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Popcorn movies for adrenaline junkies

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 20, 2023 5:00 am

Topping the movies most streamed by Filipinos this week on Netflix was a pair of genre action films—Heart of Stone starring Gal Gadot and 65 starring Adam Driver—which proves you can teach an old movie trope new tricks.

In Heart of Stone, Gadot plays rookie MI6 intelligence agent Rachel Stone, a “baby” agent in the field who routinely gets left behind in the van as her team—including seasoned rake Parker (Jamie Dormer), Yang (Jing Lusi) and Bailey (Paul Ready)—go deep into undercover operations.

Gal Gadot gets gritty in Heart of Stone.

But nobody puts baby—er, Gal—in the corner for long, so when the team heads to the Italian Alps to extract an arms dealer named Mulvaney, she’s soon on the casino floor with a phone app targeting his data.

Things get crazy quickly as Rachel’s true expertise comes into play. We learn she’s an even deeper agent, playing a deeper game: working secretly for an almost-mythical operation called The Charter, which is guided by an AI-driven supercomputer called (ironically, we suppose) The Heart.

Jamie Dornan as Parker in Heart Of Stone

We’ve seen a lot of AI scenarios onscreen lately, most notably Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, in which artificial intelligence is the MacGuffin everybody wants to get hold of, even if it can destroy us. Here, The Heart is a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, and only Stone seems capable of stopping certain parties from swiping it.

Alia Bhatt as disgruntled target Keya offers Gadot a good onscreen partner as the plot shifts. We learn Dormer is the baddie, driven by personal animus to destroy his MI6 links and take possession of The Heart.

Alia Bhatt as Keya Dhawan in Heart Of Stone

Amusingly, many of the characters from The Charter are named after card suits, including Matthias Schweighöfer (Jack of Hearts), BD Wong (King of Clubs) and Glenn Close (King of Diamonds)—those it’s never really explained why.

Netflix does a certain type of glossy, techno-spy thriller very well, and Heart of Stone will keep you digging into the popcorn as Gadot races across the globe to thwart Dormer (very Irish-lethal here). We jet from Italy to Lisbon, Iceland to Senegal, and Gadot’s in good form, whether plummeting off a cliff in a wingsuit, or taking out a hit squad singlehandedly, and then hiding the bodies.

Somewhere in the fairly formulaic story is a deeper one about the inner duplicities involved in being a double agent, but Heart of Stone chooses not go anywhere that would hamper the adrenaline-pumping action. You could call Gadot’s turn here a bit “grittier” than usual, but that basically means she frowns and glowers more often.

Where she excels, of course, is in stunt scenes, and Heart of Stone delivers, with Gadot displaying the kind of physical glamour and charm that make action thrillers like The Grey Man (Ryan Gosling), Old Guard (Charlize Theron) and Extraction (Chris Hemsworth) surefire Netflix hits.

As the action ratchets up, it’s Gadot, every time, who must save her bosses’ skins, and it makes you wonder why she’s still taking orders from the likes of Nomad (Sophie Okonedo), her superior at The Charter, who seems incapable of marshaling the considerable supercomputer powers of The Heart to stave off attacks or even, in one case, call a local fire department on a landline to come pry open their locked fortress before their oxygen runs out. Instead, it’s Gadot who must dive heroically onto the roof of a CGI-crafted cargo jet in flight and win the day. Clearly, she’s meant for better things. Yet despite her efforts, there’s (ironically) not that much heart driving the characters in Heart of Stone. But as glossy popcorn entertainment, it does the job.

Dinosaurs and astronauts

65, the Adam Driver “creature feature” also on Netflix this week (holding the No. 2 spot) feels like a throwback—with equal bits of Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, Planet of the Apes and 20 Million Years BC (minus the Raquel Welch bikini) thrown into the mixer.

Ariana Greenblatt and Adam Driver seem to channel Luke Skywalker and Yoda in 65.

The story adds a slight twist to the well-worn sci-fi mission genre: space pilot Mills (Driver) heads a vessel whose passengers are in deep sleep; he’s taken the two-year gig to raise enough money for his young daughter’s medical treatments back on the planet Somaris (which is remarkably like Earth, down to the Gap clothes and lingo). But instead, an asteroid belt sends Mill’s ship plummeting to a planet that looks a lot like Earth—except it’s Earth 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled.

Adam Driver vs. pseudo-T-rex in 65

Boom! Not only does Mills quickly discover there are huge lizard footprints all around the place (a swampy habitat that reminds one of Dagobah, where Luke first met up with Jedi Master Yoda), he also discovers a traumatized young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) who speaks little English but is definitely in need of rescuing. Mills takes on the mentoring role, and Driver and Greenblatt do generate a warm chemistry, as they get to know one another’s culture while heading for an escape pod on a nearby mountaintop, meanwhile trying to avoid getting killed by various pterosaurs, theropods and T-Rexes.

There aren’t too many sci-fi movies that make you want to leave Earth as quickly as possible, but 65 definitely makes you wish for a huge comet to come along and wipe out all the dinosaurs for good, thus creating a source of fossil fuels for lucky folks later on, because these dinos suck: they’re always invading the personal space of Mills and Koa with needless jump scares, or dragging them off by the teeth to their lair to eat them later. There are just too many of them, and they’re everywhere. Fix this, please.

It’s interesting that 65 did very little box office when released here briefly, but seems to have found an audience among Netflix viewers. Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) with the breathlessness of two 12-year-old boys, what 65 lacks in originality it makes up for in its tidy 90-minute length—just long enough to add one more plot twist, and for viewers to reach the bottom of the popcorn bowl.

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Heart of Stone and 65 are now streaming on Netflix.