‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ review: Phenomenal titan clash

Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes VFX terror and awe to a skyrocketing high. Those who are out for blood (and radiation) should see this on the biggest screen possible.

Any sensible moviegoer should know that Godzilla is the star of any given Godzilla show. Human characters naturally play second fiddle to the story. After all, the roots of this franchise has always occupied a B-level form of entertainment. You don’t go to this movie looking for Shakespearean character depth. The whole point here is to watch monsters beating the heck out of each other. Right? Hence, it does not bother me that King of the Monsters’ top priority is to showcase more epic monster fights. Actually, this is a course correction to the shortcomings of its 2014 predecessor when it comes to adrenaline department.

Once again, the sequel hails Godzilla as Earth’s unlikely defender. The monster’s intention for saving humanity has always been unclear – the film though offers a quick reasoning that titans are Earth’s “last line of defense” against alien invaders. One of which is the fabled King Ghidorah – a three-headed, beam-blasting dragon which serves as Godzilla’s primary rival for apex predator. The dragon sends out a siren call to awaken all the other dormant Titans around the globe, with one mission in mind: smash everything. This includes a pterodactyl Rodan emerging from a Mexican volcano and a luminous giant moth Mothra which thankfully, has an allegiance to Godzilla.

Meet the titans of ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters

On a visual level, King of the Monsters is an arresting work of art. There are plenty of money shots here that deliver pure spectacle. It helps that these creatures are crafted with such detail and passion. Ghidorah’s heads seem to have their own distinct personalities. Mothra delivers lyrical beauty through its large flapping wings. Godzilla even gets beefed up and a character comments on its physical upgrade (“Has he been working out?”) With several kaijus in the picture, it only makes sense to make the monster look stronger and more able. Godzilla lights up his nuke-powered tail and lets loose a terrifying roar, followed by an atomic ray. The film instantly commands your undivided attention.

Aside from the top notch visual effects, director Michael Dougherty, along with cinematographer Lawrence Sher, present the terror and awe through human POVs first before finally zooming out to a series of wide shots to remind the audience how massive the stakes are. Aided by The Walking Dead’s musical scorer Bear McCreary, the film takes its rip-roaring action to a skyrocketing high. There’s a thrilling high-speed chase which pits Rodan against a bunch of military aircraft. Elsewhere, most battles are set at night time with only the blue phosphorescence coming from the Godzilla’s back to light up the proceedings. If you don’t want any darkness (similar to Game of Thrones’ Battle of Winterfell) to taint your viewing experience, you’ll have to watch this in an IMAX theater.

Former British Army colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) coerces paleobiologist Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown)

Surprisingly, the human connection has also improved. Instead of being just powerless ciphers of the first film, the human characters take a more proactive role in joining the battle. In here, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown in her debut movie) develop a bioacoustic machine called the ‘Orca’ that can be used to communicate with Titans. Unfortunately, eco-terrorist leader Alan (Charles Dance) abducts them, uses the device to release Ghidorah and allows it to decimate the overpopulated planet in an attempt to restore “ecological balance.” Sounds like someone has a Thanos savior complex.

On the other hand, crypto-zoological organization Monarch enlists Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to help them track Orca’s signal across the globe, as the bad guys release one monster after another. The rest of the supporting casts – Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi and O’Shea Jackson Jr., are mainly present to spout scientific arguments, explain them in layman terms or act as narrative devices. While character motivations can get muddled and the film’s environmental subtext is immediately dropped in favor of more action, the film does not let you dwell on these narrative flaws. The visual splendor is always ready to sweep you off your feet.

Animal behavior and communication specialist Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) tries to rescue his family amid the massive chaos.

The potential of Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse can be summed up in the films’ explosive third act royal rumble. Godzilla: King of Monsters is an electrifying and fantastic kaiju extravaganza that satiates one’s appetite for destruction. Suffice to say, if you’re into this stuff, it’s an excellent choice for a popcorn blockbuster. Otherwise, this can end up numbing to the senses.

As references to Kong: Skull Island are made to set up the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020, I’m definitely sticking to see more of what this franchise has to offer.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Michael Dougherty, written by Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi. With T.J. Storm as Godzilla (via motion capture). Based on the Japanese film Godzilla by Toho. 132 minutes. PG-13.

WATCH: ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’ payoff trailer reveals epic action

Saving the world is easy, but working together is going to be a real pain in the ass. Watch the payoff trailer for Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw starring Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba and Vanessa Kirby.

In Philippine cinemas July 31, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.  #HobbsAndShaw #FastFurious  

About Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

After eight films that have amassed almost $5 billion worldwide, the Fast & Furious franchise now features its first stand-alone vehicle as Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham reprise their roles as Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.

Ever since hulking lawman Hobbs (Johnson), a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service, and lawless outcast Shaw (Statham), a former British military elite operative, first faced off in 2015’s Fast & Furious 7, the duo have swapped smack talk and body blows as they’ve tried to take each other down.

But when cyber-genetically enhanced anarchist Brixton (Idris Elba) gains control of an insidious bio-threat that could alter humanity forever — and bests a brilliant and fearless  rogue MI6 agent (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby), who just happens to be Shaw’s sister — these two sworn enemies will have to partner up to bring down the only guy who might be badder than themselves.

Hobbs & Shaw blasts open a new door in the Fast universe as it hurtles action across the globe, from Los Angeles to London and from the toxic wasteland of Chernobyl to the lush beauty of Samoa.   

Directed by David Leitch (Deadpool 2) from a script by longtime Fast & Furious narrative architect Chris Morgan, the film is produced by Morgan, Johnson, Statham and Hiram Garcia. The executive producers are Dany Garcia, Kelly McCormick, Steven Chasman, Ethan Smith and Ainsley Davies. 

‘Maria’ review: Cristine Reyes astounds in a well-executed badass film

Pedring Lopez’ ‘Maria’ almost gives Hollywood action flicks a run for their money.

When a former BlackRose cartel assassin, Lily (Cristine Reyes), deliberately betrays her team by refusing to complete a certain mission, the cartel orders her execution. Unbeknownst to them, she fakes her own death and proceeds to create a new life of her own.  Seven years have passed, Lily now goes by the name Maria, a loving wife to her husband Bert (Guji Lorenzana) and a caring mother to her daughter Min-min (Johanna Rish Tongcua). Unfortunately, her dark past catches up to her present when her former boyfriend and partner-in-crime, Kaleb (Ivan Padilla) who’s also the son of a notorious crime boss named Ricardo de la Vega (Freddie Webb), spots her in the crowd and wastes no time to raid her home. This resulting fray turns her idyllic present life upside-down into a bloody chaos.

Maria is your typical kind of guilty pleasure, revenge film – the one where the protagonist suffers with a huge loss in the first act, before finally exacting his/her retribution come second act. Yes, one may call it a rip-off from John Wick or the more recent Peppermint but what makes this stand out is its execution. The use of camera and drone shots is very proficient; the framing shows everything that’s happening even beyond the action segments. Compared to Pedring Lopez’ past films, this one simply takes his film-making skill into a whole next level. It is well-choreographed, well-shot and tightly edited; none of those kinetic quick-cuts and distracting shaky cams are present here. This new era of technical achievement is a testament to the resurgence of the local action genre in the coming years. Maria gives the Hollywood action flicks a run for their money and it even has the potential to take a shot for an international Asian release, given the right audience.

Fight choreographer Sonny Sison and his crew deserve a commendation for staging an impressive fight choreography. From thrilling hand-to-hand combats, curved knife fight scenes to gunfire and explosions, the film succeeds in depicting creative yet believable action sequences that should make the audiences drop their jaw in astonishment. Since this is a no-holds-barred action film, the violence is taken to a maximum, even to the point of challenging the limits of its R-16 rating. There’s a femme fatale bathroom showdown that is simply just lit! If this is your cup of tea, look no further.

Moving forward with an international reach, a female-led action film might just be the Philippines’ best asset. Last year, Anne Curtis totally rocked as a fearless rookie PDEA agent in BuyBust and not long after, Erich Gonzales gave her shot as a tough movie stuntwoman in We Will Not Die Tonight. This year, it is Cristine Reyes who cements her spot as the newest action heroine with her amazing and dedicated performance. Her portrayal is surprisingly entertaining, way beyond the usual sexy roles that we often see. She’s a girl on fire who’s worth rooting for throughout the film’s run time. While the role requires physicality, it is her ability to infuse each punch and kick with a wide range of emotion that makes her craft engrossing to watch.

That being said, Maria has its own share of minor shortcomings. For a film that has the ambition to go international, the consistent use of a dual language (English and Filipino) can be off-putting at times. It could have benefitted from lesser language transitions and instead, sticking to a native language for the most part, to give the film a more domestic and convincing vibe. Another nitpick would have to be the employment of zooming effects – a common problem in Filipino films which should be avoided in the future. Such technique can be acceptable when it comes to gunfights, but then the occasional lack of proper lighting causes difficulty on appreciating a full cinematic experience – that, however may just depend on the cinema’s projection. Hopefully next time they shoot with wider and brighter shots. Overall, these flaws can be easily improved and it never spoils the whole fun. Maria is almost at par with Hollywood standards, and hopefully it won’t get stuck at delivering redundant beats. But as for now, this is the best technically-made local action flick that we have for now.

Maria is definitely an essential viewing for action aficionados out there. As one of the most visceral revenge flicks in recent memory, it successfully delivers a heightened sense of adrenaline from start to finish.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Now showing in cinemas nationwide, Maria is produced by VIVA Films, BlackOps Studios Asia, and Psyops8. Directed by Pedring A. Lopez, and stars Cristine Reyes, Germaine De Leon, KC Montero, Guji Lorenzana, Freddie Webb, Jennifer Lee, Cindy Miranda, L.A. Santos, and Ronnie Lazaro.

Liam Neeson’s vengeance fuels hard-pounding action in ‘Cold Pursuit’

Blood in the snow will flow in Liam Neeson’s (known for the highly successful Taken franchise) latest thrilling action film “Cold Pursuit” where he plays Nes Coxman, a snowplough driver  in  Kehoe, a 10 degrees and counting glitzy ski resort in the Rocky Mountains.

Liam Neeson is no stranger to reinvention. But even by his standards, “Cold Pursuit” represents a surprising gear-shift into wicked new territory.  The movie sets the local police in action at the same time who are not used to much action until the son of unassuming town snowplough driver, Nels Coxman is murdered at the order of Viking (Tom Bateman), a flamboyant drug lord. Enraged and armed with heavy machinery, Nels sets out to dismantle the cartel one man at a time, but his understanding of murder comes mainly from what he read in a crime novel. As the bodies pile up, his actions ignite a turf war between Viking and his long-standing rival White Bull (Tom Jackson), a soulful Native-American mafia boss, that will quickly escalate and turn the small town’s bright white slopes blood-red.

There aren’t many actors whose CV include everything from an Oscar-nominated turn in Schindler’s List to a Jedi, a Batman villain, a shady cop made out of Lego and a talking Lion. But then, Liam Neeson isn’t like many other actors.  With an astonishing 126 credits to his name, the 66-year-old famously saw himself unwittingly reinvented as an action star a decade ago, with his starring role as Bryan Mills in the huge global smash that was TAKEN. But while that movie’s plot, of a father out for revenge against the men who have put his offspring in danger, may sound like it shares some DNA with that of Cold Pursuit, the latter sees him deliver a performance unlike any in his already storied career.

“On the one level, Cold Pursuit is a great, classic revenge thriller,” says Neeson. “But what was really appealing to me was the dark undercurrent of humour that runs through it.” Or, as his director, Hans Petter Moland puts it: “Basically, this is Liam Neeson like you’ve never seen him before. It’s a very special, unique performance.” 

Catch “Cold Pursuit” when it opens in cinemas on February 13 nationwide from Axinite Digicinema.

Mark Wahlberg, director Peter Berg collaborate anew via action-thriller ‘Mile 22’

VIVA International Pictures and MVP Entertainment proudly present “Mile 22”, the fourth film collaboration between director Peter Berg and two-time Academy award nominee Mark Wahlberg after their blockbuster movies “Patriots Day”, “Deepwater Horizon” and the Oscar-nominated “Lone Survivor”.

“Mile 22” follows an elite paramilitary team called the “Ground Branch” who must travel 22 miles in 38 minutes to transport a foreign intelligence asset from an American Embassy in Southeast Asia to an airfield where he will be extracted and brought to the United States. This asset possesses highly classified information which could prevent terrorists from attacking and making at least six major cities uninhabitable.

As the Ground Branch risks life and limb in Southeast Asia, with the city’s military, police, and even street gangs closing in on them to reclaim the asset, its counterpart called “Overwatch” is tasked to aid them from thousands of miles away. Overwatch has mad hacking skills, monitoring the Ground Branch agents involved in the operation and communicating with them in real time to help keep them alive, in motion and on mission, as the action unfolds and the city quickly becomes a battleground.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Ground Branch officer Jimmy Silva in MILE 22

Mark Wahlberg portrays James “Jimmy” Silva, the brilliant senior officer and leader of this small but lethal group. His brain is like a shark, always moving, always working, and seemingly incapable of slowing down; he is incapable of separating himself from his work. He feels a tremendous amount of responsibility to protect his country and his team, who know him to be direct, gruff, unpredictable, sarcastic, and all business.

When asked what drives Jimmy Silva, Wahlberg answers, “His upbringing, his youth…He has no family, no ties to anybody. (For him) the mission comes first, last, and in between. So, it’s a very unique kind of skill set that these guys have that are requirements for the job.”

Ronda Rousey (Furious 7, The Expendables 3) plays Samantha “Sam” Snow, a member of Silva’s group. This former UFC women’s bantamweight champion fighter excited shares, “They put the script in my lap and it was a completely fresh and different role for me, and I absolutely loved it. My role was not so dependent on being physical and fighting; it was like completely the opposite.” In this film, Rousey’s character exhibits extreme loyalty to her friends.”

Lauren Cohan stars as Alice in the STXfilms MILE 22.

Playing the foreign intelligence asset named Li Noor is Indonesian actor and martial arts master Iko Uwais, best known for his starring roles in the acclaimed action film series The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2. “Mile 22” marks his American film debut.

According to Peter Berg, “Iko is a big reason for me wanting to do this movie; he’s probably what started it.” The director reveals that he was mesmerized by Iko after watching The Raid. Iko has been referred to as “the next Bruce Lee”, and Berg began formulating plans for an action film to bring Uwais to a worldwide audience. That film became Mile 22.

Although “Mile 22” is a work of fiction, it’s standard practice for Berg to engage a group of consultants with real world experience – from Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, to CIA officers and computer experts – to assist the cast and filmmakers in creating accurate character depictions in terms of both actions and dialogue in any given situation. So viewers can expect a realistic and thrilling movie.

This intense and explosive film “Mile 22” opens in cinemas on October 10.

‘BuyBust’ review: Mind-searing desperation and damnation in the hellish slums of Manila

Erik Matti’s ‘BuyBust’ could just be the catalyst in the second coming of Philippine action films.

Looking at Erik Matti’s acclaimed body of work (2013’s On The Job and 2015’s Honor Thy Father), it’s safe to say that violence has always been a driving force in his brand of filmmaking. Whereas social media can easily desensitize netizens from topical issues, a heightened sense of violence in movies should arrest their attention and restore back their empathy. With a body count that rivals a Game of Thrones episode, BuyBust is clearly a film on violence in the form of extrajudicial killings.

Interestingly, the film puts you in an odd position as you find yourself rooting for the cops committing murderous acts. Still, it strikes a balance as no character, down to its bit players, gets an untarnished moral compass. No side is demonized to a fault… right up until that blindsiding and chilling finale where Matti reveals that he has not taken a neutral stance all along. He makes a bold statement and takes no prisoners with it. Whether you agree with him or not is one thing, but having huge balls to speak your mind is another thing. The result is quite impressive.

Anne Curtis as PDEA police officer Nina Manigan. Photo via Viva Films and Reality Entertainment.

BuyBust is mostly told in the perspective of police officer Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis), a rookie in supervisor Bernie Lacson’s (Victor Neri) elite anti-narcotic squad. She’s a lone survivor who has developed a cynical and untrusting attitude after her old squad was betrayed by a mystery figure named ‘Judas’. This time, her new team’s assignment is to apprehend a drug lord named Biggie Chen (another mystery name that will be thrown around) and soon they find themselves walking blindly into the den of Gracia ni Maria. It’s the most dangerous place in Manila and one character affirms it: “when hell was unleashed, all evil decided to live there.”

Nina’s gut instinct starts screaming that this might be a suicide mission and she’s right. Once they realized that they are being set up, the squad’s objective changes from entrapment to purely survival. They have a limited ammo supply, a signal jammer prevents them from calling a backup and a Judas hides among their flanks. In a Nat Geo Wild twist of events, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Lacson’s Alpha squad (L-R): Gelo Elia (AJ Muhlach), Loren Santos (Mara Lopez), Iggy Hizon (Tarek El Tayech), Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis). Photo via Viva Films and Reality Entertainment. 

Name the worst things you can think in Tondo, Manila and you will find it here. Claustrophobic shanties, flooded alleyways, dangling live wires – Gracia ni Maria is a breathing labyrinth of nightmare. Mix in a moody cinematography that juxtaposes gloom and neon lights, the air of dread and desperation only becomes more ominous. And as if being stuck in an unfamiliar environment is not a disadvantage enough, the residents, who are always treated as collateral damage in drug raids, starts fighting against our police squad too.

Guns start blazing and knives starts swinging. In addition, garden hoses, water basins, cactuses, you name it, anything that they can grab onto can also be weaponized (and when there’s nothing in sight, good ol’ trusty knuckles and teeth will suffice). Crazed and unorganized hordes of people swarm up from every nook and corner. Matti said it best during an interview, “this is a zombie film without zombies.” BuyBust is a cardio exercise that won’t back down anytime soon.

Alpha Squad in training (L-R): Loren Santos (Mara Lopez), Gelo Elia (AJ Muhlach), Rico Yatco (Brandon Vera). Photo via Viva Films and Reality Entertainment.

Working on confined spaces, injecting creativity in close quarter combats is no easy task but Matti goes above and beyond in ratcheting the suspense when it mattered the most. He employs elaborate choreography and tons of practical effects – a gorgeous shot of moon-lit smoke permeating inside a room comes to the mind. When it comes to the brawl, street fights are supposed to be messy and the action here is reality-grounded, free from any Jackie Chan level of martial arts. Not everything here is perfect. I had personal gripes on some action pieces that were too much reliant on shaky cams and quick cuts, especially on the first half. Plus, a loud musical scoring often dilutes the sound of gunfire and grunts.

Amidst the chaos, Curtis, reportedly with no stunt doubles, stands tall as the local scene’s top femme fatale to beat. There’s that much-touted three-minute continuous shot of her fending off enemies while scaling up and down on the slums. This could have been the toughest sequence ever shot in Philippine cinema, an astonishing feat that deserves huge accolades. Woot!

On the other hand, you may cast doubts on Curtis’ credibility when it comes to delivering body slams but MMA fighter Brandon Vera, in his movie debut as the burly Rico Yatco owns every ounce of action he’s in. He superkicks crooks like they’re a bunch of kittens. He channels his inner King Kong and lifts people and motorcycles up in the air. He cuts off a woman’s head using a huge pair of garden shears. Still, the guy maintains a likable screen presence. The supporting cast however, fared less and comes out as thinly-written characters. Not that the film needs to delve more on them but it should’ve done more effort for the viewers to genuinely care for their survival. There are some standouts though like the ones played by Alex Calleja and Arjo Atayde.

Facing off the residents of Gracia Ni Maria. Photo via Viva Films and Reality Entertainment.

BuyBust, on a surface level, is a game changer that hopefully will be the catalyst in the second coming of Philippine action films. As the film reaches its climax, what is marketed as a blockbuster action film turns into an unapologetic political film teeming with social commentary. The shot ends with a God’s eye view of Tondo, looking like a chessboard with heaps of corpses left in the wake of the war. The message becomes clear. The epic monstrosity we just witnessed is just a small scale of what we live in. We are all pawns to a system that is bigger than all of us. The true height of films is in their ability to provoke thoughts and sear them in one’s mind. BuyBust gets the job done.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Produced by Reality Entertainment, co-produced and distributed by Viva Films, BuyBust is now showing in PH cinemas starring Anne Curtis, Brandon Vera, Victor Neri, Arjo Atayde, Levi Ignacio, Nonie Buencamino, Lao Rodriguez, Alex Calleja, Joross Gamboa, Sheenly Gener, Mara Lopez, AJ Muhlach, Tarek El Tayech, Maddie Martinez, Ricky Pascua, Nafa Hilario, Ian Ignacio and Mikey Alcaraz. Directed by Erik Matti and written by Anton Santamaria and Erik Matti. Run time: 127 minutes.

‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ review: Rare franchise consistently outperforming itself

With its sharp choreography and tight pacing, Christopher McQuarrie’s ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ solidifies itself as this year’s action movie to beat. Like its ageless franchise, Tom Cruise is simply an indestructible icon.

The ‘Tom-Cruise-risks-his-life-for-our-entertainment’ show is back. See the legendary Ethan Hunt run, drive, climb, leap, swing and fight with 110% effort, while showing no signs of fatigue in the sixth installment of M:I franchise. Even at 56, Mr. Cruise is never too old for this and he never looks like one. When an actor this awesome commits himself to an insane degree – he infamously broke his ankle while jumping from one building to another and still kept going – that alone deserves a standing ovation, right? Likewise, reprising director Christopher McQuarrie disproves every sequel’s law of diminishing returns and outperforms its predecessors through this relentless piece of filmmaking. To put it this way, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is one of the finest action movies ever made.

The basic setup for Fallout is laid out in the first few minutes and then the plot unfolds at a breakneck pace. Ethan’s mission – should he choose to accept it (like he has a choice) – is to stop a group of terrorists called “The Apostles” from acquiring three plutonium cores planned to be weaponized as nuclear bombs. It’s your standard plot of Ethan Hunt saving the world against shady anarchists who want to raze the current world order. While the film can stand alone in itself, this works more as a direct sequel to 2015’s Rogue Nation as it brings back familiar key players. Ethan still works for IMF secretary Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and he is aided by his trusty sidekicks Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames). Femme fatale former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) seeks exoneration and gets herself entangled while incarcerated mass-murderer Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), more manic than before, seems to be the one pulling the strings behind this chaos. Lane is still a firm believer of his nihilist philosophy, “the greater the pain, the greater the peace” and he wants to exact revenge against Ethan more than anything. Hence, Ethan deals more compromises this time. His inability to adjust his ideals could be the fallout of his good intentions.

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

If you’ve seen M:I films before, you should know by now that it is within the nature of these films to get twisty and convoluted. Needless to say, people wear masks and fool each other. Sheer adrenaline fuels a plot filled with double-crossing and one will be given little time to contemplate on what just happened. Ethan and his team needs to figure out who’s working on their side. The biggest question mark is August Walker (Henry Cavill) – a hammer to Ethan’s scalpel – who is sent by CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) to monitor his team’s activities. Also entering the fray is a black market dealer White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) who’s deft with a butterfly knife.

While some might care less about Fallout’s cerebral workout on its shifting alliances, the true ingenuity of this film is in its masterful fight and stunts choreography paired with an excellent pacing. These don’t get acknowledged enough and the M:I franchise is known for its million-dollar money shots. In Ghost Protocol, Ethan scaled the world’s tallest skyscraper in Dubai. In Rogue Nation, he fearlessly hanged by his fingers from a cargo plane. Fallout exceeds them and has at least half a dozen of varied death-defying setpieces shot with gripping camera work (void of any Bourne franchise’s quick cuts and shaky camera). There’s this much-touted HALO jump that makes the whole cinema hold their breath in unison. A tightly edited, breathless motorcycle chase across the streets of Paris. A bone-crunching bathroom brawl, with Cavill literally reloading his arms before packing a punch. And then there’s a fantastic helicopter chase sequence that I can watch all day. Fallout is a marathon that goes all out.

Hunt’s IMF team (L-R): Benjamin Dunn (Simon Pegg), Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell)

You could watch a CGI-driven action film like Skyscraper and think about ‘The Rock’ doing his stunts in a green screen but not in here. The film has an abundance of practical effects hence, it feels real and terrifying. It’s highly improbable but it is physics grounded. Yes, that’s actually Cruise skydiving out of the plane or him dangling under the helicopter! McQuarrie cleverly refrains from using soundtrack during its dire moments so viewers can absorb every slam and every blow. It takes a genius to organically string violent setpieces with such elegance.

When a franchise constantly outperforms itself, one blockbuster after the other, does the term ‘franchise fatigue’ even apply? Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the high-water mark of a series that began two decades ago. It is a confident and capable torchbearer in the action genre, gaining more momentum with each passing installment. If the rumors are true that this will be the last (which I highly doubt), then Tom Cruise is coming out in a blaze of glory.

5 out of 5 stars

Distributed by Paramount Pictures, ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout‘ is now showing in PH cinemas starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan and Alec Baldwin. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.

‘Skyscraper’ review: Physics-defying, vertigo-inducing action flick

Looking at The Rock’s trajectory in this movie poster, there’s simply no way he could have made it, right? ‘Skyscraper’ screws physics and logic to disprove this.

These days, Dwayne Johnson has been churning out blockbuster movies faster than any other action star—like he’s a film studio himself. Not to mention his ongoing HBO show Ballers, the Jumanji remake that just came out December last year, followed by the arcade game adaptation Rampage four months after, and now he braves a blazing mega high-rise tower filled with terrorists in Skyscraper. This film should fall more into the generic category of his filmography. But being one of the most likeable and bankable stars in Hollywood, ‘The Rock’ once again spins this outrageous, mindless flick, into something entertaining and armrest-gripping. If this is your kind of cinematic comfort food, feel free to knock yourself out.

READ MORE: ‘Rampage’ review: Delirious enough to lives up to its title

This film unabashedly takes cues from the Die Hard classic and 1974’s The Towering Inferno, with its distributor Universal even mimicking/paying homage to their movie posters. But amidst the derivative screenplay, Johnson’s character is a welcome change – Will Sawyer is probably the first amputee action hero in the history of cinema. A military veteran who now works as a building security assessor, he is a breadwinner for his ex-military surgeon wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their twin children, Georgia and Henry (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cotrell). Will is hired as a security consultant for The Pearl that houses over 200 self-sustaining residential and commercial floors – it’s crazy tall enough to oust Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Resting on top of the building is the eponymous pearl which features an interior that can digitally morph into any environment. Its multi-billionaire owner/architect Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) has installed so much state-of-the-art design in this tower that you might as well be watching a sci-fi film. Spoiler alert, most of this green-screen glory will go into flames.

The fire is caused by an unremarkable group of terrorists led by Kores Botha (Roland Møller), incidentally trapping Will’s family in the 96th floor. It’s all for the sake of acquiring a heavily guarded MacGuffin that you couldn’t care less because it has absolute no connection to Will’s story. The rushed plot merely acts as a bridge to connect all the ensuing action pieces, hence the film feels like it’s based on a video game more than Rampage has been. Hong Kong is cleverly selected as the film’s setting and several asian actors are cast into thankless supporting roles in an attempt to attract the Chinese movie market. Skyscraper is a pretty much standard and calculated action flick.

READ MORE: Go behind the scenes of action film ‘Skyscraper’ in new featurette

Still, familiarity does not get in the way of entertainment as Skyscraper successfully adds itself to the compendium of The Rock’s greatest hits, defying every reasonable law of physics to elevate the tension to its peak. A quick glance at its improbable poster alone tells that a huge amount of suspension of disbelief is prescribed to fully enjoy this film. Will is humanized in the beginning as he attaches his prosthetic leg and takes his daily dose of painkillers. It’s an effective set-up to all the superhuman stuff he’ll do to save his family.

And so, equipped with an endless amount of valor, Will climbs a 500-foot construction crane in a matter of minutes. Still, he has the stamina to make perilous jumps and hold bridge railings thanks to his unparalleled, god-like, upper body strength. Along the way, he also gets stabbed, tased and engulfed with flames and shattered glass. Johnson is big and strong enough to hold the monstrosity of the action but there is no exaggeration when I say that he turned into Mr. Incredible over the course of this film. A helicopter takes a live feed of Will’s endeavors while the film quick cuts to a crowd of terrified Chinese spectators below, as if they’re watching a very intense and death-defying episode of American Ninja Warrior. Escapism is the name of the game.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber exploits every shred of acrophobia from its viewers, effectively giving you the vertigo. At one point, Will traverses the exterior of a building like Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, except in here, he uses duct tapes as suction cups. Also, once in a while, the film reminds us that Will is an amputee by utilizing his prosthetic leg during some critical scenes. But enough of Johnson, the biggest revelation here is Neve Campbell (lead of the Scream franchise) who’s no damsel in distress as she impresses with her own set of stunts. A career as an action heroine is worthy of consideration.

Overall, Skyscraper throws logic out of the window to sustain its irresistible, over-the-top thrills. But as long as you find the Sawyer family likeable enough to root for them, this should work. The stunts are vertigo-inducing yet much emphasis is placed on the mechanics over character and plot development to live up against Die Hard. Plus, it definitely lacks a memorable villain to begin with. Johnson remarks in one scene, “This is stupid.” The same sentiment can be said for the film. Stupid, yet fun is still an acceptable form of summer diversion.

3 out of 5 stars

Distributed by Universal Pictures, ‘Skyscraper’ starring Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan, McKenna Roberts and Noah Cotrell. Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Runtime: 102 minutes.

Bruce Willis turns deadly avenger in action-packed ‘Death Wish’

Bruce Willis stars in his latest action-packed movie where fury and fate will collide in “Death Wish”, based on Brian Garfield’s novel.

A must-see with a new twist from the original film, “Death Wish” trails the brutal reality of Willis’ character as Dr. Paul Kersey, a surgeon who only sees the the aftermath of Chicago violence as it’s rushed into his ER – until his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts for his family’s assailants to deliver justice. As the anonymous slayings of criminals grabs the media’s attention, the city wonders if this deadly avenger is a guardian angel or a grim reaper.

“Death Wish” opens March 1, 2018 in Philippine cinemas from OctoArts Films International and T-Rex Entertainment.

Bruce Willis stars in bank heist film ‘Marauders’

Iconic action star Bruce Willis of “Die Hard” franchise and Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) star in the frenetic heist film “Marauders” about an untraceable group of elite bank robbers chased by a suicidal FBI Agent who uncovers a deeper purpose behind the robbery-homicides.

FBI Special Agent Jonathan Montgomery (Christopher Meloni) is on the trail of an untraceable group of elite bank robbers who give the stolen loot to charity. As he delves further into the investigation, the lawman discovers a deeper purpose behind the robbery-homicides and a trail of secrets protected by the bank’s owner (Bruce Willis). Featured alongside Meloni and Willis in the high octane, smoldering thriller are Dave Bautista, Adrian Grenier, Johnathon Schaech, and Lydia Hull.

In “Marauders,” Willis is once again in the midst of a heist where everybody is a suspect. His role as a bank manager, Jeffrey Hubert, has just guided an aging woman to the Hubert National exit when a shotgun chambers and he’s blown through the inside glass door. Four Kevlar clad bank robbers: Tornado, Hurricane, Thunder, and Squall, rush inside and rough up security and customers. Thunder draws a pistol on a teller and activates a creepy order from his smart watch: open the draw, do not hit the alarm or your manager will die. Tornado staunches the manager’s wound and drags him toward the safe; a key-code is entered revealing three million in cash. While Squall bags the cash, Hurricane places a high-tech device on the floor and a cold audio repeats with crystal clarity over restrained sobs that any attempt to leave or call police will activate the sleek explosive. The well-honed team makes their exit, discretely concealing weapons. Eyeballing a security camera, Squall drags the manager toward the entrance, raises his shotgun, and blows off the man’s head. Job finished.

Bruce Willis portrays Jeffrey Hubert, president and owner of Hubert National Bank, and the target of repeated heists. An air of entitlement and authority, he goes ballistic when the local newspaper smells a scandal beyond simple robbery. “There’s a lot of power struggle and I think the power of money and control is one of the major themes. Hubert is trying to take from the rest of us. And of course there’s tension between the FBI and the on the ground cops, the detectives trying to take control of this investigation and who gets to make the decisions,” Grenier reveals.

“Marauders” opened July 13, 2016 in cinemas from OctoArts Films International.