Friday, January 20, 2017

XXX: Return of Xander Cage review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Vin Diesel is back as Xander Cage in XXX: Return of Xander Cage

            Action badass, Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious franchise, Riddick trilogy, Guardians of the Galaxy) is back as athletic secret agent, Xander Cage in the third installment of the XXX film trilogy. XXX: Return of Xander Cage marks the first XXX movie in over ten years as well as the first film from Revolution Studios since The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep in 2007.
            The first XXX movie, released in 2002, and directed by Fast & the Furious director, Rob Cohen, was one of the many films I love watching when seeking dumb popcorn entertainment. I loved it when I was younger and I still enjoy it to this day, it isn’t a perfect film in any way but it delivered crazy action sequences, cheesy one-liners, and it helped make Diesel a likable action star.
            Upon release, the reception for the first movie was very mixed and was even nominated for a Razzie award, and honestly I don’t get it. I’m not defending it as a great movie but it’s an enjoyable film to turn your brain off too, I guess critics at the time were expecting something on par with the Bond or Bourne films, which is fitting because The Bourne Identity and the final James Bond movie with Pierce Brosnan, Die Another Day came out the exact same year the first XXX movie did.
            The good news is the mixed reception didn’t stop the movie from getting a sequel, the bad news is it was XXX: State of the Union. Released in 2005 and Vin Diesel and Rob Cohen were replaced by Ice Cube and Lee Tamahori, due to Diesel passing on reprising the role to star in that piece of family-friendly bullshit, The Pacifier and Cohen directing the disastrous, Stealth, and guess what? State of the Union flopped…for good %^&#ing reasons.
            Twelve years later, Diesel dons the fur coat once again in XXX: Return of Xander Cage and in the director’s chair is D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea, Disturbia, I Am Number Four), and it delivers exactly what the title promises. The film fixed my #1 problem with State of the Union, I’m serious, Sony should wake up tomorrow morning and see how Paramount succeeded in what they failed at, track down all the XXX: State of the Union DVDs in the world, and destroy them.
            The film follows extreme athlete turned government agent, Xander Cage (Diesel), thought to be long dead, coming out of self-imposed exile and is recruited by the CIA to obtain a powerful weapon known as Pandora’s Box, that can manipulate military satellites and pretty much transform them into giant nukes of destruction before a super-terrorist named Xiang (Donnie Yen-Once Upon a Time in China II, Iron Monkey, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) can use it. Xander puts together a team of thrill-seeking cohorts and they go through with the mission, but he soon finds himself in a conspiracy of corruption among world governments including insiders of his own country.
            The film also stars Deepika Padukone (Cocktail, Chennai Express, Finding Fanny) as Serena Unger, Kris Wu (Somewhere Only We Know, Journey to the West 2, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) as Harvard “Nicks” Zhou, Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, John Wick: Chapter 2) as Adele Wolf, Tony Jaa (Ong Bak trilogy, Skin Trade, Furious 7) as Talon, Nina Dobrev (Away from Her, Chloe, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Rebecca “Becky” Clearidge, Samuel L. Jackson (Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction, Marvel Cinematic Universe) reprising his role from the first two films as NSA Agent Augustus Eugene Gibbons, Toni Collette (About a Boy, Little Miss Sunshine, Krampus) as Jane Marke, singer, Nicky Jam as Lazarus, Rory McCann (Hot Fuzz, Clash of the Titans, Game of Thrones) as Tennyson “The Torch”, Michael Bisping (Plastic, Strike Back) as Hawk, newcomer, Ariadna Gutiérrez as Gina Rolf, Hermione Corfield (Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, Mr. Holmes, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Ainsley, former NFL player, Tony Gonzalez as Paul Donovan, and Ice Cube (Boyz N The Hood, Friday trilogy, 21 Jump Street) reprises his role from XXX: State of the Union as Darius Stone.
            Overall, XXX: Return of Xander Cage is a satisfying return to the XXX franchise, though it probably won’t win over any new viewers. If you’re looking for something intelligent or challenge your mind, you will probably have a miserable time with this movie because this film is stupid, but it’s the right kind of stupid.
            It’s on the same level of dumb films like Independence Day or the first Transformers movie, where its stupidity leads to great entertainment and you can let it pass as fun. Undeniably flawed and doesn’t do much new with its genre, but if you love watching extreme stunts, things blowing up, and lots of one-liners, you’ll have a lot of fun here.
            The movie gets ridiculous very quickly, characters do a lot of implausible things during action scenes, a character using mechanical fists to fight, motorcycles with built in jet skis, and blowing up a plane by flying it into a falling satellite. XXX is officially a superhero franchise, literally right down to making an obvious reference to a certain franchise when Samuel L. Jackson is recruiting a new XXX agent.
            This is how you follow-up XXX correctly and thanks to this movie I am down to see a XXX 4 sometime in the future. Return of Xander Cage is fun, State of the Union is anything but, and it delivers (so far) the best quote I’ve heard all year, Rock, Paper, Scissors, Grenade Launcher, well played XXX.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Monster Trucks review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: ** out of 4
Lucas Till’s got something wild in his truck in Monster Trucks

            Talk about a film that came out twenty years too late, what do 90s kids love? Cars and big trucks, aliens, and things that are extreme and totally rad. Let’s put all these elements together but here’s the catch, let’s wait until the late 2010s to release this movie, at a time where Marvel Comics movies and resurrected Star Wars movies are the big bucks around here.
            And that’s one of the many problems with Monster Trucks, the latest family adventure from Nickelodeon and director and Blue Sky Studios alumni, Chris Wedge (Ice Age, Robots, Epic). When I first saw the trailer, I was (somewhat) interested in seeing it, a movie about trucks that are literally operated by monsters, sounded kind of fun.
            Despite an imaginative concept, the movie fails to deliver on it, and the result is a lazy rehash of much better sci-fi adventure films, forgettable characters, really bad CGI although the design of the monster was kind of creative, and top it all off with really forced humor and insufferable jokes. The plot of this movie is literally if you take the premises of E.T. and Lilo & Stitch and add trucks to it…connect the dots folks.
            The film follows high school senior, Tripp Coley (Lucas Till-Walk the Line, X-Men franchise, MacGyver) who builds his own truck out of pieces of scrapped cars in a junkyard in hopes to escape his miserable life and town. After an accident occurs at an oil-drilling site displaces an unknown subterranean creature, Tripp meets the creature literally named Creech (Accurate Name!) who apparently can transform into an engine for his truck, not to mention he has a serious addiction to motor oil.
            Tripp befriends Creech and the two of drive around town looking cool and impress his classmate and tutor, Meredith (Jane Levy-Suburgatory, Evil Dead (2013), Don’t Breathe). But their friendship may be in jeopardy as a government organization is closing in on Creech and will do anything they can to capture him, also they got his parents.
            With the help of Tripp’s paraplegic junkyard boss, Mr. Weathers (Danny Glover-The Color Purple, Lethal Weapon franchise, 2012) and a scientist named Dr. Jim Dowd (Thomas Lennon-Herbie: Fully Loaded, 17 Again, The Dark Knight Rises) they must infiltrate the organization, save Creech’s parents, and bring them back home before it’s too late.
            The film also stars Amy Ryan (War of the Worlds (2005), The Office, Goosebumps) as Tripp’s mother, Cindy Coley, Rob Lowe (Saturday Night Live, Austin Powers trilogy, The Invention of Lying) as the film’s antagonist, Reece Tenneson, Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, True Grit (2010), Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) as Cindy’s at-home boyfriend and sheriff, Rick, Holt McCallany (Fight Club, Heroes, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) as Reece’s henchman, Burke, Frank Whaley (The Twilight Zone, World Trade Center, Gotham) as Tripp’s estranged father and Cindy’s ex-husband, Wade Coley, and Tucker Albrizzi (Treasure Buddies, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, ParaNorman) as Tripp’s friend Sam.
            Overall, Monster Trucks is a big disappointment, aside from a few moments of fun, some of the car chases can be entertaining to watch. But whenever the characters aren’t in a truck, it’s about as fun as vehicular manslaughter (and by that, I mean being the victim).
            The film relies so heavily on CGI and it’s not very impressive; every chase scene has CG all over the place and not once was I convinced that what was shown on-screen was really there. I thought the design of the monsters was a little neat (Despite looking like something that belonged in Men in Black) but the effects of him controlling the car and jumping around, they look more like effects that belong in Flubber, which came out years before this.
            CGI aside, the movie also fails to give an emotional connection with the characters, the main characters are about as interesting as a Nickelodeon or Disney Channel sitcom. I love Lucas Till as an actor, but his character is a complete tool and I was never invested in what was going to happen to him.
            Besides the sci-fi movie rehashing, you can figure out very quickly what kind of plot clichés the film will rely on. The awkward teen who wants to impress a girl with a cool car, and he’s got a chubby best friend as the comic relief, and a one-dimensional bully.
            However, this film managed to surprise me with something about the side characters, none of them make an impression, the bully only appears twice (and another scene from a window) in the movie and never does anything and before the climax the last time we’ve seen the best friend was the beginning of the movie, I completely forgot he was even a character.
            Monster Trucks isn’t the worst film under the Nickelodeon name, that dishonor still goes to The Last Airbender, but I can consider it far from being one of their good films. It’s mostly harmless and if you got little kids that just want to see monsters and trucks, it’d probably be a fine distraction but that’s it.
            Aside from that, this “Truck” belongs in the junkyard and your money should go to Moana, Sing, or Rogue One.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Silence review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** ½ out of 4
Andrew Garfield searching for his missing priest mentor in Silence

Seriously is there something director, Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street) can’t do? We all know Scorsese is known for his gangster films like Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed, but once in a while he’ll step aside from that genre and pull off something completely different, the 2010 thriller, Shutter Island, the 2011 3D family adventure, Hugo, and now the historical epic, Silence, based on the novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo.
I practically came into this movie blind, I’ve only seen the trailer once in theaters, before Allied I believe, and several film enthusiasts and critics raved about this movie. So being a fan of Scorsese’s work in the past, I was intrigued to check it out.
Yep, everything you’ve heard about this movie, true, Silence is a really, REALLY good movie. Which is strange because I’m not a fan of films where Christianity is the focus, not because they’re bad or anything but the concepts of a lot of these movies range from generic to Ludacris (Ahem, Noah!).
But the way Scorsese tells the story of Silence, it feels new, despite Christianity being a very clichéd concept to depict in motion pictures. He makes the story feel like you’re hearing it for the first time.
The film follows two Christian missionaries named Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield-The Social Network, The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver-Lincoln, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) who travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor, Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson-Schindler’s List, Batman Begins, Taken) after he supposedly gave up his Christian religion. Upon arriving to Japan, the two missionaries face the ultimate test of faith at a time when Christianity is outlawed and the presence of any Christian artifacts is forbidden.
After experiences with torture, executions, and even watching Christians get their heads chopped off just for their religion, Sebastiao and Francisco will do whatever it takes to show the peaceful route and hopefully find their mentor.
Overall, Silence is a breathtaking experience and it shows that Martin Scorsese can step outside of his gangster comfort zone and pull off something spectacular. Despite being almost three hours long, the film kept my interest from start to finish.
Why? Because good characters, strong storytelling, and smart writing, whenever something bad happens to a character in this film you feel for that character. It helps to have an emotional connection when the acting feels authentic, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are amazing in this movie and you want to see them succeed (side note, is it bad that I take Adam Driver a lot more seriously in this than I do in Star Wars?), and while Liam Neeson’s performances is strong, there’s not much focus on him and he’s more of a side character.
My only real nitpick of the movie is there are some scenes that go on for too long, they don’t wreck the movie or anything like that but as I was watching the film there were times where I was like “Yeah, you could have cut that”. Thankfully there’s not very many scenes that made me feel like that, and it’s soon made up with intense drama.

It’s a great Martin Scorsese film, not one of my all-time favorites but I’d be damned if I didn’t say Silence made me look at the world from a whole new perspective. This is by far the best religious film I’ve ever seen; Passion of the Christ can fall “Silent” now for all I care.