Here’s a bunch of ‘Amazon Original’ movies I watched last week. I guess some of these are actually rebadged films from Hulu, Paramount and Lionsgate, but they are all available on Amazon Prime in the UK. There’s a few minor spoilers below but nothing you won’t pick up from watching the trailers.
Boss Level (2021) fits into the increasingly popular ‘death loop’ sci-fi genre (see Palm Springs for another recent example) which is more often than not accompanied by a big dollop of humour. This film has more action than laughs but keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek and that’s certainly the best place for it, and editor Kevin Hale should be applauded for keeping the repetition in the film from becoming boring. This film is far from that and actually the most enjoyable of the 7 in this post. It’s rather like Deadpool 2 in the way it is narrated by special forces action man Roy Pulver, played by Frank Grillo (The Purge: Anarchy), and centres around a time reversal machine developed by the mother (Naomi Watts) of his son.
Mel Gibson plays the titular boss in charge of the science project and there is great cast of assassins sent to kill off Roy in a variety of outrageous ways. The legendary film star Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) has a bit part as a conveniently placed sword expert who can train up Roy to get past sword-wielding assassin Guan Yin (Selina Lo) before he can get to the boss. I won’t say anymore about the film than that, except to say watch it. It’s great and only 1hr 34min long which seems a perfect length.
The Tomorrow War (2021) is a much more bloated action sci-fi offering with a runtime of 2hr 18min and a much bigger budget, mostly spent on visual effects in a film that feels like a cross between Aliens, Starship Troopers and The Edge of Tomorrow. Again there’s some wibbly wobbly timey whimey stuff in the plot which sees ex-army family man Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) transported to 2051 to fight a deadly alien species. The creature design is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, but the idea that they can fire deadly bone splinters as bullets from their tentacles is just crazy. At least they don’t have acid for blood in this one.
Dan teams up with a bunch of recruits and a biological scientist/army colonel, played by Yvonne Strahovski (Dexter, Chuck), studying the aliens in the future and later back in his timeline with his estranged father (a typecast J.K. Simmons) in a desperate mission to save humankind. Described by someone on YouTube as ‘Star-lord versus the space turkeys’ this film delivers a lot of high-octane action sequences, cool explosions and some ludicrous Hollywood physics, and Dan Forester plays to the Ripley role very well.
The Outpost (2019), based on true events, is the story of the team of US soldiers stationed at an indefensible outpost in Afghanistan surrounded by mountains with plenty of cover for the Taliban to take pot-shots at them on an almost daily basis. Anyone expecting a big helping of Orlando Bloom will be disappointed as the camp sees captain after captain picked off by the enemy. Scott Eastwood and Caleb Landry Jones do a great job of showing two different viewpoints of a soldier placed in an impossible situation and there’s a good bunch of supporting actors. Much like the real life situation this is a team effort especially when the Taliban mount a huge assault on the camp.
The second half of the movie is harrowing stuff and a masterfully filmed hour of complete chaos with bullets flying and bodies falling all over the place. At times it does verge on feeling like your watching an intense session of Call of Duty but then the actors’ performances come through to humanize the action. There is a large helping of patriotism and US Army glorification, but frankly you have to remember that this is based on a real event and even if half of what happened is correct then the filmmakers are excused (much like American Sniper). The credit sequence where we see the real soldiers and their fates (a lot of posthumous medals) certainly hits home hard.
The Vault (2021) is a heist film based around breaking into an impenetrable underground vault in The Bank of Spain and as such has some similarities to Netflix’s popular Money Heist show. The film also has Spain’s amazing World Cup 2010 run to the final as a backdrop and so also reminded me a bit of the original The Italian Job. Freddie Highmore (The Good Doctor) plays an engineering student Thom roped into joining a crew of thieves led by treasure hunter Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones). Astrid Berges-Frisbey (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) and Sam Riley (Control) are also on the crew and Famke Janssen (X-Men) has a bit part as a British spy boss.
It’s a fun film. The heist centres around Thom figuring out how to fool the vault’s deadly mechanism and it seems plausible if you don’t pick too hard at the corners of the script. Cunningham’s performance provides an important level of gravitas to the film which might otherwise seem rather amateur in the acting department despite the obviously big budget.
Greenland (2020) tells the apocalyptic story of building engineer John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his wife (Morena Baccarin) and son trying to find sanctuary as an extinction-level comet fragment hurtles toward Earth. J.K. Simmons wasn’t available to play the grumpy father-in-law so they got Scott Glenn (The Defenders, Daredevil) to do it instead. Everything that can go wrong for the family does. They get split up, run into desperate people willing to do anything to get on a plane and out of harms way, plus the son has diabetes and loses his meds along the way.
It’s a well-paced and action-packed film with some pretty cool effects, and the comet fragments made a change from a zombie horde or alien invasion as the cause of the disaster. Greenland seems an odd title until you realise that this where there are some nice nuclear bunkers which will withstand the impact of the comet fragment and so the place the Garrity family need to get to.
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse (2021) starring Michael B. Jordan comes across as Black Panther‘s Killmonger origin story crossed with Jon Wick, but is actually the origin story for John Clark – a character in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan universe – when he’s still called John Kelly and very much a SEAL on a mission of justice (or just plain ol’ revenge) without remorse for the death his pregnant wife who gets ‘fridged’ at the start of the film. To up the ante, Kelly also uncovers a plot to start WWIII.
Action man Kelly teams up with fellow SEALs including Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) and typically shady CIA Agent Ritter (Jamie Bell) to uncover the conspiracy and take down those responsible. It’s a typically over-the-top all-guns-blazing action movie with the faintest of nods to some real operational protocol and technology – Tom Clancy in a nutshell basically. Michael B. Jordan is good in the role but I couldn’t help the feeling that it really could’ve been anyone in the combat gear with the gun – there was nothing here to set him apart from all the others, and frankly Tom Cruise, Grillo and Keanu still have more pizzazz imo.
How to Build a Girl (2019) is based on Caitlin Moran’s novel of the same name and tells the true-ish story of teenager Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) who grows up too fast in Wolverhampton, outgrows her life and reinvents herself as acerbic music journalist Dolly Wilde. Chez Magpie local favourite Paddy Considine plays Johanna’s ex-musician dad who is trying to make a comeback. Johanna has a pretty formulaic character arc which sees her with some false success, getting too big for her boots, discovering the truth of how to come to age, and finding her feet as a young adult.
The film isn’t really aimed at the likes of me, a 50-ish male with most of my big life decisions behind me, but the time period in the film with an embryonic Manic Street Preachers on stage singing ‘You Love Us’ brought back a lot of memories good and bad. There are a lot cute cameos among the talking heads of Johanna’s collection of feminist and cultural icons on her bedroom wall (e.g. Mel and Sue, Lily Allen, Alexei Sayle, Jameela Jamil) and a nice turn from Alfie Allen as Johanna’s indie-crooner love interest.