‘Bull’ Movie Review: Vengeance to Betrayal

In this movie review, Paul Andrew Williams’ first theatrical picture since 2012’s Song for Marion – which was nothing if not an unexpected departure in direction for the director – returns to the ultra-violent crime fodder for which he is best known. Bull succeeds because to its lean pace, unusually brutal violence, and a top-notch performance by genre veteran Neil Maskell. Williams doesn’t waste any time getting right to the point, with former gang enforcer Bull (Maskell) coming from a decade in exile and systematically killing those who placed him there, working his way through a crime syndicate in search of his kingpin father-in-law Norm (David Hayman). Bull’s ultimate ambition, though, is to reunite with his estranged son Aiden, whose life has been destroyed by his junkie ex-drug wife’s addiction.

Bull’s first scenes show Bull brutally murdering several of Norm’s accomplices who were responsible for immobilizing Bull a decade previously and sending him to “Hell,” as he puts it. Both Bull’s conduct and Williams’ description are merciless in their savagery, but the real takeaway is the nerve-wracking horror with which Bull’s many victims regard him. They’re horrified that he survived such an egregiously devastating catastrophe ten years ago, and they’re well aware of the impending devastation.

It’s good to watch a movie so un-sentimental and practical in its presentation of violence, whether Bull is chopping a man’s arm off and cauterising it on a stove or taking a target for a demented ride at the fairground. Bull is on a hell-bent spirit quest to deconstruct everyone who has ruined his life, whether they are women or have settled down with children. Bull is a very basic crime yarn outside of the brutality, as the main character chases the blood-soaked crumbs to his end-boss father-in-law. Other genre aspects are present in the film’s periphery, the full amount of which is revealed only in the third act, however some may believe that this part is introduced too late to be successful or taken seriously.

Maskell, who has been an extremely intense presence in British filmmaking since Kill List ten years ago, is the one who keeps the movie together at all times. Maskell portrays a silently scary death merchant, and phrases like “I’ll cut you from bollock to arse” hit with terrifying dread. Veteran actor David Hayman is a gravel-voiced pleasure, prone to switching from joviality to sociopathy at a moment’s notice, as is his antagonist routine.

Williams’ technical presentation is strong throughout – particularly his reliance on powerful close-ups of Maskell’s face – and is complemented by James Taylor’s fast editing, which keeps the film’s runtime to a manageable 88 minutes. Due to the lack of visual cues distinguishing each time period, the continual cross-cutting among past and present might be perplexing at times. The locations portrayed throughout have such a day-to-day dullness about them that helps to anchor and realize the plot, which is especially vital later on.

Bull doesn’t really say anything new or unusual about the hollowness of retribution, but its third act parlour trick should at the very least spark some discussion and prompt those who loved the experience to rewatch it through a different perspective. Audiences couldn’t be blamed for finding the film’s late-film twist startling. Bull’s highly disciplined pacing, gut-wrenching brutality, and a typically riveting Neil Maskell performance balance out its conventional trappings – and a sure-to-divide ending.

Movie Review: Every Last One of Them

Every Last One of Them is a fairly provoking title for an action movie, and when you read the plot synopsis and see Richard Dreyfuss’ name on the poster, you could be forgiven for thinking that the actor formerly known as Matt Hooper from Jaws has decided to enter the realm of the older, past-their-prime star struggling to make it in straight-to-DVD action/revenge fodder à la Liam Neeson.

Thankfully, this is not the case, as while Dreyfuss is prominent in Every Last One of Them, he is not the main character. However, the film does play on the same themes as the majority of the fathers-out-for-vengeance genre, which has become a godsend for elderly actors looking for a fast buck. To be fair, Dreyfuss and Michael Madsen – the other notable name in the main cast – are the faces that draw you in, but Paul Sloan is the one who does the bulk of the work.

Sloan plays Hunter, an outsider in a little hamlet that appears to be ruled by the ruthless Nichols (Jake Weber), the leader of a top-secret security firm. After an altercation at one of Nichols’ bars against his son, Hunter becomes the target of Nichols’ rage. We learn why Hunter is in town and why Nichols shouldn’t underestimate him as Hunter lives up to his name and tries to take out everyone who has offended him.

And what role does Richard Dreyfuss play in this? He appears as Hunter’s former CO Murphy – because when you think of commanding officers in the special forces, Richard Dreyfuss is almost certainly the first name that comes to mind – and is tasked with the unenviable task of trying to talk his former soldier down and avoid slaughtering everyone – we’ve all seen this before, right? May this action can be watching movie online? Lets waiting for it.

Yes, and to add some narrative flesh to the bone, there’s a hazy sub-story about a multi-billion dollar water transaction that appears to be going sour that’s woven in to raise the stakes, but nobody cares, least of all Hunter, who simply wants vengeance for his lost daughter. Oh, and Michael Madsen appears in a flashback scene as Hunter’s friend who gives his drug-addicted daughter Melissa some sound advice, and for all the good he does, he might as well not have appeared at all because his presence adds nothing to the proceedings and Melissa goes down a dangerous path anyway.

But we came for the bloodshed, and that’s exactly what we got. According to reports, it took four writers to come up with a story about a vengeful father shooting people (and don’t forget about the water deal), which is at least three more people than it took to color grade the film. One more notch down the color spectrum and Every Last One of Them would be black and white. Everyone else is either chewing the scenery (Taryn Manning as Nichols’ sister Maggie) or showing up, reading their lines, and waiting for the banks to open so they can get that pay check in (Dreyfuss). But, let’s face it, who comes to see this for the acting?

When it boils down to it, Every Last One of Them is a low(er) budget knock-off of Rambo: Last Blood that, depending on your tolerance for such things, you should either avoid or endure – literally – because, despite its fundamental concept, the action never goes beyond merely being sufficient. That may be enough for some, as it is only 80 minutes long and provides a quick fix of gun-toting one-man-army revenge. However, with four writers, two star names among a fairly strong cast, and some, at best, well-staged action set pieces, it should have been much more, with not even the killer final scene preventing the whole experience from being a little underwhelming.

‘Bruised’ Review: A Story of Powerfull Fighter Woman

Bruised, Halle Berry’s feature directorial debut, premiered as a “work in progress” at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. It was taken up by Netflix with the intention of completing the picture as closely as possible to Berry’s original vision. The finished picture has opened at yet another film festival, the 2021 AFI Fest, with its reveal in Hollywood tonight, more than a year later. It will premiere in select cinemas on Wednesday, followed by a week later on Netflix.

In the end, there’s no doubt that Berry has poured all she’s got into this one and come out on top, not only acting-wise but also behind the camera, as you’d expect from the Oscar-winning star of Monster’s Ball. She expertly navigates a female-driven drama about a disgraced MMA fighter attempting to claw her way back to the top while piecing together the shards of her shattered personal life. This is a genre that was previously dominated onscreen by men, so despite the flaws of an overlong film that tries to cram too much story into a two-hour, 15-minute runtime, it’s refreshing to see it presented from a female perspective — not just with Berry in the director’s chair and as the lead character, but also with screenwriter Michelle Rosenfarb, who came up with the idea for the film, which was originally written for a 21-year-old.

When Berry got her hands on the script, she knew she’d have to make some significant changes in order to play it as a middle-aged Black woman. For the main character, Jackie Justice, who was kicked out of the ring years ago due to a controversy, it takes on a new level of seriousness. Her life falls apart, but her lover, Desi (Adan Canto), finds an opportunity to force her back into an underground fight, a terrible one, which turns lucky when Immaculate (Shamier Anderson) sees potential to bring her back into the spotlight and back into the Octagon.

When Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.), the kid she put up for adoption as a baby, reappears in her life, complications arise. His appearance merely adds to her own self-doubts about the meaning of parenthood and duty. He is now a soulful young kid who does not speak. The story then shifts its focus between fights in and out of the ring, including Jackie’s intense conflicts with her mother Angel (an excellent Adriane Lenox), Desi’s growing problems, and a complicated relationship with trainer/coach Buddhakan (a stunning Sheila Atim) that turns romantic and complex, forcing Jackie to confront her long-buried feelings. One thing this drama movie has in common with so many other boxing movies is that it all boils down to, ahem, a brutal fight in the ring at the end.

Berry, who wowed audiences when she kicked ass in John Wick 3, has earned her action stripes, proving convincing and capable as an older, washed-up MMA fighter who tries to prove she can still do it against all odds. You’ve got to hand it to Berry. She adds a rich, three-dimensional turn as a lady who emerges from her previous mistakes to take stock of herself and change her life around. Berry is keenly aware of a strong role when she sees one, and she definitely sought to safeguard it by stepping into the director’s chair. What she lacks in subtlety in some instances, she makes up for with sheer determination to pull it off in the first place.

Among the rest of the ensemble, UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko, who makes for a good opponent as Lady Killer, and the sheer all-pro presence of Stephen McKinley Henderson as Pops, the calm voice of experience as she trains, kept me extremely engaged.

In terms of output, With professional editing from Jacob Craycroft and Terilyn Shropshire, as well as precise lensing from Frank G. Demarco and Joshua Reis, Berry put herself in good hands. There are nine producers and 12 executive producers listed, implying that it took a village to get this movie made. Berry aficionados should rejoice. So, you can watch this on 123Movies after you read this movie review.

Spencer: Princess of Wales’ Story [Movie Review]

The movie is telling us about Diana, Princess of Wales, who tries to cope with traditions and expectations throughout the course of three days spent at Sandringham estate over Christmas. The news that Pablo Larran would be directing a biopic about Diana, Princess of Wales was a significant thing for Pablo Larran fans. With a strong precedent in 2016’s Jackie demonstrating Larran’s ability to tell “true stories” movie the prospect was enticing, and it became even more so when other names were attached, including Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight authoring the script, cinematography by Claire Mathon (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Atlantics), and creators including Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade. Spencer seemed like it could be a very personal project, or at very least, an intriguing one, on paper, especially with Kristen Stewart cast in the lead role. Thankfully, the movie does not let you down.

There are many wonderful aspects to the picture, including Mathon’s superb photography, but it’s easy to pick out the two best aspects. Stewart is a sight to behold as Diana, not least because she is playing a role who is so unlike the quiet, introvert we are used to seeing her play. Diana possesses such traits, but there is something about her enthusiasm and eagerness to speak honestly, even openly, to anyone and everyone that suggests her extroverted personality. This is one of the things that makes Stewart’s character interesting to watch, and she knows precisely what she’s doing. The film’s score, composed by Jonny Greenwood, is the film’s second highlight. The combination of short, repetitive harpsichord runs and dreamy strings creates a tone that is both regal and passionate; another another paradox that the picture revels in.

Of course, Diana is rarely alone, and the encounters are tumultuous. Diana has several very enjoyable discussions with either Charles or William, both of whom appear to have grudgingly embraced the load that Diana cannot. There are also fantastic movie, though not entirely convincing, therapy sessions with supporting characters played by Sean Harris and Sally Hawkins, allowing Knight to stretch his creative legs to good effect. The use of Timothy Spall’s man-in-the-background-cum-cartoon-villain, who wields a sinister power over Diana, however, undermines all of this.

The end result is a picture that is enthralling, emotional, and informative. However, it does feature a few genre cliches as well as fundamental structural tricks, which you’d expect from Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour) rather than Knight. The script cleans up the story, making it feel more satisfactory and sanitized, which contrasts with Larran’s style, which is typically more impassioned and less tidy. The song playing in the background could just as well be Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” as Diana races away into freedom with her sons in tow (although as it happens, the musical choice is another uninspired and heavily cringy choice). It’s a distinctly Hollywood conclusion to a picture that feels like it’s vying to be an auteur’s vision.

Spencer lacks the kinetic energy of Larran’s previous works; it fails to portray Ema’s breath-taking attack or Jackie’s drowning emotion. The picture does constrain the director by prioritizing a decidedly remarkable central performance. Emotion overflows over the sewn-together curtains of what could have been an unremarkable film on the few occasions Larran’s creative instincts surface (see 2013’s Diana for details), delivering a peek of the violent tempest simmering within. These are the moments that elevate Spencer from a solid biopic to something truly remarkable.

Review of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

When the Marvel Cinematic Universe uses its tremendous power to run a manufacturing line, it’s telling. It’s just as telling when one of their projects has a truly personal spark to it, allowing franchise values like amazing spectacle, spectacular performances, and intricate family portraits to triumph. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is the latest entry in this category, following in the footsteps of earlier Marvel films that offered a vision and became standards: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Black Panther,” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” This film, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, fits into the Marvel universe in its own way, but it has a soulfulness that other MCU films, superhero films, and action films in general can learn from.

Shang-Chi, played by Simu Liu, is a critical piece of a fractured family with a history of infighting. The ten rings that confer such great power to Shang Chi’s power-hungry father Wenwu, who has lived for 1,000 years and founded a society known as the Ten Rings that has destroyed kingdoms and manipulated events all across the world, are even more essential than the dysfunctional family relations. There was serenity when Wenwu fell in love with Jiang Li (Fala Chen). They tied the knot and began a family. However, once Shang-mother Chi’s died, a newly hideous Wenwu attempted to mature his son by turning him into a murderer, prompting the young boy to abandon his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and Wenwu. Cretton, who directed “Short Term 12,” an Avengers-style exhibition of indie emerging talent (Brie Larson, LaKeith Stanfield, Rami Malek, and others), preserves the visceral, human stakes in this script (by himself, Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham), such that the superhero background is a bonus to the drama. The picture is a lavish dance that glides and hovers over a chasm of sadness.

When Shang-Chi, now an adult in America, rides the bus with his companion Katy (Awkwafina) up and down the hills of San Francisco, this narrative emerges. A gang of thugs attacks Shang-Chi for a green pendant he wears around his neck, and Shaun’s incredible bravery is revealed in a beat that’s prefaced like a power-up (much to Katy’s amusement). So do his fighting talents, which contribute to an astonishing melee scene of hand-to-hand combat in which the camera roams freely in and out of the rolling bus, much like its impromptu hero. The sequence lacks yowch-factor (especially when contrasted to how “Nobody” executed the same thing with appropriate blood earlier this year), but it compensates by being fast-paced, even longer than you expect, and extremely humorous. It’s the birth of an action star in Liu, and an incredible debut for a character who will be thrust into escalating battle scenes in this film.

However, the strength of this picture comes through from the vision of his father, Wenwu. One of the film’s most creative moves is casting Tony Leung in order for him to recreate the same magic he’s had in countless Hong Kong romances and dramas. This film belongs to Leung. Leung destroys armies, raises a family, and struggles to resist dangerous grief with the same silent passion and stillness that made “In the Mood for Love” one of the greatest romances of all time; his presence is made all the more powerful by the ten blue rings that help him catapult around and destroy whatever is in his path. When he hears what could be his wife’s voice from behind a rock, Wenwu transforms into a Darth Vader-like tyrant, leading a rampage through the mother’s magical home, Ta Lo, in order to reach a cave that everyone else (including his son and daughter) knows contains an apocalyptic, soul-sucking dragon. Because the fury and anguish it portrays are suitably Leung-sized, it’s the greatest performance from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That doesn’t seem like a mistake that a major Hollywood movie tentpole built on character-based kung fu has spawned such elaborate battle scenes, and it just adds to the film’s freshness. When it arrives to orchestrating a fight set-piece that surprises the viewers (like a jaw-dropping, way-up-high especially at night battle royale on some scaffolding in Macao), Cretton and his team frequently play with height, light, reflections, and staging), and then foregrounds the choreography as the main spectacle; it’s not just about who is throwing the punches and kicks. Several beats in these sharply edited sequences blasted me out of my chair, an unintentional filmmaking nerd response I’ve had to similar films that inspired this one: “Skyfall,” “The Grandmaster,” to name a few.

All is Forgiven, It’s a Happy Ending Story?

A successful film producer (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) finds himself in grave financial problems in Mia Hansen-second L0ve’s feature-length film, “Father of My Children” (2009). His family is unaware of his secret. He is doomed to failure. The film is a psychological study, dramatic without being overbearing, and Hansen-approach L0ve’s is non-pushy. “Father of My Children” was the first of her films to gain international acclaim, and even after multiple viewings, it remains a riveting watch. It’s hard to imagine Hansen-L0ve, who wrote and directed the picture, was only 27 years old at the time.

Hansen-directorial L0ve’s debut, “All is Forgiven,” was made when she was only 25 years old, and came before “Father of My Children.” Until today, “All is Forgiven” had never been distributed in the United States. Hansen-L0ve has established himself as one of the most intriguing directors working today, with films like “Eden,” “Things to Come,” “Maya,” and this year’s “Bergman Island.” “All is Forgiven” gives us a glimpse of her at the outset of this trip, and it’s amazing to see her style and artistic tendencies already in place and in full force.

“All is Forgiven” is a drama film that begins in Vienna in 1995 and finishes in Paris in 2007. It follows Victor (Paul Blain), his partner Annette (Marie-Christine Friedrich), and their six-year-old daughter Pamela through their lives (Victoire Rousseau). Victor is French, but Annette is Austrian, and they have chosen Austria as their home base for reasons that will only become evident over time. Or Annette has made a decision because Victor makes a habit of not making any decisions.

Victor has a captivating demeanor and a twinkle in his eye; when he looks at people, he appears open and curious. In the original flirting connotation, the expression is almost “come-hither.” This is an intriguing choice, however it does not appear to be Victor’s conscious choice (but maybe it is, maybe by projecting “come hither” at everybody in his vicinity Victor avoids facing the void within). Hansen-wheelhouse L0ve’s is these various possibilities, and it’s present even at the tender age of 25. Blain’s face, his reactions, his underlying thoughts, and his observing outsider attitude are all scrutinized by her camera. Victor’s reluctance to leave is an undertone, a default emotional state that is never defined or even spoken. We’re just getting a sense of how this guy works and how he navigates the environment.

Victor’s charm is no longer effective on Annette, especially since he appears resolved to achieve nothing with his life. He spends the entire day sitting. He mentions “writing” only in passing. He is a drug addict. He’s a chronic underachiever. “Why do you want everyone to believe you’re a loser?” Annette asks, exasperated. Victor’s drug use increases after the family returns to Paris. With Annette, he is violent. Pamela, a young girl, is there to watch it all. He moves in with another drug addict when Annette kicks him out. Victor confides in his sister Martine (Carole Franck) about his worry and depression, yet he does it with a glint of charisma in his eyes. Is he looking forward to the real thing? Is he simply a slacker? Is this something that only junkies do? He is smitten by Annette and Pamela. What’s the deal with this guy? “For me, producing films is about questions, not about answers,” Hansen-L0ve remarked in a 2016 interview with Indiewire. I suppose if I had the answers, I wouldn’t have needed to write the movie at all.”

A startling title card appears halfway through the film: “11 Years Later.” (The other title cards, such as “Back in Paris,” “One Month Later,” and so on, are more manageable.) “All is Forgiven” skips forward almost a decade without warning. Annette and Victor have divorced, Annette has remarried, and Pamela (now played by Constance Rousseau, Victoire’s real-life older sister) is a college student with only hazy memories of her father. Martine, whom Pamela has forgotten, contacts Pamela in the hopes of arranging a family reunion. Victor is currently in Paris. He is not as “ill” as he once was. He desires a connection with his daughter.

What is it about Hansen-work L0ve’s that appeals to you so much? I believe it varies from person to another. Her writing awakens in me what John Keats referred to as “negative capability,” which is incredibly rare in humans (then, now, or ever). Negative capability, according to Keats, is when “man is capable of remaining in uncertainties, riddles, doubts, without any irritated seeking for fact and reason.” It’s typical to discuss how polarized our world is at the moment. Yes. However, every era has its polarizations, and humans may be drawn to sharp contrasts. All the good stuff happens in between—all those “uncertainties, riddles, misgivings,” all those trips home, or walks to work, or walks through a park with a parent you’ve never met. That is where art may be found. It takes a special kind of maturity to recognize that at the age of 25, as Hansen-L0ve did.

‘Violet’ Review, a Vast Discrepancy

Violet appears to have it all from the outside. She is attractive, stylish, and exudes a serene confidence. In her booming profession as a movie production executive in Los Angeles, she is respected and adored. And she shares an amazingly cool mid-century modern building in the hills with a longstanding man friend—a charming and handsome screenwriter.

But she tells herself—or rather, “The Committee” tells her—a different story. Every decision and conversation is criticized and questioned by the voice, which purrs menacingly and sadistically. She’s a pig, to be sure. She’s getting in the way. She’ll fail miserably. She isn’t supposed to be here. And she is unworthy of happiness or intimacy.

The underlying issue in writer/director Justine Bateman’s feature filmmaking debut, “Violet,” is this vast discrepancy. The former ’80s comedy star certainly has something personal and searing to say as she transitions from front to behind of the camera. Her film will undoubtedly strike a chord with many people who are plagued by nagging voices in their heads. Olivia Munn gets the chance to show off her theatrical ability as the title character, which we haven’t seen her do before. However, the depiction of Violet’s profound fears has so many layers of overdone, relentless style that it feels like overbearing clutter, preventing Munn’s performance from shining through as effectively as it could.

Violet’s more emotional, vulnerable thoughts are frequently shown in the form of white cursive sentences scrawled over the screen, in addition to the voice (Justin Theroux, dripping with deep malice and sarcasm). They’re her wordless cries to herself and to the rest of the world: “Do you think there’s a problem with me?” “I don’t know who I am anymore,” she says. “Please do not leave.” When the stress of a scenario becomes too much—a work meeting, or drinks with a friend—a low hum becomes a loud roar, and a crimson wash washes the screen, drowning everything out and numbing her agony. “There,” the soothing voice says. “Doesn’t that sound better?”

As if it wasn’t enough, Bateman peppers the film with brief flashes of violent and disgusting imagery. From the beginning, we are greeted with a rapid-fire montage of automobile collisions, explosions, glass shattering, and animals rotting. This stunning artistic choice immediately sets us on edge and foreshadows the type of hyper-stylized film “Violet” will be. However, Bateman later undermines herself by inserting quick flashes of this type of imagery in the middle of a discussion to represent Violet’s construction obsession. Cutaways can be awkwardly literal, such as a fighter being punched in the face. As a result, Bateman detracts from the natural drama or honesty that she had established in that moment. Finally, a flashback to a happier period in Violet’s life—riding her bicycle as a youngster in Michigan, smiling with the sun and wind in her hair—appear and play over and over on whatever surface is available, whether it’s the inside of a tunnel or her bedroom wall, like a home movie. This is again another method Bateman employs far too frequently, and at times that appear to be arbitrary.

This method is fascinating for the first half hour or so, but as Violet navigates a succession of exceptionally stressful days, both personally and professionally, it quickly becomes monotonous and tiresome. Munn expertly conveys her character’s simmering panic, as well as how that pain contrasts with her calm façade. She’s frail and twitchy, and at Hollywood events, you can feel her forcing grins in between air kisses. The tense strings of Vum’s score heighten the anxiety she’s feeling.

However, the supporting characters who may have developed out her character beyond her uneasiness and doubt are just sketched on the surface. As her hunky roommate and potentially more, Luke Bracey is far too good to be true; he’s unlikely to be so perfect, still unmarried, and not a blatant player. Violet’s best friend, Erica Ash, is locked in an old cliche as a Black woman with no life whose entire job appears to be turning up for drinks and listening to this woman’s troubles.

As if facing and taming the character’s inner demons wasn’t enough of a task for one film, Bateman also throws in a Harvey Weinstein-inspired subplot, with Violet experiencing humiliations and indignities at the hands of her sleazy, violent boss (Dennis Boutsikaris), the company’s founder. Bateman has worked in the industry for much of her life, so the story she’s presenting has a lot of reality to it. If only she’d just let it stand on its own.

Apex, A New Sci-Fi Movie of Bruce Willis

Apart from being an iconic action hero, Bruce Willis has been in a number of noteworthy sci-fi films, with The Fifth Element, Looper, and 12 Monkeys all becoming genre-defining classics in their own right. Willis has been busy lately, with projects like Midnight in the Switch Grass and Survive the Game among them. Unfortunately, the final outcomes were varied, or at best, average. However, Edward Drake’s Apex, also known as Apex Predator, places Willis in a position that deprives him of his former splendor, culminating in a science fiction thriller that is dull and derivative in plot and execution. Apex is a stupendously uninteresting, pathetic ghost of what a gritty Bruce Willis action film may have been, stretched out mindlessly to pad the length.

Apex begins in the middle of a hunt, with a gang of hunters hunting a man through the forest’s depths. When one of the hunters kills the victim, billionaire Samuel Rainsford (Neal McDonough) collects the man’s head as a personal trophy. Because of a crackling transportation technology and the presence of West (Alexia Fast), who only emerges in holographic form throughout the film, the visual cues imply that the events of Apex are place in the future right away. Apex is described as a shadow entity separate from the “actual” world that hosts games on a private island in which hunters are allocated a prey that must be slain within a certain amount of time. When West is hired as a gamekeeper at Apex, she is seeking for a challenging prey for the next game when she learns about ex-cop Thomas Malone (Willis), who is now imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

Malone is introduced as a guy who has eluded death through almost supernatural means, demonstrating a tenacious will to survive against all circumstances. Despite initially rejecting West’s offer, he eventually agrees to take part in the hunt since he is promised that if he wins, he will be set free. As the game begins, six hunters gather at the cabin to debate tactics for overwhelming their prey while underestimating Malone’s ability to survive. Rainsford, of course, is one of them, and the others are scared of him because of his cold-blooded attitude toward life and his brutality in claiming his trophies. The hunters enter the arena separately after being given access to cutting-edge weaponry by West, but things quickly turn nasty when they start turning on each other owing to personal ego, deep-seated grudges, or a simple lack of human decency.

While Apex’s premise appears to be very generic, the plot could have been a springboard for a spectacular action thriller, assuming that the film contains all of the necessary pieces to make it work. Malone is seen idly walking around in the forest, listening on the hunters’ talks and tripping on radioactively altered berries without a care in the world, in a perplexing narrative shift. This decision drastically changes the tone of the picture, as the excellent opportunity to feature Willis is squandered in favor of inane arguing among the hunters, who stab, pummel, and blow each other up without provocation, making it much easier for Malone to make it to the finish.

Malone, on the other hand, is a non-entity throughout Apex, doing little except near the end, which falls flat when compared to the build-up. Although McDonough’s character is set up to fail during his big showdown with Willis’ character in the end, he is fearsome as the vicious Rainsford, establishing an aura of ominousness with perfection. The language is heavy-handed and absurd at points, with the refrain “I’m an apex warrior!” being repeated to exhaustion, and the action sequences, while well-done, are neither compelling nor credible in a visual sense. Apex’s world-building is given insufficient care, and the sci-fi portion of the picture appears to be an afterthought rather than a driving force, resulting in a dismal, mediocre letdown.

Army of Thieves, A Story About Robbery

A reclusive bank teller joins a motley group of Interpol’s most wanted, with the goal of breaking into a series of uncrackable safes across Europe. People suppose this is the quasi-prequel movie that no one asked for, but there are going to be consequences when you married uber-geek god Zack Snyder to a streaming powerhouse like Netflix. The past of Ludwig Dieter, the skilled safecracker shown in the zombie heist film released a few months earlier, is explored in this second installment of the Army of the Dead universe.

Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), whose true name is Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert, is a shy small-town bank teller in Potsdam who has a not-so-secret hobby of safecracking that he gleefully uploads on YouTube. A unknown stranger approaches Dieter through it, inviting him to an underground safecracking championship in Berlin. Dieter finally meets the intriguing Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), who exposes our shy bean-counter to the world of high-stakes heists, following his comfortable victory in the competition. Dieter’s team also includes wunderkind hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee), getaway driver and all-around drifter Rolph (Guz Khan), and douchey strongman Brad (Stuart Martin). While the ladies of the gang are getting used to their new arrival, Brad and Rolph aren’t so sure about Gwendoline’s decision. Dieter, on the other hand, swiftly disproves them when their heist in Paris goes off without a hitch, but their problems rapidly escalate with each subsequent robbery, leading to unpredictable endings.

Because I’m unfamiliar with Schweighöfer’s past work, I can’t say whether his style is there or absent in this movie, but one thing is certain: Snyder’s signature visual flair is evident. Think of Army of Thieves with a less serious, more comedic Zack Snyder film, because that’s exactly what it is. But in this case, it works in the movie’s favor because it’s supposed to be a prequel to Army of the Dead, so there’s some visual consistency there. Looking past Schweighöfer’s Snyder impersonation talents, he does a great job with some of the characters, but not all, and Shay Hatten’s formulaic writing bears some of the burden. While the parts with Emmanuel, O. Fee, and Schweighöfer are quite entertaining, the scenes with the other actors, particularly Jonathan Cohen’s Delacroix, just make you cringe. These bland caricature characters are thinly written and generally forgettable, threatening to sink the entire film, but Schweighöfer’s fish-out-of-water schtick and Emmanuel’s effortless charm keep the ship afloat. Onscreen, the sexy Game of Thrones vet is so compelling that she almost takes Schweighöfer’s thunder each time she appears.

As befitting a heist action comedy, Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro’s score is infectious and breezy, while DOP Bernard Jasper’s photography is equally on spot, visually connecting to Snyder’s Army of the Dead. Finally, a particular mention goes to Christian Eisele, the film’s production designer, who was responsible for acquainting three inanimate safes with a great heritage and their own individual character. You’ve really exceeded yourself, man.

Army of Thieves is a pastiche of better heist movies from the past, but it doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable and engaging in the best possible ways. So turn off your intellect, embrace the absurdity, and have a good time.

Night Raiders, So Much Values of Brotherhood

The melancholy Canadian sci-fi thriller “Night Raiders” hardly stands out among other terrible dystopian dreams. The year is 2043, and the setting is a (in theory) united North America. Warmongering “Jingos” promote a dismal military-based culture, while disenfranchised Indigenous peoples are patrolled by massive, low-flying drones. Nobody talks about the enigmatic Meekaw Virus or the similarly enigmatic conflict, both of which have exacerbated racial tensions and class disparities. Assimilation is an unachievable goal, as the pledge of loyalty at the Academy, a military school for a sadly homogeneous society, proclaims: “One country, one language, one flag.”

Given how so much time Goulet and her partners spend implying rather than building their nightmare scenario, the all-purpose authoritarian motto stands out in “Night Raiders.” It’s always clear who we’re supposed to support for and against thanks to the bland speech and dreary images. Given the film’s defining counter-cultural thrust, the tidy, inert, and unoriginal nature of the film’s style is also rather unfortunate: should Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), a resourceful single mother, let her easily influenced teenage daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) be raised by the Academy?

After surrendering Waseese to the Jingos, Niska attempts to accept the Academy narrative by reuniting with estranged friend of the family Roberta (Amanda Plummer) and her son Pierre (Eric Osborne), both of whom now acts as a Jingo spokesman. When our options are to cheer for Niska and her fellow Indigenous underdogs or hiss at the blatantly wicked Academy, defined as they are by generic violence and pseudo-universal indoctrination, there isn’t much of a dramatic tension for viewers. “Night Raiders” may occasionally represent America’s current somber mood, but it fails to convince as either a feel-good film or a foreboding prophecy.

Because “Night Raiders” isn’t firmly rooted in its characters’ fears, it’s often difficult to understand what motherhood and citizenship mean to Niska beyond essential ideals that are instinctively defended and worried about. Even members of Indigenous communities have a superficial sense of brotherhood. The Academy, which is distinguished by military drills (how fast can you assemble a rifle?) and patronizing administrators who insist that the Cree “can’t take care of their own families,” is contrasted with an informal yet friendly Cree bonfire meeting. The bond between Niska and Waseese allegedly disproves that assertion.

Because Niska spends the whole of the film attempting to reconnect with her daughter, whose secret Academy sponsors are always shown (or gossiped about) as brainwashed villains, their motives are always plainly nasty and self-serving. Based on an initial scene where an anti-Academy swastika graffiti is properly tagged: “Peacekeepers or occupiers?” we know exactly how we’re supposed to feel about the Academy. In ambiguous rhetoric like “As long as we have one piece of land, they will always come for us,” we can sense Goulet’s unmitigated hatred for these straw men fascists.

It’ll only be a matter of time before Victoria (Birva Pandya), a fellow Academy applicant, demonstrates to Waseese why even evil individuals who look like you can’t be trusted. Given how little we know about Victoria outside her status as a person of color, that’s a loaded and simply insulting concept. However, a scapegoat is unavoidably required to progress the film’s flimsy plot, so a few supporting characters step up to the plate. Most of the trouble stems from the fact that you probably already know who they are.

Because so much of “Night Raiders” is based on quick assumptions, it’s all too easy to nod along with the obvious connotations without ever actually connecting with the symbolism. Through a series of drab chases and set pieces, we lurch from one insipid fight to the next, the majority of which look and sound like they were put together by the film’s tired on-camera subjects. While this type of faint revolt yarn appears to have been written with a broad readership in mind, there’s nothing here that’s culturally or emotionally particular enough to merit our emotional engagement.

Given how empathetic Niska and Waseese appear to be, Niska and Waseese’s yearning for acceptance is especially distressing. It’s difficult to envision anyone feeling fully at ease in a world where everyone looks, talks, and acts the same way—even mistaken viewers who sympathize with the Jingos. But that’s exactly the kind of grim, cookie-cutter future that “Night Raiders” foreshadows: heroes are heroic because they go after the correct bad guys (mainly drones), and villains are terrible because they’re either too weak or insensitive to fight the true enemy. I wanted to be invested in the world of “Night Raiders,” but Niska and her daughter never seemed to reveal more about themselves than their typical conduct suggested.