XXX: Return of Xander Cage

XXXReturn

XXX: Return of Xander Cage

Directed By: D.J. Caruso
Starring: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Nina Dobrev, Ruby Rose, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ice Cube
Rated: PG-13
Grade: D+

XXX: Return of Xander Cage sees Vin Diesel return to the franchise after opting out of 2005’s XXX: State of the Union, in which his character, this movie’s titular Xander Cage, is said to have died.  We quickly find out that’s not the case, and Diesel’s Cage is once again brought into the world of extreme sports/spying, this time to keep seemingly unstoppable weapon out of the hands of terrorists.

This is your basic action movie, thrown into a blender, and saddled on poor Vin Diesel’s shoulders all to cash in on the actor’s ever-growing status and bankability.  The plot is so thin you can see through it, and none of the characters evoke any kind of sympathy.  Nina Dobrev plays a glasses-wearing nerd girl who spends most of her time fangirling over Cage and the motley crew of misfits he brings in to help him out.  Ruby Rose basically plays the same person she always does: a smart-mouthed, I’m-too-cool-for-this, wannabe bad ass who ultimately comes off as trying too hard to look like she’s not trying too hard.  Toni Collette is Cage’s new handler, after Jackson’s Gibbons is seemingly eliminated in the opening sequence, and she spends most of her time wandering around chewing on scenery.  Ice Cube reprises his role from State of the Union, though his appearance, like Jackson’s, is little more than a glorified cameo.  Deepika Padukone and Donnie Yen, naturally, play the terrorists, a pair of disillusioned former XXX agents bent on vague revenge, though only one of them is a true believer.

Normally I can forgive a lazy, thinly-plotted movie if the acting and effects are decent, but both seem to have been sleepwalked through.  Most of the performances are completely phoned in, including Diesel’s, and the effects are too run-of-the-mill to be impressive, which at least the first XXX movie had a couple of (at the time) somewhat impressive sequences.  It’s very evident that everyone involved in this movie was looking for a quick paycheck, and didn’t actually care about the type and/or quality of movie they were making, which ultimately makes a bad movie even worse.

You really shouldn’t invest any money in attempting to watch this.  It’s not worth it.  A boring, predictable mess whose value is limited to something to watch when you need background noise and don’t care how you achieve it.

You can stream this free with your Amazon Prime and Hulu accounts, and it can also be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

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Baywatch

Baywatch

Baywatch

Directed By: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra
Rated: R
Grade: B-

What you see is what you get with Baywatch, a movie based on the TV series from the late 80s/early 90s.  The show takes place in the fictional Emerald Bay, Florida, a seeming Miami substitute, and follows Mitch Buchannon as he tries to protect the beach he loves.

One of the best things about this movie is the fact that it seems to realize that its source material, a show that took itself seriously when it aired, as aged into something of a fine cheddar over time, and makes itself into a nice cracker with which to enjoy the nostalgia of what was ultimately a completely ridiculous show.  The cast seems to be having a blast, which shines through in the performances.  They know they’re not making great cinema, and they’re okay with that, which helps make it okay for the viewers to find the humor.

The storyline is somewhat predictable.  Johnson’s Buchannon is an overzealous lifeguard lieutenant who has made it his job to not only protect people in the water, but out of it as well.  This becomes a problem for Chopra’s Victoria Leeds, who’s determined to found a drug/real estate empire out of her club on the beach, all because she has daddy issues (and yes, she actually tells another character that she’s doing this because her father left the family’s legitimate business to her idiot brother, and she wants to show the world that women are just as capable of being successful).  Along the way, the Baywatch Lifeguard station (company?) is taking applications for new hires, including Efron’s Matt Brody (a washed up former Olympian with disciplinary issues) and Daddario’s Summer Quinn.  There are also cameos by David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, who are probably both still best known for their roles on the show.

All in all, the movie is highly enjoyable to watch.  As stated before, the cast seemed to be having fun while filming, and the movie doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be considered actually bad.  More in line with so-bad-it’s-actually-kind-of-good.  The effects aren’t too complex, so there wasn’t much to mess up in that department.  Definitely check this out when you want something light and funny and you don’t want to think too hard.

Baywatch isn’t currently free to stream, but can be rented from Redbox, as well as Netflix home-delivery video services.

Valerian

Valerian

Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets

Directed By: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevenge, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke
Rated: PG-13
Grade: D+

Valerian is a busy, confusing, hectic mess in which the main characters stumble across bits plot while chasing after each other in attempt to rescue the other from a string of life-threatening situations.  The movie is based on the French graphic novel series “Valérian and Laureline”.

Neither DeHaan nor Delevenge has a charm or star power to anchor such an ambitious movie, and the fact that the actors look so young makes it seem as though they’re teenagers cosplaying with friends in someone’s basement, and the more seasoned actors (Owen and Hawke) seem to be confused and/or embarrassed as to what they’re there.

Valerian (DeHaan) is supposed to be an intergalactic fuckboy with a list of conquests large enough to paper the hulls of his ship, unfortunately, the actor isn’t Hollywood-attractive enough to pull off playing such a character.  Laureline (Delevenge) isn’t given much to do other than be the occasional damsel-in-distress and arch her eyebrows at Valerian’s antics.  There’s an entire section of the movie dedicated to Rihanna’s character Bubble, a shape-shifting exotic dancer who’s mostly a plot device and is probably meant to instill a sense of sympathy for the non-human characters in the film, but it isn’t necessary, and her inclusion seems to mostly be a way to get the singer/actress on screen in a series of skimpy fetish outfits for her introductory scene.

By the time the movie actually gets the plot, a.k.a., the reason Valerian and Laureline are on Alpha, the City of a Thousand Planets from the title, which was lovingly introduced in the beginning of the movie with David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,’ the viewer likely won’t care enough to be invested in the outcome since, as stated before, the actual plot is spread so thinly across the entire movie you’ve likely forgotten about it by the next time they mention it.

That’s not to say that the movie is entirely without merit.  The visuals are interesting to look at, especially the scenes on Mül (pronounced mule) and the sequence when they’re introducing Alpha and showing the various habitats.  However, that’s not enough to make this something to watch when you’re not bored or too busy to care about the plot of what’s on.

Continue reading Valerian

Midnight, Texas

MidnightTexas

Midnight, Texas

Starring: François Arnaud, Dylan Bruce, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Arielle Kebbel, Jason Lewis, Peter Mensah, et.al.
Rated: TV-14
Network: NBC
Grade: B+

Midnight, Texas, follows medium Manfred Bernardo as he moves to the titular small Texas town to escape his past and start over.  As Manfred settles into his new home, he meets and befriends a small group of tightly-knit locals, most of whom have their own secrets, supernatural and otherwise.  It’s based on the book series of the same name by Charlaine Harris, whose other works include the Sookie Stackhouse novels, which inspired the HBO series True Blood.

Sci-fi/Fantasy series tend not to do too well on network stations because of the limited audience they cater to, however, this show takes what it has and makes the most of it.  The characters are all interesting, and it’s set somewhere in the same universe as True Blood, though there aren’t any overlapping characters.  It’s mostly just through references and types of supernatural beings.

The format vacillates between story-of-the-week and overarcing-serial, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story, which manages to remain balanced and interesting.  The acting is well-done.  No one chews on too much scenery, and when the inevitable life lessons are taught, they don’t hit you over the head with it.  The effects are about what you would expect from a mid-budget summer series on a network channel.  Nothing too flashy, but also nothing too corny.

All in all, I would recommend this series as pure popcorn enjoyment.  It’s nothing that’s going to make your brain hurt or confuse you, but it’s also not going to make you wonder why you’re wasting your time.  In other words, perfect summer viewing.

This show can be streamed from the NBC website, which is free to register on, and can be found on Hulu as well.

The Ship of the Dead

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Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead

Written By: Rick Riordan
Published: October 2017
Grade: A

In the third and final book of Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, Magnus and his hallmates set out to find Loki and stop Ragnarok from occurring in the immediate future.

Personally, I like Riordan’s demigod books, this one being no exception.  His unique style of writing for children makes it so that you almost don’t realize you’re learning about the various mythologies his stories are styled around, which makes them interesting, funny, and informative.

Magnus is a likeable, sympathetic hero, and some of his friends are finally fully formed and are no longer relegated to window dressing.  We get more insight into Halfborn Gunderson, Mallory Keen, and Thomas Jefferson Jr., which includes why and how they died, and what Loki had to do with it.  The previous two books already explored why Alex Fierros and Samirah Al-Abbas were, respectively, an einherjer and a Valkyrie.

About the only disappointing thing about this book is that it’s the last one in this particular series.  I’d love it if Riordan somehow managed to combine all of his book series into one giant story, with a central conspiracy about the end of the world (a common theme in all of Riordan’s books).

This book should be available at your local library.

Gotham by Gaslight

GothamByGaslight

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Directed By: Sam Liu
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Scott Patterson, Tara Strong, et.al.
Rated: R
Grade: A-

Batman gets the Victorian treatment in this DC Animated Universe movie which pits the titular hero against Gotham’s version of Jack the Ripper.  Gotham by Gaslight is somewhat based on the DC graphic novel of the same name, though there are some characters appearing in the movie that aren’t in the comic, which I only know because I looked it up.

The movie itself is well-made.  Though likely animated by computer, it was done to look hand-drawn, which seems more fitting to the subject matter.  There’s lots of blood and violence, as well as some implied sex, so parents should be wary, because it definitely earns its R rating.

While dealing with the upcoming turn of the century, and planning a World’s Fair for Gotham, the city is struck with a series of murders done by a man calling himself Jack the Ripper, putting police and citizens on edge.  Naturally, Batman is there to investigate, as well as a smattering of other familiar characters from traditional Batman lore.  The story keeps you engaged and guessing, and when the identity of the Ripper is revealed, it’s a genuine surprise.

Fans of the DC supplemental films should be happy with this movie.  Even casual viewers shouldn’t be disappointed, as long as you’re willing to step outside the traditional Batman storylines.  All in all, great view.
It’s not available to stream anywhere yet, but if you can find it cheap somewhere, it’d be worth putting in the money to purchase/rent.