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By Vernor Rodgers
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"ANGEL HAS FALLEN"

Secret Service Agent extraordinaire Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is back but this time he has to save his own ass before he can conduct his duties of protecting the president of the United States.

The trailers for this movie pretty well reveal the plot. Banning, now lined up to become the chief of the Secret Service agency, barely averts the assassination of President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) only to discover he is being framed for the attack. So, while every U.S. law enforcement person is out looking for him, he needs to stay alive and uncover the plot that set him up.

One problem is that Banning is feeling the effects of the wear and tear on his body that he endured in his previous experiences in "Olympus Has Fallen" and "London Has Fallen." He is an aging warrior, concerned about the breakdown of his body while mostly engaging in denial that the years and the mileage are taking their toll.

Happily married to Leah (Piper Perabo, replacing Radha Mitchell in the role) with a toddler daughter, he really is at the crossroads, knowing that moving up to director of the service means more administrative rather than feet-on-the-ground work that he loves. But all that has to be set aside so he can save the president, and the world, once again.

So viewers can expect the usual action of explosions, lots of bullets flying, unlikely alliances and Banning again emerging beat up and bloody but still functioning amid overwhelming odds.

Nick Nolte nearly steals the movie as Banning's estranged father Clay, who came back from serving in Viet Nam decades ago a scarred man and abandoned his family. Mike is understandably embittered but now must rely on his dad who sounds crazy but may have on-target perspectives about the way things are.

Freeman, whose character has been moving up the political ladder in this "Fallen" series -- he was Speaker of the House in "Olympus" and vice president in "London" -- spends a chunk of the movie in a coma but once he revives, his usual portrayal of dignity and honor shines as usual.

Since it is a given that Banning will survive, the main draw of "Angel" is seeing how many times Mike can cheat death while dozens around him don't, and who is behind all this destruction and why this person is engineering such carnage. Because Danny Huston is in the cast, and he has been thriving over the years playing villains, there is not too much surprise where he aligns in this movie.

Nutshell: A typical summer movie with lots of action that forces one to dispel disbelief. Although Banning is not as colorful as other such heroes, he is a genius at turning the tables on bad guys, and it is a delight to see him at work. Be sure to stick around, as this movie, like the Marvel flicks, has a brief postlude.

 "ANGEL HAS FALLEN" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/isVtXH7n9lI

 

"READY OR NOT"

A delicious and darkly humorous movie, "Ready or Not" focuses on the eccentric elite and the big drawbacks of making pacts that may be way too costly.

Scripted by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy and co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, "Ready or Not" has its macabre and gory moments, so take its R-rating seriously.

Samara Weaving, who bears a striking resemblance to Emma Stone, is Grace, a young woman from a foster-home background, who has married into the wealthy La Domas family -- that made its astounding financial bonanza via production of board games and such -- by being wed to Alex (Mark O'Brien), the youngest son of the current patriarch of the La Domas clan, Tony (Henry Czerny) and wife Becky (Andie MacDowell). Following the marriage ceremony on the vast La Domas property, Grace is informed by Alex that their wedding night must be postponed so the young couple can participate in a family game at midnight. Grace thinks this is screwy but realizes she is now part of this rich but goofy and entitled group.

Alex's siblings are Daniel (Adam Brody), an alcoholic married to humorously misnamed Charity (Elyse Levesque), who freely admits she married Daniel not because of love but to benefit from the family's fortunes, and Emilie (Melanie Scrofano, good old Wynonna Earp herself), a cocaine-snorting screw-up married to Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun), who like Charity seems to be in it for the money. Emilie and Fitch so far are the ones offering another generation of La Domas with their two sons although they will not carry on the La Domas name. Also hanging around is the scowling Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni ), who despite enduring a tragedy at the hands of family tradition is the most loyal to maintaining the status quo.

Although the earlier La Domas post-wedding games were mild competitions like chess, Grace, who must draw a card that reveals what game will be played, has to participate in Hide and Seek, her being the one who must hide and not be discovered until dawn.

Seems harmless enough. But what Grace learns soon enough -- and the reason Alex is skittish and doesn't seem to embrace the spirit of this routine -- is that the La Domas clan arms itself -- with weapons that are an homage to the board game Clue -- and upon rooting out Grace must incapacitate the young woman for some ritual that has to be conducted before dawn or they all will die.

By the time Grace realizes the total nuttiness of this family and her potentially lethal situation, she is pretty much on her own.

"Ready or Not" becomes a brutal cat-and-mouse game and Grace suffers some cringing injuries along the way. Also, she does not know who to trust. Even the servants in the mansion might be in on the game.

There are a few twists and turns in "Ready or Not" and it comes dangerously close to piling on too much on poor Grace. But it wraps up with a gleefully nasty conclusion, a treat for horror fans.

Nutshell: If you like black humor and don't mind a lot of blood, this is a nice break from the summer superhero blues.

 "READY OR NOT" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/SeNX8VWoVL8

 

"47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED"

It is safe to say that shark movies, even the tongue-in-cheek "Sharknado" adventures, have a solid base of fans. The recent successes of "The Shallows" and "47 Meters Down," which incidentally feature women having to fight to survive hungry sharks, have proven this. "The Shallows" in 2016 earned $119 million worldwide while "47 Meters Down" in 2017 brought in $62 million on a $5.3 million budget.

"47 Meters Down" director Johannes Roberts, teaming up again with co-writer Ernest Riera, got the green light to serve up another "47 Meters Down," and added a new element. "Uncaged."

Unlike the "Jaws" series, in which the besieged Brody family keeps encountering Great White sharks, "47 Meters Down: Uncaged" does not subject Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) to yet another terrifying day with ravenous fish. Instead, we are introduced to four teens who are forced to test fate.

The first teen we meet is Mia (Sophie Nélisse), who as the movie begins, is on the receiving end of bullying. So we just know later on she probably is going to be the one who musters the gumption to battle overwhelming odds.

Mia's stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) just idly stands aside while Mia is humiliated, using the rationale: She's not my sister.

At home, Mia's father, Grant (John Corbett), who is doing some work on a recently discovered underwater Mayan city, has to cancel out on a promised outing with Mia and Sasha, and as a consolation has secured passes for a glass-bottom boat tour for the girls. Not too enthused, but Grant's wife and Sasha's mother Jennifer (Nia Long), insists they will have a great time.

Grant drops them off at the boarding pier and leaves, but then the usual bad-influence friends, Alexa (Briane Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone, Sylvester's daughter), show up and entice Mia and Sasha to ditch the tour and join them swimming at a secluded spot.

Alexa knows about this secluded water inlet because she has been fooling around with one of Grant's associates, Ben (Davi Santos). Conveniently, scuba equipment is there and Alexa tells the others that this inlet offers an entrance way to some of the underwater Mayan structures and monuments. She talks them into donning the scuba equipment and taking a short tour of the submerged ruins. Just a quick swim then back out.

But once the girls go under water, things escalate. They venture further into the catacombs and soon enough, you guessed it, there are sharks. When the sharks' aggressiveness causes a collapse of stones that cut off the route back to the inlet, the ante is upped quite a bit.

"Uncaged" is surprisingly effective in bringing chills. Not only is there the prospect of the shark suddenly appearing, mouth agape and ready to shake and tenderize, there is the claustrophobic element of confining tunnels as well as the possibility of dead-ends and getting lost in a maze while the oxygen tanks' supplies dwindle.

As if the sharks are not enough, there are deadly currents, like underwater tornadoes, to be challenged.

The four actresses spend most of the time submerged and have to convey terror as well as fighting off panic and convincing themselves they will survive while they meet the perilous obstacles testing their ability to survive.

I was particularly impressed by the score composed by tomandandy. And kudos to the cinematography crew led by Tom Silk, having to cope with cramped and underwater conditions.

Nutshell: Sharks, limited oxygen supply and claustrophobic conditions -- a nice trifecta of terror.

 "47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/AvXjx8SZbv8

 

"THE KITCHEN"

"The Kitchen" is a crime drama, based on a DC comic, that stands out because its main characters are women who go into organized crime as a means of survival and find themselves very competent in this endeavor.

Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby O'Carroll (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss) are wives of New York mob members, Irish branch, in New York's Hell's Kitchen, circa late 1970s. When their husbands are nabbed in a robbery and sentenced to three years in prison, the women are assured by the local crime boss, Little Jackie Quinn (Myk Watford), that they will be taken care of financially until their spouses are released. This turns out to be only partially true -- they are only given a pittance and barely can make ends meet. The women also learn that this Quinn-run mob is not very good at providing neighborhood protection despite charging fees for such a service.

Kathy turns out to be the one with business savvy. She lines up a couple of guys to be the beef part of her operation and they go full-scale business competition, promising and delivering on what was previously lackluster service provided by Quinn and company. Ruby turns out to be the ruthless part of the operation, knowing that while Kathy may be good and brokering deals, sometimes nasty things need to be done. Claire, meanwhile, has her own domestic problems but hooks up with a former mobster gang member and war vet, Gabriel (Domhall Gleeson), a near psychopathic killer who eventually converts Claire into a lethal weapon / body disposer.

Of course the women encounter other issues dealing with Jewish property owners and the Italian faction looking to find construction jobs for union workers in the area. Then the husbands are released, boosting the tensions

Basically, "The Kitchen" is a blueprint for any business, legal or not, in that it shows the initial brainstorms, early success and then the  little details, sometimes nasty, as well as the shaky alliances and sometimes unsavory compromises needed to be made to keep the enterprise thriving.

McCarthy, initially known as a comedic performer, once again shows her abilities in drama, while Haddish displays the toughness needed to stay strong in such a brutal business, and Moss offers a vulnerability that under a questionable guidance cultivates into scary pathology.

Nutshell: A competent, though not too compelling, detailing of the highs and lows of staying in business when the stakes can be deadly.

 "THE KITCHEN" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/gOmxbpwg0rU

 

"FAST AND FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS AND SHAW"

The death of Paul Walker in 2013 knocked the "Fast and Furious" franchise asunder although the series was careening dangerously toward being ludicrous as Brian (Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) and their gang of buddies and lovers expanded unrealistically from local high-speed hi-jinks to outrageous plots with worldwide implications.

So a decision was made to branch out, leaving Dom and company to well-deserved time off, if not permanent retirement, and letting secondary characters in earlier escapades take the center stage.

Thus we have former U.S. agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and high-class former criminal Shaw (Jason Statham), both old adversaries of Dom and company as well as bitter enemies of each other, having to team up to save the world.

Typically, the plot is secondary to the interplay between Hobbs and Shaw as they engage in their macho posturing while dispatching legions of bad guys and cheating death about once every other minute. It's goofy but it's fun.

An added element is that we get enlightened on these two guys' family lives that includes Hobbs' adolescent daughter, a bitter brother and a strong family-oriented mother backed up by Samoan loyalty. And with Shaw we meet has bad-ass sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) and his mother Queenie (Helen Mirren) who shows that Shaw may just be carrying on family tradition.

The villain here is Idris Alba as Brixton, sort of a bad-guy Six Million Dollar Man. He's outstanding in the role and gives Hobbs and Shaw a lot of trouble. Diminishing this role is that he is just a puppet, setting up for yet another Hobbs and Shaw smash-em-up, although judging by the box office returns, this chapter of the "Fast and Furious" stories may not recoup its cost, leaving us to wonder if this franchise should just run out of gas.

Nutshell: Load up on the popcorn and enjoy a noisy couple of hours of completely unrealistic chaos, enhanced by two charismatic stars.

 "FAST AND FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS AND SHAW" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/jmEMGbu3uRk  

 

"SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK"

Those not familiar with the Alvin Schwartz novel on which this movie is based likely will be fooled into thinking "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" is an anthology of spooky stories, kind of like the old "Creepshow" and "Tales from the Crept" efforts.

Really it is more in the vein of the "Final Destination" series in which young people are challenged to stop a string of deaths or disappearances that have claimed friends or family members before they too suffer a similar horrifying fate.

Directed by André Øvredal , who helmed the creepy "The Autopsy of Jane Doe," and with Guillermo del Toro producing and helping out on the script co-written by Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman, "Scary Stories" is a bit disappointing, light on the scares with at least one of the creepy characters laughable rather than terrifying.

"Scary Stories" relies on a standard element of horror movies in that it focuses on kids who are social outcasts. The main character is Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) a teen girl living in the small town of Mill Valley and plagued by guilt that she was responsible somehow for the breakup of her parents' marriage who finds some release in writing spooky stories though she mostly keeps these to herself. She has two friends, also outcasts, in Augie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur).

On Halloween evening in 1968, the three teens go out on the streets, not to trick-or-treat, but to carry out a revenge prank on Tommy (Austin Abrams), the typical athlete-popular-student-and-bully.

Obviously the three have to flee because Tommy just doesn't seem embrace the spirit of Halloween mischief directed at him. The teens and up at a drive-in movie and seek refuge in the car of Ramon (Michael Garza), an older teen who appears to be pausing in Mill Valley as he travels to seek farm work.

Once they elude Tommy, the group of teens, led by Stella, go to the old Bellows mansion, the home of the family that created the business from which Mill Valley initially thrived, but left suddenly under mysterious circumstances after deaths of citizens in the area. The creep element is that the family included a girl, Sarah who was rumored to be "a little off," thus a family embarrassment and kept confined in a windowless room in the house. Supposedly, Sarah in her solitary state, would write grisly stories.

Tommy catches up with the four teens while they are touring the creepy old Bellows house and locks them in. But they are able to escape. Meanwhile, Stella discovers Sarah's book of writings that seems to be written in blood. She then foolishly commits a sin of all ghost movies. She takes the book with her. The rule is you NEVER take a book or other artifact from a haunted house or one with a violent or unsavory past. Chances are this item has a curse or a special evil power that latches onto you like a stray cat you have fed. It never goes away.

To her horror, Stella witnesses a story seemingly being written by itself in the book and then watches in shock as the story with its hideous ending becomes true.

Now, much like the doomed "Final Destination" characters who try to figure out a way to break the chain of horrible deaths, Stella, with Ramon as her most reliable ally, must unravel what is going on. But there is a deadline, as each evening a new story is written that claims people close to Stella, and she knows she and Ramon inevitably are going to become victims soon.

Once Stella leans what is behind it all, she needs to find a way to stop it before more people die or disappear.

While it is interesting to see Stella unlock the mystery, the scary moments, as mentioned earlier, are not that unsettling. With all the talent behind this movie, "Scary Stories" should have been a better horror movie than it is. There are some moments, and Colletti does a good job of making Stella a bright if not always resourceful character and Garza is sympathetic as young Ramon, dealing with a tragedy of his own.

Nutshell: Nice kids and dopey adults and some justice on bad people, but otherwise a mild horror movie.

"SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/Vlya92LZqZw

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