Tag Archives: Dolph Lundgren

Mellow Yellow

Minions: The Rise of Gru

by Hope Madden

Gru is back, which means more minions. As long as you’re not sick to death of either of those things, Minions: The Rise of Gru is fine, moderately enjoyable family entertainment.

If you are sick to death of any of the above, it’s probably because you are an adult. For you, this second installment of the Minions franchise, fifth overall Despicable Me project, hopes to keep your attention with loads of nods to the Seventies. This probably means they hope the kids are going to theaters with their grandparents.

Why the Seventies? Because we’re watching young Gru (Steve Carell) try to break into the super villain biz. He’s but a wee thing, not yet jaded. Rather than Farrah Fawcett or Starsky and Hutch posters on his walls, though, his bedroom is adorned with The Vicious 6 paraphernalia.

The Vicious 6 are the most notorious supervillains in the world: Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Stronghold (Danny Trejo), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), and Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless).

Other newcomers to the series include Michelle Yeoh and RZA, joining returning performers Julie Andrews, Russell Brand and Steve Coogan.

Damn, that’s a lot of talent behind the microphone.

The animation’s great, too. This movie is gorgeous, especially the 3D rendering of San Francisco.  There’s an eye-popping Chinese New Year parade and a pretty great cross-country motorcycle ride a la Easy Rider that looks amazing.

Writing is a bit of a weak spot, though.

Part of the problem is that all that voice talent is given very little to do because Pierre Coffin (voice of the Minions en masse) gets most of the screen time.

You see, Gru is kidnapped and several of those little yellow pills set off to rescue him. They’re separated. One pulls a Nicholson to RZA’s Peter Fonda. The other three train in the art of Kung Fu with Master Chow (Yeoh).

Minions don’t make great primary characters. They are interchangeable and have no arcs. They’re wildly, suffocatingly popular, yes, but they can’t really carry a film. They’re a hell of a waste of a good cast, though.

The Dunce and Future King

Aquaman

by Matt Weiner

A movie that brings together Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Julie Andrews and Dolph Lundgren is inevitably going to have a lot going on. That’s certainly the case for James Wan’s Aquaman, a weird mix of origin story, Arthurian myth and anti-racist appeal to coexistence. If that sounds like a lot for the frat bro character from 2017’s Justice League, well… it is. But thankfully it’s also never boring.

The new movie takes place after the events of Justice League, allowing half-man/half-Atlantean Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) to resume his day job of serving as a one-man Coast Guard and drinking. Flashbacks piece together Curry’s life story: his father (Temuera Morrison) fell in love with the queen (Kidman) of the underwater kingdom Atlantis, who later had to choose between endangering her taboo love child or returning to the kingdom.

A series of tragedies pushes Curry on his hero’s journey, with enough family strife between him and his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to fill a Greek play. Together with the Atlantean princess Mera (Amber Heard), Curry strikes out in search of a golden MacGuffin along with his destiny, even finding time to pick up an archenemy for good measure (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta).

How much of a comfort it is that Aquaman is one of the better recent superhero movies depends on where you fall on the debate over whether distinctive directors should get picked for more of these big comic book projects (and given a long leash)—or if you wish we lived in a universe where they could pursue these visions without yoking themselves to Disney/Marvel or DC.

It is to the film’s benefit that Wan, veteran of horror franchises Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious, manages to tie Curry’s predictable Arthurian ascent to the most disturbing Lovecraftian horror this side of Hellboy. And it’s almost shocking to see the cotton candy brightness of Atlantis after the pummeling color palettes of Batman v. Superman and Justice League.

With his nonstop pace, steady stream of exotic settings and action that never gets bogged down in its own seriousness, Wan’s entry in the genre hits the mark as his loving homage to vintage Spielberg and Lucas—plus tentacles. Best of all, it’s a refreshing reminder that you shouldn’t need a flowchart and multi-phase corporate synergy to make a good popcorn movie.

Which is good because it doesn’t look like these franchises are going anywhere anytime soon, so if any other directors are looking to wed their creative vision to the corporate motherships then maybe I can learn to be more tolerant of the products they give birth to. It’s a message that sounds oddly familiar.





Family Feud

Creed II

by George Wolf

In the history of elephants and rooms, Creed II earns a special mention for its spit take-worthy moment when a boxing commentator finally deadpans,”It’s all a bit Shakespearean, isn’t it?”

Why yes, it is, in fact more than a bit.

It’s a daddy issues melodrama on steroids, one that hits every crowd pleasing note and works every manipulative angle it can pull from the long and storied history of this franchise. And true to the fighters at the heart of these films, the new Creed will not be denied.

Let’s be honest, the first Creed rebooted the Rocky warhorse so effectively, it was a surprising left hook to nearly everyone who hadn’t seen writer/director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan’s stunning work in Fruitvale Station.

But that was pre-Black Panther, and though Coogler is missed for this sequel, promising indie director Steven Caple, Jr. displays similar instincts for slaying sentimentality with smaller moments of conviction.

And lots of great fighting.

Much of that needed conviction comes from Jordan, who returns with fervor as Adonis Creed, the newly-crowned heavyweight champ who gets an instant challenge from Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of…who else but Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Adonis’s father Apollo when Rocky wouldn’t throw the damn towel.

Drago the Younger is huge and strong (one trainer rightly dubs him “a balanced breakfast”), leading Rocky (Stallone), still haunted by Apollo’s death, to advise against the fight.

Adonis also has Bianca (Tessa Thompson, splendid as always and sharing great chemistry with Jordan) and their positive pregnancy test to consider, along with a truckload of pride and unfinished business.

Stallone, who of course started all this with the original Rocky screenplay, steps back in as co-writer, and in many ways Creed 2 becomes just as much Rocky’s story as Adonis’s. But it feels right, thanks to another award-worthy turn from Sly and a character arc that rings true enough to consider moving on without him next time.

Caple, Jr. delivers some of the same grit that made his The Land such a hardscrabble, underseen winner, while also bringing a fresh eye to the boxing choreography. Yes, each round is as unrealistically action-filled as most boxing films, but what do you want, a Pacquiao/Mayweather tap-dance?

No, you want to applaud the good guy knocking the evil Russian’s mouthpiece out while you cheer like it’s Cold War Reunion Night at TGI Fridays, and Caple, Jr. makes sure you will.

It doesn’t hurt when that original Rocky music kicks in, and it’s again weaved into a vital soundtrack subtly enough to not overstay any welcomes.

But beyond all the button pushing, sentiment and nostalgia are characters, and this all falls like a tomato can in the fist round if we don’t have reason to care about them. We still do.

Gotta fly now.