Del reviews ‘FUBAR’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“FUBAR” Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Monica Barbaro, Milan Carter, Gabriel Luna, Fortune Feimster, and Travis Van Winkle. Directed by Holly Dale, Steven A. Adelson, Phil Abraham, Stephen Surijik. Eight episodes. 45-59 minutes each. Rated TV-MA. Netflix.

Del’s take

“FUBAR,” the new Netflix series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, should be funnier than it is. The problem is threefold:

1. Schwarzenegger still struggles with English, which means the sweet spot of his jokes comes and goes before he finishes bludgeoning his way through the dialogue.

2. “FUBAR” is not tightly edited, resulting in snappy comebacks that fall flat because they’re not very snappy.

3. The script provides an unending stream of cornball jokes minus the self-awareness that made shows like the 1960s classic, “Get Smart,” so hilarious.

That’s a shame because “FUBAR” could be a knee-slapper. Its central conceit – that a father and daughter are forced to work together after hiding from each other their careers as CIA operatives – offers a degree of comedic potential. Given the right creators, “FUBAR” could become an action-comedy classic. Alas, that potential is not met, at least not yet.

Schwarzenegger’s character is Luke Brunner, a longtime CIA agent who is retiring after a long and violent career of making the world safe for American corporations. He hopes to purchase a boat (“It’s a ship, not a boat,” is a running joke throughout the series) and sail the world with his ex-wife (Fabiano Udenio as Tally Brunner), a casualty of Luke’s career. But his close ties with Boro Polonia (Gabriel Luna), a Central American thug who is trying to sell a suitcase nuclear bomb to terrorists, means Luke must saddle-up for a final mission to save mankind.

When he arrives at Polonia’s jungle redoubt, Luke discovers his daughter (Monica Barbaro as Emma Brunner) is also a CIA operative who is also working the Polonia case. It is from this point “FUBAR” embarks on a silly globe-trotting adventure, in the tradition of a Dollar Tree James Bond, as father and daughter bicker about their fractured relationship and the fractured relationships of those around them while they battle the forces of evil.

Iffy special effects, naughty language and well-worn points of conflict bring a level of tedium to the journey. Emma’s constant whining about how her father was “never there” for her as a child becomes an annoying refrain by the second act of the first episode – imagine seven more episodes of the same. It’s the equivalent of a 3-year-old pitching a temper tantrum in the cereal aisle at Kroger’s.

The supporting cast offers little respite. Luke’s wise-cracking lesbian No. 2, Roo (Fortune Feimster), is more vulgar than clever, and self-described “honey-pot” entrapment guru Aldon (Travis Van Winkle) oscillates from earnest pathos to plain-old dick with no consistency. Only Luna presents the same face and to be honest, earns a degree of empathy as the boy whose father was murdered by the elder Brunner and is hellbent on making the world pay.

“FUBAR” resorts to the goofy wisecracks of Schwarzenegger’s earlier efforts, including those of a certain James Cameron cyborg (or Harlan Ellison, depending on whom you ask), but again, the loose editing draws the venom from these bites. It all comes across as shopworn and a little pathetic.

There may be a second season of “FUBAR.” If so, let’s hope new writers will endow this series with the cleverness it deserves. Schwarzenegger is capable of being funny but it’s a specialized flavor of humor, one that plays off his size, bulk, and Teutonic roots. That isn’t happening at the moment.

I grade the current iteration of “FUBAR” as a C. It’s harmless, silly fun, but it needs an injection of actual humor, and its physical production requires improvement.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Below Zero” Starring Javier Gutiérrez, Karra Elejalde, Luis Callejo, Patrick Criado and others. Directed by Lluís Quílez. 106 minutes. Rated R (TV-MA). Captioned. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

I’ve seen only two Europe-built cop movies, the French-made “Bronx/Rogue City” and the Spanish-made “Below Zero.” It’s tough to imagine two more disparate films. I was far more impressed by the movie made south of the Pyrenees than the one produced north of the mountain range.

“Bronx” is a muddled drift into violent amorality, completely eliminating the distinction between what should be the good guys and what should be the bad guys. There is no tension between right and wrong in the film. Everybody is wrong. Del the intellect and Mladen the why-the-fuck-did-I-waste-my-time-watching-this-movie reviewed “Bronx.”

“Below Zero,” well, I’d consider watching this film if I were you. It’s nicely paced, albeit somewhat unbelievable in terms of handling a prisoner transport from one penitentiary to another.

I enjoyed watching our protagonist, Javier Gutiérrez as Martin, transition from straight-laced policeman to a man, a husband, and a father forced into breaking the law. Pay particular attention to the movie toward the very end. Toward the very end starts after Karra Elejade’s Miguel finishes a too-long exposition about a tragedy and the reason he’s chasing Nano, very nicely portrayed by Patrick Criado.

Seriously, even if you start to tire a bit, though you shouldn’t, as the cop drama unfolds, the last several minutes of the film are top notch. The trio of Martin, Miguel, and Nano confront each other. Each has a source of power. Martin, a cop badge. Miguel, heartbreak. Nano, knowledge and nihilism. Pay attention to Nano’s blurt and the grotesqueness of his grin at the very end and Martin’s non-verbal reaction to it. Terrific.

I don’t want to mislead you. The “Below Zero” trio aren’t Tuco, Blondie, and Angel Eyes from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” facing each other at the cemetery before a gunfight. But, the “Below Zero” principals are squared-off in a dead town. They’ve been shoved together by one event. Each represents one aspect of humanity: the moral violator of law, the justified violator of law, and the unrepentant law breaker. Oh, there is a pretty cool isolated frozen pond scene.

“Below Zero” is driven by a well-worn plot trope: Avenging the death of a loved one when conventional law enforcement fails. If you were an upstanding person and you’ve waited and waited for answers about missing kin that never come, what would you do? Would you be willing to sacrifice innocents or lesser criminals to get the answers?

“Below Zero” earns a B+ from me. If Del gives the movie anything less than a B, don’t pay attention. He may be pissed because I gave him the wrong title (I initially called the film “Absolute Zero”) and he had to burn time, though he has scads of it, to try to find the movie on any of the 3 billion streaming services now available to internet-addicted mankind.

Del’s take

Yippie ki yay, muchacho.

For a moment I thought I was watching an American shoot ’em up but no, this is a Spanish film in the spirit of “Death Wish” and “The Limey.” And while I enjoyed “Below Zero,” it is no “John Wick.”

Since ONCE AGAIN Mladen failed to provide a plot summary, allow me. Ahem:

Martin (Javiar Gutiérrez) is a police officer tasked with driving a prisoner transport over some empty, scary Spanish backroads at night. They’re taking a shortcut, which is movie code for “Are you out of your mind? The shortcuts only lead to mayhem!” The transport drives over a spike strip and is disabled. Meanwhile, their escorts end up shot to death, as does Martin’s partner, who goes to investigate. Martin takes refuge with the prisoners in the back of the transport and is taken hostage while the shooter, Miguel (Karra Elejalde), attempts to crack open the secure compartment. He’s determined to get his hands on one prisoner, Nano (Patrick Criado), the man accused of commiting a heinous crime that affected him personally. He wants, no, demands a certain piece of information from Nano.

Many of these movies are about situational ethics – is it OK to bludgeon somebody with a sledgehammer if they’re a monster? The entertainment value springs from the answer, which is often “Yes,” while in the world you and I inhabit we’d go to jail if we took the law into our own hands. “Below Zero” amps up the moral dilemma by posing the question to a police officer, a guy charged with upholding the law, no matter how unfair or unjust it seems.

But the central question casts a much larger shadow than fidelity to the law. The issue at stake is control. Gone are the days when a cantankerous old hombre, fed up with simpering townfolk and an annoying sheriff, could ride off into the sunset and find a place untroubled by laws, regulations or any other limiting mechanism. Each year the number of people on this earth goes up, the available resources go down, and the need to regulate and control what’s left grows exponentially. Without some form of overarching management the whole shootin’ match falls in on itself and the problem is solved by the collapse of civilization.

Movies like “Below Zero” provide us with a momentary respite from the heavy hand of Big Brother and all his uncles, cousins and nephews. What if we could just say “Eff it” to due process and deliver justice that is so dearly and clearly deserved? Well, we can if we live in the fictionalized world of “Below Zero.”

My problem with the movie is that while this notion of rebellion may seem novel to the fine folks of Seville, it’s yesterday’s entertainment to us quarrelsome, warmongering Americans. Our whole country is based on the principle of rebellion.

The movie is well put together and acted, but I think many folks on this side of the Atlantic will watch it and think it’s a light version of similarly themed American movies that have been around for years. Also, I predict a lot of people won’t take kindly to having to read subtitles.

I’ll give it a B so as not to rile up Mladen, and because while I thought it wasn’t especially original, I did enjoy watching it.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Open Road Films and Briarliff Entertainment.

“Honest Thief” Starring hot Kate Walsh, old Liam Neeson, decent bad guy Jai Courtney, remorseful Anthony Ramos, skeptical but open-minded Jeffrey Donovan and others. Directed by Mark Williams. 99 minutes. PG-13. Amazon Prime.

Mladen’s take

“Honest Thief” is an honest-to-goodness mediocre movie. It pulls a C+. The film’s woes in a moment. I’m obliged to provide a summary first to sedate Del’s urge to nag me about it.

Liam Neeson as Tom Carter falls in love with perfect woman Annie Wilkins played by Kate Walsh. Carter decides that the relationship will suffer unless he comes clean with his dark past, which ain’t all that dark if you ask me. Stealing from the rich to keep some for yourself and give some to the poor is OK with me.

Anyway, Tom tries to confess to the FBI that he’s a long-wanted bank robber and cut a deal to serve less time in the hoosegow so that he can spend more time with Annie. As The Fixx will tell you, one thing leads to another and, pretty soon, Tom and Annie are on the run from a couple of corrupt FBI special agents trying to steal the money that he robbed from assorted financial institutions.  

Toss in guilt trips, a murder or two and attempted murders, violations of the oath to serve and protect, EOD expertise, lots of PG-13 gun play, and a healthy house-destroying detonation and you’ve got a pretty standard tale of a somewhat bad man, a thief, attempting to do the right thing, be honest.

Casting old Neeson as an adroit, strong brawler and an ace car driver provokes one of my biggest movie-going peeves. Action films cannot be propelled by aged dudes. And, Neeson is gaunt to boot, so it’s impossible for him to use sheer bulk as the source of a powerful punch. I’m somewhat old and would, no doubt, break many a bone falling from a two-story window whether I’m locked in fisticuffs with a Bureau baddie or not. Hell, I’m not even convinced Tom would be able to lift the uber-drill he uses to break into bank vaults made of thick steel.

Even more of an impossibility is that someone as fine as Annie would fall for a semi-mummy-looking fellow such as Tom. That said, Walsh does a good job making the movie flow. She’s convincing as a girlfriend who goes from disbelieving and troubled that her beau is a bank robber to a willing accomplice intrigued by Tom’s techno-skills.

In fact, it’s getting to the point where I’ll consider watching a movie starring Walsh even if the genre is crap. For example, she was very good in “Grey’s Anatomy.” My daughter made me watch the show.        

“Honest Thief” knows what it is. A passable film that’ll draw a sufficient number of viewers to make some bank. I imagine it also took no more than a week to make, freeing Neeson to shoot another film where he can pretend to be as strong as the 30-year-olds he’s fighting.

Del’s take

I would make a lousy Robin Hood because I am not as sanguine as Mladen about stealing from the rich to give to the poor. I thought the whole point of capitalism was to let people come up with a great idea, work their ass off, sell it for billions of dollars and enjoy the financial fruits of their labor.

Being rich doesn’t mean a person is evil. Breaking the rules and stealing – those things are evil. So with that thought I segue into my critique of “Honest Thief”: It was a decent enough action movie based on a ridiculous premise.

Throughout my viewing of I heard a voice inside telling me, “This is ridiculous. Nobody but NOBODY would behave like this.”

And by “this” I mean what Mladen wrote: “Liam Neeson as Tom Carter falls in love with perfect woman Annie Wilkins played by Kate Walsh. Dolan decides that the relationship will suffer unless he comes clean with his dark past … Tom tries to confess to the FBI that he’s a long-wanted bank robber and cut a deal to serve less time in the hoosegow so that he can spend more time with Annie. As The Fixx will tell you, one thing leads to another and, pretty soon, Tom and Annie are on the run from a couple of corrupt FBI special agents trying to steal the money that he robbed from assorted financial institutions.”

What Mladen omitted in his otherwise acceptable summary was the reason for Tom Carter’s bank-robbing spree. It was to avenge a miscarriage of justice inflicted on his father by a bank. I’m rolling my eyes as I write this.

THAT is a ridiculous premise.

What follows is a corny, formulaic beat-’em-up that explodes every house, falls off every ledge and lands every roundhouse you would expect from a man with a particular set of skills. Liam Neeson gimps his way through the plot with respectable dexterity – I mean, the guy is 68 years old, which is only two years older than yours truly, and I would not want to have my teeth kicked by anybody, much less a corrupt FBI agent. But I would agree with Mladen that maybe he’s a tad long in the tooth for those kinds of roles. To go on would be a mis-taken.

I enjoyed the action and I thought Kate Walsh and Jai Courtney were the standout actors. Neeson was his usual post-AARP good guy with a pacemaker. The characters were props for the action, however, and that’s what I remember best from “Honest Thief.”

Mladen gave the movie a C+. I’ll be a little more generous and say it’s a B-. The unbelievable premise knocks it down from a solid B.

Mladen Rudman is a former newspaper reporter and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former newspaper editor and author.

Image courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

“Ava” Starring Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common and others. Directed by Tate Taylor. 96 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

“Ava,” starring Jessica Chastain as a hitwoman, gets good about halfway through the 96-minute movie. What’s the halfway grade on the scale from A to F? Correct. C. That’s the grade the movie gets from me.

Chastain is a very good actress, but what’s with very good actresses heading toward middle-middle to late-middle age and the urge to do action thrillers? We have Angelina Jolie as “Salt.” We have Charlize Theron as the matriarch of “The Old Guard.” Jennifer Garner is “Peppermint.” I imagine you can name others. Are Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson convincing as kick-your-ass man killers when they look their skins have turned to leather and their muscles are rippled rather than ripped? I loved the “The Expendables” trilogy, but only Antonio Banderas in TE3 looked somewhat like he was nimble enough to dodge bullets.

Ava is a former drunkard and Army super-soldier recruited by one of her then-commanders – played convincingly by John Malkovich as Duke until he fights and nearly kicks the shit out of much younger Simon (Colin Farrell) – to be the assassinator of guys who’ve done serious wrongs but avoided prison time. Simon is the head of the organization that arranges the hits. Duke and Ava, who are friends, too, are employees of said company.

We are led to believe that in most instances Ava moves in, takes out her target, and moves out with barely a ripple in the Force. But, of late, she’s started asking her marks what they had done that warranted the application of her skills before she applied them. For some reason, Simon is disturbed by Ava’s curiosity.

Between offing prominent baddies, Ava struggles with staying sober, tries to bed her sister’s fiancé (who was once Ava’s lover), and works hard and long to mend relations with her ailing mother, played nicely by Geena Davis. OK, so far so somewhat good, but, like pretty much every action thriller, it seems that very few, if any, other soldiers or mercenaries can shoot as good as our likeable but troubled protagonist. Or fight as good as Ava. Or take body blows like Ava, etc.

But, the real problem with the first half of the film is that it’s somewhat uninteresting because A. I could give a shit about her family woes and B. what’s wrong with knocking off a corrupt IMF economist? It’s when the movie gets personal, Ava moving to avenge Duke’s murder, that I started to enjoy the pretty redhead’s acumen and ability to focus.

“Ava” is a C, but that could be a rating that’s the result of my defective preference for straight-up violence. John Wick started puncturing Russian mobsters with knives and bullets because one of them killed his dog (which his wife gifted after her death) and stole his Mustang. I sympathize with both, though much more with the missing muscle car than a puppy. After that, the dead dog and the stolen hot rod were used by the mobsters to express disbelief about Wick’s motivation to kill them moments before he did so. Wick wanted to be left alone, but people kept interfering with his new life as a non-assassin. Ava, well, she’s portrayed as human. She wants to booze. She wants to copulate. She’s troubled by her mother’s, what, callousness and wants to repair their relationship or obtain her affirmation or whatever. Who cares? Not me, until Ava goes vengeful.

If you want to watch a movie about an assassin and the assassin’s detailed backstory, “Ava” is for you. I prefer my killers to be meticulous, stone-cold sociopaths with contempt for humanity, rather than inclination to become part of it.

Del’s take

Much as it pains me I agree with the drift of Mladen’s review. I wasn’t a fan of “Ava.” Ironically, one of the movie’s co-stars appeared as the lead in a superior action flick many years ago. Oh, if “Ava” had only been half as good.

My problem with “Ava” is that it wants to be two movies – the story of Ava the recovering drunk and the story of Ava the badass lady assassin. For an action movie viewpoint character to have flaws is perfectly fine by me, but when half the movie is spent exploring family dynamics and attending 12-step meetings, the distraction of naval-gazing amounts to more than the focus and pacing can bear.

The movie seemed populated with clichéd characters – John Malkovich as the eccentric yet deadly handler, Colin Farrell as the ruthless higher up and Chastain herself as the out-of-control rogue operative who must be exterminated for the sake of the company’s reputation. All this strikes me as VERY familiar. Maybe if they had changed Ava’s name to “Jason.”

Acting was only so-so. Malkovich is good in everything he does but he typically plays one type of character – the kind of guy who, when you walked into your junior year situational ethics class, could be standing at the podium or slouched in the desk next to you. I’ve never understood the draw of Colin Farrell, who strikes me as a tabula rosa kinda guy, and Common was simply awful. I honestly think Shaquille O’Neal could have done a better job reciting those lines.

And then Chastain … what can I say? She was totally wrong for the part. Most of the time she seemed lost and confused, her face an expressionless slate, her eyes wide with … I don’t know, introspection? Valium? Beats me, but the effect was the same. Plus, and this is a biggie, she totally lacked the physicality to play the role. During many of her fight scenes she struck me as slow, uncoordinated and dare I say weak? I wasn’t convinced.

The one redeeming performance came from Geena Davis as Ava’s bitchy, judgmental mom who’s nevertheless happy to have her kid back home, toxic secrets and all. Davis is an actor’s actor and she seemed born into that role, just as she seemed born into all her roles. She was also the star of a much better action flick that some of you old farts may remember, 1996’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” Samantha Caine was the romp ’em, stomp ’em action hero that Ava should have been. If only they had handed Geena a gun.

“Ava” is mostly competent in the details but not so much in the view from 20,000 feet. With a better lead actor and a tightly focused plot it could have been a better movie. From me it gets a C-.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Extraction” Starring Chris Hemsworth, Bryon Lerum, Ryder Lerum, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Shivam Vichare, Randeep Hooda, David Harbour, and others. Directed by Sam Hargrave. 116 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

Think of “Extraction” as a John Wick movie with two John Wicks. The film is as good as “John Wick Chapter 3,” which was less good than “John Wick Chapter 2,” which was less good than “John Wick Chapter 1,” a delightful action blockbuster and the Gold Standard for depicting personal violence on the big screen. “Extraction” is worth seeing. It’s closer to a B+ than an A-. And, don’t confuse this “Extraction” with the “Extraction” starring Bruce Willis. Apparently, the Willis film is the opposite of good.

Hemsworth’s character Tyler is a PMC with a guilty conscience. It’s the guilt that yields some banal chatter between him and his teenaged ward and even, get this, tears. The emotional putridness is what pushes this hostage rescue movie into the upper B range. Hell, I expect touchy feely Del to condemn me for my dislike of the effort to introduce warmth to the movie. So, Del, let me be clear. I find it more endearing that Wick whacked a bunch of people for killing his dog and stealing his classic Ford Mustang than Tyler’s decision to save a privileged youth who lives in a society built on unimaginable inequities. The income gap, houselessness, and medical insurancelessness in America ain’t nothing juxtaposed to what upper caste Indians do to lower caste Indians.

The action, violence, and tension in “Extraction” are a whole ’nother story. Give that subset of the film a sparkling A.

On this side, we have Tyler and his Australian army commando good looks and pumped body and, on the other, Saju, portrayed wonderfully by Randeep Hooda. Tyler and Saju, a former Indian army commando with flowing long, dark hair and chiseled jaw, are initially foes and ally later in the movie to execute the good deed. They are the muscular playthings of a feud between an Indian drug boss and a Bangladeshi drug boss. Much of the action takes place in Dhakka.

The fight sequences of the two Wick mimickers against each other and corrupt Bangladeshi army troops are top-notch choreography. There’s hand-to-hand. There are close-in pistol shots to heads and thoraxes. Thoraxi? Thoraxae? There are assault rifle gun-downs at medium range. And, there are exploding heads via snipers at long distances. Damn fine Wick-y-ness. But, though I hate to admit this, there is one prolonged gun battle toward the middle of the movie that ran too long. It was reminiscent of a battle sequence in “Battle LA” that also held children in peril for an interminable period.

Tyler and Saju absorb wicked abuse. It’s the sort of abuse that none of the other shooters in the movie could take. The PMCs recover faster from lacerations, contusions, and blood loss than Donald Moron Trump and William Stay Puft Barr violate the U.S. Constitution. The good part? There’s no effort to explain Tyler’s and Saju’s resilience by pointing out that they are forces of pure will. The two are well-conditioned dudes with a single goal driven, ultimately, by self‑interest. Plausible.

It would be a mistake to ignore the potent character played by David Harbour, as brief as his appearance in “Extraction” is. Harbour portrays another PMC and is Tyler’s long-time buddy. Slimmed down from his days as the sheriff in “Stranger Things” and imposing, Harbour is terrific as the merciless, though he argued otherwise, mercenary. He almost persuaded me to back doing what he wanted to do. Remarkable. Ten million dollars is a lot of money, after all.

“Extraction” also benefits from a very good original score by Henry Jackman. Its tone fits the film. The score’s moodiness, modernity, despair, and a touch of “everything-will-be-all-right” move the movie by helping pace it and adding atmosphere. Maybe this also means that streaming services are now starting to attract capable composers. What would “Jaws” or “Star Wars” be without John Williams? “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” or “The Thing” without Ennio Morricone? Almost nothing, I argue. To me, the sound in a movie, including its score, is more important than the visuals. That means what? Yep, to enjoy “Extraction” correctly you need an AVR pushing as many speakers as possible at decibels that will annoy your neighbors up and down the block.

Finally, yes, the ending of “Extraction” set up a sequel. Who was that stranger standing poolside?

Del’s take

I expect to visit Mladen one day and find him sunning on a rock with the lizards that make up his band of cold-blooded brothers. He might flick his tongue to catch a fly, then bask in exothermic bliss as he digests his snack, untroubled by emotion or feelings, a Mr. Spock among iguanas.

But enough hissing.

I thought “Extraction” was a much better movie than Mladen’s fussy take and I’m surprised he went in that direction. The movie is a bloodbath that by comparison reduces John Wick to a milquetoast Mr. Rogers guest starring on a Richard Simmons workout video. I was black and blue from just watching it. Sure, Hemsworth gets choked up when remembering the death of his little boy. Who wouldn’t? It was 30 seconds of characterization that lifted Hemsworth from the realm of Van Dammit and Rambot into the arms of relatable human beings. I don’t mind seeing my heroes bleed.

The story is simple: The 14-year-old son of a jailed drug lord is kidnapped by a rival cartel chieftain. The boy’s father is understandably pissed and tells the boy’s chagrined guardian to get him back, or else. You’ve probably watched enough episodes of “Narcos” to know what “or else” means in drug lord-speak. Problem is, the government has frozen the drug lord’s assets, so there’s no money to hire the army necessary to free the boy.

The solution? Hire Thor.

And that’s it. Get the kid back. A hammerless Chris Hemsworth swings into bloody action, laying waste to corrupt Bangladeshi soldiers, hired triggermen, a band of rotten brats sprung from the imagination of a methed-out Charles Dickens, and even a former pal who wants to retire but lacks the necessary funds … until now.

The mayhem is fast and very, very furious with lots of shooting, beatings, car chases, stabbings, and even one scene where Hemsworth pummels a guy into a senseless stupor with a stove pot. It makes a delightful clonky sound and I couldn’t tell if it was coming from the pot or the guy’s head.

Hemsworth’s character, Tyler, is motivated to go above and beyond by the memory of his child. When the boy was diagnosed with a terminal illness, Tyler chose another tour of duty in Afghanistan over remaining stateside to preside over the boy’s decline and eventual death. His wife left him over that – deservedly so. And now he must atone for that sin of abandonment by not abandoning another child in need. Yes, his teenaged ward is the son of a drug lord, as Mladen pointed out. But he’s 14, for Christ’s sake. He hasn’t made any of his life’s choices, except which PornHub channel to bookmark. You can’t blame him for his father’s poor choices.

The movie was well-done in many ways, from the setting to the script and even Hemsworth’s performance, which was not overbaked and in some ways contained surprising and, dare I say it, heartwarming subtleties.

So the movie worked for me and I’m rating it a solid A. The only thing that could top it would be a movie that paired Hemsworth with immortal Charlize Theron to kick Godzilla’s ass. Take THAT, Mladen!

You want action without caricature? You want “Extraction.”

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris and Alec Baldwin. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. 131 minutes. Rated PG.

Mladen’s take

Del knows where my review of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (MI V) is heading. I won’t disappoint him entirely, but he’ll have to be patient.

The movie summary first. MI V is a smooth spy thriller. Solid plot. Well acted. Top notch real stuntman stunts. In short, the discredited and disavowed IMF (Mission Impossible Force) dukes with the CIA and “Rogue Nation” – aka The Syndicate – of allegedly dead spies and hitmen to keep societies from sliding into revolts and wholesale slaughter.

The Syndicate, headed by misguided former British MI6er (I assume) Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) wants to create a New World Order by first destroying the Current World Order. The IMF, led by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), takes on the task of keeping the Rogue Nation from succeeding, though no one or institution, including the CIA, believes it exists. In fact, the CIA, incarnate in the movie as its very stiff, somewhat unconvincing director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), sends a “Special Projects Team” to hunt Hunt and the rest of the IMF.

Hunt’s outlawed IMF, if that’s the way to describe an agency of spooks that legally never existed, ends up a player in a globe-trotting good guys versus bad guys game deftly manipulated by the most intelligent, beautiful, and kick-your-ass woman spy – Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) – ever put on the big screen or, for that matter, any size screen anywhere. Is she an angel or Lucifer? Who cares. It was good that the MI V script was clean and comprehensible because I could barely keep my focus on the movie’s turns and twists when Ferguson was on the screen.

There is a generous dose of humor in the film and stunts that only occasionally foray into the impossible. From what I noticed, MI V has one absurd piece of CGI action. It involves a Beamer launched backwards at high speed during a superbike chase through the streets and open roads of Casablanca, Morocco. Thank goodness for German engineering or Hunt and sidekick Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) would’ve been deader than the pancake-flat squirrel down the road from my home.

Also annoying was the coincidence during the very same motorcycle chase that saw Hunt and Benji re-unite with fellow IMFers William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames).

Finally, and forgive me for repeating myself, MI V would’ve been a better movie had it been made for an R rating. Cussing and blood splatter are musts for films that involve lots of gunfire, treachery, ambitious Government officials pursuing nothing more than power, and mayhem that unfolds in cities full of passing bystanders.  

MI V won’t win any Oscars. But, I’ll say this. It’s well worth seeing in the theater. The B+/A- movie, I can’t decide and I’m trying to stay level headed despite images of Ferguson floating through my mind, also continues Cruise’s streak of very good performances. See or re-see 2014’s “Edge of Tomorrow” to understand what I’m talking about.

Del’s take

I was hoping Mladen would take a cold shower before writing his review of “Rogue Nation.” Instead, I get to mop up his Pavlovian drool – in this case a babe, not a bell, infused his report with such salivary gusto.

I heard before going in that “Rogue Nation” was as good, if not better, than “Mad Max.”


Let me put it this way: If the femme fatales from both movies squared off in a death match, Mladen’s little Ilsa would be roadkill flatter and deader than that squirrel down the road from his house. Furiousa would blow Ilsa to bits with one of those badass canons she carries, then flatten her 18 times with her kickass war rig, and war boys would blast her pancaked remains into smithereens with explosive pig-stickers.

That’s not to say “Rogue Nation” isn’t a good movie. It is, and you should see it in a theater, and if you get the senior citizen discount good on you because once again they mistook me for a younger, more financially capable person, and I paid full matinee price.

“Rogue Nation” features some amazing stunts. We’ve all seen the clip where Tom Cruise clings to the side of an Airbus as it takes off. I found a motorcycle chase sequence to be a lot more hair-raising. And, of course, there were the required heights scenes where Cruise is jumping off something taller than Oprah Winfrey’s couch – c’mon, Tom, I think we get the fact you like dangling from high places. You should run for president.

Sean Harris was a deliciously evil bad guy. I haven’t enjoyed a movie villain that much since Hans Gruber. The MI team members were all capable and funny – would Simon Pegg be anything BUT funny? Tom Cruise continues as an affable movie star – and he IS a movie star. Mladen was right about “Edge of Tomorrow” – you gotta see it.

In the run-up to “Rogue Nation” we caught a preview for “Spectre,” the new James Bond movie. In the lobby was a poster for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” All these spy movies trace their origins to the 1960s, the us-vs.-them mentality of the Cold War, and the very real fear we would fall to the communists. James Bond, Napoleon Solo and Jim Phelps were all that stood between us and Red Square and the Little Red Book. They took their job seriously, and we took them seriously.

THAT is what’s missing from these movies.

We’re not afraid of world domination by a soul-less entity. (We do, after all, shop at Walmart.) We’re afraid our 401(k)s will be eaten up by the looming financial crash. We’re afraid the boss will hand us a pink slip. We’re afraid we’ll end up on the street.

Spy movies no longer have the ability to conjure urgency – at least not like they did in the 1960s. And that’s what I think is missing from “Rogue Nation” – a sense of urgency. Not for Ethan Hunt and his team of comical do-gooders, but for the world itself.

That’s why I’m going to give “Rogue Nation” a B. It’s an entertaining movie, but for me it lacked urgency.

Oh, and it lacked Furiosa.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesyof 20th Century Studios.

“Taken 3” Starring Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, and Maggie Grace. Directed by Olivier Megaton. 109 minutes. Rated PG-13

Del’s take

There were three of us and we wanted to see three different movies. The candidates were “Blackhat,” “The Imitation Game” and “Taken 3.” Guess which “mindless entertainment” prevailed?

Watching 63-year-old Liam Neeson beat up half of Albania isn’t mindless entertainment for this geezer, who remembers playing tennis from dawn to dusk, and could no sooner do that now than pass a high school algebra test. It’s validation that if I really, really wanted to do it, I could lose the gut, get back into shape, and menace the bad guys in ways that don’t involve flashing my AARP card in their faces.

That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

In “Taken 3” we return to the world of Bryan Mills, an ex-covert ops specialist who’s family has been favored by kidnappers. This time the action takes place in a version of Los Angeles that does not feature traffic-choked freeways and cynical journalists – clearly we’re talking science fiction. Mills is framed for a murder he didn’t commit and after beating up a sizeable contingent of cops he escapes to a bolthole where he’s able to refresh, replenish, and re-apply the Grecian Formula. Cars crash, fists fly and guns blaze. Somehow Neeson comes out of it with nary an adult diaper mussed.

The first act is excruciatingly slow, prompting Mladen to ask if “Taken 3” was a documentary. No, Mladen. It’s a frightening representation of most people’s lives. But I agree to an extent – I’m tired of the soap opera theatrics between Mills, his ex-wife and her current husband. And I hope the daughter, now enrolled in college, is majoring in something other than Being a Victim because her sullen helplessness grates on my nerves.

Acts two and three are where “Taken” earns its stripes as “mindless entertainment.” The action is almost non-stop as Neeson gallomps (not “gallop” … he’s too old for that these days) from one cliffhanger to the next with Forest Whitaker in tepid pursuit. The Big Reveal is telegraphed fairly early in the story, and one plot element fails spectacularly – I won’t say what except it involves the functionality of a certain device.

Neeson still rocks as Bryan Mills but I’d say “Taken 3” is the weakest of the three. Everyone and everything is limned in a kind of drabness that suggests the vein has been mined, and it’s time to move on.

If the menu calls for mindless entertainment, “Taken 3” might by worth a taste. Be sure to ask for the senior citizen discount.

Mladen’s take

Del has done you a disservice. “Taken 3” isn’t mindless entertainment. For me it was very thought-provoking as I developed the list to mock the movie. 

“Taken 3” is partly a sensitive chick flick-like film. The director gives you lots of tight face shots that amply demonstrate it’s better to be young than old. Less wrinkles. Better teeth. Sparklier eyes. Megaton infects a large chunk of the film with ordinary life dialogue to try to force viewers into liking the characters. What? Was he thinking the Academy would give him the nod with a best director nomination for an Oscar? No. Megaton has created a megaflop.

The movie also goes to great lengths to explain itself. I counted at least three plot summaries or, maybe more accurately, plot-gap fillers. And, unfortunately, the ending suggests that “Taken 4” is on the way.

Other weaknesses:

“Taken 3” could have risen to semi-good, but no higher, with a simple touch.

The movie should’ve been made with an R rating in mind. There were plenty of opportunities for hard-core cussing and graphic violence. Instead, the viewer gets a slit throat that leaves a couple of drops on the floor and a blouse its original color. When a hit man blows out his brains through the mouth rather than fess up about his boss, there’s no gray and white matter splatter or remains on the glass of the convenience store refrigerator behind him.

The line at the theater box office was long. Kari, I saw “Taken 3” with her and Del, got to the theater first and bought our tickets. Because she, colluding with Del, forced me to strike 109 minutes from my life to watch this silly movie I have no intention of paying her back.  

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Relativity Media.

“Immortals” Starring Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, John Hurt. Directed by Tarsem Singh. 110 minutes. Rated R.

Del’s take

OK, Mom and Dad. Do not – I repeat, do NOT – take the kiddies to see “Immortals.” If you do, I suggest when you get home you immediately hide the family sledgehammer. Yes, in “Immortals,” somebody does something very bad with a sledgehammer. We’re talking back-alley vasectomy. We wouldn’t want the kiddies getting any ideas.

You might also want to hide the kitchen knives, any random chains you’ve got hanging around, pikes, swords – heck, just hide everything. Or better, do NOT take the kiddies to see “Immortals.”

Because it’s a bloodbath – an empty, silly, thoroughly predictable yet exquisitely choreographed bloodbath. Take strawberries, tomatoes, cherry Jell-O, berry-flavored Kool-Aid, and dump them into a blender. Leave the top off and hit the “on” button. That’ll give you a visceral preview of “Immortals.” Oh, and you get to clean up the mess.

In “Immortals,” the gods have won their war against the Titans, imprisoning them within a mountain. But a power-mad human king, Hyperion (played with vicious gusto by Mickey Rourke) decides he must have a WMD, something called the Epirus Bow, with which he may free the Titans and rain destruction on all of Greece. The gods are bound by law not to interfere in the matters of men (probably a part of Obama’s health care plan), but Zeus (Luke Evans/John Hurt) has been secretly preparing a human peasant, Theseus (Henry Cavill), to lead the Greeks to triumph over Hyperion. When Hyperion’s men slay Theseus’ mother, and Theseus encounters a virgin vision-seer (Freida Pinto, who doesn’t remain a virgin very long – oops, spoiler alert!) who sees his role in the upcoming battle, Theseus embarks on a bloody quest to avenge his mother’s death and make the world safe for Democrats. OK, maybe that’s stretching it.

If you go into “Immortals” expecting any kind of high-concept art, you’ll be disappointed. It is not “Being There” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Heck, it’s not even “Star Wars.”

Or maybe it is. What separates “Immortals” from movies like, say, “Transformers,” is that it does have a plot, albeit a predictable plot sans any pleasant surprises along the way. Director Tarsem has constructed a visual machine that performs its work with the ritual synchronicity of an assembly line at a Ford plant.

It also has lots and lots of flesh – pretty boys with perfectly sculpted abs and luscious women whose attributes, be they God-given or enhanced by prosthetics, suggest that life in the B.C. days had definite virtues.

But it’s the fight scenes in “Immortals” that make the movie worth seeing. If you thought Jet Lee, the Wachowski brothers and Quentin Tarrantino had mined that vein for all it’s worth, think again. “Immortals” carries the movie fight scene to an unprecedented and bloody apex, giving the viewer a slow-mo entrée to a feast of exploding heads, cartwheeling body parts and severed torsos, all of it presented in breathtaking operatic melodrama.

I recommend seeing it in 2D. The 3D version contributes practically nothing to the viewing experience.

“Immortals” is not for the squeamish. It’s not for the thoughtful moviegoer.

But if you’re looking for nearly two hours of escapist fun – and you’re not warping your children’s minds – you’ll enjoy “Immortals.”

Out of 10 stars I give it seven.

Mladen’s take

The film “Immortals” starts with a vision by a soon-to-be defrocked virgin oracle and ends with her glimpse of the future coming true. Between, the movie is filled with slick scenes of slaughter that only an R rating permits.

Immortals is loosely based on Greek mythology.

Gods, led by father Zeus and fearful of another internecine war with Titans, hope that a mortal becomes their savior. Theseus, portrayed by Henry Cavill, is nudged by fate and faith to fight against Hyperion, played by Mickey Rourke. Hyperion, a commander of vast legions, wants to free Titans to avenge cruelties that he and his family endured because Gods refused to intervene on their behalf. But, before Hyperion can achieve his desire, he has to fight Hellenes, and Theseus, defending the mountain where Titans are imprisoned.

As the heroes – Theseus and Gods – and antiheroes – Hyperion and Titans – edge closer to battle, Immortals tries to teach us lessons.

Theseus and his mother are peasants and abused by prominent members of the cliffside village where they live, so there’s a subtheme of class warfare.

Theseus, an unbeliever at the beginning of the movie, transforms into a man of faith. Hyperion, once a believer in Gods, scorns them. Guess which one survives the epic hand-to-hand combat at Immortal’s end? So, we are taught that those who bow to the will of Gods prevail and those who fail to genuflect, die. What crap.

Morals aren’t the strength of Immortals, but, I suppose, something had to be devised to bundle the movie’s virtue: gorgeous, stylized carnage.

Theseus sweeps through squads of Hyperion’s men with ballet-like precision, puncturing abdomens and heads with spears, slicing necks with swords, and, once, blasting them with electromagnetic arrows of the Epirus bow.

Though the peasant warrior’s magic with all objects sharp and pointy was impressive, nothing compared to the vivid gore that enveloped the screen when Gods or Titans warred. I’ll stop here to keep from spoiling the scenes, but wait until you see god Aries dispatch a half-dozen of Hyperion’s men in slow motion about halfway through the movie. The battle between Gods, who dress like sissies, and Titans, who look like corpuscular ash, is absolutely luscious.

Del and I saw Immortals in 3-D, though it isn’t necessary to enjoy the movie. The cinematography is bright enough, I suspect, to make Immortals very watchable in just plain 2-D, as long as the theater packs a good sound system.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.