Tag Archives: Dave Bautista

Viva Laz Vegaz

Army of the Dead

by Hope Madden

The single best feature film Zack Snyder ever made was his first: 2004’s Romero reboot Dawn of the Dead. (That is my hill.) For that reason (plus my sheer, giddy joy for zombie movies), I was far more eager about his latest zombie installment, Army of the Dead, than in anything else he’s made recently.

Even the title suggested that he was still on the Romero wavelength and, indeed, by his own 2005 Land of the Dead, the maestro of the undead was already dropping us into a town where the Z population had begun to organize.

In Snyder’s case, it’s not just any town. We open on the catalyst—a rapid-fire transformation just over the hill from Vegas. Conjuring fond memories of his prior undead flick, Snyder cuts together an excellent opening montage with some inspired musical accompaniment to quickly bring us up to the film’s current plight. (Likely also offering a preview to their upcoming Netflix series.)

Not a moment or line of dialogue wasted. Which is great, because this is going to trudge on for another 2 ½ hours, which is entirely unforgivable for a zombie movie.

How about a zombie heist movie?!

I mean, the zombies aren’t stealing anything, and nobody’s stealing zombies. Instead, some smarmy billionaire (Hiroyuki Sanada) convinces a Z-war hero (Dave Bautista) to get a crew together and head into Vegas to steal a fortune inside his casino vault.

So, Train to Busan: Peninsula. That’s not where Snyder and co-writers Shay Hatten (John Wick 3) and Joby Harold (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) got all their ideas, though. You will also notice Aliens, The Girl with All the Gifts, I Am Legend, Ghosts of Mars, World War Z, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and just a touch of Danny Ocean.

Still, Army of the Dead would be pretty entertaining if it weren’t so tediously predictable. (That does happen when you borrow so liberally, I guess.) Tig Notaro’s a fun piece of miscasting as the wise-cracking chopper pilot, Matthias Schweighofer delivers a bright performance (though it does feel as if it is part of another film entirely), and it’s always a delight to watch Garret Dillahunt weasel his way through a role.

The whole mess could have been mindless and merry were it not for its bloated running time. (Self-indulgence, thy name is Snyder.) It still delivers the goods here and there, but it won’t stick with you.

Large, Not In Charge

My Spy

by George Wolf

I may not be ready for my close up, but I’m finally ready for my movie poster quote. Check it out:

My Spy is the best huge-former-wrestler-stars-with-little-kid movie I have ever seen.

Or, if it helps: “My Spy is the best…movie I have ever seen.” I’m flexible, just remember it’s Wolf, no “e” at the end.

There must be a page somewhere in the wrestler handbook that says the transition from mat to marquee must include some generic whale out of water antics with a precocious wee one. The Hulkster, Rock and Cena all paid their dues with insufferable projects, now it’s your turn Dave Bautista.

What the? This is pretty entertaining.

Bautista is JJ, a former special forces hero trying to make the transition to CIA operative. His ride is not smooth, so he and a wannabe partner (Kristen Schaal) are assigned to boring surveillance duty.

They set up in a Chicago apartment down the hall from Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her lonely 9 year-old daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman). The ladies have some bad-niks in the family who the Feds are hoping will make contact, because arms trading, plutonium, stolen flash drive, the usual.

The point is, Sophie sniffs out the neighboring spys in a matter of minutes, gets them on video, and uses the footage to blackmail JJ into being her friend.

Do you think Sophie’s hot mom will warm up to him, too?

Yes, it is predictable, drags in spots and is assembled from parts of plenty of other films. But director Peter Segal (Tommy Boy, Get Smart) and screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber (RED, The Meg) find some solid self-aware laughs poking holes in plenty of film tropes, from action scenes and tough guy catch phrases to over-the-top gay neighbors (Devere Rogers and Noah Danby, classic) and the very idea of little kid sidekicks.

Guardians of the Galaxy proved Bautista has charisma and comic timing. My Spy lets him flash a little self-deprecating charm, and a sweet chemistry with his pint-sized partner. Coleman (Big Little Lies) brings plenty of cuteness, but also a vulnerable layer that goes a long way toward keeping the eye-rolling at bay.

And anyone who saw Mr. Nanny, Tooth Fairy or Playing with Fire will appreciate that. I know I did.

You can quote me on that.

We Don’t Need Another Hero

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

by Matt Weiner

Master Z picks up right where Ip Man 3 left off. Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang), still emotionally beaten down after losing his fight to Ip Man, contents himself with living a quiet life with his young son. He has traded in Wing Chun and his martial arts school for a grocery store and what passes for domestic bliss.

This being a martial arts movie, Cheung’s serenity doesn’t last long. He quickly finds himself up against feuding gangsters, local police and their bullying colonial counterparts. When tensions escalate, Cheung’s store goes up in flames, and he and his son move in with sympathetic bar owner Fu (Xing Yu) and his sister Julia (Yan Liu).

For its simple setup, if anything Master Z suffers from too much world-building. The franchise spinoff lacks the compelling history of characters like Ip Man and Bruce Lee, which wouldn’t have to be a problem if the script didn’t insist on so much rote backstory and twists and turns that don’t really go anywhere.

Thankfully, Master Z comes alive during the fight scenes. Director Yuen Woo-ping, who also worked on fight choreography for Ip Man 3, confidently cycles through tense, simmering send-ups to slapstick to death-defying brawls. Each fight has its own emotional character, and taken together they serve as a refreshing reminder that fast-paced action can still be intelligible. It’s amazing what directors can do with choreography when they don’t need to compensate for poor fighting skills or excessive CGI.

Another highlight is Dave Bautista as Owen Davidson, a foreign businessman whose dealings are less savory than the restaurant fronting them. Despite his hero status in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bautista has managed to keep an air of unpolished menace to his characters. (That’s not a dig against certain other comically large wrestlers-turned-actors, but it does allow Bautista to carve out an interesting corner for himself even if he continues down a path of big-budget stardom.)

Action royalty Michelle Yeoh and Tony Jaa round out the cast—Yeoh impeccably so as a sharp crime boss, and Jaa all too briefly as one of her hired guns. But for all its machinations, Master Z at least continues the franchise’s deftness at homing in on a message and beating it into you. Master Z is about as family-centric of an action movie as you can get when the subject matter includes limb removals, drug overdoses and the legacy of colonial corruption.

Cheung finds the redemption that eluded him as he goes from everyman to superman for the sake of his son. His story might no longer be the stuff of legends, but Master Z suggests that such a life is equally worthy of celebration. Or, at the very least, a worthy spinoff.





Checking In?

Hotel Artemis

by Hope Madden

In a world where the U.S. government stops supplying bottled water to Flint, Michigan residents while international asshats Nestle are allowed to increase their pumping of clean water from just 100 miles away…

Well, that may not have been the inspiration for Hotel Artemis—the inspiration was probably that cool hotel in John Wick—but it is the kind of social disaster that will lead to the Mad-Max-like rebellion that backdrops writer/director Drew Pearce’s crime thriller.

Los Angeles, 2028, and the bloodiest riots the city has ever known have broken out over the privatization of water. With the police very, very busy, it’s a perfect time for a bank heist. But timing isn’t everything—skill helps—and soon a trio of wounded nogoodnicks are headed to the one place they can safely receive emergency care: the exclusive, subscription-based, criminal-only hospital, Hotel Artemis.

It may have a staff of only two—the nurse (Jodie Foster) and the orderly (Dave Bautista)—but it is chock full of high tech medical equipment, old-school security and strict rules. It may also be the best place to ride out these riots. Unless the tensions inside the hotel reach the same height as those outside.

It’s an intriguing premise, one rife with tense and bloody opportunity. A collection of bad people is trapped in an enclosed, retro-seedy space hoping to survive the storm.

If the story intrigues, the cast convinces. Jodie Foster nails the wearied, accepting, down-to-business Nurse. Though the dialog throughout is not as savvy as Pearce thinks it is, Foster delivers it beautifully and her physical mannerisms are even more convincing.

Bautista charms as her tender strongarm. Sterling K. Brown does no wrong ever, here again radiating an intensity that mingles sadness, obligation and moral authority.

Luckily for the entire ensemble, Pearce is more invested in character development than action. He creates a moody tension inside the walls, exacerbated by the explosion of rage and violence outside.

All of which hits fever pitch when LA crime boss the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum as Jeff Goldblum) shows up wanting to break the rules.

Pearce and his top-to-bottom impressive cast deserve credit for sidestepping expectations and instead crafting a contained, absurd-yet-believable drama. Things get away from the filmmaker when he tries to complicate the plot with backstory, and there are two minor side plots that serve as little more than a distraction.

It’s also an awful lot of tension-building with little in the way of a final release. But Pearce and team have done something remarkable in the summer months: delivered a fresh, imaginative, original film.





Timing is Everything

Bushwick

by Hope Madden

Who was not delighted and surprised by David Bautista’s runaway comedic performance in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy?

And truth be told, his turn in the sequel was funnier still. Dave Bautista is comic gold!

Drama, on the other hand, is still just a tad outside his grasp.

Bautista stars with Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) in Bushwick, a real-time(ish) survival adventure.

Lucy (Snow) brings a new beau home to her Brooklyn neighborhood Bushwick to meet the fam. Weirdly, there is not a soul in their subway station – aside from that screaming man who’s on fire. That’s extreme, even for New York.

Bombs, snipers and general mayhem greet the two as they try to leave the underground and head to Lucy’s grandma’s place. What is happening?

Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott want to take a minute before laying it all out for you. It’s not a bad narrative decision – having the audience share in Lucy’s confusion. The directors make a handful of worthy choices, the most provocative and obvious of which is the sleight of hand used to make the film look and feel like one long take.

Beyond the visual trickery employed to minimize the noticeability of cuts, most scenes are delivered as if caught in one take. Actors stumble over lines, for instance, in much the same way humans might when conversing.

There’s even a chance it could have even worked to generate urgency and underscore the raw, wild ride of the adventure if the writing weren’t so bad and the actors had talent.

Snow could not be more irritating or less believable and Bautista, God help us, is asked to deliver an earnest, emotionally devastated monolog.

He’s awful, but he’s not alone. Everyone is. In fact, the most common comment in my notes from the film: This is so bad.

The one reason the film may stick out this weekend is its utterly amazing timing.

Bushwick has been invaded by a well-armed, organized militia of entitled racists.

Shut the F up.

The film won’t satisfy your blood lust, your peaceful dreams or your hope for a decent movie. But damn, its timing is eerie.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Awesome Mixtape: Side 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Three years ago, James Gunn and Marvel became superfriends, making use of inspired casting, crisp writing and some classic 70s jams to make Guardians of the Galaxy the most fun to be had at the movies in 2014.

But is that second mixtape ever quite as awesome as the first? Rarely, and that’s the Catch-22 of the original film’s surprising blast of space zaniness. While we never saw that one coming, this new one arrives with weighty expectations.

No, Volume 2 can’t match the ruffian charm of the first, and there are some stretches of not-much-happening-here. But Gunn’s sequel shares a lot of heart, swashbuckling visuals and more than a few solid belly laughs.

But please, stop trying to make Howard the Duck happen.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, rugged everyman dufus) and his band of misfits-for-hire run into some troubles here and there across the galaxy. Yondu (Michael Rooker – hooray!) and his crew of Ravagers are still on their tail, and some pompous gold people from Sovereign (so they’re “Sovereign citizens” – well played) want Rocket dead.

But all might be well when Quill finally meets his father, Ego (who else but Kurt Russell?) and learns the surprising news of his lineage.

What – a comic book movie inspired by daddy issues? Stop it!

It may be a logical character arc for Quill, but when one too many tragic backstories build at the expense of fun, the running time starts feeling a bit bloated. Good thing Gunn has a fine instinct for when enough is about to become too much, pivoting from the dramatics with dazzling derring-do or exactly the right gag.

He also knows we’re already invested in these characters, and doesn’t mind spending some of the capital he earned last time out.

Bradley Cooper again offers ripe sarcasm as the voice of Rocket, but Dave Bautista is the breakout comedy anchor of GOTGV2. As the hulking Drax, Bautista’s booming guffaws or deadpan one-liners are a consistent treat. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora seems the odd Guardian out, too often given little more to do than deny Quill’s claim that they’ve got a “Sam and Diane unspoken thing” goin’ on.

And then there’s Groot (Vin Diesel).

As a baby.

Baby Groot.

For the win.

There are more great classic hits to re-discover (or, for you kids, get to know), including a fantastic piece of action set against the backdrop of…wait for it…Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer.” Stingers? Oh, yes, during and after the credits, so just plan on staying around til the staff sweeps you out with the candy wrappers.

Does Guardians 2 seem like a rehash? Sure, at times, and there’s never any doubt whoever’s shooting at our heroes is bound to have horrible aim. But when a rehash serves up this much wit, eye candy and escapist fun, you know what they say….

“I am Groot.”

Verdict-3-5-Stars