Review: ‘The Retirement Plan’ (2023), starring Nicolas Cage, Ashley Greene, Ron Perlman, Jackie Earle Haley, Grace Byers, Ernie Hudson and Lynn Whitfield

September 19, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nicolas Cage in “The Retirement Plan” (Photo courtesy of Falling Forward Films)

“The Retirement Plan” (2023)

Directed by Tim Brown

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the Cayman Islands, the comedy action film “The Retirement Plan” has a white and African American cast of characters representing the working-class, and middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A seemingly mild-mannered retiree is really a former assassin for the U.S. government, and he has to rescue his granddaughter when she is kidnapped as part of an elaborate theft of a classified flash drive.

Culture Audience: “The Retirement Plan” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Nicolas Cage and Cage’s action movies that follow a familiar but tired formula.

Ronnie Hughes, Ashley Greene and Ron Perlman in “The Retirement Plan” (Photo courtesy of Falling Forward Films)

“The Retirement Plan” isn’t nearly as funny as it’s hyped up to be. Nicolas Cage portrays a world-weary ex-government assassin caught up in a hunt for a flash drive. He looks bored for at least half of this predictable action flick. Viewers will be bored too.

Written and directed by Tim Brown, “The Retirement Plan” certainly has a well-known cast that might attract viewers to this comedic action movie. However, the increasingly convoluted plot starts to wear thin, while the so-called jokes are very stale. If you think it’s hilarious to see Cage (or hs stunt double) running around in a bad wig in predictable chase and fight scenes, then “The Retirement Plan” might be your kind of movie.

“The Retirement Plan” has a story where several people are trying to get possession of the flash drive that has “powerful secrets” that can make people rich. The beginning of the movie shows three people stealing this flash drive and then getting shot at while making their getaway in a car. The three people are Ashley (played by Ashley Greene); her husband Jimmy (played by Jordan Johnson-Hinds); and Jimmy’s friend Mitch (played by Jerry Zavadlaw), who gets shot and dies as a result.

With Mitch dead, Ashley and Jimmy are now concerned for the safety of their daughter Sarah (played by Thalia Campbell), who’s about 11 or 12 years old. Jimmy tells Ashley to take Sarah to the Cayman Islands, where Ashley’s estranged, widower father Matt (played by Cage) is living as a retiree. “The Retirement Plan” was filmed on location in the Cayman Island. Jimmy is certain that no one will be looking for Ashley and Sarah in the Cayman Islands.

But there would be no “Retirement Plan” movie if Jimmy was right about Ashley and Sarah being safe in the Cayman Islands. A crime thug named Donnie (played by Jackie EarleHaley) is looking for the flash drive sends two of his goons—Bobo (played by Ron Perlman) and General (played by Ronnie Hughes)—to the Cayman Islands. Matt is about to get his life turned upside down.

Donnie has to answer to a crime boss named Hector Garcia (played by Grace Byers), who owns the flash drive and tells Donnie that Donnie has 24 hours to find the flash drive. And there are federal agents named Fitzsimmons (played by Joel David Moore) and Drisdale (played by Lynn Whitfield) who are also looking for the flash drive. Matt eventually finds out about the flash drive too. A running “joke” in the movie is that Matt is so behind-the-times, he keeps calling the flash drive a “disk.”

Ashley gets detained by Bobo and General on the way to the Cayman Islands, but Ashley anticipated this might happen and arranged for Sarah to take a separate plane trip by herself from Miami to the Cayman Islands. Sarah meets her grandfather Matt for the first time and has a lot of questions that he doesn’t really want to answer.

One thing that Sarah and Ashley eventually find out is that Matt is a former government assassin, who still has his combat skills. Predictably, Sarah gets kidnapped during this mess. Matt comes to the rescue and gets help from a pal named Joseph (played by Ernie Hudson), who also has combat skills. Many chase scenes and fight scenes ensue. The movie’s action scenes have slapstick tone that doesn’t work very well when the jokes in the movie fall flat. The acting performances in the movie are mostly unimpressive.

Most audiences already know that Cage has made a lot of bad movies in his career. “The Retirement Plan” isn’t the worst of Cage’s movies, because there are some moments in “The Retirement Plan” that can be considered entertaining to some viewers. However, these moments don’t add up to a completely enjoyable film. Instead on laughing at a lot of the intended comedy, many viewers will probably be cringing.

Falling Forward Films released “The Retirement Plan” in U.S. cinemas on September 15, 2023.

Review: ‘The Baker’ (2023), starring Ron Perlman, Elias Koteas, Joel David Moore, Samantha Kaine, Dax Ravina, Emma Ho and Harvey Keitel

July 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ron Perlman and Harvey Keitel in “The Baker” (Photo courtesy of Falling Forward Films)

“The Baker” (2023)

Directed by Jonathan Sobol

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the action film “The Baker” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A mysterious baker, who is a military veteran with a shady past, goes on a vigilante rampage, with his 8-year-old granddaughter, against the drug dealers who killed his son.

Culture Audience: “The Baker” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and predictable “shoot ’em up” action flicks.

Emma Ho and Joel David Moore in in “The Baker” (Photo courtesy of Falling Forward Films)

If you’ve seen any forgettable vigilante action flick, then you already know what to expect from “The Baker,” which is formulaic nonsense about a troubled baker who has his 8-year-old granddaughter tagging along for his violent revenge spree. The reason for this rampage is because the baker’s son has gone missing after getting mixed up with a drug deal gone bad. You know where all of this is going, of course.

Directed by Jonathan Sobol, “The Baker” uses the same old tiresome clichés about a grumpy loner with a shady past who goes on a killing spree to avenge something wrong that happened to a family member. “The Baker” takes place in unnamed U.S. cities but was actually filmed in Canada. Paolo Mancini and Thomas Michael wrote the lazy and unimaginative screenplay for “The Baker.”

The movie’s title character is Pappi Sabinski (played by Ron Perlman), a U.S. military veteran who often has nightmares from his post-traumatic stress disorder and other bad memories from his past. Pappi is a bachelor who lives by himself and owns a small business called Pappi’s Bake Shop, where he is the only employee. Pappi is estranged from his only child: a son in his 40s named Peter (played by Joel David Moore), who has a lot of resentment toward Pappi because he doesn’t think Pappi was a good father.

Peter is a single father to an 8-year-old daughter named Delphi (played by Emma Ho), who is mute and who is enrolled in a private school where the students are required to wear uniforms. An early scene in the movie shows a drug deal turn deadly in a nearly deserted parking garage, where all four men involved in the drug deal have a violent fight and end up dead. Peter just happens to be in a parked car nearby and witnesses this fatal conflict. The heroin that was part of this deal is in a duffel bag that is near the dead bodies.

Peter is no stranger to doing shady things to make money. And you know what that means in this story. Although “The Baker” tries to play coy about what Peter did after witnessing this deadly shootout, it’s very obvious. Peter is seen making an urgent phone call where he leaves a message for someone named Milky to call him back. Milky (played by Dax Ravina) is shown later in the movie.

Peter suddenly arrives at Delphi’s school, barges into one of her classes, and abruptly tells her that she has to leave with him to take a father/daughter trip. During their road trip, Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” is playing in the car. It’s a song that is heard again for a pivotal moment toward the end of the movie.

Peter shows up with Delphi at Pappi’s place of business, after Peter and Pappi have not seen or spoken to each other in years. This unannounced visit is the first time that Pappi and Delphi meet each other. Peter quickly tells Pappi that he recently started a limousine-driving business, but Peter got stuck with a bunch of run-down limos. However, Peter says his financial fortune has suddenly changed for the better, and it won’t be long before he will be the one being driven in limos.

Peter tells Pappi that he needs Pappi to look after Delphi while Peter sorts out some unnamed business matters. Not long after Peter drives away, Pappi gets a frantic phone call from Peter, but then a gunshot is heard in the background where Peter is, and the call is disconnected. Pappi then takes Delphi on a road trip in Pappi’s delivery truck to find out what happened to Peter. (What happened to Peter is exactly what you think happened to Peter.)

The rest of “The Baker” is just a mindless series of scenes where Pappi gets into shootouts and other fights with the goons who work for the drug lord who’s looking for his stolen heroin. The drug lord’s name in the movie is Merchant (played by Harvey Keitel), and his chief henchman/enforcer is Vic (played by Elias Koteas), who goes on a mission to find Pappi. The two main police detectives who investigate this murder spree are Petra Weintrager (played by Samantha Kaine) and Luca Rispoli (played by Paolo Mancini), who are as generic as generic can be.

The gimmick of a mute granddaughter accompanying her vengeful grandfather on his murder spree fails to be believable in “The Baker.” The movie has Pappi give a ridiculous order to Delphi to just put on some goggles so she won’t witness any murders. Of course, Delphi sees things that she’s not supposed to see and are traumatic for any human being.

“The Baker” heinously brushes off this child abuse as justified, because Pappi cannot be stopped. Don’t you know that an unhinged vigilante just doesn’t have time to find a babysitter? “The Baker” continues to spiral downward as it has some forced-looking “cutesy” scenes of Delphi trying to get her grouchy grandfather to loosen up a little, when she’s not dodging bullets and not trying to get killed in other ways.

“The Baker” has absolutely no creativity or wit in the action scenes either. All of the performances are mediocre, with longtime actors such as Perlman and Keitel (who have both been typecast as tough guys in their movie roles) just going through the same motions that they’ve done dozens of times before in other unremarkable action movies. “The Baker” can’t even be considered half-baked. It’s like raw sewage that leaves a stinking mess of idiotic filmmaking.

Falling Forward Films released “The Baker” in select U.S. cinemas on July 28, 2023.

Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,’ starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis and Britain Dalton

December 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldaña, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss and Sam Worthington in “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

Directed by James Cameron

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and on the fictional planet of Pandora, the sci-fi action film “Avatar: The Way of Water” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) portraying humans and non-humans.

Culture Clash: Jake Sully and Neytiri, the heroes of 2009’s “Avatar,” are now the leaders of the Omatikaya clan on Pandora, but Jake becomes the target of revenge for being a traitor to Earth, so he and his family escape to live with another clan on Pandora, with an old enemy in pursuit. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Avatar” fans, “Avatar: The Way of Water” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a top-notch sci-fi film.

Sam Worthington, Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis in “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has set the bar even higher for sci-fi epics. The movie’s technical achievements and story surpass the first “Avatar” film. Expect to be immersed in a visually stunning world that has a lot to say about protection of families and the environment. At 192 minutes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a more than worth the time of anyone who wants to be entertained for a little more than three hours by a magnificent achievement in sci-fi cinema.

Directed by James Cameron, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that is fully appreciated if viewers have seen or know about what happened in 2009’s Oscar-winning blockbuster “Avatar,” which was also directed by Cameron. Mild spoiler alert for those who haven’t the first “Avatar” movie, which took place in the year 2154: The movie’s main hero, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), a wheelchair-using U.S. Marine, was assigned to be a bodyguard for Dr. Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver), the leader of the Avatar Program that gives the ability for humans to appear in the form of something else.

Jake defied the government’s plan for military people to disguise themselves as Pandora natives call the Na’vi, in order to deplete the moon planet of Pandora (located in the Alpha Centauri system) for the precious resource unobtanium. Na’vi people are a humanoid species with blue skin, and the average Na’vi adults are about 10 feet tall. At the end of the first “Avatar” movie, Jake left behind his human life on Earth to become a Na’vi.

At the beginning of “Avatar: The Way of Water” (whose screenplay was written by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver), it is about 15 years after the first movie took place. Jake (who has fully inhabited his Na’vi body) has been happily married to Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldaña), the female Na’vi who saved his life in the first “Avatar” movie. Jake and Neytiri fell in love in the first “Avatar” movie. They now live on Pandora, where Jake is the leader of the Omatikaya clan, which lives and thrives in the forest.

Jake and Neytiri are now parents to four children: teenage son Neteyam (played by Jamie Flatters) is the “role model” eldest child; teenage son Lo’ak (played by Britain Dalton) is slightly rebellious and living in the shadow of Neteyam; adopted teenage daughter Kiri (played by Weaver) is haunted by the memories of her biological mother; and pre-teen daughter Tuk (played by Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) is friendly and playful. The four Sully kids are very close to a human named Spider (played by Jack Champion), who was orphaned by the war between the Na’vi and humans.

The movie later reveals Spider’s family background and who one of his biological parents is. Spider spends so much time with the Sully kids that he’s almost like part of the family. However, Neytiri is nervous and wary about Spider becoming so close to the kids because she doesn’t completely trust humans, who are called Sky People by the Na’vi. The humans were responsible for nearly destroying Neytiri’s family in the first “Avatar” movie. One of the survivors was Neytiri’s mother Mo’at (played by CCH Pounder), who makes a brief appearance in “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Kiri’s origins are revealed near the beginning of the movie: She was created from the DNA of Dr. Augustine. Mild spoiler alert for those who don’t know what happened in the first “Avatar” movie: Dr. Augustine died in the first “Avatar” movie, but she makes an appearance in flashbacks in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Throughout the movie, Kiri feels a psychic connection to that is both confusing and comforting to Kiri.

In the first “Avatar” movie, the U.S. government’s Resources Development Administration (RDA) was in charge of raiding Pandora for unobtanium because resources on Earth have diminished. The RDA still exists in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and they consider Jake to be a traitorous enemy because of what happened in the first “Avatar” movie. As described in the “Avatar: The Way of Water” production notes: “In addition to having an armada of weaponized land, air and sea vehicles at their disposal, the RDA has brought with them a secret weapon: an elite team of soldiers resurrected as recombinants (recoms). Recoms are autonomous avatars embedded with the memories of the humans whose DNA was used to create them.”

This group of recom soldiers has been tasked with one primary mission: find and kill Jake. The leader of this mission is Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang), the avatar of the human Colonel Miles Quaritch (also played by Lang), who was head of RDA’s security force and Jake’s biggest adversary in the first “Avatar” movie. During this mission, the recom soldiers appear in the form of Na’vi when they go to Pandora to hunt down Jake.

Through a series of circumstances, the Sully family is are forced to leave their home. They flee to another part of Pandora, where they are taken in as refugees by the green-skinned Metkayina clan. Whereas the forest is the primary domain of the Omatikaya clan, the ocean is the primary domain of the Metkayina clan, which reluctantly lets the Sully family live with them because it’s a Na’vi tradition to help refugees of Pandora.

The leaders of the Metkayina clan are upstanding and fair-minded Tonowari (Cliff Curtis). and his compassionate wife Ronal (played by Kate Winslet), who is pregnant when this story takes place. Ronal and Tonowari tell their teenage children—daughter Tsireya (played by Bailey Bass) and older son Aonung (played by Filip Geljo)—to attempt to teach the Sully kids how to adapt to the clan’s water activities, customs and traditions. Aonung is somewhat hostile to these newcomers, while Tsireya is welcoming.

Tsireya and Lo’ak have an immediate “attraction at first sight” the first time that they meet each other. It leads to some romantic moments but also some tensions, particularly from Aonung, who clashes with and bullies Lo’ak during much of the story. The residents of Pandora have much bigger problems though, when Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch and his marauding team of soldiers invade Pandora in their hunt for Jake.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has some of the most eye-popping and gorgeous visuals (especially the underwater scenes) that movie audiences will ever see in a sci-fi movie. In addition to the movie’s visual effects, “Avatar: The Way of Water’s” enchanting cinematography and production design are particularly noteworthy. “Avatar: The Way of Water” also has emotionally impactful stories about the connections that humans and humanoids can develop with other animals. And just like in the first “Avatar” movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water” has a very pro-environment message that isn’t preachy but is presented in a way that serves as a warning of what could happen when a planet’s inhabitants don’t take care of their planet.

The majority of the cast members in “Avatar: The Way of Water” do not appear in human form, due to visual effects, so their acting is on par with similar big-budget movies that use visual effects to alter the appearance of the cast members. However, Weaver (as Kiri) and Dalton have some standout moments as children who feel like misfits in their family and who feel like they have something to prove about their worth in their family. Champion’s portrayal of Spider is also admirable, because Spider goes through his own issues dealing with self-esteem, identity and family loyalty.

Other characters in “Avatar: The Way of Water” include General Ardmore (played by Edie Falco), a ruthless official from RDA; Captain Mick Scoresby (played by Brendan Cowell) and Dr. Ian Garvin (played by Jemaine Clement), who are recruited by RDA to help track down Jake and find more unobtanium; and scientists Dr. Norm Spellman (played by Joel David Moore) and Dr. Max Patel (played by Dileep Rao), who were allies to Jake in the first “Avatar” movie.

The “Avatar” universe is best experienced from the beginning to fully understand the nuances and developments of “Avatar: The Way of Water” and other “Avatar” sequels. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that has Oscar-worthy technical prowess, but the dialogue is a little on the simplistic and generic side. What the movie lacks in dazzling dialogue it more than makes up for in delivering a poignant, thrilling and entertaining story with a big heart that viewers will want to revisit.

20th Century Studios will release “Avatar: The Way of Water” in U.S. cinemas on December 16, 2022.

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