Emperor (2020) Review

Director: Mark Amin

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Drama, War

Runtime: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 2020 biopic Emperor fumbles with the historical facts, but still manages to be an entertaining work about an often-overlooked period of U.S. history. In 1859, just before the outbreak of the American Civil War, escaped slave Shields Green (Dayo Okeniyi), nicknamed “Emperor,” joins militant abolitionist John Brown’s (James Cromwell) raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), with the goal of inciting a slave revolt. As historically inaccurate as it may be, I still found myself engaged to the events taking place on the screen.

Emperor takes an action-movie-ish approach to the life of Shields Green. I mean, this picture even has a Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)-esque wagon chase, for Heaven’s sake! The action is almost laughably explosive at times, but I suppose that that’s just the price of making a historical film that gets seen by the masses. It’s a little ridiculous, but it’s all part of the fun.

This movie shouldn’t be looked to as an accurate representation of the events of 1859. The horrors of human slavery are kept safely in the bounds of the MPAA’s PG-13 rating. The Harpers Ferry raid looks like a full-scale battle (complete with a cannon or two!), and the fate of Shields Green is completely fictionalized. It may be a little awkward for history buffs to sit through for these reasons, but these alterations to historical fact make the finished product more commercial.

It may play fast and loose with the truth, but Emperor is still a film that I enjoy. John Brown is my hero, so it’s cool seeing him in cinematic form (even if the flick isn’t as good as Seven Angry Men [1955]). The critical reception of this feature was mixed, but I can largely forgive its crimes against history because of how easily one can become emotionally invested in it. Just make sure to quickly look over Shield Green’s Wikipedia page after viewing.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Tomorrow War (2021) Review

Director: Chris McKay

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 138 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The sci-fi-actioner The Tomorrow War was released direct-to-streaming, but it’s the kind of movie I would have liked to see on the big screen. The film is about present-day dad Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) being sent to the not-too-distant future via time travel to help fight a vicious alien invasion that’s destroyed most of mankind. One or two story beats may be somewhat predictable, but, if you can stay in the moment, you might find yourself having fun.

Okay, maybe “having fun” isn’t the best way of putting it, because this flick presents some surprisingly dire and dark scenarios. The almost unstoppable extra-terrestrials are savage beasts that give this thriller some horror movie vibes. Moments of action are intense enough to get a thumbs-up from me, and the emotional scenes are more effective than not. For a direct-to-streaming work, the budget appears to be quite large, and the spectacle is occasionally overwhelming.

There are some missteps along the way. The first and third acts of the feature have a tendency to rely on Marvel-style comic relief that inappropriately defuse moments of tension. Marvel products are just about the biggest thing in the world at the time of its release, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked that this picture tried to ape their formula a tad. There’s also the matter of the third act feeling like it takes place after the main climax of the film. I won’t go as far as to say that it’s “unnecessary,” but The Tomorrow War might be overstaying its welcome.

This movie’s blend of silly comedy and serious, seemingly apocalyptic situations isn’t its strength. To enjoy the motion picture, it’s best to focus on the palpable sense of dread and desperation, along with its gooey action and violence. Yeah, The Tomorrow War is a flawed work, but my impression of the big picture is rather positive. The second act is especially hard-hitting, easily being the best part.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) Review

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 147 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the first film in the series with the same director as the previous entry (the man in the director’s chair being Christopher McQuarrie). Can he keep the franchise on its hot streak? After the events of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) fights to recover weapons-grade plutonium from a group of fanatics Hellbent on stirring up as much suffering as possible. The clock is ticking.

This movie, as expected, is filled to the brim with magnificent action set-pieces and life-endangering stuntwork. We’ve got a parachute jump through a thunderstorm, a bathroom slugfest, vehicular chases (on the ground and in the air), and more. It’s quite possible that they’ve gone overboard, but, considering the ecstatic reception the feature got, maybe not.

As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, this flick may contain too much of a good thing. It’s the longest Mission: Impossible picture yet, and one can tell. Yes, it’s very exciting, but how many close-calls can you cram into one film? Also not helping is the somewhat familiar plot. Nuclear weapons in the hands of evildoers again? There is a bit of a been-there-done-that quality to this work of cinema.

Many viewers feel that Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the best installment of the franchise at the time of the publication of this review. It certainly gives you plenty of bang for your buck. The action sequences are stunning, but the story that they rely upon is merely pretty good. So, do I recommend this movie? Yeah, but I don’t find that it quite reaches the highs of the previous two Mission: Impossible films.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) Review

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 131 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

In the fifth Mission: Impossible movie – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – super-spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) goes rogue (is that even a pun?) to try to take down an organization of renegade ex-secret agents known as “the Syndicate.” The stakes don’t feel quite as high as the will-there-be-a-nuclear-holocaust? tension of the previous entry into the series (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol [2011]), but this installment really plays to the franchise’s strengths. Excellent action, insane stunts, and lots of badass teamwork are center-stage.

The Mission: Impossible flicks at this point feel like modern-day Indiana Jones features without the archaeology. This picture has plenty of cliffhanger high-jinks and heroic globetrotting. The action scenes are appropriately high-impact, with some how-did-they-do-that? stuntwork to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. On the down side, I think that they might’ve “saved” the best major stunt for first (it’s, of course, the one with Tom Cruise and an airplane taking off).

This fast-paced action-adventure film, like the rest of the movies in the series, benefits from the team dynamics on display. You see, Cruise couldn’t do this all by himself, so he backs himself up with one of the best damn squads of agents possible. There’s Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who provides the comic relief, and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), the tough tech expert. William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) handles the political wranglings over the Impossible Mission Force’s future. A newcomer is Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose allegiance is questionable.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation wisely doesn’t try to immediately top the end-of-the-world stakes of its predecessor, but it still lays a lot on the line. The stakes, if anything, feel a bit more personal this time around, as evidenced by the finale, which is relatively small in scale, yet still huge in intensity. The fourth and fifth Mission: Impossible features are definitely a formidable one-two punch.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) Review

Director: Brad Bird

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 132 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol definitely upped the ante for the series upon its release in theaters in 2011. It still might be the most purely fun entry into the franchise at the time of the publication of this review. The story’s about secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) fighting to prevent a nuclear war and clear his name after being blamed for a massive terrorist attack.

Some of the scene-stealers here are the gadgets. The endless, inventive pieces of imaginative technology on display in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol really put the James Bond series to shame. Hell, this could be seen as the movie where this series really began to surpass the 007 franchise in excellence. The wonderfully-crafted, nail-biting energy of this feature makes any Bond adventure look lethargic in comparison.

Another aspect of Ghost Protocol that grabs the viewer by his or her lapels is the stuntwork. This action-packed flick is home to the now-iconic Burj Khalifa skyscraper sequence, where Tom Cruise, with the help of some digitally-erased cables, climbed around the outside of that huge superstructure. It’s an amazing set-piece that’s probably one of the very best action scenes of the 2010s. The movie’s go-big-or-go-home attitude really pays off.

In addition to being pretty violent for a film rated PG-13 by the MPAA, Ghost Protocol is probably one of the better action-adventure pictures out there. Okay, maybe it’s a hair too long, but the individual scenes making up the film are terrific. Will future installments into the Mission: Impossible series manage to recapture the magic here?

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Mission: Impossible III (2006) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 126 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

After the cartoony Mission: Impossible II (2000), the series got back on track with its third installment. Mission: Impossible III may have some preposterous elements, but they’re played straight enough that they become tolerable. Set after the events of the first two flicks, spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has to prevent the so-called “Rabbit’s Foot” from falling into the hands of vicious arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), while protecting his girlfriend – Julia (Michelle Monaghan) – from said bad guy.

In addition to being rather slick, this entry into the Mission: Impossible saga is also noticeably darker than its peers. This is understandable, considering it was the first movie in the franchise to be released after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Much of the film’s menace comes from its villain, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s easily one of the more memorable baddies in the series, with his controlled, yet sadistic, personality.

Director J.J. Abrams, whose love for “mystery boxes” is evident here, does a good job of handling the big set-pieces, with their compounding action and suspense. The rescue mission in Germany, for example, impressively escalates tension and throws a few curve-balls at the audience. That being said, the finale, with its prolonged climax, borders on being tiring. The entire third act is just so turbo-charged that it gives the audience little room to breathe.

I’d actually consider Mission: Impossible III to be the best of the franchise at the time of its original release in 2006. Sure, the first one was very entertaining, too, but the third picture’s blend of suspenseful secret agent antics, explosive action, and a seriously threatening bad guy make it the winner of the original three films. However, it wouldn’t stay at the top of the pack forever, with the next installment being Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011).

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Mission: Impossible II (2000) Review

Director: John Woo

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 123 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Back in 2000, a film directed by Hong Kong action expert John Woo and written by Robert Towne (you know, the guy who wrote Chinatown [1974]) was unleashed on the public. Its title: “Mission: Impossible II.” No, I’m not joking about Robert Towne (who also wrote the first entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise) penning this thing. The plot’s about super-spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) fighting to prevent a gang of goons from making a financial killing off of a deadly virus called “Chimera.”

This, being the weakest of the series to be released at the time of the publishing of this review, is easy to mock. It certainly was sent to theaters around the turn of the twentieth-first century, as made apparent by its now-absurd-looking editing flourishes and alt-metallic soundtrack. This movie tries desperately to look cool, but it feels trapped in the year 2000.

The saving grace of Mission: Impossible II, as you might expect (considering it is directed by John Woo after all), is the action. This just might be the first picture to spring to mind when I hear the phrase “high-octane action.” Everything explodes here, and Tom Cruise has rarely looked more badass than when he, clad in sunglasses, drives through said explosions on a motorcycle. These aren’t Woo’s best scenes of physicality, but they still get a thumbs-up from me.

Mission: Impossible II has a few lulls that slow down the pacing a bit too much, but it’s nothing worth getting too bent out of shape over. John Woo may be an action master, but I’m not sure if he was the right choice to helm this project. The flick feels a little different from the rest of the series. It’s a watchable actioner, but it’s also the black sheep of the Mission: Impossible franchise.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Wrath of Man (2021) Review

Director: Guy Ritchie

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Wrath of Man is not your typical Guy Ritchie film. A lot of the movies that he directs have frequent comedic touches, but there’s nothing cheeky about this rampaging, bloody Jason Statham actioner. Patrick “H” Hill (Jason Statham) is a new armored truck guard with a mysterious past (of course) who may have an ulterior motive for getting the job. This is actually a remake of the French picture Cash Truck (2004).

This is surely a very intense flick, full of seat-squirming moments and loud-as-Hell action scenes. There are a few violent episodes scattered throughout the runtime, but most of the ammunition is saved for the ferocious finale…a heist on Black Friday. You may need to take cover under your seat. As fierce as everything gets, it should be noted that there are obvious computer-generated blood effects that detract from the grittiness.

Jason Statham is just as grim and serious as the movie around him. It’s probably not a challenging role for him, but it’s the Statham we love to see. Notable supporting roles are played by Scott Eastwood (as Jan) and – wait – is that Post Malone (credited as “Austin Post” here, playing “Robber #6”)?!? The story borders on becoming convoluted a time or two, but the feature feels shorter than its two-hour runtime.

If there’s a problem with Wrath of Man, it’s that it has too many bad guys and not enough heroes. Anyway, this flick is worth watching for viewers who like their action films hard-boiled and borderline-humorless. Some may find it overly straight-faced, but, in a day-and-age of self-referential superhero comic book movies, it’s nice to see a work committed to a more serious approach.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Blowing Wild (1953) Review

Director: Hugo Fregonese

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Romance, Western

Runtime: 90 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Could Blowing Wild be considered a western movie? It’s set in South America around the time of its release date (1953), but it still involves tough guys wearing cowboy hats wielding six-shooters in confrontations with outlaws on the fringes of civilization. I’d say it has enough western film tropes to qualify as one. The plot of this flick is about a group of oilmen – Jeff Dawson (Gary Cooper), Ward “Paco” Conway (Anthony Quinn), and Dutch Peterson (Ward Bond) – fighting for survival in bandit-infested territory in Latin America.

Blowing Wild features two of the greatest tough customers to ever grace the silver screen: Gary Cooper and Anthony Quinn. They’re in top form, as you would expect, and they’re backed up by an exquisite sense of atmosphere. At times it feels like an oil-oriented (rather than gold-oriented) version of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Backing up all of this is a surprisingly good theme song: “Blowing Wild (The Ballad of Black Gold)” sung by Frankie Laine, with music by the great Dimitri Tiomkin.

This is an excellent look at adventurous, hardy men trying to make a living on the edge of human advancement. There’s lots of action (by 1950s cinema standards) to keep you on the edge of your seat. We’ve got gunfire, punches, explosions, and speeding vehicles. Blowing Wild also has a bit of a romantic triangle, but it’s nothing that can’t be solved with a little violence.

This is one of the best action-adventure movies of the 1950s. It has a unique plot and setting, with quite a bit of physicality and excitement. It takes the western genre and sets it in mid-twentieth-century South America, which succeeds like gangbusters. I find it shocking that this picture isn’t more popular. It does contains a brief moment of unintentional humor, though. When the opening credits end, a title proclaims that “All events, places and persons depicted in this film are fictional,” which is immediately followed by another title saying that this story is set in “SOUTH AMERICA.” I didn’t know that that continent was fictional.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Last Outpost (1935) Review

Directors: Charles Barton and Louis J. Gasnier

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Romance, War

Runtime: 76 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Outside of Gunga Din (1939) and North by Northwest (1959), Cary Grant isn’t really known as an adventure hero, but he certainly fits that role in The Last Outpost, from relatively early in his career. The film concerns itself with the exploits of British officer Michael Andrews (Cary Grant) in the Middle East and North Africa during World War I. It’s not top-of-the-line, but it still makes for reasonably rousing escapism.

The first third of this flick deals with Grant’s character in Ottoman-held territory in the Middle East, while the middle act is more romance-heavy, as he wines and dines nurse Rosemary Haydon (Gertrude Michael) while in Egypt. The last third is the most action-packed, as Grant’s character is deployed to Sudan to help put down a rebellion there that’s sympathetic to the Central Powers. Each act has a personality of its own, but the film still manages to feel coherent.

One of the most memorable aspects of The Last Outpost is how stock-footage-intensive it is. There’s plenty of scenes borrowed from the documentary Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925) and the battle sequences in the third act are augmented by footage from The Four Feathers (1929) (according to the IMDb Trivia page for the movie). These scenes tend to stick out like a sore thumb and make the picture’s budget seem smaller than what it probably was.

Running only seventy-six minutes, this is an enjoyable war-time action-adventure story that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Cary Grant finds himself in some interesting predicaments, both on and off the battlefield, and the final third has enough combat to satisfy those looking for thrills. The plot synopsis on IMDb contains some spoilerish details, so, if you’re dead-set on watching this feature, I’d avoid reading it. It’s interesting to note that co-director Louis J. Gasnier’s next project would be Reefer Madness (1936).

My rating is 7 outta 10.