As misleading as the title may seem, “Home Again” is not the long-awaited, R-rated, sixth installment of the Christmas-themed “Home Alone” movie franchise (the fifth installment being 2012’s “Home Alone: The Holiday Heist” which, unsurprisingly, not that many people watched on ABC Family….or gave a shit….or knew it existed). And it does not star former child star Macaulay Culkin as an older (obviously) and jobless Kevin McCallister whose on-screen common-law wife (Anna Chlumsky of “My Girl” fame) walks out on him on account of his inability to pay child support, thus forcing him to consider breaking into his neighbour’s house (since the family went on vacation to Tokyo) to steal their prized possessions so he can sell them to his on-again, off-again drug dealer, even though, unbeknownst to Kevin, the youngest child of the family (a girl, by the way) was “accidentally” left at home, which means that she’ll be forced to set a number of deadly booby traps around the house, which will eventually place him in a sense of pain, torture, humiliation, mutilation and a weird sense of deja vu.
No siree, it is SO not that movie.
“Home Again” is actually a dramatic feature film written by husband-and-wife Canadian filmmakers Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness and directed by Sutherland. It deals with three deportees from Canada, England and the U.S. respectively, and the hardships they each face when sent to Jamaica. Though the film is set primarily in Jamaica, parts of it were shot in Trinidad and Tobago. Interesting.
“G.I. Joe Retaliation”, on the other hand, is a sequel to 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”, a mindless shoot-em-up, blow-em-up, shout-unintelligible-statements-during-shootouts-and-explosions……em-up popcorn movie based on the G.I. Joe toy, media and comic-book franchises. In a nutshell, the first film had Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans (the comic relief and saving grace of the entire movie. Can you believe that fucking shit?!) playing Duke and Ripcord respectively, their inclusion in the elite covert special missions unit code-named “G.I. Joe”, and their attempt to stop Cobra Commander (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt of all people!) and his costumed goons from taking over the world. While it was far from a tribute to the iconic 1980s TV cartoon “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero”, it did succeed in destroying the childhood memories of those who enjoyed that series (myself included). Yes, “The Rise of Cobra” was a ridiculous, poorly-written, badly-acted, mind-numbing, over-the-top, piece-of-shit that tried to capitalize on the success of 2007’s “Transformers” and challenge its 2009 sequel “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” in terms of cinematic stupidity. When I first saw “The Rise of Cobra”, I remember comparing it to an energy drink: it keeps you up for a period of time (in the film’s case, the first hour), but then you start to feel tired (five minutes after the first hour of the film) and then eventually, you crash (everything else leading up to the Paramount Pictures logo at the end of the film).
Back in 2011, when I heard that the news of a sequel to “The Rise of Cobra”, my expectations were low. But then in December, I saw the first (and still AWESOME) trailer for “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the forefront, a special appearance by Bruce (a.k.a. the TRUE last action hero) Willis in the last few scenes, and the BAD-ASS Glitch Mob remix to the White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army” playing in the soundtrack, and I WAS SOLD!! Instantly, I was hyped and I couldn’t wait to see this movie (blame that on the power of marketing and promotion, folks)! The next year, Paramount Pictures announced that the June 2012 release date was pushed back to March 2013. Apparently, following a test screening or two, it was stated in some early reviews that the film needed more moments with Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson (who plays Roadblock) (*COUGH*BROMANCE*COUGH) before Tatum’s character Duke got killed (and no, spoiler alert haters, that’s not a spoiler alert. His death was announced before the movie came out. So there!). But here’s the real reason why they pushed the release date: Paramount wanted it to be in 3D! And we all know 3D means more money, and more money means more ticket sales, and more ticket sales means more people spending money on crappy movies that they could’ve easily
torrented watched in the comfort of their homes. But considering how fucking godawful “The Rise of Cobra” was, I had hoped that “Retaliation” would be the G.I. Joe film I expected to see back in 2009.
So are “Home Again” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” worth their respective ticket price? Well….
“HOME AGAIN” – Raised abroad since childhood, three deportees are sent to Jamaica: Marva Johnson (Tatyana Ali) from Canada; Dunston Browne (Lyriq Bent) from New York; and Everton Sinclair (Stephan James) from England. Marva is a single mother, torn apart from her two children. Upon arrival, she’s forced to contend with a lack of employment opportunities (since deportees are mostly perceived as “criminals”), and an incestuous uncle named Archie (played by an almost-unrecognizable (to me, at first) Jamaican actor Paul Campbell of “Third World Cop” fame). Dunston is a drug dealer who forms an alliance with a local crime lord or “Don” in Jamaican terminology (Kadeem Wilson) and winds up becoming his gun-toting enforcer. Jammix (Richard Chevolleau). a fellow enforcer, shows Dunston “the ropes” as he introduces him to Jamaican society. Everton, the youngest of the three deportees, is a private school student sent to Jamaica thanks to his mother Dulsay’s (CCH Pounder) negligence in securing his citizenship papers. His bad decision-making and naivete (mainly involving a nubile schoolgirl that he meets earlier in the film) leads him into a life of vagrancy. Damn, son!
The film deals primarily with each main character’s need to survive, and for the most part, “Home Again” excels at showcasing this. Marva, Dunston and Everton are literal fishes-out-of-water thrown onto the shores of Jamaica. And there are some convincing culture shock moments where each character learns the do’s and dont’s of Jamaican life. But once they learn the ropes and realize that Jamaica is not the paradise people think it is, things go from bad to worse. And this is where, plot-wise, “Home Again” begins to falter. What started off as a strong character study between the three protagonists becomes flawed after the first act. The most apparent flaw is the lack of screen time spent on Marva’s story in the first and second act. This is unfortunate since her story is actually the most compelling of all the three presented in the film. Not to mention, Tatyana Ali’s character is the most sympathetic out of the three leads. However, in Lifetime-Movie-of-the-Week style (which is funny since I felt that Tatyana played her role a little too safe – as if she were acting in a TV movie), she spends the second act being the token “rape victim” and object of Uncle Archie’s perverse attention. Dunston’s tale, with its emphasis on violent gang life and energetic night life, is admittedly the most entertaining of the three. Though the story veered into cliched gangsta movie territory rather quickly (right down to meeting the ruffneck chick – Cherry C played by Canadian pop singer Fefe Dobson – who, slowly but surely, falls for the protagonist), Lyriq Bent’s charismatic performance made it all the more watchable. Stephan James, in his first major feature film role, was quite impressive as Everton. Out of the three main performances, his was clearly the most challenging. Although I felt that his character’s downward spiral into drugs and squalor became less pitiful and more annoyingly depressing, and his story ended way too anti-climatic, Stephen’s performance rarely disappoints. The main characters themselves were well-developed, though I felt that the side characters were fairly one to two-dimensional. The Don (played viciously by Kadeem Wilson) is the remorseless bad guy, Archie is the horny-ass uncle who loves to rape his niece, Cherry C is the girl who tends to her lover’s gunshot wounds, and so on. I’ve seen these characters before in other films and I would have loved to see them presented differently in this one.
“Home Again” even allows brief interactions between the three main characters to take place. Unfortunately, these interactions feel forced (as if the filmmakers tried desperately to think up scenarios where they can meet) and aren’t fully developed. The same goes for a few “filler” scenes in the film, like Dunston’s encounter with a group of Rastafarians in the second act. While this scene is understandable within the context of highlighting Jamaica’s Rastafarian community, it adds little to the film’s narrative and could have been left on the proverbial “editing room floor” (or Recycle Bin or whatever). Flaws aside, the film does a great job in taking the viewer into the world and lifestyle of Jamaica. With vibrant cinematography, a reggae and dancehall-tinged soundtrack and an abundance of Jamaican patois, Jamaica is on full display here. As mentioned, some scenes were shot in Trinidad (specifically in Port-of-Spain and Trincity), but thanks to some clever camerawork and casting of skilled Trinidadian actors (Michael Cherrie and Conrad Parris are the two main examples), the “image” of Jamaica (or the illusion thereof) intended for the film was still maintained. In the end, though it’s far from perfect, “Home Again” is a step in the right direction for Caribbean cinema. The gritty and overly melodramatic tone of the film won’t be for all tastes: and if you absolutely couldn’t care less about Caribbean films, then this one will do so little to change your mind. But for people like me who yearn to see films from a different cultural perspective instead of the constant diet of Hollywood films fed to us year after year, then “Home Again” is worth checking out – just not in a hurry.
“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” – Speaking of Hollywood diet, here’s the equivalent to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Following the conclusion of “The Rise of Cobra” where Cobra member and master of disguise Zartan (played by Arnold Vosloo a.k.a Imhotep from the first two “Mummy” films) successfully placed himself in the White House as an impersonator of the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce), “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” shows him accusing the Joes of stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan. Of course, they didn’t do it, but that doesn’t stop a military strike on the Joes from taking place. Many Joes are wiped out in the attack, even Duke (and even if I didn’t hear about his death over the grapevine last year, I still wouldn’t have cared). Three Joes survive – or should I say two Joes and a Jane survive – or should I say two Joes and a she-Joe survive: Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (played by the smoking hot Adrianne Palicki). Presumed dead by the U.S. Government, Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye use this as a cover to hatch a covert plan to stop the bad guys (*COUGH*Major plot point in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”*COUGH*) – Zartan, ex-G.I. Joe member Firefly (Ray Stevenson), Cobra Commander (played this time by Luke Bracey) and his ninja bodyguard from the first film, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). After Storm Shadow suffers injury during an attempt to extract Cobra Commander from a maximum security prison, he goes to a Himalayan temple to recover. News of his presence reaches the Arashikage ninja clan, led by the Blind Master (played peculiarly by rapper/music producer/Wu-Tang Clan de facto leader/star of last year’s “The Man with the Iron Fists” RZA in a role which proves, like “Iron Fists” that Black Asians do exist). The Blind Master sends his student Snake Eyes (the resident ninja of the G.I. Joe team and Storm Shadow’s rival from the first film) and his female apprentice Jinx (Elodie Yung) to capture Storm Shadow and make him answer for the murder of his uncle. Add one of the Expendables into the mix – Bruce Willis (who plays General Joseph Colton) – and we have our movie.
With directing duties removed from Stephen Sommers (who, if I’m not mistaken, is somewhere hiding in Guatemala following the cinematic travesty that was “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) and handed over to Jon M. Chu, director of “Step Up 2: The Streets”, “Step Up 3D” and “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” (take a wild guess which one of these movies I don’t plan to watch any time soon), “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is a solid action movie that avoids the unintentional humour of the original. But the film’s biggest strength is ultimately its biggest problem: it takes itself WAY too seriously. Yes, “The Rise of Cobra” was horseshit, but even when it tried to take itself seriously, it never completely did. It was almost as if the film itself was self-aware of its own crappiness, and just went along for the ride until it ended. And while the previous film felt like a live-action kids’ cartoon (which it was), “Retaliation” feels like a “mature”, adrenaline-soaked military sci-fi action flick (which it is). But with the film’s preposterous plot (fake President planning to nuke the world) and over-the-top action sequences (for example, London’s near-destruction in one scene. First, the Eiffel Tower in the first film. Now London. Real AMERICAN heroes indeed!), should anyone take this movie seriously? If not, then why present it that way? Consider “The Expendables 2“. I gave the film 3 1/2 out of stars and preferred it over the original (which I also gave 3 1/2 stars to, mind you) because it knew exactly what it was (a mindless, testosterone-fueled shoot-em-up with a slew of action heroes) and never took itself too seriously. And because of that, I had fun with the movie. And yes, “Retaliation” has its fun moments, albeit a few. The ninja mountain showdown, in which Snake Eyes, Jinx and a team of ninjas face off against rival ninjas while swinging on ropes and cables in the Himalayan mountains, is fun. Oh, what am I saying? This sequence is fucking AWESOME!! It is easily the best, and most inventive, scene in the entire film – and ironically, the major characters aren’t even involved in it. The performances are okay, to say the least. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shines as Roadblock, though his character is just as two-dimensional as everyone else in the film – even Bruce Willis. And speaking of John McClane himself, he appears in only a few scenes in the movie. But his presence, and seeing him do his Bruce Willis-isms, brought a smile to my face. ‘Nuff props to the true last action hero!
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is everything it sets out to be: it’s mindless, loud, and chock-full of shootouts, swordfights, explosions and stylized slo-mo to boot. It is WAY better than “The Rise of Cobra”, and if that’s good enough for you, then feel free to spend your hard-earned money on this movie. But with the exception of the ninja mountain showdown which, alone, is worth seeing on the big screen (and it really looks fucking great in 3D, by the way), everything else is generic PG-13 action film material. Like its predecessor, it fails to live up to its source material. But in an age where Hollywood studios look to toy franchises for the next big blockbuster, what more can you expect?
But hey, the “Seven Nation Army” remix is still the shit – so who am I to complain?
“HOME AGAIN” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)
“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” – 2 1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you have to”)