Review: ‘Twisters’ (2024), starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell and Anthony Ramos

July 18, 2024

by Carla Hay

Daisy Edgar-Jones, Anthony Ramos and Glen Powell in “Twisters” (Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures)

“Twisters” (2024)

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

Culture Representation: Taking place in Oklahoma and briefly in New York City, the action film “Twisters” ( a continuation of the franchise that started with 1996’s “Twister”) features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latin, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A meteorologist, who feels guilty over the death of her three close friends in a tornado five years before, is persuaded to temporarily join a group of scientific tornado chasers, who are competing against a non-scientific group of YouTube tornado chasers.  

Culture Audience: “Twisters” will appeal primarily to people are fans of the 1996 “Twister” movie and similar movies about weather disasters.

Glen Powell and Daisy Edgar-Jones in “Twisters” (Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures)

“Twisters” is not as suspenseful as 1996’s “Twister,” but “Twisters” still has plenty of action thrills in this franchise story about tornado chasers. The characters’ relationships are predictable but elevated by believable chemistry and good acting. As expected, “Twisters” has better visual effects than “Twister,” but the pacing of “Twisters” somewhat drags in the middle of the movie. Overall, it’s a crowd-pleasing film that does what is advertised.

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung and written by Mark L. Smith, “Twisters” has an entirely new set of cast members from “Twister,” but there are similarities between the two movies. Both movies have the tornadoes taking place in Oklahoma. Both movies feature storylines of “corporate-sponsored” tornado chasers versus “scrappy independent” tornado chasers.

Both movies have bickering between the leading male character and the leading female character because they’re in a power struggle, and they both want to deny an attraction that exists between them. The woman in this would-be couple is the more intellectual scientist, while the man is the less-educated by equally passionate tornado chaser. One of them has tremendous guilt over the tornado death of at least one person close to them. In both movies, the storm-chasing team that aims to find a way to diffuse tornadoes does so by using equipment with names inspired by characters in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Twister” (directed by Jan de Bont and written by Michael Crichton and
Anne-Marie Martin) had Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton starring as divorcing couple Dr. Jo Harding and meteorologist Bill Harding, who unexpectedly get thrown back together into tornado chasing, after Bill says he has retired from tornado chasing. They try to put a stop to high-level tornadoes.

Jo is motivated to be a tornado chaser because she witnessed her farmer father die in a tornado when she was about 5 or 6 years old. Bill visits Jo in Oklahoma because he wants her to sign their divorce papers. Bill has brought his fiancée Dr. Melissa Reeves (played by Jami Gertz), a psychotherapist, along for this trip. Jo and her tornado-chasing team use equipment that they call Dorothy.

“Twisters” updates the franchise by having a racially diverse cast, compared to the all-white cast of “Twister.” Another 21st century update to “Twisters” is YouTube is a big part of the plot because one of the rival tornado-chasing groups has a YouTube channel where the group does many livestreams. “Twisters” also makes more of an effort to show the tornado chasers helping strangers who are tornado victims after a tornado has turned a community into a disaster area. In “Twister,” the tornado chasers were definitely more self-absorbed and more willfully oblivious to helping communities recover from tornado disasters.

“Twisters” begins in an unnamed city in Oklahoma, the U.S. state where the movie was filmed on location. A group of tornado chasers, led by Ph.D. candidate Kate Carter (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), is chasing a tornado as part of an experiment to see if the scientific powder and data sensory devices and they’ve created will diffuse and track the tornado. They use equipment that they call Dorothy, which is a nod to the first “Twister” movie. The plan is to open barrels of the powders and data sensory devices in the eye of a tornado.

Kate calls this experiment the Tornado Tamer Project, which is part of her Ph.D. thesis about disrupting tornado dynamics. If Kate’s theory works, she hopes that she can get grant funding for the Tornado Tamer Project. The other young people in the group are Kate’s loving and supportive boyfriend Jeb (played by Daryl McCormack) and their close friends Javier “Javi” Rivera (played by Anthony Ramos), who is energetic and opinionated; Addy (played by Kiernan Shipka), who is perky and sweet-natured; and Praveen (played by Nik Dodani), who is thoughtful and nerdy.

It’s mentioned several times in “Twister” that Kate has an uncanny ability to predict which are the most dangerous tornadoes to follow. It’s an instinct that her farmer mother Cathy Carter (played by Maura Tierney), who’s shown later in the movie, says Kate has had since Kate was a little girl. Kate is an only child who was raised by her single mother. Kate’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie, although one of Kate’s friends calls Cathy “Mrs. Carter.” She welcomes Kate’s friends into her home and likes to cook meals for them.

In the beginning of “Twisters,” Kate and her Tornado Tamer crew are chasing a tornado where they plan to do their experiment. Unfortunately, Kate miscalculated about what level the tornado was: It turns out to be F5 (highest level of destruction) tornado. Kate, Jeb, Addy and Praveen are all in the same vehicle and are caught right in the middle of the tornado. They escape from the car, but only Kate is the only one of the four to survive. Javi was in a safer area in a separate vehicle, so he also survived.

Five years later, Kate is now working as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in New York City. Through conversations in the movie, it’s revealed that after the tornado tragedy, Kate dropped out of her Ph.D. program and gave up on tornado chasing. At this point in her life, Kate has also been avoiding her mother’s phone calls and has rarely visited Oklahoma since moving away.

One day, Kate gets an unexpected visitor at her office: Javi, who tells her that he also moved away from Oklahoma after the tragedy. Javi says that after he graduated from their university program, he went back to his hometown of Miami and enlisted in the military. He also tells Kate that while he was in the military, he worked with portable radars that detect missiles. Javi has access to the prototypes and says they can use these radars for tornadoes, to make three points in the shape of a 3-D type of triangle. Later, it’s revealed that these radars are called Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion, and their power control center is called Wizard.

Kate turns down Javi’s offer to work with him. Javi is persistent though. Later, he calls Kate and tells her that he’s put together a great team of scientists called Storm Par to help him. Storm Par also has corporate sponsorship for funding. Kate is persuaded to help Storm Par because of Javi’s radar idea and because Oklahoma is having an outbreak of tornadoes. However, Kate tells Javi that she will only work with Storm Par for one week.

One of the flaws of 1996’s “Twister” is that it never explained why so many tornadoes were happening in such a short period of time. “Twisters” avoids that flaw by repeatedly showing flashes of TV news reports saying that Oklahoma is having a “once in a generation” outbreak of tornadoes. In “Twisters,” the tornadoes arrive with little to no warning. If there is any warning, it could be as short as two or three minutes.

Soon after arriving in Oklahoma, an emotionally guarded Kate and the Storm Par team encounter a scrappy group of tornado-chasing YouTubers from Arkansas. The leader of the group calls himself a “tornado wrangler.” The group is led by cocky and frequently smirking Tyler Owens (played by Glen Powell), who is the star of this YouTube channel, which has about 1 million subscribers. Tyler’s tornado-chasing motto is: “If you feel it, chase it.” Like many YouTube content creators, Tyler sells a lot of branded merchandise.

Tyler is the only person in his group with experience as a meteorologist. (He also mentions later that he used to be a rodeo rider, as if the movie wants to prove that Tyler has cowboy credentials too.) The other people in Tyler’s group are camera operator Boone (played by Brandon Perea), a scruffy sidekick who does a lot of whooping and hollering; middle-aged Dexter (played by Tunde Adebimpe), who talks like a science nerd, even if he doesn’t have a college degree; Lily (played by Sasha Lane), a friendly hippie; and Dani (played by Katy O’Brian), an androgynous person who likes to hawk a lot of the group’s merchandise.

Tyler and his group loudly ride around and like to do daredevil things for their YouTube channel, such as set off fireworks in tornadoes. The Tornado Wranglers are being accompanied by a London-based reporter named Ben (played by Harry Hadden-Paton), who is doing an article about storm chasers. Ben, who is bespectacled and often nervous, is the token “buttoned-up” person who feels out of place and does the most screaming in fear as a passenger during these tornado-chasing runs. Dr. Melissa Reeves had that role in the 1996 “Twister” movie.

Besides Javi, the only Storm Par member whose personality is shown in “Twisters” is a frequently scowling or pouting colleague named Scott (played by David Corenswet), a scientist snob. Scott’s uncle Marshall Riggs (played by David Born) is the property developer mogul who is Storm Par’s chief investor. You can easily predict why Marshall would be interested in swooping in on victims of tornado disasters who lost their homes. Scott, who shows hints of sexism, is jealous/mistrustful of Kate.

Just like in “Twister,” the two rival groups of tornado chasers in “Twisters” compete to see who can get to the most dangerous tornadoes first. In “Twister,” the rival group to Jo’s independent group is a corporate-sponsored group led by sneering jerk named Dr. Jonas Miller (played by Cary Elwes), who is such an obvious villain, if he had a moustache, he would’ve twirled it. In “Twister,” Jo has the “underdog” group, which includes a wacky stoner named Dustin Davis (played by scene-stealing Philip Seymour Hoffman). In “Twisters,” Tyler’s group is the “underdog” group.

In “Twisters,” there is no love triangle, although there are hints that Javi is attracted to Kate, but he knows he has no chance of dating her because she sees him only as a platonic friend. The same can’t be said for Tyler. The back-and-forth sniping between Kate and Tyler is the type we’ve seen in many other movies where two people meet under competitive circumstances, they annoy each other with insults, but you know they’re really attracted to each other. After a while, Tyler makes his romantic intentions obvious, but Kate is the one who plays hard to get.

Because of advances in technology, the visual effects in “Twisters” are superior to what’s seen in “Twister.” Oddly though, “Twisters” does not show any signs that animals get killed in these tornadoes. In “Twister,” there’s a memorable scene where Jo and Bill see a cow caught up in the tornado. Maybe the “Twisters” filmmakers avoided showing animals getting swept up in tornadoes because they didn’t want animal rights activists to be offended.

As for the would-be romance, the circumstances are different in “Twister” and “Twisters.” “Twister” is about a couple with a marriage history together, and now a third person is involved. That’s in contrast to “Twisters,” which has a would-be couple who haven’t really begun dating each other. The relationships in “Twister” are more interesting to watch than the relationships in “Twisters.”

After the tornado tragedy happens in the beginning of “Twisters,” Kate is emotionally disconnected from almost everyone for most of the story, until she starts to warm up a little and show her vulnerabilities. Tyler is a stereotype of an overconfident heartthrob, but Powell brings undeniable charisma to this character. Edgar-Jones and Ramos also do quite well in their roles. “Twisters” could have told or showed more personal information about the other people in Tyler’s group. The movie never reveals what motivated these other members to become tornado chasers.

As it stands, “Twisters” capably handles what can be expected from movies about weather disasters, even if some of the scenes (just like in “Twister”) look unrealistic in how people are able to survive situations that would kill people in real life. The scientific aspects of the “Twisters” story are simplified so that the average non-scientist can understand. It’s obvious from the way that “Twisters” ends, many of these characters will be seen again in another movie in the franchise.

Universal Pictures will release “Twisters” in U.S. cinemas on July 19, 2024. A sneak preview of the movie was shown in U.S. cinemas on July 17, 2024.

Review: ‘Indian 2,’ starring Kamal Haasan, Siddharth, S. J. Suryah and Rakul Preet Singh

July 16, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kamal Haasan in “Indian 2” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Movies)

“Indian 2”

Directed by S. Shankar

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of India, the action film “Indian 2” (a sequel to 1996’s “Indian”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Four young adult YouTubers coax an outlaw vigilante to come out of hiding after he disappeared for 28 years, and the vigilante and his YouTube supporters go on the hunt to get justice for corruption.  

Culture Audience: “Indian 2” will appeal primarily to people are fans of the first “Indian” movie and mindless vigilante stories.

Siddharth in “Indian 2” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Movies)

“Indian 2” is nothing but a bloated mess. This idiotic and unnecessary sequel has tiresome clichés about a vigilante and his minions, who want corrupt people to be punished. The real punishment is watching this entire three-hour cinematic abomination. “Indian 2” (which is also titled “India 2: Zero Tolerance”) is filled with stupid-looking action sequences, hollow characters with no development, and time-wasting, reptetive scenes that didn’t need to be in the movie at all.

Written and directed by S. Shankar, “Indian 2” is a sequel to the 1996 action film “Indian,” which was directed and co-written by Shankar. Kamal Haasan reprises his role as vigilante Veerasekharan Senapathy, who is a former Indian National Army agent and who has the nickname Indian. The plot of “Indian 2” is so flimsy, it didn’t need to be a three-hour movie. This overlong running time makes the terrible movie even more irritating.

“Indian 2” (which takes place in various part of India) begins by showing four YouTuber friends in their 20s: Chitra Aravindhan (played by Siddharth), Aarthi Thangavel (played by Priya Bhavani Shankar), Thembash (played by Jagan) and Harish (played by Rishikanth). The four pals have a YouTube channel called Barking Dogs, which does political satires that poke fun at officials and leaders who are caught doing unethical things. These YouTubers use a lot of animation for their YouTube content.

Chitra, the leader of the Barking Dogs team, has a strong sense of morality and likes to help protect or defend underdogs. The other members of the Barking Dogs team have similar values. These values will be tested when they start investigating corruption that is very close to home.

One day, the community experiences a shocking and tragic event. A young woman named Sunitha flings herself off of a balcony and dies instantly. Chitra is one of the people on the street who witnessed this suicide.

Sunitha’s grieving brother tells the gathered crowd that Sunitha killed herself because corrupt officials demanded that she pay them bribes. When Sunitha refused, the officials told people that her college degree was fake. Sunitha couldn’t bear the shame, so she committed suicide.

Aside from all the illogical problems of this storyline (such as: colleges keep verifiable records of who graduated), the movie then stages an unrealistic impromptu protest at the suicide scene to have these corrupt officials arrested. Chitra is one of the most vocal people leading this protest, which also includes Arthi, Thembash and Harish.

The four friends get arrested and are bailed out by Chitra’s affluent girlfriend Disha (played by Rakul Preet Singh), who supports their cause but cautions them that they alone can’t change the world. Chitra, Arthi, Thembash and Harish get together and begin to wonder whatever happened to Indian, who made news for the events that happened in the “Indian” movie, but Indian has been missing since 1996. The four friends think that they should enlist the help of Indian, but they need to find him first.

Chitra comes up with the idea to start a social media campaign using the hashtag #ComeBackIndian. And sure enough, Indian finds out about the campaign, comes out of hiding. In an effort to look “modern,” Indian makes a social media video that he says is specifically aimed people under the age of 40. In this video, Indian makes a rallying statement for people to become social justice warriors against corruption by turning in corrupt people to the authorities.

The Barking Dogs friends take this advice to heart and start investigating people in their own family. Chitra’s father Varadharajan (played by Samuthirakani) is a police officer. Harish visits his uncle’s motel and discovers they serve stale food to customers. Thembash finds out that his brother-in-law, Nanjunda Moorthy, accepts bribes from customers, as does Aarthi’s mother, Kanagalatha.

Meanwhile, Indian doles out his own type of justice, which is often violent. Indian is a master of disguises and has hypnosis skills. And apparently, based on the movie’s very fake-looking action scenes, Indian also has superhuman-level strength and agility. One of the things that Indian likes to do in his hypnosis tricks is make people under hypnosis think that they are horses, and he tells them to run for the rest of their lives.

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been on the hunt for Indian for the past 28 years because of what happened in the first “Indian” movie. Now that Indian as resurfaced, two CBI agents named Pramod Krishnaswamy (played by Bobby Simha) and Elango (played by Vivek) have been assigned to find and capture Indian. It should come as no surprise that Pramod and Elango repeatedly bungle the task, as Indian remains elusive. Why else would this bloated movie be three hours long?

One of the many problems with this disjointed movie is that the four Barking Dogs friends mostly work separately from Indian. There are large chunks of the movie that seem to completely forget all about the Barking Dogs friends. The separate storylines in “Indian 2” clumsily fail to blend cohesively when Indian and the Barking Dogs friends share the same scenes.

Most of the corruption in the movie’s ill-conceived plot has to do with bribery. The movie quickly becomes bogged down in unimaginative, repetitive scenarios of Indian donning disguises and doing his hypnosis tricks. There’s at least one other person who commits suicide out of “shame” related to corruption accusations. “Indian 2” also has a few bombastic song-and-dance musical scenes that look out-of-place and have forgettable songs.

The action sequences in “Indian 2” relentlessly insult viewers’ intelligence. Viewers are expected to believe that when Indian is cornered by about 20 muscular men in a fight, the men will stand around and take turns to get a chance to fight Indian. In reality, anyone who’s outnumbered this way would be quickly ganged up on and defeated, unless their opponent has a weapon that the others don’t.

One of the phoniest-looking action sequences is toward the end of the movie, when someone makes an escape by riding a unicycle. Viewers are expected to believe that this unicucle can outpace all the cars chasing after this unicyle. The person making the escape also does flips ona tunnel wall during this vehicle chase.

None of the acting performances in “Indian 2” is special. Some of it is downright awful. This movie clearly had a sizeable budget that was spent on production design (often gaudy) and visual effects (often fake-looking), but the movie’s production budget didn’t buy good film editing. There’s so much quick-cutting film editing that’s meant to make “Indian 2” look fast-paced, but it just looks like amateurish editing that can’t fix this abysmal screenplay.

Even with this choppy editing, “Indian 2” drags and gets boring because there’s so little substance to the movie’s story, which has a horrendous ending. A mid-credits montage gives a montage preview of what to expect in 2025’s “Indian 3,” and it looks just as awful as “Indian 2.” You’ve been warned.

Red Giant Movies released “Indian 2” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on July 12, 2024.

Review: ‘Hijack 1971,’ starring Ha Jung-woo, Yeo Jin-goo, Sung Dong-il and Chae Soo-bin

July 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Ha Jung-woo and Sung Dong-il (pictured in front) in “Hijack 1971” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures International)

“Hijack 1971”

Directed by Kim Seong-han

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea and North Korea in 1971 (and briefly in 1969), the action film “Hijack 1971” (based on real events) features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A disgraced military airline pilot in South Korea comes back from a hiatus to co-pilot a commercial flight, only to have the flight hijacked by a terrorist who is sympathetic to North Korean politics.  

Culture Audience: “Hijack 1971” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and suspenseful, action-packed hijack movies.

Yeo Jin-goo in “Hijack 1971” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures International)

“Hijack 1971” delivers everything that viewers can expect from a high-octane, well-acted thriller about a plane being hijacked in the air. The fact that this movie is based on a true story makes it more interesting. “Hijack 1971” does a very good job of showing the human stories behind this terrifying experience.

Directed by Kim Seong-han and written by Kim Kyung-chan, “Hijack 1971” is based on real events, but the names of the characters have been changed to be different from the real-life people. The movie begins on December 11, 1969, by showing a fateful event that has a profound effect on the movie’s main protagonist. Tae-in (played by Ha Jung-woo), who is a compassionate and friendly, works for a South Korean Air Force unit that is in charge of protecting commercial aircraft. This character is based on the real-life Park Wan-gyu.

On this day, Tae-in and his younger pilot colleague Choi Dong-cheol (played by Kim Dong-wook) are patrolling in the air above South Korea, when they see that a Korean Air Lines YS-11 plane going from Gangneung for Seoul has been hijacked. The hijackers took over the NAMC YS-11-125 aircraft and forced it to fly to Pyongyang, North Korea.

During this hijacking, Tae-in could see inside the hijacked plane and noticed that his supervisor Seo Min-soo (played by Choi Kwang-il) was piloting the plane without his co-pilot. Tae-in then makes the decision to not follow military protocol to shoot at the plane’s engine, in order to scare the hijackers. Tae-in’s reasoning is that he didn’t want to do anything that would anger the hijackers, who could then harm the innocent people on the plane.

Because the hijackers got away with taking the plane with hostages to North Korea, Tae-in and Dong-cheol are blamed for it, and they both get suspended. However, Tae-in gets a harsher scolding for it because he is a more experienced pilot and has a higher military ranking than Dong-cheol. Over the next several days, after tense negotiations, 39 of the 50 hostages were let go and were allowed to return to South Korea.

Tae-in becomes depressed over this suspension and begins to doubt his abilities as a pilot who can keep people safe. His supportive wife Moon-young (played by Im Se-mi) is the only person who reminds him that he did save lives, but Tae-in wants to win back the respect of his peers. Tae-in gets a chance to prove his worth when he is assigned to be the first officer pilot for a civilian Korean Air Lines on January 23, 1971. The aircraft is Hotel-Lima 5212. In real life, the aircraft was Fokker F27 Friendship 500.

The captain of the plane is Lee Gyu-sik (played by Sung Dong-il), who is calm and professional. Gyu-sik is based on the real-life Lee Kang-heun. Gyu-sik is aware that Tae-in is coming back from a suspension, but he is not judgmental and thinks Tae-in has a right to prove his merit on this flight. Meanwhile, a few of the flight attendants in the back are gossiping about Tae-in because they know why he was suspended.

The people on this airplane soon find out that there’s a hijacker of this flight: His name is Yong-dae (played by Yeo Jin-goo), a lone terrorist who in his early 20s. He has crude homemade hand grenades and a gun as weapons. The Yong-dae character is based on the real-life Kim Sang-tae.

Just like the hijacking in 1969, this motive for this hijacking is for the plane to go to North Korea. During the course of the movie, Yong-dae expresses his disillusionment with South Korea’s capitalist/democratic government and says that Koreans are better off living a North Korean communist way of life. Yong-dae mentions that his brother was one of the hijackers in the 1969 flight, and he says his brother is a hero in North Korea because of this hijacking. Flashbacks in the movie show why Yong-dae has become such an angry and violent terrorist.

“Flight 1971” has tension-filled suspense from the beginning of this hijacking until the end. The movie’s cinematography and visual effects are superb at immersing viewers in this experience. Some of the camera work is meant to evoke feelings of claustrophobia and dizziness, especially in scenes where the plane gets out of the pilots’ control.

Yong-dae is a loose cannon who frequently storms into the cockpit. He made his first hijacking move on the flight by throwing a hand grenade at the cockpit door. During Yong-dae’s attacks inside and outside the cockpit, plane captain Gyu-sik is injured in his eyes and becomes blind, possibly permanently. It should also come as no surprise that Tae-in also gets wounded. The flight attendant who is the main focus of the story is Lee Ok-soon (played by Chae Soo-bin), who does her best to try to keep the passengers calm.

Most of the passengers are anonymous. Those who have names in the movie are not given much of backstory. There’s an elderly woman from a farm who brings a chicken on board with her. A man who works as a prosecutor is traveling with his blind mother. An English teacher named Lee Soo-hee (played by Jeong Ye-jin), who works at Woochang Middle School, is accompanying a student named Lee Han-bong (played by Moon Woo-jin) as his adult guardian for the flight. A man named Nam-il (played by Kim Chul-yoon) is a newlywed who is on this plane flight to meet up his wife for their honeymoon

The main focus of “Hijack 1971” is on how the hero pilots (especially Tae-in) handle this crisis caused by this violent terrorist. It’s a test of their physical and emotional strength. In his performance as Tae-in, Ha does a very good job of portraying the inner turmoil of Tae-in, who feels had additional responsibility to prove he can stop this hijacking when he was deemed a “failure” the previous time he had a chance to stop a hijacking.

Tae is still reeling from criticism that he “wasn’t brave enough” in his previous hijacking incident. He now has to make split-second, life-or-death decisions now that he is in the middle of another hijacking. All of the cast members capably handle their roles, but Tae-in is the character that the movie reveals the most about, in order for viewers to feel the most invested in this character. Whether or not viewers know the real-life outcome of this hijacking, “Hijack 1971” is still worth seeing for this unforgettable story.

Sony Pictures International released “Hijack 1971” in select U.S. cinemas on July 5, 2024.

Review: ‘Kalki 2898 AD,’ starring Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Deepika Padukone and Disha Patani

June 28, 2024

by Carla Hay

Prabhas in “Kalki 2898 AD” (Photo courtesy of Prathyangira Cinemas and AA Creations)

“Kalki 2898 AD”

Directed by Nag Ashwin

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India in the year 2898 (and briefly in 3102 B.C.), the fantasy action film “Kalki 2898 AD” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some white people and black people) who are mortal humans or immortal gods.

Culture Clash: A bounty hunter gets caught up in a race against time with heroes and villains to find the woman who will give birth to a deity named Kalki.  

Culture Audience: “Kalki 2898 AD” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching overly long action movies that have more style than substance.

Amitabh Bachchan in “Kalki 2898 AD” (Photo courtesy of Prathyangira Cinemas and AA Creations)

Bloated and incoherent, “Kalki 2898 AD” is weighed down by bad acting, a rambling story, uneven pacing, and erratic visual effects. This fantasy action film, based on Indian mythology, rips off well-known franchises “Star Wars,” “Mad Max” and “Pacific Rim” for much of how the movie looks. The characters in the movie also have hollow personalities and lackluster or terrible dialogue. And this nearly three-hour movie does not justify its overly long run time, when the story could’ve been told in a movie that is two hours or less.

Directed by Nag Ashwin, “Kalki 2898 AD” was co-written by Ashwin and Rutham Samar. It’s one of those unfortunately long-winded and bombastic movies that seems to think over-the-top visual spectacles will automatically make an action film entertaining. The characters are so poorly written, viewers will have a hard time remembering anything memorable that these characters said after the movie ends. “Kalki 2898 AD” just careens from one fight scene to the next.

“Kalki 2898 AD” (which takes place in a fantasy version of India) does a substandard job of introducing characters and explaining the purpose of the story. The movie’s opening scene takes place in 3102 B.C., after the Kurukshetra War. Ashwatthama (played by Kushal) is the young adult son of a warrior named Dronacharya. While invoking the Brahmashirastra, Ashwatthama shoots an arrow at a pregnant princess named Uttarā (played by Malvika Nair), whose unborn son is Parakshit, in an attempt to kill Uttarā and her unborn child.

The deity Krishna then confronts Ashwatthama on a battlefield filled with dead bodies, Krishna curses Ashwatthama to a life of immortality. A magical gem that Ashwatthama has is then taken away. Much of this movie is about Ashwatthama trying to find this gem so he can place it back in his forehead and regain certain powers.

The only way for Ashwatthama to break the curse is to find an unborn child named Kalki, who is supposed to be the last living representation of the god Vishu. Ashwatthama knows that Kalki will be born centuries in the future. And so, finding Kalki is villain Ashwatthama’s main quest in the story.

“Kalki 2898 AD” then cuts to about 6,000 years later, in the year 2898. Even though Ashwatthama received this immortality curse when he was a young man, he somehow still grows up to look like an elderly man who’s stuck looking like he’s in his 80s. Amitabh Bachchan, who has the role of elderly Ashwatthama, was in his early 80s when he filmed this movie.

If the “Kalki 2898 AD” filmmakers had more imagination, they would have made Ashwatthama actually look like he’s more than 6,000 years old. There was certainly enough money spent on visual effects in other aspects of the film, but none was spent on imagining what a 6,000-year-old immortal person would look like. The visual effects in “Kalki 2898 AD” are hit-and-miss: Sometimes, they look spectacular. Other times, they just look tacky.

Most of the action takes place in a desolate desert city called Kasi, which looks like imitation production sets from “Mad Max” and “Star Wars” films. Kasi is a city populated by survivors of an apocalypse. Kasi is ruled by a tyrant god king named Supreme Yaskin (played by Kamal Haasan), who lives in a pyramid-shaped structure called the Complex, which hovers above Kasi. The Complex uses Earth’s resources to have an idyllic oasis existence for those who can afford to stay there.

Yaskin is aided by two nefarious subordinates who carry out Yaskin’s orders of oppression: Commander Manas (played by Saswata Chatterjee) is the head of an army called Raiders. Counsellor Bani is on the frontlines in a lot of the dirty work. There’s also a group of rebels resisting this totalitarian government.

It’s all very much a concept copy from the 1977 “Star Wars” movie. Just substitute Emperor Palpatine for Yaskin, Darth Vader for Commander Manas, Grand Moff Tarkin for Counsellor Bani, and Stormtroopers for Raiders. “Kalki 2898 AD” didn’t even bother changing the name of the rebel group to something that doesn’t used the word “rebels,” which is the same word that the “Star Wars” movies have for the group of resisting fighters.

In the city of Kasi, fertile females are kidnapped and sold into imprisonment as part of a scientific experiment called Project K. These female prisoners are impregnated through artificial insemination. The fetuses of pregnant women who are trapped in Project K are supposed to be used as serum to extend the life of Yaskin.

Only fetuses that are more than 120 days old can effectively be used for this serum. The problem is that most of these Project K women can’t carry their pregnancies past 120 days. However, there’s a pregnant woman named Sumathi (played by Deepika Padukone), who is given the code name SUM-80 in the Project K program, and she has a pregnancy that lasts for more than 120 days. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who her unborn child is.

The “Star Wars” influences abound in the presentation of “rogue warrior” Bhairava (played by Prabhas in “Kalki 2898 AD” Bhairava, who is a bounty hunter and frequent thief, is obviously a version of Han Solo from the “Star Wars” movies. Bhairava is a sarcastic and reluctant hero, who would rather carouse and get drunk in nightclubs, but he gets pulled into this “good versus evil” saga anyway. Bhairava is the pilot of a space ship and has a talking robot co-pilot named BU-JZI, also known as Bujji (voiced by Keerthy Suresh), which is a less-entertaining version of C-3PO from the “Star Wars” movies.

Unlike the movies in the “Stars Wars,” “Mad Max” and “Pacific Rim” franchises, “Kalki 2898” has more female characters and gives them slightly more to do. But that’s not saying much when these characters are so shallow, and much of their worth is defined by how fertile they might or might not be. The female characters who are part of the action include Mariam (played by Shobhana), the leader of a secret city called Shambhala; Kyra (played by Anna Ben), a Shambhala rebel; and Roxie (played by Disha Patani), who is Bhairava’s love interest. Roxie is nowhere close to being as charismatic and intelligent as Leia, Han Solo’s love interest in “The Star Wars” movies.

The space ships and costumes in “Kalki 2898” are influenced by how space ships and costumes look in “Star Wars” movies. Many of the large, roving land vehicles in the desert are straight out of what can be seen in “Mad Max” films. The heroes in “Kalki 2898” operate giant robots that look like they could be siblings of the giant robots in the “Pacific Rim” films. All of this unoriginality gets tiresome to watch and even more irritating because the characters are so sloppily written.

There are people presented as holograms, and there are attacks from clones (in other words, more “Star Wars” concept ripoffs) that are part of the “Kalki 2898 AD” story. Some of this movie’s viewers might be dazzled by all the high-priced visuals in “Kalki 2898 AD,” but the movie’s story is just a complete mess that doesn’t have much innovation. And even worse: The movie ends on a cliffhanger because of planned sequels, thereby prolonging this excessively long and tedious saga. “Kalki 2898 AD” became a huge and immediate hit in India. But just because a movie is popular doesn’t mean it has good or imaginative filmmaking.

Prathyangira Cinemas and AA Creations released “Kalki 2898 AD” in U.S. cinemas on June 27, 2024, the same day that the movie was released in India.

Review: ‘Bhaje Vaayu Vegam,’ starring Kartikeya Gummakonda, Tanikella Bharani, Ravi Shankar, Rahul Tyson and Iswarya Menon

June 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kartikeya Gummakonda and Rahul Tyson in “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” (Photo courtesy of UV Creations)

“Bhaje Vaayu Vegam”

Directed by Prashanth Reddy

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the action film “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two young adult brothers move to Hyderabad, where they have conflicts with two brothers from an older generation who are corrupt leaders.  

Culture Audience: “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching bloated action movies that are weak imitations of other action films with the same themes.

Sharath Lohitashwa in “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” (Photo courtesy of UV Creations)

“Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” is just another long-winded and bombastic action film with the same over-used story themes of family revenge and violent murders. It’s a mostly forgettable tale of two pairs of brothers who are on a collision course of conflicts. This 136-minute bloated fiasco of a movie gets especially sloppy in the last third of the film, when it tries to cram in too many plot twists, most of which never look believable.

Written and directed by Prashanth Reddy, “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” is Reddy’s feature-film directorial debut. “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” could have been much better, but it just relies too heavily on storylines cobbled from many other similar actions films. The beginning of the movie, which takes place in India, shows a compassionate man named Rajaram (played by Tanikella Bharani) bringing home an orphan named Venkat, whose parents have been killed. Venkat is about 10 or 11 years old and one or two years younger than Raju, the biological son Rajaram and his wife Yashoda, who live in an unnamed village

Rajaram and Yashoda raise Venkat and Raju as brothers. Rajaram is fairly affluent and pays off the the debts that Venkat’s parents owed. At an early age, Venkat had a personality of beng rebellious and a bit of a troublemaker, while Raju was usually the responsible and obedient brother.

When Venkat (played by Kartikeya Gummakonda) and Raju (playe by Rahul Tyson) are adults, they move from their small village to Hyderabad to fulfill their dreams, thngs don’t go quite in the way that they expect. Venkat wants to become a professional cricket player, but he can’t afford the bribes needed to pay officials to be get n the fast track to be on India’s national cricket team. Venkat also has a gambling addiction. Raju gets fired from his computer technology job after assaulting a co-worker who accused Raju of lying about Raju’s qualifications.

Raju and Venkat both have a secret that they’ve been hiding from their father Rajaram: They sold the land they inherited from him, in order to pay off their debts. Raju and Venkat both plan to buy back the land when they can afford it.

Meanwhile, a story is told about another pair of brothers who also traveled from a small village to Hyderbad to make their dreams come true. George (played by Sharath Lohitashwa) and David (played by Ravi Shankar) both worked in a steel mill and were treated like outside. The two brothers got caught up in union politics at the steel mill.

George killed a union leader and ended up in prison, but he got out of prison by a corrupt politician who didn’t like the union leader. This corrupt politician became George’s mentor and eventually helped George become the mayor of Hyderabad. David has been living in George’s shadow and has become jealous and resentful.

The rest of “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” is a messy story about how Venkat, Raju, George and Davd cross paths and get into conflicts wth each other. There are the expected shootouts, chase scenes and bloody battles. There’s also a race against time when Rajaram needs an operation for pulmonary hypertension disease, and Venkat and Raju desperately scramble to get the money for the operation.

The acting performances range from mediocre to terrible. Iswarya Menon has a “token female” role as Venkat’s love interest in a relationship that goes nowhere. “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” has a story that’s ultimately time-wasting for people who’ve seen many of these types of movies already.

UV Creations released “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on May 31, 2024.

Review: ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die,’ starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence

June 4, 2024

by Carla Hay

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” (Photo by Frank Masi/Columbia Pictures)

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die”

Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Miami, the action film “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white and Latin) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Best friends/Miami cop partners Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett become wanted criminals when they try to clear the name of their deceased police captain, who has been accused of colluding with major drug cartels. 

Culture Audience: “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Bad Boys” franchise; stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence; and uninspired action films about cops and criminals.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” (Photo by Frank Masi/Columbia Pictures)

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is a mindless and formulaic mush of a sequel that has more cliché-ridden plot holes than the bullet holes in the movie’s unimaginative fight scenes. The movie’s jokes are stale and idiotic. After 2020’s “Bad Boys for Life” took some bold risks that reinvigorated the franchise, the disapponting and lazy “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” shows that the franchise is running out of steam.

Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (who also directed “Bad Boys for Life”), “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is the fourth movie in the “Bad Boys” franchise. The “Bad Boys” movie series began with 1995’s “Bad Boys,” followed by 2003’s “Bad Boys II.” Chris Bremner, Joe Carnahan and Peter Craig wrote the “Bad Boys for Life” screenplay, which had several unexpected twists and turns and realistic character developments. Will Beall and Bremner wrote the derivative “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” screenplay, which is a cringeworthy copycat of many other “buddy cop duo” films where the two people in the central duo have opposite personalities.

In “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” longtime best friends and Miami Police Department partners—cocky daredevil Mike Lowery (played by Will Smith) and constant worrier Marcus Burnett (played by Martin Lawrence)—are reduced to spewing a lot of very unfunny jokes, as they have become more buffoonish than ever before. And that’s saying a lot, considering that “Bad Boys” and “Bad Boys II” weren’t good movies either. All of the villains and supporting characters in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” are cartoonish and/or hollow.

At the beginning of “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” Mike and Marcus go through major life events— marriage for Mike and a heart attack for Marcus—that get shoved aside in the story and only brought back as a punchline or to do something incredibly unoriginal. In fact, everything in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” can be easily predicted within the first 20 minutes of the film. What makes it worse is that viewers have to sit through a lot of moronic banter and awkward jokes to get to the inevitable bombastic and silly ending.

Near the beginning of the movie, Mike (who was a playboy bachelor in the first three “Bad Boys” movies) gets married to his physical therapist Christine (played by Melanie Liburd), who makes her first “Bad Boy” franchise appearance in this movie. Christine, who is generally pleasant but has a vague personality, is seen for the first time at the wedding. At Mike and Christine’s wedding, it’s briefly mentioned that Christine helped Mike recover from the bullet wounds that he got in the events that took place in the “Bad Boys for Life” movie.

In other words, viewers don’t get to see the relationship that Mike and Christine had before they got married. And even after they get married, Christine is not seen for most of the movie until she’s brought back for a stereotypical “damsel in distress” plot turn that is very much a rehash of the “damsel in distress” plot turns in the first two “Bad Boys” movies. Christine isn’t the only “damsel in distress” in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die.”

Marcus, who is a happilly married family man, has been under doctor’s orders to have a healthy diet. The movie’s opening sequence (whose biggest “jokes” were already revealed in the trailer) shows Mike and Marcus in a rush to get Mike’s wedding. Mike is driving, while Marcus is in the front passenger seat. Mike is scolding Marcus because the two of them are running late, and Mike blames Marcus for this tardiness.

Marcus insists on stopping to get some ginger ale at a convenience store because he says he isn’t feeling very well. Mike reluctantly relents and tells Marcus that Marcus has 90 seconds to be in and out of the convenience store. Marcus decides to get some junk food. (A certain candy brand is said and shown enough times in the movie, it’s obvious product placement shilling. This review won’t mention the name of this candy brand.)

Just as Marcus is about to pay for these items, a lone gunman (played by James Lee Thomas) holds up the sales clerk (played by Enoch King) in an attempted robbery. Of course, Mike happens to walk in during this fake-looking robbery where the thief just stands there, as Mike scolds Marcus for buying junk food, and then Marcus and Mike (who identify themselves as police officers) crack some stupid jokes. Mike then shoots and injures the robber.

Marcus and Mike then irresponsibly leave the store in a hurry, so the clerk has to fend for himself. Right before these two clownish cops leave, Marcus tells the store clerk to call 911. The clerk says in astonishment, “Aren’t you cops?” If you think this is hilarious comedy, then “Bad Boy: Ride or Die” is the movie for you.

At the wedding reception for Mike and Christine, you can almost do a countdown to when something goes wrong. It’s almost a requirement in comedies with a wedding scene to have a major disruption at the wedding. In this case, Marcus (who gorges on sweets and alcohol at the wedding reception) has a heart attack when he’s on the dance floor.

During this heart attack, Marcus has his first vision of deceased Captain Conrad Howard (played by Joe Pantoliano), who (mild spoiler alert) was killed in “Bad Boys for Life” and who was the respected supervisor of Marcus and Mike. Marcus’ visions of Captain Howard happen throughout the movie and usually show Captain Howard talking to Marcus and giving him trite advice. During the heart attack, Marcus sees Captain Howard commenting to him about Marcus potentially dying: “It’s not your time.”

At the hospital where he’s recovering, Marcus has an epiphany where he decides he will no longer live his life in fear. He also starts to think he can’t die. Unfortunately, Marcus has this “immortal messiah complex” rant while on the hospital rooftop and while wearing nothing but a hospital gown. Mike coaxes him down from the roof in another tiresome scene that strains to get laughs.

After Marcus is discharged from the hospital and goes home, he finds out that his wife Theresa (played by Tasha Smith) has hidden food items from him that have a high percentage of salt, sugar or fat. (Smith replaces Theresa Randle, who had the role of Theresa in the first three “Bad Boys” movies.) Marcus is annoyed and starts ranting about not being allowed to eat what he wants. Again, this is not funny at all in this dreadful movie, which barely shows Marcus’ personal life, compared to the first three “Bad Boys” movies.

The rest of “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is a convoluted mess that involves a corrupt former cop named James McGrath (played by Eric Dane) framing the dead Captain Howard to make it look like Captain Howard was getting paid large sums of money to work with drug cartels. The movie shows a ridiculous way how this framing happens when Captain Howard’s bank accounts are altered after his death. There is nothing interesting, clever or unusual about the utterly generic McGrath villain.

Mike points out to investigators that it would be illogical for Captain Howard to put all that illegal money in a bank account that could easily be traced to Captain Howard. Still, the dimwitted “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” doesn’t follow this logic and has law enforcement investigators ignore that all these suspicious activities are happening after Captain Howard’s death. Captain Howard is then publicly named as a law enforcement “mole,” suspected of colluding with drug cartels for years.

Mike’s ex-girlfriend Rita Secada (played by Paola Núñez), who is now the supervisor for Mike and Marcus, is leading the investigation and thinks that Captain Howard is guilty. Mike and Marcus vehemently disagree and then set out to prove that Captain Howard is not guilty of these accusations. It leads to the obvious “cops go rogue” storyline that has been in too many other cop buddy movies.

Mike and Marcus get help from three characters who were first introduced in “Bad Boys for Life.” These allies are weapons expert Kelly (played by Vanessa Hudgens); tech expert Dorn (played by Alexander Ludwig); and Mike’s estranged young adult son Armando Aretas (played by Jacob Scipio), who was born from a brief relationship that Marcus had with a woman who became a crime boss. The personalities of Kelly, Mike and Armando in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” are watered down considerably, compared to how they were in “Bad Boys for Life.”

Mike met Kelly and Dorn when they all used to be in an elite law-enforcement unit called Advanced Miami Metro Operations (AMMO), which was led by Rita in “Bad Boys for Life.” Armando is in prison for killing Captain Howard. However, things happen where Armando is broken out of prison and ends up becoming a high-octane fight warrior alongside his father Mike. Yes, the movie really is this ludicrous.

All of the supporting characters in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” are very underdeveloped. Rita is currently dating a slick, high-profile attorney named Lockwood (played by Ioan Gruffudd), who is a political candidate to be mayor of Miami. Captain Howard’s daughter Judy Howard (played by Rhea Seehorn) is a U.S. marshal who’s hell-bent on getting revenge on Armando.

Judy is a single mother to a teenager named Callie (played Quinn Hemphill), who gets caught in the mayhem in exactly the way you think it will happen. John Salley, DJ Khaled, Tiffany Haddish and Michael Bay (the director of the first two “Bad Boys” movies) have useless cameo roles in the movie. And the character who’s behind a “surprise doublecross” is so obvious and easily predicted, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all.

Much of “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is like a garish video game with awful dialogue. The filmmakers mistakenly think that Mike and Marcus shouting bad jokes should automatically make these jokes funny. It doesn’t. “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is like being stuck in a misguided, swerving car with loud and obnoxious people, intoxicated by their own horrible jokes and failing to see where they are going. By the time “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is over, viewers might think twice about getting on another “Bad Boys” journey when so much of it turns into an irredeemable wreck.

Columbia Pictures will release “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” in U.S. cinemas on June 7, 2024, with a sneak preview in U.S. cinemas on June 5, 2024.

Review: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,’ starring Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon and William H. Macy

May 8, 2024

by Carla Hay

Owen Teague, Freya Allan and Peter Macon in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”

Directed by Wes Ball

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth, 300 years after the events of the movie “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the sci-fi/action film “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” features a cast of characters who are apes and humans.

Culture Clash: A group of apes team up with a human to try to defeat an evil dictatorial ape that wants to take over the world. 

Culture Audience: “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise and sci-fi action films where most of the characters are not human.

Travis Jeffery, Owen Teague and Lydia Peckham in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

After a slow start, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” turns into a familiar “good versus evil” sci-fi adventure story with the expected battles. It’s not the best “Planet of the Apes” movie, but it’s not the worst either. The action sequences and how the apes are portrayed should please fans of this franchise. The movie’s biggest flaw is how underdeveloped the human characters are.

Directed by Wes Ball and written by Josh Friedman, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is a spinoff/continuation of the trilogy that began with 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Rupert Wyatt), and continued with 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Matt Reeves) and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Reeves). The hero ape at the center of this trilogy was Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), who became a legendary leader. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” takes place on Earth, 300 years after the event of “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Do viewers need to see this trilogy before seeing “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”? Probably. That’s because Caesar is mentioned so many times in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” he’s an unseen character in the movie. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” has a captioned introduction explaining that a virus has caused apes to be superior to humans. Caesar was a brave leader of apes who “stood up for his kind,” but he also believed in a world where it’s possible for apes and humans to peacefully co-exist, even if many humans try to dominate or destroy apes.

In “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” (which was filmed in New South Wales, Australia), humans are almost extinct from Earth. The “good apes” at the center of the story are from the Eagle Clan. These apes believe that they can communicate to eagles through a special ape-singing skills. The apes in the Eagle Clan look for eagle eggs to take and possible bond with when the eagles hatch from the eggs. The Eagle Clan has a rule that if eagle eggs are found in a nest, at least one egg has to be left behind in the nest.

The movie opens during one of these egg-hunting trips to show three young adult ape friends who are hunting together: earnest and intelligent Noa (played by Owen Teague); Noa’s strong-willed love interest Soona (played by Lydia Peckham); and Noa’s daredevil best friend Anaya (played by Travis Jeffery). The Eagle Clan lives in peaceful harmony with each other.

In the beginning of the story, Noa is hesitant and insecure about some things in his life. Noa doesn’t think his eagle-singing skills are up to the level of many other apes in the Eagle Clan. Noa’s parents are supportive, but his father thinks Noa should be more confident.

One day, the Eagle Clan is brutally invaded by an army of apes led by an evil dictator named Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand), who orders that the Clan’s village be burned, and the surviving Eagle Clan members are forced into enslavement. In the chaos and mayhem, Caesar escapes. When he returns to the devastated and burned-out village, his family and friends are missing.

Naturally, Caesar goes on a mission to find his loved ones. Along the way, he meets a wise warrior orangutan named Raka (played by Peter Macon) and a mysterious woman, whom Caesar and Raka name Nova (played by Freya Allan), but she later reveals that her name is Mae. Nova/Mae pretends to be mute for much of the story until (to no one’s surprise), she admits she can talk. Nova/Mae says her deceased mother taught her to pretend to be mute for her own protection because intelligent humans are seen as a threat to apes.

Another human in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is Trevathan (played by William H. Macy), who is being held as a prisoner by Proximus Caesar, so that Proximus Caesar can learn all he can about human inventions and knowledge. Trevathan doesn’t have “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” get a meaningful sense of who he really is.

Noa is a little suspicious of Nova/Mae at first, but Raka believes in Caesar’s philosophies and urges Noa to give Nova/Mae a chance to prove her trustworthiness. Nova/Mae is supposed to be enigmatic, but perhaps she’s a little too mysterious because her personality is somewhat dull, even if her action sequences are among the best in the movie. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” never explains why Nova/Mae runs around in a tank top and jeans, while other humans in the story wear loin cloth outfits.

As for the ape characters, Teague and Macon stand out for their respective performances of Noa and Raka, who develop a protégé/mentor type of relationship. However, all the other ape characters with significant speaking roles, including villain Proximus Caesar, are a little too generic and predictable. The love story between Noa and Soona is a quite tepid. Most of the dialogue in the film is simplistic. These highly intelligent apes should have more interesting conversations.

The action sequences and visual effects in the movie are hit-and-miss but certainly aren’t terrible. Most of all, the story is formulaic but not necessarily in a bad way. The movie has no mid-credits scene or end-credits scene but has the expected ending that guarantees a sequel, since “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is conceived as the first movie in a trilogy. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” doesn’t offer any real surprises, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of comfort food for people who are fans of the franchise.

20th Century Studios will release “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” in U.S. cinemas on May 10, 2024, with a sneak preview in U.S. cinemas on May 8, 2024.

Review: ‘We 12,’ starring Mirror

May 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Tiger Yau, Lokman Yeung, Anson Kong, Edan Lui, Alton Wong, Jer Lau, Anson Lo, Keung To, Ian Chan, Stanley Yau and Jeremy Lee in “We 12” (Photo by Edko Films Ltd.)

“We 12”

Directed by Berry Ho

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the action film “We 12” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with one white person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: The 12 estranged members of a crime-fighting group are summoned by their boss to work together again to find and confiscate an evil scientific invention that will destroy the world’s ecosystem. 

Culture Audience: “We 12” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Mirror, because they are probably the only ones who might be willing to overlook all the flaws of this vapid and uninteresting movie.

Edan Lui, Jeremy Lee, Jer Lau, Stanley Yau, Lokman Yeung, Anson Lo, Keung To, Ian Chan, Anson Kong, Tiger Yau, Alton Wong and Frankie Chan in “We 12” (Photo by Edko Films Ltd.)

“We 12” is a disappointing mush of missed opportunities. What could have been an entertaining action romp starring singing group Mirror as a crime-fighting crew becomes an incoherent mess by the middle of the film. The group doesn’t even sing in the movie.

Directed by Berry Ho and written by Cheung Lai Sze, “We 12” is more obvious about its “cash grab” intentions than most ill-conceived movies starring pop singers. That’s because almost no effort was made to come up with a good story. “We 12” also fails to showcase the individual personalities of the 12 members of Mirror, a group that was formed in 2018, on the Hong Kong reality TV show/talent “Good Night Show – King Maker.”

In “We 12,” the members of the group are reduced to being identified mainly by the special skill each character with not much to make their personalities unique and distinctive. The members of Mirror portrays estranged members of the Kaito Association, a group of crime fighters who have secretive missions. Here are the roles that the members of Mirror have in “We 12”:

  • Frankie Chan is Kaito Frankie, whose specialty is sixth sense.
  • Ian Chan is Kaito Ian, whose specialty is strategic planning.
  • Anson Kong is Kaito AK, whose specialty is animal telepathy.
  • Jer Lau is Kaito Jer, whose specialty is disguise.
  • Jeremy Lee is Kaito Jeremy, whose specialty is super memory.
  • Anson Lo is Kaito A.Lo, whose specialty is agility.
  • Edan Lui is Kaito Edan, whose specialty is abseiling.
  • Keung To is Kaito KT, whose specialty is hypnosis.
  • Alton Wong is Kaito Alton, whose specialty is cyber attacks.
  • Stanley Yau is Kaito Stanley, whose specialty is eavesdropping.
  • Tiger Yau is Kaito Tiger, whose specialty is lip reading.
  • Lokman Yeung is Kaito Lokman, whose specialty is lock picking.

These members of the Kaito Association are summoned by an unseen supervisor called The Boss (voiced by Kenny Wong Tak Bun, also known as Tak-Bun Wong), who communicates with them only by phone on an emergency hotline. The Boss gathers them for a secret mission and says they have to put aside their conflicts to work on this mission. The Boss tells them about the Forbidden Science Society, which is doing harmful things that must be stopped. For example, the Forbidden Science Society has genetically engineered chicken called right wing chicken, which causes cancer when consumed.

The mission assigned to the Kaito Association is about an evil scientist professor (played by Barry Cox), who has invented a mosquito zapper, which seems like a useful invention, since mosquitos are considered a nuisance. However, The Boss explains that the professor’s goal is to eradicate mosquitos in the entire multiverse, which would cause an ecological imbalance. The Kaito Association’s mission is to find and destroy the mosquito zapper.

The rest of “We 12” consists of a jumble of scenes where the Kaito Association members use their special skills in this good versus evil mission. The dance skills of the members of Mirror certainly look like they come in handy for some of the choreographed fights and stunts. However, these fights just fill up time and don’t do much to enhance the thin and flimsy plot. The movie has two types of dialogue: forgettable or simply atrocious.

“We 12” is also uneven in how it only has a few members stand out with the most memorable tricks. Jer, as the master of disguises, goes undercover as a bartender during a scene at an upscale party. But then, the movie has other members of the group also disguise themselves at the same party: Ian and Tiger are dressed as waiters, while Edan is a violinist. It muddles the purpose of Jer being the main “disguise” guy.

Stanley and Lokman disguise themselves as bellhops at a hotel, where AK sees a German Shepherd and can read its mind. The mind reading of the dog is supposed to be hilarious, but it’s just a nonsensical scene that might elicit a few mild chuckles. A.Lo is supposed to be the most agile, yet he gets himself into a situation that contradicts this special ability.

“We 12” never explains why these members of the Kaito Association were estranged in the first place. And for a group of heartthrobs, it’s strange that they have no love interests in the movie. The only female character with a real speaking role in “We 12” is a pretty young woman named Princess (played by Lin Min-Chen), who randomly shows up once in a while to say something cute and then leaves again.

It’s certainly possible to do an entertaining heist film with more than 10 members in the heist group having personalities that are every easy to distinguish from each other. (For example: director Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean Eleven,” “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen” movies.) The members of Mirror aren’t outstanding actors, but they aren’t terrible actors either. They’re just in a terrible movie. Tiger (playful), Jer (mischievous) and A.Lo (suave) are the characters who have the most memorable personalities in “We 12.”

It seems like such a waste to have this ensemble film not do much to give all 12 members of Mirror a chance to equally shine in what could have been an adventure film that’s fun to watch. “We 12” is one of those bad movies that uses the end credits to show bloopers and deleted scenes, where the cast members laugh at their mistakes and joke around with each other. All this demonstrates is that the stars of the movie had a lot more fun making the movie than viewers will have enjoying it.

Edko Films Ltd. released “We 12” in select U.S. cinemas on April 26, 2024. The movie was released in Hong Kong on March 28, 2024.

Review: ‘Rathnam’ (2024), starring Vishal and Priya Bhavani Shankar

May 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Vishal and Priya Bhavani Shankar in “Rathnam” (Photo courtesy of Ayngaran International)

“Rathnam” (2024)

Directed by Hari

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Vellore, India, the action film “Rathnam” features an Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An enforcer for a Member of the Legislative Assembly gets caught up in a violent feud with corrupt businessmen who want to steal land ownership from a group of villagers. 

Culture Audience: “Rathnam” will appeal primarily who are fans of the movie’s headliners and don’t mind watching idiotic action movies that are too long.

Murali Sharma in “Rathnam” (Photo courtesy of Ayngaran International)

“Rathnam” is just another long-winded, repetitive and idiotic action flick with no surprises and no soul. The movie has an unappealing subplot about the shallow “hero” falling in love with a woman who looks exactly like his dead mother. Other than that bizarre part of the story, “Rathnam” has the typical barrage of unrealistic fight scenes and murderous revenge schemes. It’s all becomes so dull and tiresome after a while. And it’s made worse by the movie’s too-long runtime of 155 minutes.

Written and directed by Hari, “Rathnam” (which takes place in Vellore, India) is the fourth movie collaboration for Hari and star Vishal. They previously worked together on 2007’s “Thaamirabharani,” 2014’s “Poojai” and 2022’s “Yaanai.” Vishal portrays the title character in “Rathnam,” which means “gem” in Tamil. This movie is far from being a gem-like treasure. It’s trash.

“Rathnam” begins with a flashback to 1994, by showing how a group of three bandits commit robberies on the road. The three thieves throw eggs at the windshields of passing vehicles on isolated roads, to get the drivers to lose control of the vehicles and crash. The thieves then swoop in and rob the people in the crashed vehicles, regardless if the people are dead or alive.

The thieves use this heinous robbery tactic on a bus, which crashes and kills a total of 26 people. The thieves rob the dead and dying people before escaping. Later, when police try to catch the robbers on a cliff road, eggs are thrown on the police car’s windshield, and the police car falls over the cliff.

The movie then fast-forwards to 2024. Vellore is plagued by corruption from several politicians and business owners. Rathnam works as an enforcer for a Member the Legislative Assembly named Panneer Selvam (played by Samuthirakani), who sends Rathnam to do a lot of Panneer’s dirty work.

One of these criminal politcians is a council member named Babu Reddy (played by Pondy Ravi), who is seen trying to sexually assault a kidnapped teenage schoolgirl while he’s driving her in his Jeep. She jumps out of the vehicle to escape and ends up in a hospital, where police have been called to interview her. Babu Reddy denies anything to do with the crimes he committed against this victim.

The next thing you know, Rathnam and three of his cronies hunt down Babu. Rathnam then kills Babu with a chainsaw. Rathnam’s weapons of choice tend to be anything with blades, because he likes to behead many of his victims. Expect to see many scenes of Rathnam slashing his way through fights by using large knives and machetes.

Fairly early on in the story, Rathnam talks about his past to explain why he turned out to be the person he is. When he was 5 years old, Rathnam and his mother Loganayagi (played by Priya Bhavani Shankar) were kidnapped. The kidnappers forced Rathnam’s mother to become a sex slave. She became an outcast in their community and committed suicide (by hanging herself) out of shame. “Rathnam” has some other flashbacks to his family’s past, with the flashbacks showing relatives such as Rathnam’s father (played by Ganesh Venkatraman) and Rathnam’s grandfather (played by Y. Gee. Mahendra).

Meanwhile, in the present day, three ruthless brothers have been bullying the villagers to sign over land to them. This dastardly trio of brothers are Beema Rayudu (played by Murali Sharma), Subba Rayudu (played by Hareesh Peradi) and Raghava Rayudu (played by Vettai Muthukumar), who have a connection to Rathnam’s past that won’t be revealed in this review. The villagers who don’t comply are at risk of being murdered by the Rayudu brothers, who have a large group of thugs working for them.

Rathnam’s love interest is a medical student named Malliga (also played by Shankar), whose father Vedha Nayagam (played by Jayaprakash) and unnamed grandfather (played by Vijayakumar) are among the outspoken villagers who are resisting the threats and attacks from the Rayudu brothers. Rathnam is immediately smitten with Malliga the first time that he sees her because she looks identical to his dead mother. When Malliga finds out about this uncanny resemblance, she doesn’t think it’s creepy at all that Rathnam is attracted to her in part because she looks like his mother.

Rathnam and Malliga have a volatile relationship where they break up and get back together multiple times. Rathnam is very jealous and possessive and can fly into a rage if he thinks Malliga is having “impure” thoughts about another man. The movie tries to make this relationship look romantic when it’s actually an emotionally abusive and dysfunctional relationship.

“Rathnam” is filled with ridiculous fight scenes where Rathnam has unexplained superhuman strength and abilities. When he is outnumbered by opponents, the opponents just stand around and watch while Rathnam takes on one man at a time. It’s all such idiotic and lazy filmmaking. There’s nothing about “Rathnam” that can be described as “great” or “very good.” It’s all just a parade of mediocre-to-bad everything that is not worth the time of anyone who wants to see an entertaining action movie.

Ayngaran International released “Rathnam” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on April 26, 2024.

Review: ‘The Fall Guy’ (2024), starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt

April 30, 2024

by Carla Hay

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in “The Fall Guy” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“The Fall Guy” (2024)

Directed by David Leitch

Culture Representation: Taking place in Sydney and briefly in Los Angeles, the action comedy film “The Fall Guy” (based loosely on the 1981 to 1986 TV series of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A stunt double gets involved in a crime mystery while he tries to rekindle a romance that he had with the director of his current movie. 

Culture Audience: “The Fall Guy” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and over-the-top action comedies that are predictable but have entertaining performances.

Teresa Palmer and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in “The Fall Guy” (Photo by Eric Laciste/Universal Pictures)

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt are a great comedic duo and should have had more scenes together in “The Fall Guy.” Their collaborative scenes are the best parts of this uneven action comedy that is over-the-top but doesn’t take itself too seriously. The movie has a crime mystery that often gets overshadowed by the silly and bombastic stunt scenes in the film that don’t have much suspense. However, “The Fall Guy” doesn’t pretend to be anything but breezy entertainment with cartoonish violence and a little bit of an amusing romance.

Directed by David Leitch and written by Drew Pearce, “The Fall Guy” is based loosely on the 1981 to 1986 TV series of the same name. The TV series was an action drama, starring Lee Majors as the title character: a heroic stuntman. “The Fall Guy” movie released in 2024 is very much a tongue-in-cheek comedy that pokes fun at the movie industry and celebrity culture. “The Fall Guy” had its world premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival.

The movie’s title character is Colt Seavers (played by Gosling), an insecure and sensitive stuntman. For years, Colt has worked as a stunt double for an arrogant actor named Tom Ryder (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who takes Colt for granted. Colt’s career and personal life become derailed after a stunt he was responsible for went very wrong on a movie starring Tom. An ashamed Colt then quit the movie business and then went to work as a parking valet at a restaurant in his hometown of Los Angeles.

Colt has another reason to be miserable: He is sad because of the end of an intense fling he had on the movie set with a sarcastically witty camera operator named Jody Moreno (played by Blunt), who seemed to have strong romantic feelings for him too. However, after Colt’s embarrassing stunt mishap that resulted in Colt quitting the movie business, he abruptly cut off contact with Jody. She interpreted it as Colt harshly dumping her.

One day, Colt gets an urgent call from fast-talking movie producer Gail Meyer (played by Hannah Waddingham), who insists that Colt go back to work as a stuntman for a sci-fi action movie called “Metalstorm,” starring Tom as a character named Space Cowboy. Tom’s real-life lover Iggy Starr (played by Teresa Palmer) has the role of Space Cowboy’s love interest in the movie. “Metalstorm” (which is being filmed in Sydney, Australia) also happens to be Jody’s feature-film directorial debut.

Gail says that Jody requested Colt for this job. But when Colt arrives on the “Metalstorm” movie set, he finds out that this request was a lie. Needless to say, Jody is very upset that Colt will be Tom’s stunt double for “Metalstorm.” Jody huffs to Gail about Colt: “I didn’t approve him!” Jody demands that they find someone else to replace Colt. Gail responds, “We literally have no one else.”

Also on the “Metalstorm” movie set is Dan Tucker (played by Winston Duke), who is Colt’s stunt coordinator and best friend. Dan becomes Colt’s sidekick in a lot of shenanigans that happen in the movie. When Tom goes missing, Colt is ordered by Gail to find Tom. Stephanie Hsu has a small and somewhat thankless role as Tom’s personal assistant Alma Milan. Colt also meets Tom’s drug dealer Doone (played by Matuse), who gives an unwitting Colt a drink spiked with a hallucinogenic drug. Colt hallucinates unicorns in a comedy gag that goes on for a bit too long.

During the search for Tom, Colt goes to Tom’s hotel room and finds a dead man in an ice-filled bathtub, The rest of “The Fall Guy” is a combination of a crime mystery and exaggerated action scenes, with plenty of explosions, car chases and violent fights. Colt and Jody have the expected love/hate banter, where they both don’t want to fully admit how much their breakup hurt them. Their relationship goes exactly where you expect it to go. (Watch the end credits for some “surprise” cameos.)

“The Fall Guy” can get a bit annoying at how it seems to be a little too enamored with its stunt scenes, at the expense of developing the more interesting relationship between Colt and Jody. Colt and Jody trade snappy quips, but the movie isn’t completely convincing when it comes to showing how this would-be couple’s feelings are supposed to evolve over time. The jokes in “The Fall Guy” are hit and miss and elevated by the headlining stars’ comedic talent. It’s the type of movie that could have been better but also could have been a whole lot worse.

Universal Pictures will release “The Fall Guy” in U.S. cinemas on May 3, 2024.

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