Review: ‘Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins,’ starring Henry Golding

July 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Henry Golding and Takehiro Hira in “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Skydance)

“Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins”

Directed by Robert Schwentke

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan and briefly in Washington state and Los Angeles, the fantasy action flick “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” features a predominantly Asian cast (with some white people and African Americans) portraying a heroic ancient Japanese clan called Arashikage and the story’s villains.

Culture Clash: Members of Arashikage battle against villains from a group called Cobra, who want to take over the world.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of people who are fans of the “G.I. Joe” games and franchise, “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching mindless action flicks that don’t offer anything new or exciting to the genre.

Peter Mensah, Iko Uwais, Haruka Abe, Henry Golding and Andrew Koji in “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Skydance)

The “G.I. Joe” movies never had a reputation for being well-made action classics. “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” won’t do anything to change that reputation. It’s a frequently dull parade of sloppily filmed action clichés and no-talent acting by some of the movie’s cast members.

No one is expecting this movie to be an Oscar-caliber film. But there should be a reasonable expectation that the action scenes will be memorable and exciting and the characters will be engaging. Instead, “Snake Eyes: G.I . Joe Origins” (directed by Robert Schwentke) follows the same, lazy formula of forgettable B-movies about people who use martial arts skills in battles of good versus evil. B-movies have just a small fraction of the reported $88 million production budget that “Snake Eyes” had, but in many ways, “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” doesn’t look like money well-spent.

The movie opens with an origin story cliché of a male hero in an action movie: He becomes an orphan as a child. It’s 20 years ago, in a heavily wooded area of Washington state, where a young Snake Eyes (played by Max Archibald), who’s about 11 or 12 years old and apparently doesn’t have a regular name, and his unnamed father (played by Steven Allerick) are hiding in the woods. Snake Eyes’ father doesn’t want to alarm his son, so he makes it look like they’re on some kind of adventure. (Snake Eyes’ mother is not seen or mentioned in the story.)

Father and son go to a safe house, where Snake Eyes’ father tells Snake Eyes to lock himself into a room. “Do not move, no matter what happens.” But something does happen: A ruthless villain named Mr. Augustine (played by Samuel Finzi) shows up with two thugs. Mr. Augustin rolls a pair of dice, which each end face up with a “number one”, also known as a “snake eyes” total.

Mr. Augustine and his goons rough up the father, and Snake Eyes runs out of the room to come to his father’s defense. Snake Eyes’ father is shot and killed, and Snake Eyes runs away into the woods. Before Mr. Augustine and his henchmen leave, they burn down the house.

Twenty years later, Snake Eyes (played by Henry Golding) is (cliché alert) an emotionally damaged loner living on the edge of society. He’s a drifter somewhere on the West Coast of the United States. Snake Eyes has made it his mission in life to find his father’s murderer, and kill him for revenge. Snake Eyes apparently doesn’t do much else with his life but get into brawls with strangers.

In this particular moment when viewers first see the adult Snake Eyes, he is in a brutal fight with several men, and he’s able to take on all of them, even though he’s outnumbered. (Get used to this type of unrealistic spectacle, because this movie has a lot of them.) There’s someone who’s watching this fight who’s very impressed with Snake Eyes’ fighting skills. His name is Kenta Takanura (played by Takehiro Hira), who recruits Snake Eyes to work for him. “I could use a guy like you,” Kenta tells Snake Eyes.

The next thing you know, Snake Eyes is at the Port of Los Angeles four weeks later. He’s at a warehouse filled with an all-male crew of workers who are hiding guns in large gutted fish. Snake Eyes gets suspicious over this obvious illegal activity, so Kenta tests Snake Eyes to see what kind of loyalty he has. Kenta orders Snake Eyes to shoot and kill Kenta’s cousin Tommy (played by Andrew Koji), who is also a worker at the warehouse, but Snake Eyes refuses to do it.

Instead, Snake Eyes and Tommy fight off several men in the warehouse, and the two escape by trying to drive off in a truck. However, the warehouse workers, who apparently are secret ninjas too, attack the truck by plunging several swords through the truck’s roof and windows while Snake Eyes and Tommy are inside. Apparently, none of these ninja villains thought to use the swords on the truck’s tires.

This is the type of ridiculous fight scene that litters “Snake Eyes” with mind-numbing repetition of the heroes getting out of seemingly “impossible” situations, even though they’re outnumbered and surrounded. Cops from the Los Angeles Police Department show up at the scene of the truck attack, but then the movie inexplicably cuts to Snake Eyes waking up on a luxury private plane with Tommy.

What happened after the cops showed up? Was anyone arrested? The movie doesn’t reveal any of that information, so viewers will have to assume that everything worked out for Tommy and Snake Eyes, because now they’re hanging out on a private plane as if they’re jetset adventurers. The plane is not a ramshackle aircraft: It’s first-class, with luxury amenities and staffed with attractive female flight attendants. Who’s paying for all it?

Snake Eyes is about to find out. The plane is headed to Japan, where Tommy reveals that he’s a member of a heroic ancient Japanese clan called Arashikage. Tommy is grateful that Snake Eyes saved his life, so he invites Snake Eyes to consider joining Arashikage. The leader of Arashikage is Himiko (played by Eri Ishida), a no-nonsense and traditional elderly woman who will decide if Snake Eyes can become a member of the clan.

And you know what that means: More busy-looking, logic-defying fights so that Snake Eyes can prove his worth. He has to complete three different “challenges of the warrior” before Himiko can approve Snake Eyes to Arashikage. Not surprisingly, the third and final challenge is supposed to be the hardest.

“Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” is one of the worst-lit and wobbliest action movies you might see in recent memory. For a movie that’s not set in outer space or a location underneath the ground, the lighting is way too dark in many scenes, even when the scenes are during the day. Maybe all this dark lighting and shaky camera work (from cinematographer Bojan Bazelli) are so viewers won’t notice how mediocre the fight choreography is.

One of the few scenes in the movie that’s well-lit is at a visually striking location where there are hundreds of lighted Japanese lamps on display. It’s one of the best set designs for this overall unimpressive movie. Good set designs are wasted though when the story isn’t written well. Evan Spiliotopoulos, Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel wrote the screenplay for “Snake Eyes: G.I . Joe Origins.”

All of the movie’s characters, including Snake Eyes, are very generic. The actors are stuck with playing two-dimensional characters, with only Snake Eyes having anything that can be called a backstory. This is a pure action film: There are no distracting love stories or even a hint that these characters have personal lives. Kenta and Tommy are cousins who’ve become enemies, but their family dynamics and family history are mostly ignored in the movie.

Other characters who interact with Snake Eyes include three people who are tasked with supervising Snake Eyes in his challenges: Blind Master (played by Peter Mensah), Hard Master (played by Iko Uwais) and Akiki (played by Haruka Abe), who is Arashikage’s head of security. Akiki is skeptical of a lot of Snake Eyes’ abilities and belief, so Akiki and Snakes inevitably disagree with each other. It’s a bit of a stretch to describe their conflicts as “personality conflicts,” because you have to have a personality in the first place, and these characters have none.

Samara Weaving plays an Arashikage ally called Scarlett, but she’s not in the movie as much as a lot of viewers might think she is. There’s a female villain called Baroness (played by Úrsula Corberó), who displays the stiffest acting out of all the principal cast members. It’s hard to take a villain seriously when the person playing the villain has acting that’s so bad, it’s a distraction. Instead of the Baroness, she should’ve been called the Boringness.

And what about Snake Eyes’ quest to avenge the death of his father? The movie doesn’t forget about that. This revenge subplot is handled in a very predictable way, if you know before watching “Snake Eyes” that it’s been rated a family-friendly movie for people over the age of 12. The most obvous sign that the movie doesn’t too heavy with any violence is because there’s a lot of fighting with swords and other weapons, but there’s hardly any blood in sight.

A few of the fight scenes end too abruptly, which are signs of careless screenwriting and editing. For example, there’s a scene where Snake Eyes is trapped somewhere with attackers, and someone in Arashikage swoops in to come to his rescue. But viewers never get to see the rescue. Instead, the next scene just cuts to Snake Eyes and his rescuer back at Arashikage headquarters, as if nothing happened.

The movie makes a half-hearted attempt to throw in a few surprise curveballs, by showing one or two characters who have “fluid alliances.” But it just comes across as phony and not the shocking twist that this movie needed to liven up this formulaic story. The characters are so underwritten that viewers won’t feel like they know any of them well enough to get a sense of what the characters want to do with their lives besides join in on a fight when needed.

And if viewers are expecting an awe-inspiring mega-weapon in the movie, forget it. There’s a glowing red gem (about the size of small vase) that has the power to make people burst into flames. For a movie that cost $88 million to make, it’s kind of pathetic that’s the best they could come up with for the story’s most-coveted deadly weapon.

The visual effects in “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” aren’t going to be nominated for any awards. In a film called “Snake Eyes,” there are inevitable snakes in multiple action scenes. In this movie, they’re giant anacondas. But the suspense in these scenes almost becomes laughable, when Snake Eyes closes his eyes and uses a meditation technique where the meditation energy will supposedly make the attackers peaceful and willing to back away. If you want to believe that giant anacondas can tap into an inner Zen in the middle of an attack, go right ahead.

Viewers will feel like closing their eyes for a different reason: The movie is so tedious that it could put some people to sleep. You could fall asleep in the middle of the film and still know exactly what’s going happen by the end of the film. And it does. It’s all just a set-up for a sequel.

Paramount Pictures will release “Snake Eyes: G,.I. Joe Origins” in U.S. cinemas on July 23, 2021.

Review: ‘The Gentlemen,’ starring Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding and Jeremy Strong

January 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

The Gentlemen
Michelle Dockery and Matthew McConaughey in “The Gentleman” (Photo by Christopher Raphael)

“The Gentlemen”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Set in London, this group of predominantly white male characters (with a few Asians and black people), who are from the middle and upper classes, live on the edges of the law and are primarily motivated by greed and revenge.

Culture Clash: The characters in the “The Gentleman” constantly try to one-up and outsmart each other in their betrayals.

Culture Audience: “The Gentlemen” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about groups of criminals who mix dirty deals with aspirations to belong in the upper echelons of society.

Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam in “The Gentleman” (Photo by Christopher Raphael)

In case people might think British filmmaker Guy Ritchie was turning soft because he directed Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of “Aladdin,” he wants to remind everyone that he’s still capable of making the down’n’dirty British crime capers that made him a hot director, starting with his feature-film debut, 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” (And then his ill-fated 10-year marriage to Madonna brought him another kind of fame: tabloid hell.)

With “The Gentlemen,” Ritchie returns to the theme that he seems to like best when he writes and directs a film—men behaving very badly. And who needs to have legal consequences? Ritchie makes it clear in his movies about drug dealers or gangsters that the harsh realities of police busts and courtroom appearances are pesky distractions that shouldn’t really get in the way of the story he really wants to tell, which is from the lawbreakers’ perspectives.

The movie’s title is quite cheeky, since the shady and sleazy characters in “The Gentlemen” act like anything but gentlemen. All of them are violent, and some of the Anglo characters spout racist and anti-Semitic remarks. There’s some content in this movie that’s truly twisted, including a bestiality scene that’s in the movie for laughs. The deviant act is not shown on screen, but what happened and who was involved are made very clear to viewers.

“The Gentlemen” has an all-star cast, but the movie really comes down to the sparring between two of the characters who want to be the alpha male who’ll outsmart them all. The two opponents are Michael “Mickey” Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Fletcher (played by Hugh Grant), who see themselves as brilliant manipulators who like to play people off each other like pawns in a chess game.

Mickey is an American who’s been a marijuana dealer in the United Kingdom, ever since he was a Rhodes Scholar student at Oxford University. He’s built up his business by renting out large estates worth millions and using the land to build underground areas for growing marijuana. His operation (which spans the entire nation) has grown to the point where he’s ready to sell it, now that marijuana might become legal in the United Kingdom.

Fletcher is a private investigator and aspiring screenwriter, who wants to tell Mickey’s story (and dirty secrets) in a movie screenplay that he’s writing. Fletcher describes the screenplay in vivid detail (which viewers see acted on screen) when he has a tense confrontation with Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (played by Charlie Hunnam). It’s a story-within-a-story conceit that works well in some areas of the movie, but gets too convoluted and messy in other areas. Fletcher tells Ray that the salacious details of the screenplay is Fletcher’s way of extorting £20 million from Mickey if he wants to keep Fletcher from spilling those secrets. Fletcher has found himself in Mickey’s orbit in the first place because Fletcher has been hired by a tabloid editor named Big Dave (payed by Eddie Marsan), who has a grudge against Mickey and wants Fletcher to dig up dirt on Mickey.

Viewers should know before seeing this movie that the hyper-absurd situations in the story basically serve to poke fun at the characters, who mostly think they’re smarter than everyone else in their world.  And make no mistake: This is definitely a man’s world, since Michelle Dockery (who plays Mickey’s Cockney-accented loyal wife, Rosalind, nicknamed Roz) is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie—and her screen time in the film is less than 20 minutes. Fletcher describes Roz as the “Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s Cowboy Caesar.” It’s a fairly accurate description, since Roz’s scenes basically revolve around her sexuality, and Mickey’s scenes revolve around him asserting his power.

Mickey’s asking price for his marijuana operation is at least £400 million, and he finds a potential buyer in billionaire Matthew Berger (played by Jeremy Strong), another successful, upper-echelon drug dealer who’s been a longtime rival of Mickey’s. And there are some other sordid characters who are entangled in this spider web of a story. One of them is Dry Eye (played by Henry Golding), a gangster/wannabe mob boss who answers to his real mob boss, Lord George (played by Tom Wu). Their gang is also at odds with Mickey.

Then there’s deadpan henchman Coach (played by Colin Farrell), who’s somewhat of a mentor to a group of young thugs who like to video record their mischief-making and crimes while in disguise, take the footage, make them into rap videos, and post the videos on social media. The young hoodlums make the mistake of breaking into one of Mickey’s marijuana bunkers and stealing some of what’s stashed there, so Coach offers to make amends by doing favors for Mickey.

All of the stars of “The Gentlemen” do a very competent job with an often-verbose script, which requires a massive suspension of disbelief in the fight scenes—especially in an assault-weapon shootout aimed at a vehicle, where someone very unrealistically walks away unscathed. Grant’s Fletcher character has the best lines, and he’s the one who’s the least predictable. But many of the other characters (such as Ray, Dry Eye and Big Eddie) are very two-dimensional, and a few humorous one-liners don’t quite fill the voids in their personalities.

Put another way: Ritchie is no Martin Scorsese when it comes to gangster films. “The Gentlemen” tries to be a little too clever for its own good, but if you’re curious to see Ritchie’s take on a backstabbing criminal subculture, then “The Gentlemen” might be your stinging cup of tea.

STX will release “The Gentlemen” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2020.

 

 

2019 CinemaCon: What to expect at this year’s event

April 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

CinemaCon

CinemaCon, the annual convention for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), will be held April 1 to April 4, 2019, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. About 5,000 people attend the event, which gives movie studios the chance to showcase what they expect to be their biggest hits of the year.

A major change to this year’s event is that Sony Pictures Entertainment and 20th Century Fox will not be giving presentations. Movie studios scheduled to give their presentations at the event are STX Films and Warner Bros. Pictures on April 2; Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures on April 3; and Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate on April 4.

Independent film studio Neon will promote its music-based drama “Wild Rose” with a screening of the movie on April 1 and a “Wild Rose” party on April 2. Other movies that will be screened in their entirety at CinemaCon 2019 will be Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Blinded by the Light” on April 2, Amazon’s “Late Night” on April 3 and Lionsgate’s “Long Shot” on April 4.

CinemaCon culminates with the CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards ceremony, which will take place April 4.

Here are the announced winners of the awards:

CinemaCon Icon Award
Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix)

One of the most respected actors in the entertainment industry, Emmy-winning “Boardwalk Empire” star Steve Buscemi has played a wide range of characters in movies and television. His most memorable films include 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs,” 1996’s “Fargo” and 2001’s “Ghost World.” He has also voiced several roles in hit animated movies such as 2017’s “The Boss Baby,” and the “Hotel Transylvania” films. Buscemi’s 2019 film is the horror comedy, co-starring Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton.

CinemaCon Vanguard Award
Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis (Photo by Andrew Eccles/Universal Pictures)

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Jamie Lee Curtis has made her mark in the film industry, beginning with her starring role in her movie debut: the 1978 horror classic “Halloween.” She has starred in multiple “Halloween” sequels, most notably 2018’s “Halloween,” which made her the first woman over the age of 60 to star in a movie that debuted at No. 1 in the United States. Curtis’ other well-known movies include the 1980 horror flick “Prom Night,” the 1988 comedy “A Fish Called Wanda,” the 1994 action film “True Lies” and the 2003 remake of the comedy “Freaky Friday.” Curtis has two films due out in 2019: the crime drama “Knives Out” and the comedy “Senior Entourage.”

CinemaCon International Star of the Year
Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart (Photo by David Lee)

Kevin Hart is one of the busiest people in showbiz, with starring roles in movies, TV and Web series, in addition to headlining successful arena tours. The year 2019 started out with the dramedy “The Upside” (starring Hart and Bryan Cranston) debuting at No. 1 in the United States. His 2018 comedy film “Night School” was also a hit.

CinemaCon Ensemble Award: The Cast of “Terminator: Dark Fate” – Linda Hamilton, Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis and Gabriel Luna

Natalie Reyes, Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton of “Terminator: Dark Fate” (Photo by Kerry Brown)

“Terminator: Dark Fate” is the 2019 entry in the longtime “Terminator” film series. “Terminator: Dark Fate” stands out from the rest of the films in the series because the cast is led by women: Linda Hamilton (who starred in the first two “Terminator” movies), Natalie Reyes and Mackenzie Davis. The movie’s cast also includes Gabriel Luna. Original “Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger is reportedly making a cameo appearance.

CinemaCon Directors of the Year
Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Director brothers Joe Russo and Anthony Russo helmed the superhero movie “Avengers: Endgame,” which is expected to be the biggest box-office blockbuster of 2019. The Russo brothers also directed several other Marvel movie blockbusters, including 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

CinemaCon Action Star of the Year
David Harbour

David Harbour (Photo by Marion Curtis/ StarPix for Summit Entertainment)

David Harbour might be best-known as a co-star of Netflix’s horror series “Stranger Things,” but he’s aiming to make a big splash in movies by starring as the title character in the 2019 superhero flick “Hellboy.” Harbour takes over the role that was originated by Ron Perlman.

Cinema Spotlight Award
Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer  (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her breakthrough role in 2011’s “The Help.” She has also has Oscar nominations for her supporting roles in 2016’s “Hidden Figures” and 2017’s “The Shape of Water.” Spencer has branched out into producing films, including the 2019 horror flick “Ma,” where she has a starring role.

CinemaCon Male Star of Tomorrow
Henry Golding

Henry Golding (Photo by Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

Henry Golding made his feature-film debut with a starring role in the 2018 blockbuster romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians.” He was also in the 2018 crime thriller “A Simple Favor,” co-starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Golding has re-teamed with “A Simple Favor” director Paul Feig for the 2019 romantic comedy “Last Christmas,” co-starring Emilia Clarke, Emma Thompson (who wrote the movie’s screenplay) and “Crazy Rich Asians” co-star Michelle Yeoh.

CinemaCon Female Stars of Tomorrow
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever (Photo by Francois Duhamel)

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever co-star in the 2019 comedy “Booksmart,” about two straight-laced best friends who decide to go wild on the day before their high-school graduation. Feldstein is also known for her supporting roles in the 2018 Oscar-nominated comedy film “Lady Bird” and the 2016 comedy film “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” while Dever is a co-star of the comedy series “Last Man Standing.” Dever’s other recent film roles include the 2018 dramas “Beautiful Boy” and “The Front Runner.”

CinemaCon Breakthrough Director of the Year
Olivia Wilde

Olivia Wilde (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images)

Olivia Wilde made her directorial feature-film debut with the 2019 comedy film “Booksmart,” which got rave reviews when it had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. Wilde is an accomplished actress who has starred in such films as 2018’s “Life Itself” and 2010’s “Tron: Legacy.” She is also known for her past TV roles in the medical drama “House” and the nighttime soap opera “The O.C.”

CinemaCon Comedy Stars of the Year
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron (Photo by Philippe Bossé)

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron play unlikely love interests in the 2019 political comedy film “Long Shot.” Rogen is best known for his comedic roles in movies (such as 2007’s “Knocked Up,” 2008’s “Pineapple Express” and the “Neighbors” films), while Theron does mostly dramatic and action movies, including 2005’s “Monster” (for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress), 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” and 2017’s “Atomic Blonde.”

Other awards that will be given at the ceremony:

  • CinemaCon International Filmmaker of the Year Award: Graham King, producer of 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • CinemaCon Passpartout Award: Helen Moss, Paramount Pictures senior vice president of international distribution
  • NATO Marquee Award: John D. Loeks, Studio C chairman
  • Career Achievement in Exhibition Award: Jérôme Seydoux, Pathé co-chairman/CEO and Les Cinémas Gaumont Pathé chairman/CEO
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Anthony Bloom, Cineworld Group chairman