But Why Male Models?

Zoolander 2, or Zoolander No. 2 took a number 2 on the franchise. Since the first movie is a cult favorite, it was only a matter of time before Ben Stiller made a sequel. Despite growing interest, I didn’t watch Zoolander in time to see Zoolander 2 in theaters. The very negative reception caused me to reconsider. Any minor problems with the original are even worse in the sequel. The tone is set when The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good collapses, Matilda is killed, Derek loses his son, and Hansel is disfigured. Zoolander eventually pulls himself together by redoing a lot of the same jokes and recreating versions of “Blue Steel.”

Owen Wilson is given a bigger role as Hansel, but the barely funny orgy joke from the first movie is redone to an uncomfortable degree. Despite being married to Stiller, Christine Taylor only cameos as the ghost of Matilda. Instead Penélope Cruz plays sexy Interpol agent Valentina who deals with a new conspiracy. This time it’s pop stars who are being killed because of a convoluted cult seeking the Fountain of Youth. Derek Jr. is a mini Zoolander who ends up stuck in his father’s mess. Will Ferrell eventually returns as an imprisoned Mugatu who was behind everything. Kristen Wiig really earned her Razzie as an over-exaggerated fashion designer.

The first movie broke reality when Zoolander used “Magnum” as a weapon, but the sequel’s climax is absolute nonsense. Though the biggest problem with Zoolander 2 is every celebrity who desperately needed a paycheck. There are more actors, singers, models, and fashion icons than there are funny moments. A brutally murdered Justin Bieber is just the tip of the iceberg. Billy Zane has a much bigger role and Sting replaces David Bowie as the prominently featured aging singer. Fred Armisen’s head is disturbingly placed on a kids body, but the most baffling creative choice is having Benedict Cumberbatch play an androgynous model. Zoolander 2 isn’t what I’d call PC, but it is really, really, really ridiculously bad.

Zoolander 2

Derek Zoolander, Hansel, and Valentina work together

Preceded by: Zoolander

Justice is Coming

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back gave Tom Cruise an excuse to run. At this point, Cruise continued to push the boundaries with the Mission: Impossible franchise. He never needed to go back to Jack Reacher, but it is a long-running book series. Never Go Back is the 18th book written by Lee Child. Edward Zwick replaced Christopher McQuarrie as director since the latter was busy with Mission: Impossible. The story isn’t controversial like the first Jack Reacher, but it is cliché.

After years of drifting, Reacher returns to Army headquarters only to find himself caught in a Military conspiracy. Major Susan Turner joins Reacher on the run when her life is threatened. Cobie Smulders is a suitable replacement love interest, but she is very similar to Agent Maria Hill. Since none of the original cast returns, Aldis Hodge is the latest Military captain out to find Reacher and Turner. They’re joined by Danika Yarosh who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter Samantha. I like Reacher’s sarcasm, but his possible daughter is more annoying.

The conspiracy involves the usual drug trafficking and/or illegal weapons transfer. Patrick Heusinger is the nameless ex-Military hunter out to kill them. The action is consistent with Reacher continuing to take out several adversaries and ruthlessly killing his last enemy. It wasn’t enough to keep it going since Reacher was rebooted as a TV series with the more size appropriate Alan Ritchson. After the failure of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, it’s safe to say Tom Cruise will never go back to the franchise.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jack Reacher fights off criminals

Preceded by: Jack Reacher

One Shot

Jack Reacher gave Tom Cruise another major action role. Though casting the 5’7″ actor as the 6’5″ Reacher was a bit of a reach. Even though Cruise is more than capable of being intimidating. This was his first directing collaboration with Christopher McQuarrie and it made for a pretty good Mission: Impossible audition. I wrongly assumed Jack Reacher was another spy, but he’s actually an ex-Army police investigator turned drifter. The long-running Jack Reacher book series was written by Lee Child. Jack Reacher is specifically based on the 9th book One Shot.

It begins with a sniper killing 5 random civilians that Reacher is chosen to investigate. Choosing that book was bad timing since the movie was pushed back one week after the Sandy Hook school shooting. There’s even a character named Sandy in the movie. Though uncomfortable, it doesn’t hurt the adaptation since Cruise gives his usual dedicated performance. Since he’s a drifter, Reacher is an efficient fighter and a smartass who doesn’t care what he has to do. His attitude is surprisingly humorous. Reacher is joined by Rosamund Pike as sexy defense attorney Helen Rodin.

Richard Jenkins plays her District Attorney father and David Oyelowo plays the top police detective. The top suspect is James Barr, but the real culprit is a sniper played by Jai Courtney in his first major role. Though the true big bad is the always menacing Werner Herzog as a Zek who survived a Soviet prison. Reacher takes out several low level criminals until he needs help from Robert Duvall who plays a gun shop owner. Jack Reacher strikes the right balance between blockbuster action and gritty realism.

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher sneaks around

Followed by: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Sleeper Agent

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the second failed attempt at a Jack Ryan reboot. The Sum of All Fears similarly recast Jack Ryan with a younger actor set in modern day. When Ben Affleck was dropped, no sequels were made in over a decade. Although Tom Clancy wrote over 17 Jack Ryan books, Shadow Recruit is 100% original. Clancy passed away before he had a chance to see it. Although I was alive when The Sum of All Fears came out, I didn’t take notice of Jack Ryan until his name was used in a title.

Chris Pine is another younger Jack Ryan who does just fine on his own. Shadow Recruit depicts his early days of enlisting in the Marines after 9/11, becoming a CIA analyst, and meeting his future wife Dr. Cathy Muller. An American Keira Knightley has a large role since their relationship is a big part of the story. Ryan is recruited by Kevin Costner as another high level CIA agent Thomas Harper. There aren’t too many familiar faces aside from Colm Feore as a completely different character than the one he played in The Sum of All Fears.

This time the Russians are definitely the villains. Kenneth Branagh is both the director and Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin. Once again I found myself lost, but I understood Cherevin sought to topple the nation’s economy. Ryan is still primarily an analyst, but he does see more action. There’s a bathroom brawl, shoot outs, and a motorcycle chase. Unfortunately, most of the action is cut with intense shaky cam. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does the hero justice, but his movie making days are over.

5. Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan on a motorcycle

Hunting for Love

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is exactly how it sounds. It’s the same hotel hijinks, but on the water. At this point director Genndy Tartakovsky was done with the series and desperately wanting to do an original film for Sony Animation. When that too was shelved, Tartakovsky ended up directing and writing anyway. Adam Sandler wasn’t given the same freedom as Hotel Transylvania 2, but he was just as dedicated as the rest of the growing cast. Including Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Keegan-Michael Key, Molly Shannon, Fran Drescher, Asher Blinkoff, Sadie Sandler, and Mel Brooks. By this point, the computer animation is even more exaggerated than it was before. Toilet humor is kept to a minimum this time around.

As the title suggests, Summer Vacation takes the monsters on vacation to a cruise called the Legacy. They get there on a Gremlin infested plane and travel to the Bermuda Triangle where the destination is Atlantis. Each monster has their own carefree subplot until they reach the lost city. The trip was Mavis’ idea to give her father a break from serving others. She spends time with her even more laidback husband Johnny and son Dennis. Dennis and Winnie hide their freakishly big puppy Tinkles who will confuse people that didn’t see the short Puppy!. Frank spends time with Eunice and has his hands replaced by claws at one point. The Invisible Man finds his Invisible Woman. Murray mostly tags along, but Wayne and Wanda are left out completely after a hilarious scene where they don’t know what to do with their alone time.

Vlad is part of the group, but this is still his son’s story. Drac zings for the second time with the mysterious human ship captain Ericka voiced by Kathryn Hahn. I know her all white look is supposed to contrast with Drac, but I just don’t like her design. Turns out Ericka is the great granddaughter of Dracula’s archenemy Abraham Van Helsing. She tries to kill him at first, but she eventually zings in return. Abraham is still alive in a disturbing steampunk body voiced by Jim Gaffigan. He’s willing to kill the monsters using a mind controlled Kraken. Of course it’s a singing Kraken voiced by Joe Jonas, and the only way to defeat him is with the “Macarena.” Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is when you kind of learn to accept the franchise if you haven’t already.

Hotel Translyvania 3 Summer Vacation

Monsters on deck

Preceded by: Hotel Transylvania 2 & Followed by: Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Nutsy Cuckoo

Hotel Transylvania 2 is a spooktacular sequel. Like so many animated sequels before it, Sony Animation went deeper, rather than bigger. Genndy Tartakovsky returns to direct even though he intended to make a Popeye movie. Adam Sandler having more creative control is a mixed bag. Most of the sequel is funnier and the Fifth Harmony song “I’m in Love with the Monster” is worth it. Hotel Transylvania 2 is still pretty juvenile, but spending more time on monster/human relations does make the sequel a slight improvement. Drac is now cool with humans staying at his hotel. Although she’s over a hundred, Mavis marrying Johnny and having a baby is surprisingly grown up for their characters. Hotel Transylvania 2 is mostly about Drac trying to turn his grandson Dennis into a vampire.

Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Molly Shannon, and Fran Drescher return alongside Sandler. Keegan-Michael Key replaces CeeLo Green as the mummy since the latter made some controversial tweets. Quasimodo doesn’t return, but Jon Lovitz does voice the Phantom of the Opera. Dennis is voiced by child voice actor Asher Blinkoff. Sandler’s daughter Sadie voices Wayne and Wanda’s daughter Winnie who wants to zing with Dennis. New voice actors include Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman as Johnny’s parents who try to adjust to their monster side of the family. Mavis is overprotective of her son, but I enjoyed her experiencing the joys of being human on a trip to Johnny’s home.

Giving Drac, Frank, Wayne, Murray, and the Invisible Man a chance to turn Dennis into a monster. They’re also joined by Blobby who has an expanded role from the first movie. Unfortunately, monsters have become hilariously wimpy. Humans aren’t scared of them anymore, so they call in an old fashioned monster to help out. Though he’s mentioned throughout, Dracula’s father Vlad doesn’t appear until the last 30 minutes voiced by Mel Brooks. Vlad is dead and loving it, but he hasn’t accepted humans yet. Dennis doesn’t show any vampire traits until Winnie’s life is threatened by Vlad’s meanier bat servant Bela. He’s a last minute antagonist, but at least everyone has time to shine. Hotel Transylvania 2 is the best of both worlds.

Hotel Transylvania 2

Drac comforts Mavis, Johnny, and Dennis

Preceded by: Hotel Transylvania & Followed by: Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

I Don’t Say, Blah Blah Blah

Hotel Transylvania brings all of the classic monsters together under one roof. Sony Animation is still very hit or miss for me. Since I wasn’t a big fan of Adam Sandler comedies, my brother and I decided to ignore the monster comedy when it first came out. Hotel Transylvania has Sandler’s signature touch and all his usual collaborators, but there is more effort than I was expecting. It was the directorial debut of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky. The computer animation is cartoony and fast-paced just like his traditional animation. Hotel Transylvania refers to a hotel for monsters built by Count Dracula himself. Monsters of all shapes and sizes attend the hotel. Including witches, gremlins, zombies, skeletons, ghosts, bigfoot, the fly, a hydra, and various other monsters with very stylized designs.

The classic Universal monsters are Drac’s closest friends. Adam Sandler is almost unrecognizable with an exaggerated Transylvanian accent. Drac has all the usual vampire strengths and weaknesses, but he can also levitate objects. Kevin James is a Frankenstein nicknamed Frank who always falls apart. Fran Drescher is his annoying bride Eunice. Steve Buscemi is a werewolf named Wayne in constant stress due to his many kids. Molly Shannon is his pregnant wife Wanda. David Spade is the Invisible Man who only has a pair of visible glasses. He’s not part of Sandler’s group, but CeeLo Green voices the excitable mummy Murray. Despite all the farting, pee jokes, and cringy pop songs, Hotel Transylvania does have heart.

Drac is an overprotective father to his 118 year old daughter Mavis. Although Miley Cyrus was the original choice, Selena Gomez made more sense after finishing her Disney channel show Wizards of Waverly Place. Mavis longs for freedom, but Drac views humans as monsters after they killed his late wife Martha. The hotel is turned upside down when a human arrives for the first time ever. Andy Samberg is laid-back backpacker Johnny who zings with Mavis. Which is basically love at first sight in this universe. Drac hates Johnny at first, but he randomly warms up to him. Honestly, the movie is pretty aimless with monster gags and Jon Lovitz as a lame chief version of Quasimodo who wants to eat Johnny. Eventually the monsters are accepted by humans and Mavis is able to be with Johnny. Hotel Transylvania scares up a few laughs despite a few problems along the way.

Hotel Translyvania

Drac tries to hide Johnny

Followed by: Hotel Transylvania 2

Death Comes Full Circle

Final Destination 5 is the only well-received movie in the franchise. I’m not sure it’s the best, but it does try harder than The Final Destination. Unlike the last film, Final Destination 5 has a stronger story to support its inventive kills. Both are 3D, but the fifth installment is less obnoxious with it. The latest director Steven Quale might be to thank for that. I remember when Final Destination 5 came out, but I didn’t think it would be the last one for awhile. It’s closer to the original by increasing the suspense and bringing back Tony Todd. Coroner William Bludworth feels more like the grim reaper by creepily watching over the latest victims. Nicholas D’Agosto feels closer to Alex since he has to deal with a police officer played by Courtney B. Vance. There are people I recognize like David Koechner, but it’s still mostly lesser known TV actors.

Miles Fisher was very distracting since he looks and sounds so much like an off brand Tom Cruise. The new lead is company employee Sam Lawton. His ill-fated trip is a company retreat with employees. Sam’s premonition is the total collapse of the North Bay Bridge. The disaster is accomplished with CGI and while not inherently bloody, they find a way to make it graphic. Many of the deaths are uncomfortably gory. Sam isn’t so lucky, but he does manage to save his ex-girlfriend Molly Harper in his vision. The rest of the 6 survivors include his friend Peter Friedkin, Peter’s gymnast girlfriend Candace Hooper, mistreated employee Nathan Sears, their boss Dennis Lapman, office creep Isaac Palmer, and bespectacled scene stealer Olivia Castle.

It’s hard to make death stand out at this point, but they find a way. There’s a tense gymnastics related death, a surprisingly funny death at a massage parlor, and a very uncomfortable death involving LASIK eye surgery. The latest addition to death’s design is the possibility of gaining life by taking someone else’s. Which seems like the case when a non-survivor dies on a hook. Just when hope is restored, the clever and chilling twist ending happens. SPOILER ALERT! The last remaining survivors die aboard Flight 180 since Final Destination 5 is a secret prequel to the first movie. Final Destination 5 brings death full circle.

5. Final Destination 5

The North Bay Bridge crumbles

Preceded by: The Final Destination

Fear Runs Deep

47 Meters Down: Uncaged is the same danger, but an entirely different cast. This time it’s a group of four teenage girls who go diving in Mexico and get attacked by sharks. The only similarity is having sisters as the primary survivors. Sophie Nélisse is the bullied Mia and Corinne Foxx is the more popular Sasha. Nia Long and John Corbett play their parents in a blended family that’s slightly more interesting for me.

Before Stargirl, Brec Bassinger played a mean girl who bullies Mia. Brianne Tju is their diving experienced friend Alexa and Sistine Stallone is their overeggar friend Nicole. This was actually the first film for Jamie Foxx and Sylvester Stallone’s daughters. Mia, Sasha, Alexa, and Nicole go diving to find an ancient Mayan city. It’s a lot easier to lose track of the girls since there are four characters to keep track of. Although more characters just means more shark food.

Sharks pop out of complete darkness and they have to deal with the usual problems like oxygen loss. Along with new problems like strong currents and being lost. Though Uncaged lacks the bite to end with a twist like the first movie. Instead Mia and Sasha actually fight off sharks with bloody injuries. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged has enough blood in the water to attract fans of the original movie.

47 Meters Down Uncaged

A shark comes towards Mia and Sasha

Preceded by: 47 Meters Down

In the Deep

47 Meters Down is literally the deepest shark attack movie I’ve seen. It follows two sisters vacationing in Mexico who find themselves caught in a life or death struggle with sharks. Admittedly, the premise is very similar to The Shallows released just one year before. Killer shark movies are surprisingly common, but it’s the survival aspect that’s similar. Claire Holt is the more adventurous Kate and Mandy Moore is the more cautious Lisa.

A couple of locals convince them to see sharks in a diving cage. Something I would never do, since everything goes wrong when the cable breaks and their cage plunges 47 meters down. It’s a terrifying situation full of dangers like oxygen loss, potential hallucinations, being unable to swim without decompression, and having several hungry sharks swimming around. The only person who can help them is the comforting voice of Matthew Modine.

The sisters don’t have the most interesting problems, but I was still wondering how they’d get out of the situation alive. They’re almost rescued once when the spare cable breaks and they plunge back down. The ending turns Lisa into the brave one who saves her sister and fights off sharks with flares, but there are several clues that lead to a shocking twist. 47 Meters Down is a quick undemanding 85 minute fight for survival.

47 Meters Down

Kate and Lisa in a cage with a shark

Followed by: 47 Meters Down: Uncaged