xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

Posted on January 19, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Copyright 2016 Paramount

This ridiculous but ridiculously entertaining third chapter in the “XXX” action series is basically script by Mad Libs: Let’s have Vin Diesel in a . Which is how we get a motorcycle race over water and a ski jump into jungle. Plus a shoot-out in zero gravity. And why not. Sick of winter? Tired of the news? Here is a summer movie in January, with chases and explosions for days, badassery of all kinds, and many thousand yard stares, all presented for your delectation in gorgeous IMAX 3D.

So, to recap. In the first XXX movie, released in 2002, extreme sports and extreme tattoo anti-hero and adrenaline junkie Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) was recruited by federal agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to do some tasks that normal military and government operatives were not cool and crazy enough to do. Chapter 2, “XXX: State of the Union” (2005) had Ice Cube stepping in for the reportedly deceased Cage. Twelve years later, it turns out that Xander Cage was just too cool to kill. He’s been enjoying life with crazy stunts and beautiful ladies. But tracks him down because has to be taken away from , and so once again his special skills are needed.

That special ops boss is Marke, played by Toni Collette as though she is doing a bad drag queen impression of herself, as opposed to the good drag queen impression she did in “Connie and Carla.” She helpfully provides X with a team of military tough guys. He dispatches them quickly by throwing them off a plane and rounds up his own Benneton ad of a team, a motley crew of wisecracking with and no fear: “the bad, the extreme, the completely insane,” we are reminded, as though that isn’t the very reason we are there. The movie helpfully skips over exposition that might get in the way of chases, explosions, shoot-outs, fight scenes, and quippy threats and bragging by providing helpful title cards for each character outlining, like Power Point on crack, their most significant achievements, characteristics, and useful other information like their go-to karaoke song or the fact that one of them, meeting with Samuel L. Jackson, thinks he is being recruited for the Avengers.

Everyone loves to run, jump, shoot, and fight except for Nina Dobrev as the Velma of this Scooby-Doo crowd, with oversize glasses, super-duper tech ability, and an inability to stop talking around X. She babbles anything that comes into her mind, explaining so thoroughly (in the world of this movie, more than six words in a row is a monologue) that she is not a field agent that we know eventually she will have to shoot a gun at someone, and adding, as she swoons over X’s muscles, “It’s not that I have a safe word or anything; it’s kumquat.”

X-Men style, this Island of Lost Toys bunch of misfits keeps shifting loyalties, so, gets to fight and fight alongside , too. It’s all delightfully preposterous but crazy fun and .

Parents should know that this film includes constant action-style peril and violence, chases, explosions, assault weapons, knives, terrorism, sexual innuendo and non-explicit situation, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Do you agree with Xander’s comment about rebels and tyrants? How do the characters decide when to be loyal and who to be loyal to?

If you like this, try: the earlier “xXx” movies and the “Transporter” and “Fast and Furious” series

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3D Action/Adventure IMAX Series/Sequel Spies


Posted on September 7, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Acohol
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril, dire and tense real-life situation, airplane near-crash
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 9, 2016
Date Released to DVD: December 19, 2016 ASIN: B01LBWHQRA
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers

Pay attention to the numbers in “Sully,” the new movie from director Clint Eastwood, with Tom Hanks as “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who lost both engines and landed his plane safely on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. 208 is the number of seconds that Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) had from the time two “bird strikes” took out both of the plane’s engines. 1549 was the number of the United flight, an Airbus A320-214 flying from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to a stopover at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. 155 is the number of people whose lives were saved by Sully’s quick thinking. And 17 — I will let you find out for yourself why that number matters in one of the film’s key turning points.

We know what happened. No one can forget those images of the passengers standing on the wings of the plane on the river in freezing weather. And 208 seconds, no matter how tense and exciting, is not enough for a film. Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki sets the film in the days after the “controlled ditching” (that is the technical term), as Sully and Skiles are lauded as heroes by the media and cross-examined with skepticism by the investigating authorities, overseen by the National Transportation Safety Board. The facts were improbable, even unimaginable. The panel chair (“Glee’s” Mike O’Malley) notes dryly that they have never before listened to the “black box” recording in the presence of the people on the tape. Everyone in the room knows that is because they were all dead. When asked about “the crash,” Skiles interrupts to correct the choice of words: “It was not a crash. It was a ditching, a forced water landing.”

Even Sully, following the intensity of the emergency landing and his concern for what he refers to as the “155 souls” on board, including the crew, is in something of a daze. He is peppered with questions: “When did you last have a drink? Are you having trouble at home?” He is interviewed by Katie Couric and appears with the crew on David Letterman’s show. And yet, he is facing a challenge every bit as daunting and far more complex than losing two engines at a low altitude. There is the relentless, often hostile, dissection of every one of those 208 seconds through an extensive government investigation and the media spotlight, reviewing every decision, every risk assessment, every protocol. Was that second engine really out? Could they have made it to a runway in New Jersey? The only questions tougher and more suspicious than those of the investigators are those Sully asks himself. He is numb from the trauma of the forced landing and especially from the excruciation hours until he was told that all 155 souls were safe.

The script from screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, based in part on Sullenberger’s book, is one of the most well-crafted, tightly constructed screenplays of the year, efficient in providing us the information we need without getting us lost in technical jargon, and making each return to the seconds of crucial decision-making more revealing and more compelling. Hanks, as always, is superb in conveying the ultimate of decency and integrity. And I promise, after this, when they recite the safety details at the beginning of your flight, you will listen.

Parents should know that this movie has extreme, intense peril with some disturbing images. Characters drink and use some strong language.

Family discussion: What experience and character qualities made it possible for Sully to think through his options so quickly and figure out a way to save everyone on board? Were any of the questions they were asked unfair?

If you like this, try: “Apollo 13” and “Captain Phillips,” two other fact-based films with Tom Hanks in charge of a vessel in trouble.

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week IMAX

The Walk

Posted on October 1, 2015 at 12:17 pm

If you have vertigo or acrophobia, you will have trouble with “The Walk,” the story of Frenchman Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center. If you don’t have vertigo or acrophobia, you might have after you watch the movie, with the most stunningly realistic 3D effects ever put on screen. At least I think they’re still just on the screen. It sure feels like it goes on way, way behind it.

Copyright 2015 Sony
Copyright 2015 Sony

“Man on Wire,” a documentary about Petit’s 1974 stunt, or, as he might prefer to say, coup, won an Oscar in 2008. In this film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with an accent that just manages to avoid Pepe LePew dimensions, plays Petit, a street performer who saw a photograph of the World Trade Center in the waiting room of his dentist and was instantly consumed with the dream of a walk in the sky, more than 1300 feet above the sidewalk, between the towers. Like Petit himself, the movie does not bother with the question of why this might be a good thing to do. If pressed, he might just say, like Mallory, “Because it’s there.” The problem is that he doesn’t have an answer but still keeps talking and talking. For no reason we keep going back to Petit narrating the story from the torch of the Statue of Liberty. It is distracting and dull.

Petit could not or would not articulate it, but I think I know why. When huge institutions get together to create a world-record setting edifice — taller than the Eiffel Tower, the Frenchman notes — there is something irresistibly enticing about coming back as a lone soul and literally topping it. Director Robert Zemeckis, who can get more excited about the technology than the story in his films, may identify with that challenge. Petit wanted to walk across the sky, with an audience to appreciate it. And Zemeckis wants to recreate that experience for us, taking us to the roof of the Towers, and inviting us to look down.

Still, while we love movies about dreamers of impossible dreams who make them come true, we do like to have a reason, and Petit edges over the line from audacious dreamer to inconsiderate narcissist, despite Gordon-Levitt’s considerable appeal. This lends a hollow quality, overcome less from the story of the film to what is in our own hearts as we watch, knowing what the tragedy that lies ahead for the World Trade Center.

What works well in the first part of the film is Petit’s tutorials with a tightrope master played by Sir Ben Kingsley and the procedural elements once Petit and his team get to New York and start preparing as though they are getting ready to rob a bank. Indeed, it becomes a heist film of a sort because they have to find different ways to sneak into a building that is still under construction and gather the information they need to figure out how to install the cable and keep it from swaying or buckling. And then to install it. There are a lot of problems along the way, including Petit stepping on a nail and injuring his foot and dropping his black turtleneck from the roof when he is trying to assume his performer persona. They omit, however, my favorite detail from the documentary: Petit explains that in America, if there’s pencil in your pocket everyone assumes you are part of the construction team and are entitled to be there. Like the loss of the buildings themselves, Petit’s ability to exploit lax security is a poignant reminder of what we no longer have.

The last half hour or so of the film is breathtaking and well worth the price of admission in IMAX 3D. You will feel that you are on the tightrope with Petit. As the crowd gathers below and the police arrive (who thought a police helicopter would be a good idea?), Petit is suspended in the clouds, mentally, emotionally, and physically. For just a moment, Zemeckis and Gordon-Levitt bring us up there with him, and his dream, however frivolous and ephemeral, becomes ours.

Parents should know that this film has very risky and dangerous behavior, vertiginous 3D effects, brief nudity, some strong language, and smoking and drinking.

Family discussion: What big dream would you like to make come true? Who would you want to be your team?

If you like this, try: the documentary “Man on Wire”

Related Tags:


3D Based on a true story Drama IMAX


Posted on September 17, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Copyright 2015 Universal
Copyright 2015 Universal

This is why we can’t have nice things. As the brief history at the beginning of “Everest” points out, the first successful group to reach the summit of the world’s tallest mountain was led by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. The mountain was the exclusive province of hardy adventurers. But then four decades later, commercial tour groups began to clog the mountain. This made it possible for people who had no business to be there to arrive with certain expectations that people who were being paid to guide them were under a lot of pressure to deliver on. And the crowding itself made it more difficult to keep everyone safe.

Writer Jon Krakauer went on one of those trips for Outside Magazine in 1996, when a huge storm and some bad decisions resulted in the deaths of twelve climbers. His best-selling book, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster is the basis for this movie.

The scenery is spectacular, and the 3D IMAX cinematography is literally breathtaking, especially when one climber slips on a precarious ladder across a gorge and we get a vertiginous view straight down. But the people blocking the scenery never come alive to us as characters, partly because most of the time they are wearing near-identical parkas with hoods and speaking through masks or covered with snow, so it is impossible to tell them apart, and partly because so many of them are arrogant idiots. It is difficult to keep the characters straight, much less connect to them, and impossible to feel sympathy for people who make so many bad choices and then go to a place where the altitude, as high as the pressurized cabins of commercial aircraft, literally swells the brain so that thinking is impaired even further.

There are things we do because we dare. And there are things we do because we have big egos and $65,000. Asked repeatedly why they are climbing, no one has a good answer. Some echo Mallory: “Because it’s there!” but the very act of quoting someone else about daring undermines that spirit.

A woman from Japan (Naoko Mori) says that she has already climbed the other six peaks of the world’s seven tallest mountains. A man from Texas (Josh Brolin) wearing a Dole/Kemp t-shirt to make sure we know he’s a proud Republican, says he feels depressed when he’s not on a mountain — and that when his wife (Robin Wright) says she would divorce him if he went on another climb, he went on this one without telling her. A mailman/carpenter (John Hawkes) wants to tell the schoolchildren who helped him raise the money for the trip that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Everyone else kind of mushes together.

Then there are the two rival tour guides, the only distinctive and relatable characters. Rob (Jason Clarke) is a tender-hearted New Zealander with a pretty pregnant wife (Keira Knightley) waiting back home. Scott (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a seemingly laid-back American who beams beatifically when he says “It’s all good,” but points out that all of his group made it to the top when Rob’s group has not.

The film touches on important issues of hubris and the impact of commercialization turing an area that was for thousands of years reserved for the hardiest of adventurers into a playground for people with too much money and too little judgment, but frustratingly abandons them for an increasingly confusing storyline. We know a lot of things are going wrong, but it is difficult to tell what is happening to which climber and where they are in relation to each other. The anguished faces of the people trying to make contact do not come close in impact to that one moment on the bridge.

Parents should know that this film depicts real-life events of extreme peril with many characters injured and killed, very sad deaths, some disturbing images, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What changes would you recommend to prevent these kinds of fatalities in the future? What would you say to Rob in those final conversations if you were Helen? If you were Jan?

If you like this, try: “Touching the Void,” a gripping documentary about another real-life mountain climbing accident and Jon Krakauer’s book about the events of this film

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a true story Drama IMAX

Edge of Tomorrow

Posted on June 5, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Are there moments you would like to relive, so you could make a different choice?edgeoftomorrow poster

It’s a universal fantasy that has played out many times in books and films. It can be a gift (About Time). It can be a curse, though a curse with some benefits that could involve saving the world, personal growth, and falling in love (“Groundhog Day,” “Source Code”). In “Edge of Tomorrow,” Tom Cruise plays Major Bill Cage, a slick military officer who stays far away from the fighting by handling press relations for the global effort to defeat mechanical spider-y aliens called Mimics. A general (Brendan Gleeson) wants to send him to the front to get footage of the battle. Cage’s usual smooth patter fails to dissuade him, so he tries blackmail, which so infuriates the general he is demoted and sent to the front, not to shoot movies but to shoot Mimics. He gets hollered at by a Kentucky non-com named Major Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), thrown into a exo-skeletal fighting suit, and dropped from a plane, where he gets killed. End of story.

Except that it isn’t. Cage somehow has been caught up in a time loop that keeps bringing him back to that rude awakening in Farell’s division. Like a video game character, when he gets killed, the system is reset and no one but he remembers that it has all happened before. Over and over, he repeats the same actions. No matter what he does, nothing changes until in the midst of battle he meets up with the war’s most decorated soldier, Rita (Emily Blunt), who looks him in the eye and says, “Come find me when you wake up.”

It feels like a nightmare, but it is not. To explain more about what is going on would be to spoil some of this highly entertaining film’s best surprises.  Director Doug Liman and editor James Herbert are terrific at using the re-sets to add energy to the storyline rather than bogging it down.  They use different angles and pacing to help us keep it all straight, even though sometimes we follow Cage back to his original starting point and sometimes we join him well into another foray, not realizing until just the right moment how many tries it took him to get to that point.  Liman deftly plays the rinse-and-repeat familiarity for both us and Cage as comedy and as thriller as needed. Big props to the creature designers, too.  The Mimics are like lethal tumbleweeds made of razorblades, moving at hyperspeed.

Cruise describes himself on Twitter as “running in movies since 1981,” but growing up in movies is something he has done just as often.  He is just right as the slick and callow advertising man turned press relations officer who has to find a way to stay alive and then find a way to save the world.  Blunt is excellent as the battle-worn veteran.  As Cage has to find his inner soldier, Rita has to ask herself whether she can let go of hers, lending just enough emotional heft to the storyline to keep the story moving forward even when the events are repeating.

Note: the DVD release is renamed “Live Die Repeat”

Parents should know that this film includes constant sci-fi/action-style peril and violence with scary aliens and many characters injured and killed.  There is some strong language including one f-word.

Family discussion:  What did Cage learn about himself by repeating the same day?   Why didn’t he tell Rita about the helicopter at first?

If you like this, try: “Source Code” and the graphic novel that inspired this film, All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Fantasy IMAX Romance Science-Fiction War
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