Halloween (1978) Review

Director: John Carpenter

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 91 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Slasher films are often derided as trash cinema, but the first entry into the Halloween series is one of the few that is beloved by both audiences and critics. 1978’s Halloween didn’t invent that subgenre, but it did do more than any other movie to popularize it. After fifteen years of being locked up in a mental hospital for murdering his sister (Sandy Johnson), Michael Myers (Nick Castle, Tony Moran, and Will Sandin) escapes and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois…to kill again. Brace yourself, because this is one great horror picture.

Halloween was made on a low budget, but the film never feels limited by this. This is all about terror and menace coming to familiar locations, as Michael Myers stalks the inhabitants of a small town (no haunted castles or sweaty South Seas islands here). Speaking of Myers, the filmmakers do an excellent job of keeping him offscreen or at a distance to maximize the impact of the instances when he does strike.

The musical score by the movie’s co-writer/director, John Carpenter, is simply iconic, although a few bits of music do feel stuck in the 1970s. It helps the flick truck along nicely. There’s little-to-no pacing issues, as this is a lean, focused production (it’s only 91 minutes long, so there’s no time for monkey business). For a slasher picture, the violence is surprisingly restrained, meaning that the squeamish are invited to watch this one as well.

Halloween works well because of how brutally simple it is. Even viewers skeptical of watching a horror movie about a madman walking around murdering people may want to give it a chance. It really doesn’t have a high body count, but manages to wring just about as much tension and suspense from its subject matter as is possible. It’s a rightly famous film that spawned a lengthy franchise.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Raid 2 (2014) Review

Director: Gareth Evans

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 150 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Raid: Redemption (2011) was a lean, mean action machine. So, how does its sequel stack up? This ambitious, Indonesian-language picture (originally titled “Serbuan Maut 2: Berandal“) follows Rama (Iko Uwais), the hero of the first one, as he goes undercover in the mob to expose crooked cops and gangsters. It can’t top the original, but The Raid 2 certainly gives it its all trying to do so.

While the first movie was a simple story of a S.W.A.T. team trapped in an apartment building of criminals, the second film tries to be an epic-scale crime saga…with lots of martial arts thrown into the mix. I don’t really think The Raid 2 pulls it off. It lacks the effective “hook” of the The Raid: Redemption and goes on for way too long (it’s two-and-a-half-hours long, for Heaven’s sake!). It also wallows in ineffective melodrama on an occasion or two.

Of course, the action scenes are the real reason to watch, and they are just as impeccably choreographed as you’ve hoped. Unfortunately, some of them just made me wonder “why should I even care about what’s going on?” Also, for a mob movie set in modern times, there seems to be a noticeable lack of guns. I guess these guys (and gal) just prefer to beat the shit out of each other with fists, feet, and melee weapons. Who am I to judge?

This violent-to-the-point-of-self-parody action film is a disappointment after the magnificent first flick in the series. When people aren’t getting pummeled, it can be a bit of a clock-watcher. The drama just doesn’t quite work and the runtime is a monster for a martial arts movie. I suppose it might be worth a watch for hard-core action fanatics, but I wouldn’t expect much outside of the insane fights.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Venom (2018) Review

Director: Ruben Fleischer

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

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Was this…was this supposed to be a comedy? I ask because I was laughing or on the verge of laughing for a significant part of the film’s runtime. In this origin story to one of Spider-Man’s most famous baddies, investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is infected by an extraterrestrial organism (named Venom, I guess) that gives him superhuman powers. As far as comic book villain backstories go, it isn’t Joker (2019), but it has a certain appeal.

Most of that appeal comes from its, uh, humor. The semi-parasitic alien Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy) provides many of the guffaws with his awkward, sudden lines of dialogue that only Brock can hear. Some of what he says sound like the filmmakers were trying to be funny…but, at other times, I wasn’t quite so sure. Nonetheless, laughing, in my book, is always a good reaction to a movie, whether it was provoked intentionally or not. Hardy commendably commits to the ridiculous material he’s given.

On the action front, things are generally well-done. Well, the fight scenes between computer-generated blob monsters weren’t really my cup of tea, but the other physicality-oriented sequences were satisfactorily explosive. The violence is fairly graphic at times for a PG-13-rated picture, but I guess the MPAA let them get away with certain images because of how far-fetched and absurd the whole thing is.

Do you like your comic book films nice and cheesy? Well, Venom is a flick you might want to look into. It’s never dull and works a fine balance between high-octane action and bizarre comedy. I’m sure it’s great for parties, if you want to play a game of Was-That-Intentionally-Or-Unintentionally-Funny? I would really like to know what the filmmakers were thinking for certain scenes of this movie.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Raid: Redemption (2011) Review

Director: Gareth Evans

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 101 minutes (rated cut), 102 minutes (unrated cut)

MPAA Rating: R (rated cut), Not Rated (unrated cut)

IMDb Page

The Raid: Redemption (originally titled “Serbuan Maut“) is famous for being a cut-to-the-chase action movie that offers little in the way of plot, simply letting various shootouts and martial arts duels do the talking. The story of this Indonesian-language film is pretty bare-bones. A team of cops, including our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), is sent on a mission to clear a large Jakarta apartment building of criminals. Action junkies will not want to miss this one.

While relatively video-gamey, The Raid is packed with some of the most intricately-choreographed fight scenes that theater screens have ever witnessed. They’re truly some of the best ever. The unconvincing computer-generated blood is sometimes a distraction, but it’s a minor flaw. There are a couple of suspense-oriented sequences, because, well, I suppose it can’t be all action.

The action star here is Iko Uwais, who also helped choreograph the fights, and this guy is bound to become one of cinema’s greatest martial arts actors. Wahyu, played by Pierre Gruno, looks like the Indonesian Lee Marvin. I just thought I’d point that out. While this humorless movie is little more than an excuse to show off incredible action, there are a few complications in the plot to keep things fresh. Make no mistake, though, there is almost nothing but virtually non-stop combat here.

The Raid‘s appeal to people who aren’t interested in elaborate fight scenes is almost non-existent. However, action fans will find a treasure trove of hard-hitting, stunt-laden sequences of ultra-violence. Personally, I generally prefer action movies with more characterization and drama, but The Raid is a nice change of pace (and this picture’s pace is turbo-charged). There’s an appealing simplicity to it.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Hell or High Water (2016) Review

Director: David Mackenzie

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller, Western

Runtime: 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Hell or High Water is a very good modern-day western that was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Set around the time of the Great Recession, this film taps into the populist sentiment that was all the rage at the time of its release. The plot follows a pair of bank-robbing brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), and the pursuit of them by lawmen Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

Generally well-paced (thanks to the lack of a substantial romantic subplot), this one has smart, colorful dialogue and well-drawn characters, thanks to its screenplay, written by Taylor Sheridan (who shows up as a cowboy here), who also penned other quasi-westerns, like Sicario (2015) and Wind River (2017). Hell or High Water, while mostly serious, has more comedic touches than those pictures, making it lighter viewing. It’s an interesting dive into Texan culture.

I would not describe this movie as an actioner, but it does have some crisp action scenes that largely kick in during the third act. The body count is quite low, but the amount of gunfire and speeding cars that the flick has feels appropriate and satisfying. The violence isn’t too graphic, being just bloody enough to cross the line into R-rated territory.

Hell or High Water isn’t my favorite modern-day western movie…that would be Extreme Prejudice (1987) (I’m not including Westworld [1973] here, as that’s more futuristic than anything else). However, it will definitely scratch that itch for viewers who want to see tough guys in the American Southwest performing or trying to prevent criminal activities in a time period that’s familiar to them. If you’re getting tired of watching westerns set in the 1800s or early 1900s, this is a welcome change of pace.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Joker (2019) Review

Director: Todd Phillips

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 122 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Joker is not your typical comic book movie. Instead of people in capes flying around, we get a dark psychological drama about a broken man and the society that may be responsible for creating him. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a deeply mentally-ill clown-for-hire and aspiring comedian who finds himself on the road to becoming a psychotic killer. This backstory to Batman’s greatest foe is one that you may not be able to tear your eyes off of the screen for.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the titular character is overwhelming. This is a different Joker than what we’ve seen in previous films. Other Jokers were demented criminal masterminds, but the guy we have here couldn’t run a lemonade stand. This is a disturbingly real character…one that we could see existing in our world with frightening ease. He’s probably my favorite version of the Joker that audiences have seen yet, although, as I mentioned earlier, he bares little resemblance to other incarnations.

This is not an action movie. There are some scenes of chaos towards the end, but, for the most part, it’s the central, grotesque performance that keeps viewers in rapt attention. Tension and pacing are ace here. Many critics have taken issue with Joker‘s lack of subtlety, but I don’t go into a picture about a murderous clown who will eventually fight a guy dressed up as a bat expecting understated filmmaking.

“Intense” is a good word to use to describe Joker. It’s simply riveting from beginning to end. Provocative and taut, viewers who don’t expect an action scene-oriented explosionfest will probably be left reeling. I’d recommend watching this thriller for Phoenix’s performance alone, but the rest of the movie around him is just as compelling.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) Review

Director: J.A. Bayona

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

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Jurassic World (2015) brought new life to the series, but, by 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it feels like the franchise is, once again, treading water. Fallen Kingdom is fine as cinematic junk food, but, if you’ve been expecting more than that, you might be disappointed. The plot is about a rescue effort to save cloned dinosaurs from the remains of the Jurassic World amusement park before a volcano on the island can go off. This is a flick that has me saying “It’s good, but…”

Okay, this is a pretty ridiculous movie, but, hey, it’s a summer blockbuster. What do you expect? The high-stakes action scenes are flashy, as we’ve come to expect, and there seems to be a bit more human-versus-human combat than in previous installments. Physical mayhem and special effects are the film’s specialties, and the attempts at infusing emotion into the story are generally effective.

This is not a simple retread of the events shown in Jurassic Park (1993) and Jurassic World. The plot has some similarities with The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), but I’d say that this one has its own identity (although there’s still a moment of déjà vu or two). Returning from previous pictures in the series are Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, but his appearance is little more than a cameo, and the musical theme from John Williams (although the score is done by Michael Giacchino), which is used quite sparingly here.

Fallen Kingdom has a couple of thought-provoking scenes, but it feels like the Jurassic Park franchise is out of gas, at least for the moment. This film is entertaining to watch, with its likeable characters and bad-guy-chomping dinosaurs, yet it doesn’t offer a whole lot more than that. I suppose that that’s okay (it’s just a movie, after all), so I’ll give it a passing score. Don’t expect greatness and you just might like it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jurassic World (2015) Review

Director: Colin Trevorrow

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

Runtime: 124 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

In 2015, a “soft reboot” of the Jurassic Park series was released, titled Jurassic World. Does it recapture the magic of the first one? Well, not quite, but it comes commendably close at times. The plot may sound familiar. On the ruins of the original dinosaur habitat from Jurassic Park (1993) a new amusement park is created, also built around cloned prehistoric creatures. However, trouble starts to brew when the scientists behind the wizardry create a brand-new, custom-built hybrid dinosaur called the indominus rex. Very few figurative points will be awarded for originality here, but the end result is still an engaging action-adventure picture.

In case you can’t tell from the plot description, this one is basically a souped-up remake of 1993’s Jurassic Park. It doesn’t have the timeless charm of that flick, but it does try to up the ante at every corner. In the end, it’s one big orgy of dinosaur-related violence that occasionally borders on the mean-spirited. Jurassic World is, at times, preposterous and not exactly unpredictable, yet it’s a slick, fast-paced corporate product that held my attention with ease.

I suppose the secret ingredient is the human element, which this film retains from the previous three movies in the franchise. Many have commented on the characters here being rather thin, but I found them satisfactorily fleshed out. Dinosaur carnage is always more involving when there are relatable human beings thrown into the mix. Also, more than any installment since the first, Jurassic World highlights mankind’s hubris, as he tries to control nature and play God. Michael Giacchino’s musical score frequently “quotes” the John Williams-written themes that have become famous.

There are a couple of new things here (I love the petting zoo with the baby herbivore dinos), but, overall, Jurassic World is just trying to top the first movie at its own game. More dinosaurs, more action, more characters, more special effects, etc. Still, it’s a swell popcorn-muncher, if that’s what you’re looking for. It has enough hard-hitting chaos and human drama to make it worth watching for fans of this sort of picture. I had a good time.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jurassic Park III (2001) Review

Director: Joe Johnston

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

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Here we go again. In 2001, a third installment in the Jurassic Park series was released, but it feels like little more than a cash-grab. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t feel necessary either. This time, one of the characters from the amazing original, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), is recruited by a wealthy couple, Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda Kirby (Téa Leoni), to serve as a tour guide for them on their less-than-legal journey to a dinosaur-inhabited island off the coast of Costa Rica. They’re really starting to milk this franchise dry, aren’t they?

This far-fetched sequel brings just enough new ideas to the table to justify its existence. There are a few new creatures the audience hasn’t seen before and, with them, comes new ideas for action scenes. In fact, Jurassic Park III isn’t a whole lot more than a series of reasonably engaging set-pieces, one after another. There’s less drama this time around, but, if all you’re looking for is dino-action, you might have a good time.

John Williams does not return as composer here, with Don Davis filling his shoes. Don’t worry, though, the great musical themes from the first two entries in the series make bombastic appearances. The special effects may be a bit of a step up from the previous two pictures, but does it really matter that much? The characters are generally pretty well defined, which is a plus. It’s also the shortest Jurassic Park flick so far.

Okay, I felt some déjà vu watching this movie. It doesn’t quite do enough to separate it from the first two installments. That being said, I’m going to give it a passing grade, as it’s an agreeable watch. Jurassic Park III‘s not boring and it’s nice to see Sam Neill’s character return to the series, which feels exhausted at this point. Still, I can honestly say that I’ve seen much, much worse, so a lack of originality isn’t enough to sink the entire picture.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) Review

Director: Adrian Grunberg

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 89 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

John Rambo is an interesting character. He’s a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-ridden Vietnam War veteran who shows tremendous compassion…and kills people with hammers. It makes sense if you’ve seen the movies. Anyway, the fifth entry into the series sees Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) traveling to Mexico to rescue a girl under his protection (Yvette Monreal) who’s been abducted by human traffickers. Even if it’s the weakest of the films in the franchise so far, it’s still a savagely efficient revenge picture.

Rambo: Last Blood is a pretty predictable movie, but that’s not really the point. It was never a series that featured wild plot twists. Instead, this flick is an audience manipulation piece that wallows in the horrors of human trafficking before delivering a thrilling, gory catharsis. I should emphasize the word “gory,” because this movie doesn’t shy away from showing bad guys being blown to bits or splattered all over the place. Most of the action is saved for the grand finale, which the film does a solid job of building up to.

As I mentioned earlier in the review, I currently consider this to be the least best of the Rambo franchise. One of the reasons for this is that it feels like the series has become a follower, rather than a leader, in the action genre. The plot is remarkably similar to Taken (2008), with a final action sequence that brings to mind Skyfall (2012) or, Hell, even Home Alone (1990). Okay, so Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) borrowed a lot from Uncommon Valor (1983) and Missing in Action (1984), but it still felt like it had its own, distinct identity.

Rambo: Last Blood is a satisfying shoot-’em-up (or fry-’em-up or bash-’em-up) for fans of the action genre. It’s not exactly original, but it’s largely true to the Rambo character and is ruthlessly straightforward and lacking in convoluted storytelling. It’s pretty short at 89 minutes, displaying a well-told action-crime-thriller story that stays on target just like the titular character stalking his prey. With all these fancy superhero movies filled to the brim with content being released in the past decade or so, it’s nice to see an actioner that keeps things simple.

My rating is 8 outta 10.