basement.

Finally, I would like to mention that I love action movies and even enjoy violent ones. “Shooter”, “Deadpool” (one of our combined top movies of last year) and even last years’ over the top Hardcore Henry were all films I really got into. And also, this is not a knock on Keanu Reeves who I worked with on a documentary called “Sunset Strip”. He was the nicest, coolest person, sincerely. He will probably start a foundation to help Hawaiian sea life, if he hasn’t already.   It’s just that if a film has no heart, I can’t get into it and it becomes a meaningless series of gore and cinematic mush. I am not the intended audience for these films.

REVIEW: Live By Night

The L&D Report made its first trip of the year Thursday to see Ben Affleck’s new vanity project, *Live By Night*. Affleck plays the Boston Irish war hero cum petty thug cum Prohibition-era gangster hellbent on revenge (but with a heart of gold!). With a run time of just under four and a half hours, this sprawling epic is all over the map more than anything we’ve seen since Ibn Battuta. The plot itself is neither interesting nor surprising (though admittedly I was surprised it didn’t end sooner) and hardly worth recounting.

There were a few aspects where the movie excelled. There were some great long shots of Florida drives, some reasonably cool costumes (that generally made Ben Affleck look super good), and a really extraordinary car chase that had me seriously amped. There were also several supporting actor roles that were well played, including Brendan Gleeson as the police chief dad in mourning, Chris Messina as Affleck’s colorful Florida sidekick, and Titus Welliver as the grape-brained racist killer dude with this lip deformity thing.

Even so, most of the characters were caricatures or worse. The usually reliable Chris Cooper at one point breaks down crying, and it isn’t clear if it’s part of the story line or whether he can’t believe he’s stuck in that role. It doesn’t get any better for Cooper and he ends the movie in a completely debased and degraded state, which is I’m guessing how most audiences will feel walking out of the theater.

Let’s just say that this movie definitely didn’t hit the $5 value bar, and L&D Reporters will not be catching this when it is rerun on TNT, which will probably be coming sooner than you might think.