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By Vernor Rodgers
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I am old enough to remember when summer was rerun season, a time, pre-video/DVD, when you could watch again favorite episodes of favorite TV shows while waiting anxiously for the new season to begin in the fall. These days, with shows premiering year-round on so many channels and platforms, rerun season has faded away.

Take heart, there still is the movie industry's summer blockbuster season, an ever-expanding block of months when high-budget popcorn films hit the theaters for a few weeks and soon enough will move into other platforms by fall.

July 2018 of the blockbuster season was the Month of Sequels, as the offerings at theaters were revisits to such familiar characters as Ant Man, the Mama Mia crew, the Incredibles, Hotel Transylvania's Dracula, Denzel Washington's kick-ass Robert McCall, and the IMF crew led by Ethan Hunt. Then there is the latest wave in horror, the social media-driven nightmares of online terror via "Unfriended."

"Mission Impossible: Fallout" is a hoot, 2 and 1/4 hours of seeing what outrageous stunts Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) can survive. There is a plot in there somewhere, concocted by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, that involves a case of plutonium that may fall into the wrong hands, as well as a  renewal of hostilities between Hunt and adversary Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and Hunt's complicated love life that involves colleague Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and his wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan). And of course, Hunt's faithful teammates Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) are there to offer assistance and comedy relief.

But the stars of the movie are the various fight/chase scenes that involve police cars, motorcycles, foot pursuits, helicopters, leaping from building to building; as well as donnybrooks in public restrooms and at the edge of a cliff. Yep, it's live-action comic book stuff, minus the super hero affiliations. When Hunt can engage in a five-minute brawl in a restroom that involves crashing into mirrors and plunging through porcelain, yet emerge not even bloodied or winded, you know you are engaging in total fantasy.

But it's a ton of fun. However, Tom Cruise turned 56 on July 3. Don't know how much longer he can engage in this kind of carnage before he saddles off to the action hero sunset in the footsteps Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, et al.

"Mission Impossible: Fallout" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/XiHiW4N7-bo 

Speaking of age, Denzel Washington is old enough to start drawing Social Security. But that did not stop him from revisiting his role as Robert McCall in "The Equalizer 2," teaming up again with director Antoine Fuqua, who directed Washington in the first "Equalizer" as well as Washington's Oscar-winning role in "Training Day."

These movies, based upon the 1980s television series starring Edward Woodard, focus on McCall, a former member of an elite Marine fighter unit, now in semi-retirement. In the first movie, McCall is coaxed out of retirement to battle evil syndicate of Russians. In "EQ2" he still is more or less active, doing an occasional assignment but mostly living a quiet life is a Lyft driver in Boston. There he also mentors a teen in the neighborhood, Miles (Ashton Sanders), who McCall hopes can develop his artistic talent as a way to keep him away from the local gangs.

When McCall's friend Susan (Melissa Leo), still involved in government intelligence, is killed in Belgium, McCall investigates and grimly learns he must go up against some of former Marine colleagues, led by Dave York (Pedro Pascal), who has grown cold and cynical from too many years in intelligence that has blurred the distinction between good and bad.

"EQ2" is mostly a quiet movie, which makes the explosive finale all the more vivid, taking place as a severe storms rips apart McCall's former hometown while he engages in a deadly cat-and-mouse game, outnumbered 4 to 1. You pretty much know McCall will prevail. But watching him improvise to turn the tide is compelling to view.

"The Equalizer 2" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/HyNJ3UrGk_I

"Unfriended: Dark Web" is another movie in which the viewer looks at nothing but a computer screen, where unfortunately, so many things are going on it brings on eye fatigue.

It centers around a half-dozen young people who "gather" one night on Skype to play some silly game. One of the people, Matias (Colin Woodell) has claimed a new laptop -- it is this device that provides the POV. Matias also is trying to mend fences with his deaf-mute girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras) via web communication.

It turns out Matias did not purchase this laptop, but claimed it from lost and found and soon discovers the owner wants it back. Soon things escalate and Matias finds he has unwillingly put his friends as well as Amaya in mortal danger.

The main problem with "Unfriended" is that there is too much onscreen activity, a flurry of clicks and page and prompt pop-ups that make it all too difficult to follow. Ultimately, the conclusion is horrifying and a brutal warning about the pitfalls of engaging too deeply into the cyber world where the potential for danger remains largely untapped.

Then there is the prequel, "The First Purge," which lays the foundation for the successful "Purge" series. In  this one, when the New Founding Fathers of America gain power, and this new government decides to try a social experiment devised by The Architect (Marisa Tomei), which is the idea that if people get 12 hours to commit any crimes without legal repercussions, this might be a way to blow off steam, so to speak, and maybe in the long run flatten out the crime rate.

So Staten Island in New York is where the first Purge is to take place. This of course triggers protests not only about the human cost but also the injustice of this taking place in a largely low-income area and is seen as a social cleansing.

To no surprise, the fix is in. The new government wants this experiment to succeed so it can be expanded, and The Architect learns she has unleashed a monster.

On the streets of Staten Island the story focuses on Nya (Lex Scott Davis), an activist who is unsuccessful in warning away people, who are being lured by monetary compensation if they participate in the experiment. Her brother Dmitri (Y'lan Noel), already on the brink of being drawn into the local gangs, defies his sister's warnings and signs on to the experiment, only to find it horrifying. Another character is Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), a crazed drug addict who finds the Purge to be his vicious version of Halloween.

"Unfriended: Dark Web" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/4DJAWGXkvq8

"The First Purge" evolves like the sequels to the original, zeroing in on the fight for survival on the streets, but it does help set up the premise for the Purge series.

One rare non-sequel among the recent theatrical releases is "Skyscraper," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. But is has a lot of parallels to his earlier effort "San Andreas." In "Skyscraper" he plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI hostage rescue team leader and war vet who has lost the lower half of his left leg in a suicide bombing. He now makes a living assessing security systems in skyscrapers.

As in "San Andreas," Will has a family, although in "Skyscraper" he is in a solid marriage with Sarah (Neve Campbell) rather than the splintered relationship his "San Andreas" character Raymond Gaines is having with his wife Emma (Carla Gugino), in the aftermath of the drowning death of one of their daughters. In "Skyscraper," Johnson's Will is the father of twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell).

Will has been contracted to assess the security of what is the tallest building in the world, in Hong Kong, a majestic structure that almost upstages everything else in the movie.

Of course, sinister things are brewing, with corporate bloodletting, as the building's developer, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) has an enemy who will stop at nothing to obtain some key data from the Chinese mogul. This includes torching the building (with Will's family trapped on floors above the escalating blaze) and framing Will as the fire-starter.

So Will, like Ethan Hunt, engages in a series of death-defying challenges in his efforts to save his family as well as stop the bad guys. Like "Mission Impossible," it is fun to watch but in the end, pretty ludicrous. But it is nice to see Campbell be resourceful as Sarah.

"The First Purge" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/UL29y0ah92w

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