Kam On Film: ‘xXx: Return Of Xander Cage,’ ’20th Century Women,’ and What’s New in Theaters

—by , January 25, 2017

xXx: Return Of Xander Cage

Paramount Pictures

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and pervasive violence

High-Octane Franchise Revived By The Return Of Vin Diesel As The Title Character

When it was released back in 2002, xXx grossed over a quarter-billion dollars worldwide in theaters alone. The visually-captivating espionage adventure starring Vin Diesel was reminiscent of James Bond, except it featured a hunkier hero and more spectacular stunts and special effects.

The high-octane thriller so overshadowed the relatively-mundane Die Another Day that year that Pierce Brosnan would soon be replaced by Daniel Craig as 007. Ironically, Vin Diesel was also replaced by Ice Cube in xXx 2, a drismal sequel that bombed at the box office, leaving a once-promising franchise on life support.

It’s taken a decade and a half, but Vin is finally reprising the role he originated. The good news is that the picture arrives laced with the sort of death-defying feats that made the first xXx such a hit. That means a plethora of action sequences in which our superhuman protagonist proves impervious to bullets and the laws of gravity.

There are also tons of the trademark titillation, coming courtesy of both Vin’s beefcake and a bevy of adoring beauties. Directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia), xXx: Return Of Xander Cage even tips its hat to earlier episodes via cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Ice Cube.

At the point of departure, we find Xander living under the radar in self-imposed exile in Latin America. He’s still an extreme sports enthusiast, and just for fun skis across the treetops of a verdant rain forest before switching to a skateboard for an equally-breathtaking ride down a winding mountainside highway.

Next thing you know, he’s being coaxed out of retirement by a CIA chief (Toni Collette) to keep the world safe for democracy. The mission involves retrieving a devastating weapon of mass destruction code-named “Pandora’s Box” that’s fallen into the hands of a gang of daredevils led by a diabolical trio (Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa and Deepika Padukone) bent on world domination.

After jettisoning a standard-issue, U.S. military support team, Xander recruits a motley crew of renegades more in his own image. Can that rag-tag posse, composed of a crack sniper (Ruby Rose), a fearless getaway driver (Rory McCann), a state-of-the-art gadget wizard (Nina Dobrev) and an affable DJ/ jack-of-all-trades (Kris Wu), rise to the occasion?

Why not? Anything is possible, with cartoon physics on your side!

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 107 minutes

 

 

20th Century Women

A24 Films

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and brief drug use

Mom Enlists Female Assistance Raising Son in Nostalgic Ensemble Drama

Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners), 20th Century Women is an inter-generational coming-of-age tale set in Santa Barbara, California, in 1979. The nostalgic ensemble drama revolves around the efforts of a neurotic single-mom (Annette Bening) to parent a naive 15-year-old (Lucas Jade Zumann) in dire need of a role model.

The picture’s protagonist is Dorothea Fields, a middle-aged chain-smoker who owns the dilapidated rooming house where the bulk of the story is set. Paradoxically, she recruits a couple of considerably-younger females, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning), to help with raising her son, Jamie, conveniently ignoring the availability of a pleasant and ostensibly-plausible father figure in her handyman, William (Billy Crudup).

Consequently, tenant Abbie tries to indoctrinate the impressionable kid by having him read popular feminist manifestos like “Sisterhood Is Powerful.” Meanwhile, worldly-wise Julie, 17, is happy to share a Platonic relationship with him. After all, they’ve known each other since they were little.

The engaging ensemble drama intermittently resorts to voiceovered flashbacks to develop each of the lead characters’ back stories. First, we hear Jamie ruminating about life with his mom. Then, it’s her fretting about understanding him less and less every day. We later hear Abbie’s concern about her cervical cancer scare, and Julie’s resentment of her therapist mother’s forcing her into group therapy sessions.

When not engaging in personal reminiscences, 20th Century Women effectively transports the audience back to the late ’70s. For, besides resurrecting the era’s fashions and decor, the action unfolds against a variety of painstakingly-recreated, period familiar backdrops. In addition, the film’s score features an eclectic mix of musical artists ranging from Rudy Vallee to Louie Armstrong to David Bowie to The Talking Heads.

Though there isn’t much of a message to glean from this inappropriately-titled homage to the dawn of female empowerment, one can easily appreciate its vivid triptych of poignant personal portraits.

 

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Running time: 119 minutes

 

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules

For movies opening January 27, 2017

 

A Dog’s Purpose (PG for peril and mature themes) Three-time Oscar-nominee Lasse Hallstrom directed this adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron’s fantasy novel of the same name about an anthropomorphic, reincarnating pooch (Josh Gad) that uncovers the meaning of life with the help of a series of owners. With Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton and Britt Robertson.

 

Gold (R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity) Unlikely-buddies drama about a down on his luck businessman (Matthew McConaughey) who joins forces with a geologist (Edgar Ramirez) to search for gold bullion in the jungles of Borneo. With Bryce Dallas Howard, Stacy Keach and Bruce Greenwood.

 

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (R for pervasive violence) Sci-fi horror series’ swan song written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring his wife, Milla Jovovich. Post-apocalyptic adventure finds the fearless heroine forming an alliance with the handful of human survivors for one last stand against the undead. With Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Williams Levy and Ruby Rose.

 

Behemoth (Unrated) Eco-documentary illustrating the devastating toll exacted by mining on China’s population and landscape. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

 

The Daughter (Unrated) Adaptation of “The Wild Duck,” Henrik Ibsen’s classic play revolving around a man (Paul Schneider) who uncovers a dark family secret when he returns home to attend his father’s (Geoffrey Rush) wedding. Featuring Nicholas Hope, Sam Neill and Ewen Leslie.

 

Get The Girl (R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence, drug use and brief nudity and sexuality) Action comedy about a wealthy guy (Justin Dobies) who attempts to impress the object of his affection (Elizabeth Whitson) by coming to her rescue during a fake kidnapping, only to have the stunt go horribly wrong. Support cast includes Daniel Quinn, Adi Shankar, Noah Segan and Scout Taylor-Compton.

 

I Am Michael (Unrated) James Franco plays the title character in this biopic about Michael Glatze, a gay activist who claimed to be cured of homosexuality after turning to Christianity. With Emma Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Zachary Quinto.

 

Kung-Fu Yoga (Unrated) Jackie Chan stars in this action comedy as an archaeology professor who embarks with a young protege (Amyra Dastur) on a globe-trotting adventure in search of a lost Indian treasure. With Disha Patani, Aarif Rahman and Sonu Sood.

 

Massacre On Aisle 12 (Unrated) Horror comedy about a hardware store clerk (Michael Buonomo) whose first day on the job is ruined by the discovery of a dead body and a duffel bag stuffed with cash. Cast includes Chad Ridgely, Jim Klock and Doug Burch.

 

The Salesman (PG-13 for mature themes and a brief bloody image) Crime thriller, set in Tehran, about an Iranian couple (Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini), appearing in a local production of Death of a Salesman, whose relationship is tested when the wife is raped right after they move into a new apartment. With Babak Karimi, Mina Sadati and Emad Emami. (In Persian with subtitles)

 

Un Padre No Tan Padre (PG-13 for profanity, drug use and partial nudity) Dysfunctional family comedy about a cranky 85-year-old (Hector Bonilla) forced to move into his long-estranged son’s (Benny Ibarra) hippie commune after getting kicked out of his retirement home. Support cast includes Zamia Fandino, Camila Selser and Eduardo Tanus. (In Spanish with subtitles)

 

 


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