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Movie Reviews
'Conor McGregor: Notorious'
(Conor McGregor / NR)

Overview: Conor McGregor is the biggest star in the history of mixed martial arts. Filmed over the course of four years, 'Notorious' is the exclusive, all-access account of Conor's meteoric rise from claiming benefits and living in his parent's spare room in Dublin to claiming multiple championship UFC belts and seven-figure pay packets in Las Vegas.

Verdict: For those not in the know, Conor McGregor is an Irish professional mixed martial artist and professional boxer who is currently signed to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He is the reigning UFC Lightweight Champion, and former UFC Featherweight Champion.

'Conor McGregor: Notorious' follows McGregor from his transition as a largely unknown fighter to the status he currently enjoys. This highly indepth, revealing documentary film includes highlights from throughout his career including winning the UFC championship belt in just 13 seconds and his shock loss to rival Nate Diaz. It culminates in his recent foray into the world of boxing and his record-breaking Las Vegas bout against Floyd Mayweather.

The first half of the film documents McGregor’s rise and his 13-second title victory over UFC legend Jose Aldo. The second half centers around the two Nate Diaz fights. The most difficult five months of McGregor’s career in which he fell to an unlikely opponent and was left to pick up the pieces of a UFC career previously untarnished.

Sadly, from my perspective, the footage of McGregor in his early years is limited and in that respect, we don't get a true sense of his progression. Sure Director Gavin Fitzgerald and his cameras have followed him for the past four years, but we need to see more of the boy-that-would-be King (of the ring), rather than simply starting in his Cage Warrior days.

But yeah, there are truly interesting moments here though, of that have no doubt. And to give credit where it's due, it isn't a badly put together documentary. That said, there are obvious gaps in attention to detail, with a lot of the included footage coming across as filler.

Indeed, the majority of the film focuses on Conors preparation before facing Aldo and Diaz, which, again, if you're already familiar with the UFC's Embedded series, is nothing new.

In 'Conor McGregor: Notorious', McGregor’s meteoric rise is well documented, but few have been able to present the rags to riches story quite like Fitzgerald. Aside from what's missing, he does his best here to formulate a more precise picture of the man the public (for the most part) has come to adore - whether you like his sport or not.

He's the People's Champion now, and so watching 'Notorious' - which delves into both his public and his private life in one continuous stream - is a marvel of cinematography, that's for sure. As McGregor himself has put it many times before, he only gives off the ‘illusion of crazy’ for in reality, he was a 20-something Dubliner struggling to keep up with his debts who ended up punching his way to the top of a billion dollar industry.

In closing, one of the most joyous moments captured was when McGregor and his wife open a door and Arnold "The Terminator" Schwarzengger is standing right there in front of them! Mouth agape, McGregor's eyes wide, he is the embodiment of pure innocence as he meets one of the biggest action stars on the planet.

www.conormcgregorfilm.com

Official Conor McGregor @ Twitter







'American Assassin'
(Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan / R)

Overview: After the death of his girlfriend at the hands of Islamic terrorists, Mitch Rapp is drawn into the world of counter-terrorism, mentored by tough-as-nails former U.S. Navy SEAL Stan Hurley.

Verdict: Mitch (Dylan O'Brien) was on a Mediterranean trip with his girlfriend, which he proposes on the beach. Until, a group of terrorists attack on the beach by shooting at every civilian they see. Mitch witnesses his girlfriend getting killed in the attack.

A year or so later, Mitch highly trained himself to go on a vengeance after the terrorists that killed his girlfriend. He trained himself through MMA classes until he gets kicked out for being brutal to the other opponent.

He is skilled with weaponry at a shoot range until he loses it and walks into the shooting range. And he has a lead to the terrorists responsible. Only to be followed and captured by the CIA. Who tends to recruit him led by Stan (Michael Keaton).

While they are on a mission trail in hunting a terrorist that has stolen nuclear material which traces back to a rogue agent named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). Mitch will stop at nothing to eliminate the threat even if it requires him to disobey his orders.

'American Assassin' is that type of action film that entertains with putting the main character into a revengeful path. It may not be a memorable plot or worth mentioning. But it is exciting to see a gritty, brutal Dylan O'Brien taking out bad guys. I wont be surprised if this will be his franchise just like there are other spy action movies like Bond or Jason Bourne.

The action sequences are brutal; the fight scenes are quick and gritty. Mitch Rapp never holding back in letting a bad guy escape. It is fun to see Dylan O'Brien going through several action set pieces in trying to stop the villain from setting off a nuclear bomb.

Dylan O'Brien may have found his calling in an action franchise. I am glad he did instead of being stuck in the Teen Wolf series. And growing up to be a brute mean machine as a stone cold killer. He is good as an action star and as well as in the Maze Runner movies.

Michael Keaton was also good as Mitch Rapp's trainer into the CIA. Sanaa Lathan was also good as Irene, who sees Mitch as a good potential in there team. Taylor Kitsch was good as the villain, who was once in the marines and went rogue against what he stood for. Enjoy this for what it says on the label, if that makes any sense.





'IT'
(Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard / R)

Overview: A group of bullied kids band together when a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.

Verdict: I'm a huge fan of the 1990's TV film of "It", especially for its aesthetics and soundtrack, but it left out a lot of content from the original novel, leaving me confused when I first saw it at the age of 12. This remake, or perhaps actually a "re-adaptation", is certainly very timely, what with "Stranger Things" becoming so huge with pretentious hipsters everywhere.

I'm still not sure it hits the "scary" factor very well, especially without Tim Curry's tremendous acting, but it's certainly creepy. It's not nostalgic though, nor does it retain much of the original novel, including the 50's setting, changed to the 80's to obviously market itself with "Stranger Things" and "The Goonies".

My problem with this new adaptation of "It" is that it's addled with CGI and jump scares, neither of which add to its nostalgic appeal. At the risk of sounding like a film snob, if you're trying to make a film set decades before this era, you don't use CGI at all if you can avoid it, unless you really know how to camouflage it.

The constant profanity did nothing for the story either, it only gave the false illusion of being "intense". The sheer level of nerdiness made me cringe, unlike the TV movie which had genuine friendships and sweet moments of love and joy amidst the horror, just like King's novel.

This film isn't completely terrible. It passes the time, but the only thing it has going for it is that the director thinks he has hit some 80's vibe gold mine when in reality it just looked like a bad video game full of childish jump scares.





'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'
(Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum / R)

Overview: When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman's journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.

Verdict: If you loved the first one, you'll like this one. I mean, it has a story and is trying to say something about society and *certain* politicians today. It's just so much of the same of the first, but being even more over-the-top, out-doing what's already been done. Still, it's alright.

Hilarious at times, loud and violent, great fun action (albeit a ton of noticeable CGI has no choice but to make it all look messy). There's a lot going on, you're going to have fun with it because you know exactly what you're going into. Definitely that comic book feel to it, though I haven't the books. Julianne Moore is always such a treat!

Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, the entire cast, really - not a rotten one in the bunch. With the film being 2 and a half hours long, you may grow frustrated with it at times and begin to see things that clearly could have been cut from it. Gorgeous shots, great character moments - not as great as the first, but still a fun time.





'Detroit'
(John Boyega, Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie, John Karsinski / R)

Overview: In the summer of 1967, rioting and civil unrest starts to tear apart the city of Detroit. Two days later, a report of gunshots prompts the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel. Several policemen start to flout procedure by forcefully and viciously interrogating guests to get a confession. By the end of the night, three unarmed men are gunned down while several others are brutally beaten.

Verdict: After two masterpieces set in the Middle East, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow returns to the United States for a third. This is a harrowing, shameful, illuminating piece of American history. As with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Detroit was written by Mark Boal, largely based on real-life testimonials, but also with some fictional fill-ins.

Yet it's Bigelow who makes it work, both as drama and as art. Rising through the ranks with B-level genre films (like Point Break), she, more than any other living director, understands how violence is both alluring and repellent. And she's able to show both at once, in shades of gray. In this film, violent threats and showmanship are as important as actual acts.

'Detroit' starts without fanfare at the "blind pig" raid and proceeds chronologically, inexorably, through the events of 1967. Bigelow effortlessly establishes a sense of time and place, as well as a sense of the scale of the event as a whole, which is never an easy feat. But unlike many of her male cohorts, Bigelow doesn't come at the story through white male eyes; she brilliantly illustrates the utter frustration of racism, even more than its rage.

Meanwhile, the characters find depth and poignancy; Anthony Mackie is powerful in just a few scenes, while Star Wars star Boyega serves as a kind of angelic presence, hovering near the events and yearning for peace. When the final results come down, any human being with a heart and soul will be angered by injustice -- and, even so, driven to kindness.





'Atomic Blonde'
(Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman / R)

Overview: Sensual and savage, Lorraine Broughton is the most elite spy in MI6, an agent who's willing to use all of her lethal skills to stay alive during an impossible mission. With the Berlin Wall about to fall, she travels into the heart of the city to retrieve a priceless dossier and take down a ruthless espionage ring. Once there, she teams up with an embedded station chief to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies.

Verdict: Toward the end of “Atomic Blonde,” David Leitch’s hyperviolent, hyperstylized action pic set in Berlin just before the fall of the wall, Charlize Theron’s MI6 superwoman Lorraine Broughton is tasked with protecting a Stasi defector. He’s been wounded on the street, and she drags him into a building lobby.

“Wait here,” she says, and proceeds to do brutal battle with waves of henchmen up an elevator, down a staircase, into an apartment, out of the apartment, with a gun, without a gun, with an unloaded gun, with stray bits of furniture, back out into the street, into a car, forward in the car, and then in reverse. The scene lasts a good five minutes, and does not contain a single obvious cut. It is worth the price of admission alone.

It’s a good thing, too, because the rest of the film can’t help but feel like a long prelude to this single bravura display of technique. Sure, the film has style to burn, employing enough neon lighting to power the Las Vegas Strip for weeks. Theron casts an indomitable figure throughout, and the camera lingers on every contour of her face and body with an intensity that verges on the fetishistic.

The action set pieces are every bit the equal of Leitch’s previous effort, “John Wick,” and “Atomic Blonde” should at least equal that film’s box office tally this summer.





'The Hitman's Bodyguard'
(Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Gary Oldman / R)

Overview: The world's top protection agent is called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world's most notorious hit men. The relentless bodyguard and manipulative assassin have been on the opposite end of the bullet for years and are thrown together for a wildly outrageous 24 hours. During their journey from England to the Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades and a merciless Eastern European dictator who is out for blood.

Verdict: This action-comedy is unnecessarily violent and has an uneven tone, but the comedic banter between Jackson and Reynolds is undeniable. If only there was slightly less bloodlust and a less over-the-top body count, 'The Hitman's Bodyguard' would have been a fine example of an odd-couple comedy bromance.

No one's performance is a stretch: Jackson is a quick-witted, foul-mouthed, eyebrow-raising assassin who justifies his work, a role he's been perfecting since Pulp Fiction, while Reynolds is a sharp-tongued, super-detailed bodyguard who can't stop talking. No surprises there, but there was no guarantee the two stars would click, and they do.

The rest of the movie is bolstered by a funny supporting turn from Hayek, who plays Kincaid's beloved Sonia. She calls her husband her cucaracha ("cockroach") because he's basically "unkillable." She's right. The action sequences are nearly nonstop, and each shows how Kincaid is the grim reaper, but with a gun instead of a scythe.

The parts of the movie featuring Oldman's irredeemable dictator, Dukhovich, are considerably less funny and should come with a trigger warning. A leader who kills a man's wife and child in front of him and is responsible for genocide is a little too scary and realistic for times when you'd be forgiven for hoping that a buddy comedy would prove to be pure escapism.





'Dunkirk'
(Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mary Rylance, Kenneth Branagh / R)

Overview: In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.

Verdict: One of the most indelible images in “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan’s brilliant new film, is of a British plane in flames. The movie recounts an early, harrowing campaign in World War II that took place months after Germany invaded Poland and weeks after Hitler’s forces started rolling into the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

The plane, having glided to a stop, has been defiantly set ablaze by the pilot to avoid its being captured. It’s an image of unambiguous defeat but also an emblem of resistance and a portent of the ghastly conflagrations still to come.

It’s a characteristically complex and condensed vision of war in a movie that is insistently humanizing despite its monumentality, a balance that is as much a political choice as an aesthetic one. And “Dunkirk” is big — in subject, reach, emotion and image. Mr. Nolan shot and mostly finished it on large-format film (unusual in our digital era), which allows details to emerge in great scale. Overhead shots of soldiers scattered across a beach convey an unnerving isolation — as if these were the last souls on earth, terminally alone, deserted. (Seen on a television, they would look like ants.) Film also enriches the texture of the image; it draws you to it, which is crucial given the minimalist dialogue.

The movie is based on a campaign that began in late May 1940 in the French port city of Dunkirk, where some 400,000 Allied soldiers — including more than 200,000 members of the British Expeditionary Force, the British army in Western Europe — were penned in by the Germans. The British, faced with the capture or possible annihilation of their troops, initiated a seemingly impossible rescue.

Named Operation Dynamo, this mission has assumed near-mythic status in British history and been revisited in books and onscreen; it shows up in “Mrs. Miniver,” a 1942 Hollywood weepie about British pain and perseverance in the war meant to encourage American support for the Allies.

War movies tend to play out along familiar lines, including lump-in-the throat home-front tales like “Mrs. Miniver.” “Dunkirk” takes place in battle, but it, too, is a story of suffering and survival. Mr. Nolan largely avoids the bigger historical picture (among other things, the reason these men are fighting is a given) as well as the strategizing on the front and in London, where the new prime minister, Winston Churchill, was facing the horrifying possibility of diminished military muscle.

Churchill is heard from, in a fashion, but never seen. Mr. Nolan instead narrows in on a handful of men who are scrambling and white-knuckling their way into history on the sea, in the air and on the ground.

In closing, Mr. Nolan’s unyielding emphasis on the soldiers — and on war as it is experienced rather than on how it is strategized — blurs history even as it brings the present and its wars startlingly into view. “Dunkirk” is a tour de force of cinematic craft and technique, but one that is unambiguously in the service of a sober, sincere, profoundly moral story that closes the distance between yesterday’s fights and today’s.

Mr. Nolan closes that distance cinematically with visual sweep and emotional intimacy, with images of warfare and huddled, frightened survivors that together with Hans Zimmer’s score reverberate through your body. By the time that plane is burning — and a young man is looking searchingly into the future — you are reminded that the fight against fascism continues.





'The Dark Tower'
(Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Alex McGregor / R)

Overview: Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger, is locked in an eternal battle with Walter O'Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black. The Gunslinger must prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the key that holds the universe together. With the fate of worlds at stake, two men collide in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

Verdict: After over a decade of attempts, Stephen King's self-described magnum opus comes to the big screen via director Nikolaj Arcel.

For over a decade, some of Hollywood's most successful storytellers have wanted to turn Stephen King's eight-book Dark Tower saga into movies. Few, presumably, started out with the idea that the best way to wrangle this mountain of plot was to write a new sequel to it.

That's roughly what Danish director Nikolaj Arcel offers in The Dark Tower, weaving elements from the published books into a new premise suggested by the series' end and paring the whole mythology down enough to fit into a mere hour and a half.

Recent industry gossip described a troubled shoot and early edits that were so confusing to test audiences they prompted much post production tinkering by producers and studio execs. That's tough to believe when looking at the finished product, a save-the-multiverse sci-fi fantasy that is, if anything, too easily digested.

Though far from the muddled train wreck we've been led to expect, this Tower lacks the world-constructing gravitas of either the Tolkien books that inspired King or the franchise-launching movies that Sony execs surely have in mind.

Though satisfying enough to please many casual moviegoers drawn in by King's name and stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, it will likely disappoint many serious fans and leave other newbies underwhelmed.





'Annabelle: Creation'
(Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia, Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson / R)

Overview: Former toy maker Sam Mullins and his wife, Esther, are happy to welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their California farmhouse. Years earlier, the couple's 7-year-old daughter Annabelle died in a tragic car accident. Terror soon strikes when one child sneaks into a forbidden room and finds a seemingly innocent doll that appears to have a life of its own.

Verdict: 'Annabelle: Creation' is one hour and 49 minutes long. That’s just over ten minutes shy of the run time of The Exorcist, another film that deals with demons and holy water and children in peril.

That’s not as unfair of a comparison as it may sound: director David F. Sandberg, of last year’s Lights Out, possesses technical skills that are nothing to sniff at, and this mid-century period piece feels richly detailed and lovingly filmed. The dusty old country house where the majority of the film’s action takes place feels like as much of a real, time-worn place as it does a soon-to-be terror trap.

But whereas Exorcist director William Friedkin never stopped building a holistic, inescapable sense of dread whether or not someone’s head was twisting around backward, 'Annabelle: Creation’s countless sequences of foreboding silence — hands reaching for doorknobs, our heroines shuddering in the dark, waiting for their demonic tormentor to attack — offer nothing to really latch on to, no larger reason to care that’s not purely technical. It’s proof that slower doesn’t always mean better in horror.

Not having seen the original Annabelle shouldn’t affect your appreciation of this origin story. The film opens with a lovely, only subtly disturbing wordless sequence in which artisan Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) assembles the titular doll in his workshop.

Shortly afterward, in a few quick strokes we meet his happy family unit: wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and daughter Bee (Samara Lee). All of it is lost, though, when Bee is hit by a car and dies. Fast forward 12 years, when we learn that the tragic Mullinses have opened their doors to a small group of girls from an orphanage.

During a tour of the house, the new guests are given strict instructions never to enter a certain bedroom of a certain little dead girl. Of course, kindhearted polio survivor Janice (Talitha Bateman) is overcome by curiosity and goes in anyway, and soon meets the totally normal, definitely harmless doll that lives there.

The rest, as they say, is history!





'Baywatch'
(Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach / R)

Overview: This big-screen reboot of the popular '90s TV series stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron as two lifeguards patrolling a California beach. However, their jobs get a lot more difficult when they stumble onto a murder mystery. Directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses), Baywatch co-stars Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, David Hasselhoff, and Pamela Anderson.

Verdict: It's fair to say that Baywatch was never a great television show. Sure, it was popular but for reasons very different to it actually being a quality show. It was trashy as hell and combined slow-motion with a number of scantily clad supermodels running down the beach in bathing suits so no surprises at all that it attracted viewers.

There seems to be a bit of a trend in reviving franchises that were popular back in the 80s and 90s, and right now, it was the turn of Baywatch. Quite why is something that I'm still scratching my head about. As soon as the film started and we see Dwayne Johnson saving someone before Baywatch rises from the sea in giant letters behind him, I immediately thought this was going to be exactly what a Baywatch film should be if it was to be successful. A self aware comedy made as a parody of the show, in the same way that made the Jump Street films such a critical and financial success. I won't even waste time in talking about the pathetic cameo that David Hasselhoff makes in the film. All I will say is what a waste of a cameo that had much better potential if they'd actually stopped to think about it.

So there you have it, 'Baywatch' is an awful film that fails as both an action and a comedy. It's already one of the worst films I've seen this year and I won't be surprised if it's still up there come the year's end.





'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales'
(Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Orlando Bloom, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario / PG-13)

Overview: Thrust into an all-new adventure, a down-on-his-luck Captain Jack Sparrow finds the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost pirates led by his old nemesis, the terrifying Captain Salazar (Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle, determined to kill every pirate at sea…including him. Captain Jack’s only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that bestows upon its possessor total control over the seas.

Verdict: Finally, a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie that I felt quite at par with the original one. I felt in this movie, the elements of entertainment were quite abundant. Unlike in the 4th installment, I think this one is funnier, more thrilling and gave the sense of happiness at the end. This time,, the movie was not solely telling the story of Jack Sparrow. Instead the other characters, especially Henry and Carina were given quite a lot screen time. It was nice to see Jack Sparrow's charm and wit plus his insistence of helping other people.

This movie provided some background story of Jack while he was young, which was very interesting to see. The movie was filled with lots of fun and laughter but also few brief touching moments. The story was good and there were some surprises too. As a high budget movie, the movie was filled with very good special effects (some done by the Industrial Light Magic). I totally loved the effects of the dead's (Salazar's crews), his ship and of course the very cool special effects at the end.

I also felt that the movie did not have any dull moment. From beginning till the end, there were always something interesting to see. My wife and I were entertained throughout the whole movie which was having a duration of a little over 2 hours. Amazingly, due to the sense of excitement, my wife was able to hold going to the bathroom till finished. I guess she forgotten about it while watching. I believe this one really worth to see. I am happy to see Johnny Depp in this movie which I hope would be a commercial success for him. Since his past few movies were unfortunately not really successful ones. Maybe people grew tired of his acting as unusual characters. So if you are looking for something fun, light, interesting movie with funny charming pirate and treasure hunt story, you should definitely watch this one. I am confident you would be entertained like my wife and I were.





'The Fate of the Furious'
(Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Lucas Black / PG-13)

Overview: The latest installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise welcomes two Oscar-winning actresses: Charlize Theron plays Cipher, the latest villain to torment Dominic Toretto and his crew, while Helen Mirren joins the cast after publicly lobbying for a role to sate her real-life love of racing.

Verdict: 'The Fate Of The Furious', the eighth entry in the infinite (The) Fast And (The) Furious film series, is nominally fun. It has jet packs, snowmobiles, angry bearded Russians, exotic cars swerving around a fissuring sheet of ice, a submarine, and Jason Statham shooting his way through tight quarters while toting a goo-gooing baby à la Hard Boiled—all in the same set piece, as a matter of fact.

But the movie (henceforth abbreviated as F8) is in many stretches as listless and pointless as the lesser Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond movies from which it appears to have borrowed its plot. The villain is an allegedly sexy superhacker/cyber terrorist, given the Matrix-y handle of Cipher (Charlize Theron) in what appears to be an admission of screenwriting failure.

Thanks to some leverage that is pointlessly withheld for a chunk of the first act, she is able to strong-arm Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the leader of the Fast And (The) Furious’s gang of drag racers turned master criminals turned secret agents, into going rogue to help her steal a few weapons of mass destruction.

If F8 were at all invested in Dom’s team, this apparent betrayal might be a source of tension, conflict, or any of those other things that are generally used to involve a movie audience in a more than superficial way. But no, the Toretto bunch is mostly reduced to incredulous reactions and expository techno-babble, like some mutated melt monster of boilerplate dialogue.

With the logic that three bald heads are better than one, Dom’s absence elevates Staham’s Deckard Shaw, the villain of Furious 7, to the status of replacement member, to the effortlessly resolved chagrin of the Hulk-strong Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), another former Toretto nemesis turned ally. For something that is so flagrantly silly, F8 is awfully prone to lapses of self-seriousness and speechifying, with its own small zoo of animal-metaphor-based monologues. Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, the remake of The Italian Job) is allergic to suspense—which is really a shame, as F8 contains what is, in concept, the most surreal set piece in the series and one of the most inspired bouts of vehophobia since Mad Max.

In this sequence, which happens about halfway through the tiresomely long film, Cipher uses her godlike hacking prowess to mobilize hundreds of taxis and passenger vehicles against Dom’s team in midtown Manhattan. Drivers, passengers, and passerby scream as the cars mass into a zombioid swarm.

It builds to a Happening-esque scene of parked cars reversing to certain doom out of a multistory structure, plummeting like proverbial lemmings in their suicidal migration to the street below. In Gray’s hands, this George A. Romero-ian sight—the day of the automotive undead—is reduced to reaction shots and gummy-candy clumps of digital cars!





'Ghost in the Shell'
(Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt / PG-13)

Overview: In a future in which humanity and technology have begun to merge, a cybernetically enhanced policewoman (Scarlett Johansson) hunts a mysterious terrorist who can hack into his victims' minds and control their thoughts and memories. Her pursuit eventually leads her to discover the full truth about her traumatic past.

Verdict: If the "ghost" of anime classic 'Ghost in the Shell' refers to the soul looming inside of its killer female cyborg, then this live-action reboot from director Rupert Sanders really only leaves us the shell: a heavily computer-generated enterprise with more body than brains, more visuals than ideas, as if the original movie’s hard drive had been wiped clean of all that was dark, poetic and mystifying.

Not that it’s easy to follow in the footsteps of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Japanimation masterpiece, which remains a cornerstone of the genre and sits somewhere between Blade Runner and The Matrix, but Sanders and his team have clearly opted for a sleek, watered-down version that eschews much of the first film’s A.I. existentialism for a futuristic shooter that never digs deep enough. Abetted by a few cool set-pieces and a gun-toting Scarlett Johansson, this Paramount release will see strong box-office returns before disappearing from most of our minds.

The movie already met with some criticism two years ago when Johansson was cast as the part-robot, part-human Terminatrix known as Major, whereas the character in Oshii’s movie and Masamune Shirow’s manga series was Asian. Such whitewashing is becoming more and more controversial for Hollywood studios trying to woo a burgeoning fan and financial base in the East, and nearly all the principal players here are Caucasian, save for a memorable “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, who manages to steal most of his scenes without ever getting up from his desk chair.

But the real issue in 'Ghost in the Shell' may have less to do with whitewashing than with brainwashing, as it often feels like the screenwriters (Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger) chose to jettison the more thought-provoking, cryptic aspects of their source material in favor of a streamlined actioner that jumps from one fight to another without much contemplation.

The original film managed to be both violent and philosophical, putting the viewer in an uneasy place and pushing us to ponder the future of humanity in an increasingly computerized world — a world that would have a huge influence on the Wachowskis' magnum opus, all the way down to the cable ports in the back of each character’s head. Here we get a taste of that ambience, but it feels more like a backdrop than the crux of the story, which boils down to yet another good vs. evil scenario where no mystery is left unsolved and conflicts are tied up in an all-too Hollywood way.





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