Double Feature: Anaconda (1997) & American Ultra (2015)

Welcome to this week’s double feature for a double Netflix A movie, Anaconda and American Ultra!

I’m back to my alphabet thing which I never tend to finish because I always start it at the beginning of the year and then Valentine’s marathon and the Ultimate Decades blogathon cuts in between and then I lose track. I’m hoping it will be more organized this year and things will work out. However, I do have some other double features lingering on the background so at least I’ll keep up with a weekly thing, right? ūüėČ

Let’s check out these two!

Anaconda (1997)

Anaconda

Director: Luis Llosa

Cast:  Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Vincent Castellanos

A “National Geographic” film crew is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who forces them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake. – IMDB

I’m a huge fan of creature features. While I’ve been working hard to catch up on some of the older ones, Anaconda has been one that I haven’t caught up with until the last few months. To be honest, it was quite a disappointing experience. Perhaps its because it is awfully dated and the Anaconda doesn’t look too believable or the execution was paced fairly slow. However, if we put aside those little things it still works as a concept. There are other movies in the same subgenres who execute creature features in the same way and it still work. What works for it is the setting itself where this group is on the water in a boat going through unknown waterways and it works with the jungle environment and all the unknowns that pair with it. That is one of the few things that I liked.

My biggest issue with Anaconda is the cast. Put aside the other people who were tolerable, Jennifer Lopez is an actress that I’ve never found a movie where I liked and yet she constantly gets cast into films over and over again. It is mind-boggling to me but I’m sure there are others who appreciate her. However, her acting didn’t quite work for me here and it became very irritating to watch. The second performance who I, at times, do enjoy is Jon Voight who does an over the top villain sort of role who also gets very ridiculous at points. Just these two weaknesses and their frequency and importance in the film made this one really hard to enjoy for myself.

In fact, Anaconda isn’t a really lengthy film and yet it took me about 3 sittings to finish, which says a lot about how I feel about going back to visit this one again.

American Ultra (2015)

american ultra

Director: Nima Nourizadeh

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman

A stoner – who is in fact a government agent – is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he’s too well-trained and too high for them to handle. – IMDB

American Ultra is a fun little action crime adventure. Its comedic and pretty well-paced, packed with lots of action and schemes. Its straight forward and just a lot of crazy. I think what makes this movie work is Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Jesse Eisenberg has his roles that don’t work (aka Lex Luthor) and then he has roles that works for him (like Zombieland and Now You See Me) and this definitely fits in the latter category. The premise is a bit far-fetched but in this absurd way that kind of works. I can see how it could be irritating to watch but then, there is this desperate connection between him and Kristen Stewart that works well. Talking about Kristen Stewart, I can’t help to feel that her lowpoint is definitely Twilight and everything else that I see her in generally works from good to great. This one works so well for her character. She keeps the film pulled together just like some of the other supporting characters does also.

On that note, John Leguizamo’s role was¬† meant to be absurd and it was so absurd that it was really annoying to watch (I guess they succeeded?). In my mind though, its sad to see me get annoyed by John Leguizamo who I like a lot and feel that he is unique in his interpretation of roles. I’m starting to realize that Topher Grace also ends up taking up roles that I truly dislike. Seeing as he is the “enemy” in this case, it felt like its good to hate him but he is so hard to like. I feel like whenever I see him in a movie always dislike his bits and this one is no different. Its the fact that I can’t quite to decide whether his roles are meant to be dark humor or if we are meant to take him seriously. Either way, those two are the lowpoints for me in this film that felt slightly annoying and disappointing.

However, the lowpoints here are not enough to forget about the sum of all the positives here. I can’t help to like a film that is so fun. It does have its dramatic moments but the film that I could compare this film to would be Mr. Right and they have the same vibe and tone that I like a lot.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two A selections? Thoughts?

 

Tomb Raider (2018)

Scratching another anticipated film from 2018 off the list. You can see the full list here.

I never saw the prior films with Angelina Jolie in the role so I have nothing to compare with, however, I’ve been looking forward to this new origin story style of Lara Croft especially with the franchise reboot for the game. It feels like it keeps it more real. Let’s start right away and say that I have a much more lenient view towards video game adaptations however, I will discuss why I think video game movies don’t translate so well on the screen, just like how superhero movies can be the same way (as I talked about yesterday in the double feature with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2).

Oh yeah, so before we start, you will like to also factor in that I had a very annoying theatre experience, even besting the Gravity viewing with a dog yelping in the seat behind me where a lady was texting and snapchatting for half the movie until another guy went to tell her to turn off her phone and she then just dimmed the phone. Common theatre etiquette apparently goes right over the head of self-centred people. Sorry if that sounds mean but it wasn’t a very enjoyable experience for more than the first half of the movie.

Enough rambling! Let’s check it out!

Tomb Raider (2018)

Tomb Raider

Director: Roar Uthaug

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas

Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared. – IMDB

There’s been fairly mix reviews towards Tomb Raider. Video game adaptations tend to have those feelings. I’m not very well-versed in Lara Croft although I’ve played a fair amount of the games and understand what its about, even though I’ve only started to dive into the game that this movie is based on. However, the director himself had said that he didn’t know squat about the game either so based on that, its suffice to say that whatever he created would be suitable as a movie experience or as the story itself. Whatever it was that he did, for me, he did a fantastic job. I tend to be more lenient on video game adaptations however, this one did tick a lot of the factors that made it work.

Before we get into the nitty gritty bits of the review, perhaps its important to talk about why I think video game adaptations, just like superhero movies, suffer from one factor and that is the lack of a truly dangerous feeling. Sure, we know that Lara Croft or Alice (from Resident Evil) or Iron Man is going to get into danger but will he die? Chances are if a movie is based on a main character and that movie has a chance to be a franchise, they probably won’t and that is why, it takes away from the tension. So for people who don’t even have the video game connection, it becomes nothing but a generic ride through a movie that you already know the ending of. Perhaps its because I play games that I tend to not mind these predictable endings and truly take the ride for what it is. For one, just judging by the story they are basing it on, you probably can’t compare Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft, which is an origin story versus Angelina Jolie’s version. They are a different era Lara Croft, telling a different time in her life. Maybe she’ll get into some skimpy shorts one day but comparing the Lara here and the Jolie one is like comparing Daniel Craig to Sean Connery’s James Bond. A bit of a contrast but I hope you get what I mean.

Tomb Raider

With that said, I think Alicia Vikander does a great job at being this intelligent and bad ass female protagonist. Her character had somewhat of a linear character progression as you would expect with a video game character but there’s a bit about her background and how she got dragged into this plus some mystery and puzzles to solve along with some tense action sequences. Honestly, that is all you could ask for because its exactly what defines a Tomb Raider game. We know that she’ll make it out alive but what dangers will she encounter. If you are familiar with video game comparisons, Lara Croft is something like the female version of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake. She has a lot of story to discover and so smart. Of course, this also highlights some of her inexperience as she sometimes does things like go back to get something that she shouldn’t in the middle of a huge storm but we always know that its going to work out in the end. However, it doesn’t stop that fact that she is a compelling character to watch unfold.

Tomb Raider

I’m not going to lie that while my experience with Alicia Vikander was mostly in Ex Machina (review) and she did a mighty fine job in that role, I was excited and incredibly happy to see that Daniel Wu. Daniel Wu might not be a big deal here because he was in an indie which not a lot of people saw called Europa Report (review) which I personally liked but I know it has some mixed reviews as well. And I’m currently watching Into the Badlands, which is an AMC series which is pretty good also. But Daniel Wu won the Best Actor in the Hong Kong/Asia equivalent of the Oscars and that makes him a big deal over there plus it helps that he has a sexy English accent when he talks and looks fairly handsome also. With that said, even before that in some of the debut roles, I thought he was always really good. As Lu Ren, he adds such a great character. Lu Ren might not have had a whole lot of plot in this one but it was enough to highlight the traits that mattered for his character to exist and as the first movie of what I hope will be a franchise for Tomb Raider, both of these characters along with the back story of Tomb Raider has enough to keep it intriguing to keep discovering her story. I can’t say I’m an expert either even if I’ve played a few of the games but Tomb Raider may have a bigger plot that they want to tell here but Lara Croft herself has so many memorable adventures that she can go on.

I guess the final part here is both the dangers of tomb raiding and our villain here played by Walton Goggins. If Tomb Raider fell apart in anywhere, it had to be in the villain. Now, Walton Goggins did a pretty good job but as a villain, he did feel quite one dimensional. This relates back to what I mentioned in the beginning about video game adaptations and their predictable ending¬†(I should really do a vlog on this topic, what do you think?). Walton Goggins never felt like a threat even if he tried to be ruthless by killing an innocent but the villain felt like he was just going through the motions as his goons had a more menacingly feeling. This character wasn’t smart or particularly badass, he just was there. Luckily for us, Tomb Raider and the dangers that came with the location along with the mystery never stopped long enough for us to deramp from the tension and the entertainment that it was a fun adventurous ride that it needed to be.

tomb raider

Overall, is Tomb Raider anything to call home about? Yes and no. Yes because Tomb Raider is one of the better video game movies to come out in the recent years (but we do have a few coming out this year as well, so who knows) and it does give us an intelligent and bad-ass female protagonist (reiterating that I never watched Angelina Jolie so not comparing the two) that is so great to add to the existing repertoire and has developed not only her character but Lu Ren’s enough to keep wanting to know more.¬† At the same time, the mystery itself is multilayered and gives us enough to be intrigued for where the future movie can hold if it does happen. However, no comes in the form that until they can break the mold of building video game adaptations with well-developed villains, the threats will be more the environmental and the end game will remain more or less predictable and that takes away a little from the experience itself. With that said, its never actually stopped me from enjoying a Marvel’s movie or any other video game character like the Resident Evil franchise.

Bottomline: Tomb Raider is a thrilling and entertaining experience with enough depth in both plot and characters to keep us at the edge of our seats waiting for the next danger and how Lara Croft makes it through.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Well well well…look at me all on top of my game and going to see a Quentin Tarantino movie in the theatres. ¬†Its true though. I haven’t seen one in theatres since Kill Bill and that has been a while. ¬†I’m going to be honest here and say that while I do appreciate Tarantino’s work, I’m not a hardcore fan. On top of that, The Hateful Eight is a western which is the genre I’m most unfamiliar with.

Let’s check it out!

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight

Director (& Writer): Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks

In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.-IMDB

Right from the start, The Hateful Eight grabs us with the scenery of the location he’s picked. ¬†Its secluded save for that carriage carrying John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner that’s worth $10,000, Domergue, a lady that has an incredibly crazed look in her eyes. They don’t intend on stopping since they are running from the blizzard coming right up and they stop for the first person blocking the road, then another. Eventually there is no running away and that’s when they land at Minnie’s Habadashery and have to camp out in the cabin. ¬†One lady prisoner, two bounty hunters and a handful of other known men all sit around. ¬†They have an issue with race and wars and just about anything. ¬†Before we know it, the plot picks up. ¬†Talking about the plot, The Hateful Eight is like watching a story unfold throughout six chapters. ¬†I think that’s a pretty nifty little thing to do. ¬†And well, do I even need to talk about the brilliant score that accompanies this piece. Ennio Morricone is amazing as always.

The Hateful Eight

I’m really not a fan of long movies. ¬†It almost always loses me somewhere and for this one, it was the slow-paced extremely Western style. ¬†My husband pinpointed that feeling for me since I know nothing about Westerns. I tried so hard to stay away. ¬†Chapter 1 had some good build-up and then when we got to mid Chapter 3 and things started happening like everyone was there and they arrived at Minnie’s Habadashery. ¬†That is when it caught my attention. ¬†If I’m truly honest, it was the additions of Tim Roth’s character, Oswaldo Mobray that pulled me right back in along with the other mysterious characters hanging about. There’s a tension in the air that builds gradually and when the action starts, there is no way to stop it, exactly how you’d expect in a Tarantino movie. However, its also this signature that makes me not enjoy Tarantino so much but appreciate the effort. ¬†However, this isn’t a big issue because there was some fun to be had with it all and for what it is, Tarantino tells a great story that really had me thinking (even if I did kind of have my suspicions and they turned out to be correct in the end), it is still rather good.

The Hateful Eight

Tarantino’s action and blood and overly inappropriate use of violence wasn’t even my problem. ¬†I mention it once and again: run time. ¬†I missed the days when watching a movie didn’t use up half a day sitting there watching a movie unfold. ¬†Those movies are great divided in parts at home and I kind of knew I’d feel that way about it. What did surprise me was that I had a harder time focusing on it in the beginning and it really pulled itself together for the last 75% of the movie and it was rather fun. On the terms of this being a Western, my husband mentioned something about the slow beginning really setting up like one but in the end, it was really more like it was mocking Westerns. ¬†How true is that statement? I really can’t agree or disagree.

The Hateful Eight

Overall, The Hateful Eight has all the elements to be a really great movie. ¬†The story was well-crafted as was the storytelling. ¬†The location was nice whether it was in the blizzard or in Minnie’s Habadashery. ¬†The music was perfect. The cast was outstanding and I particularly loved Tim Roth, but then I’ve always liked him. Everyone did a fantastic job and once the mysteries and action started, it was a lot of fun. ¬†My biggest issue was the run-time being at 3 hours and the slow beginning. ¬†If you don’t mind that, The Hateful Eight is a fun movie that will get you thinking and laughing.

Have you see The Hateful Eight? What are your thoughts?

Predators (2010)

I can’t remember when I had this comments discussion with Java Girl but somehow in that conversation in one of the posts, I ended promising that I’d watch Predators. ¬†Her blog is Java Girl’s Life and she runs a lovely little blog, with her most recent addition of weekly comics on her life and movie reviews, etc. ¬†Its really fun and you should check it out if you haven’t already.

I’m one of those late bloomers. ¬†My boyfriend introduced me to a lot of these movies like the Alien movies and then shortly after the Predator movies in the last few years. ¬†Its kind of a running joke between me and my boyfriend that I refer to the Predator movie as Arnold versus the moving leaf. ¬†Obviously that had to do with the lack of effects back then and the whole not so effective camouflage along with the not so high quality TV that I have. ¬†Either way, point being, I did like the movie Predator (not so much the sequels) so I was hesitant for this one. ¬†But I said I’d do it so better late than never, right? Let’s check it out!

predators 2010 posterDirector: Nimrod Antal

Cast: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Louis Ozawa Changchien

A group of fighters/misfits: doctor, military, mercenary, criminal, yakuza, drug lord, etc, all wake up in free fall and manage to open their parachute in time to land safely in the middle of an unknown jungle.  They soon realize that they are on another planet and that they are being hunted by an unknown group of species.  They must find a way to survive and escape together before the creatures, and especially the alien predators, catch and kill them.

predators group

Its kind of weird but I feel slightly the same towards this sequel as I did for the 300: Rise of the Empire one that I reviewed a few days ago HERE! After so many, Predator 2 and AVP, Predators was probably not really ¬†a necessity and actually its not even really a sequel as it does a lot that pays tribute to the first one. ¬†However, it is a sequel as it makes a point to show that its set later on and talks about the original’s end results. This time around, its not just ONE predator but its multiple. ¬†Maybe they were taking a lesson from the success of Aliens, who knows, right?

predators adrien brody alice braga

Still, thinking back to the meh-ness of Predator 2 and the disastrous AVP, I really had a decently at times intense and thrilling time with Predators. ¬†I’m not exactly sure of the casting choices here. ¬†There is no doubt that Adrien Brody is a fantastic actor but somehow I have this issue with tough guys have low, raspy voices. ¬†I don’t even know how to describe it anymore. ¬†Of course, that voices probably is more macho than using his original voice. ¬†It also comes with the face that I can’t actually view him as a mercenary. ¬†Still, he proves that he’s put in a lot of physical work to get a muscular body and tough guy act down. ¬†Plus, the group itself is an odd mix but somehow works well enough off of each other. ¬†Although, no one can quite replace Arnold’s one liners, this one does have some silly dialogue. The character’s also build a rather tense environment but crack a few sarcastic comments (that made me laugh at least).

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Overall, Predators takes a few ideas from the first one and wraps it into a sequel where they are trapped and become prey to predators when this group has predator instincts as well from their own training. ¬†There’s some silly dialogue and a really oddball group but somehow sometime works alright for me. ¬†There’s some decent tension built despite the obvious overload of people in the group calling for a lack of character development and connection. ¬†Still, it works and thats what counts! ūüôā ¬†Maybe it was just because it took me by surprise that they finally got a sequel right. ¬†Sometimes, its good to go into a movie blind, right?

Have you seen Predators? What do you think of this sequel? Is it worthy or necessary? Are you a fan of the Predator series?