Month: August 2012

Zero Effect


Columbia Pictures

Directed and Written by Jake Kasdan

Produced by Lisa Henson

“TV pilot on steroids” is a phrase you’ve probably heard me throw around either here at The Ferguson Theater or on an episode of Better In The Dark. But just in case you haven’t, here’s what I mean by that. Sometimes I watch a theatrical movie and the way the situation and characters are presented and constructed feels like the filmmakers are  setting up a television series. You know what I mean. How many times have you seen a movie in a theater and thought “That would be a great TV series!” Too many times to count, I bet.

That’s the way I felt after having watched ZERO EFFECT recently. I remember watching this on VHS years ago and appreciating it as being a really ingenious and unique variation on the concept of a modern day Sherlock Holmes. The mysterious and brilliant Daryl Zero is a character that would be right at home on the USA network along with the other offbeat characters headlining their popular shows.  I discussed this movie briefly on the BiTD Facebook page and was made aware that there actually was an attempt to turn ZERO EFFECT into an NBC TV series starring Alan Cummings as Zero but it didn’t catch on. And that’s really a shame as ZERO EFFECT has tremendous potential as a series. I’d certainly watch it every week.

Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) is the world’s most private private detective. He never meets with his clients, preferring to deal with them through his legman/assistant Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller.) And that’s a good thing because Daryl Zero is…well, nuts. He’s horribly inept in social situations, downright rude and mean, lives on a diet of canned tuna fish, methamphetamines and Tab while writing truly terrible folk songs (although truth to tell, I actually kinda like “Let’s Run Off And Get Married.”) But give him a case to work on and he suddenly transforms into a coolly confident, smooth, totally fearless professional investigator whose courage and near superhuman gift of observation while maintaining a emotionless objectivity toward his client and other people involved guarantees that he will solve the case.

His latest one seems very simple and Steve Arlo doesn’t even think it’s worth their time. Millionaire Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal) has lost the key to a safety deposit box and it’s vitally important that he find it as it’s linked to a complicated and elaborate blackmail scheme. And indeed, Daryl Zero figures out that the blackmailer is Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) an EMT who works out at the same gym as Stark with ridiculous ease.

Arlo figures that wraps everything up but not so. Zero is intrigued as to why Gloria is blackmailing Stark and continues his investigation. This forces him to interact with Gloria and threatens to compromise his cherished objectivity as he finds himself strongly attracted to Gloria.  In the meantime, Arlo is resisting Stark’s repeated attempts to pressure or bribe Arlo into betraying Zero and giving Stark the name of the blackmailer so that Stark can have that person killed. He also is getting pressure from his girlfriend Jess (Angela Featherstone) who wants him to quit working for Zero and start working on them getting married.

Now before The Spoiler Police starts in on me because I revealed the identity of the blackmailer, let me explain that who is doing the blackmailing is nowhere near as important as why Stark is being blackmailed and that turns out be the real mystery that has to be solved. That and the mystery of his own emotions as Zero finds himself doing some very unexpected things contrary to his nature as he gets closer and closer to Gloria, irresistibly drawn to her as she’s the only person he’s ever met that can get into his head.

Bill Pullman is really amazing as Daryl Zero. Pullman is an actor who for years has danced on the edge of being a major star but never could seem to find that one role to put him over the top. When we first meet Daryl Zero he seems like such a weirdo it’s impossible to imagine he could be the kind of detective Steve Arlo describes to Stark as being so brilliant that in one hour and without ever leaving his home he locates a missing man the FBI hadn’t been able to locate for eight months. But once he’s on the case he turns into a totally different man and Pullman sells the transformation.

Ben Stiller is one of the most frustrating actors I’ve ever seen on screen. When he’s cooking on all burners he can be excellent. But when he’s bad he stinks like a houseguest who doesn’t know when it’s time to go home. Fortunantly we get the former Ben Stiller here. Steve Arlo is continually frustrated by Zero’s bizarre, manic mood swings and method of operation but he also cares for him and is fascinated by the man’s personality. Stiller does an excellent job here and I think gives one of his all-time best performances.

Since the plot of this movie is loosely based on “A Scandal in Bohemia” you can kinda guess where the relationship between Gloria and Zero is going to go and you’d be right. Kim Dickens is absolutely charming as Gloria and during the course of the movie I grew more and more to understand why Zero is becoming intrigued with this woman. In recent years I’ve been wondering why Ryan O’Neal is slowly morphing into William Shatner and I believe it may have started here. There are scenes where O’Neal’s mannerisms and way of delivering his lines are uncannily a lot like Shatner’s. He even looks like Shatner at times.

So should you see ZERO EFFECT? If you’ve never seen it and if you’re a fan of characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Adrian Monk, Jacob Hood and Gregory House then you’ll enjoy ZERO EFFECT, trust me. Enjoy.

116 minutes

Rated R

Better In The Dark #136




Just in time for Summer to, well, almost be over, Tom and Derrick kick off The Summer Of Speed with one of the most popular car-nographic film series of the modern era, The Fast and The Furious! Join the Boys Outta Brooklyn as they rev up their engines and race though all five adventures with automobile-loving rogue Dominic Toretto and the worst cop in the world, Brian O’Conner…in addition to the Roger Corman produced car racing melodrama that inspired the series. All this plus listener mail, what we really want to see Michelle Rodriguez do, and the continuing debate over whether Eva Mendes is hot in her own right or a Raquel Welch wannabe! You don’t wanna granny clutch that hoss, so get to clicking!

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The Expendables 2

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Avi Lerner

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Richard Wenk

Story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Richard Wenk

Based on characters created by David Callaham

If they continue on making them this entertaining and this much fun, they can make Expendables movies from now until the lid is slammed shut on me. They last time I had this much fun watching a movie was when I saw “The Avengers” and for a lot of the same reason: I felt like I was watching a lot of old friends that I’ve known for years together at last. And like “The Avengers” which put together a bunch of classic Marvel superheroes on screen at the same time for the first time, THE EXPENDABLES 2 finally gives up what the first “Expendables” only teased us with. At last The Holy Trinity of Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis) standing shoulder to shoulder blasting the hell outta the bad guys.  It’s a stand-up and cheer moment for sure and it only gets better when none other than Chuck Norris joins the party.

But before that we get an absolutely outlandishly kick-ass pre-credits sequence where The Expendables invade Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman. The old crew is back together: leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren.) They also have a new member: Billy The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) because you can never have enough snipers.

After the Nepal rescue, Barney is approached by CIA spook Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who still is not happy about the way the Vilena mission The Expendables undertook for him went down. He proposes a new mission to clean the slate. Barney will take on another new member, technical expert Maggie (Yu Nan) and fly to Albania to recover an item from a crashed airplane. The Expendables do so, only to have the item stolen from them by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his private terrorist army, The Sangs. Maggie reveals that the item is a computer that contains the blueprints for an abandoned Soviet Cold War era mine being used to store five tons of plutonium. Vilain and his right hand man Hector (Scott Adkins) have some really wicked plans for this plutonium.   It’s up to The Expendables to stop Vilain and if they have to blow up the country to save the world…well, that’s just what they’ll do.

And at times it does seem as if they’re going to blow up the country with all the explosions going off. Not to mention the horrendously high body count they rack up in their pursuit of Vilain. And that’s before The Expendables are joined by Mr. Church, the mysterious lone wolf commando Booker (Chuck Norris) and Barney’s rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who comes along for the ride. You can imagine the carnage that ensues with that kind of extra firepower added to the team.

And what a ride it is. Watching THE EXPENDABLES 2 for me is like stepping into a time machine and going back to the heyday of Action Movies: the 1980’s. I suspect that those of you, like me, who remember going to the theaters back then when it seemed like every week there was a new movie starring one of these guys playing will get more of a thrill just out of seeing these guys on screen together than anything else. Seeing them all together and obviously having so much fun is nothing less than a blast. And there’s a lot of inside jokes that I chuckled at but I suspect went right over the heads of most of the people in the theater I was watching the movie with.  My favorite one is when Barney casually mentions that Gunner has a degree in chemical engineering and threw away a promising career in that field for a girl. Google Dolph Lundgren and you’ll see why I found that funny. I also got a big grin out of Chuck Norris’ character being named Booker and being described as a lone wolf. Again, Google Chuck Norris and check out the synopses for “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “Good Guys Wear Black” and you’ll get the joke.

With the new members of the team on board as well as Willis and Schwarzenegger having bigger roles in this one that means that Toll Road and Hale Caesar don’t have as much to say but they get just as much of their share of the mayhem. And I like how Randy Couture quietly reminds us that his character is the team’s intellectual by having Toll Road simply reading a book in the background while plot exposition is going on in the foreground. And while Hale Caesar does not have a show-stopping moment in this one as he did in “The Expendables” (but let’s face it…taking down an attack helicopter by throwing a missile at it is a tough act to beat) Terry Crews makes sure that when Hale Caesar does have something to do, it’s memorable.

I also liked the action sequences in THE EXPENDABLES 2 better than the first one. The editing on the first movie was way too choppy in several fight scenes and during the final assault. That’s not the problem here. The action scenes are wonderfully and cleanly shot, full of noise and energy and gloriously blood-drenched with plenty of really impressive practical stunts.

That’s not to say I liked everything about the movie. I didn’t like how one of my favorite characters from the first movie has what amounts to a glorified cameo and simply drops out of the movie. And I’m not merely being descriptive. The character actually does drop.  Charisma Carpenter is totally unnecessary in this movie.  Even more so than in the first one and really, there’s no reason for her character to be in either one of them. The subplot dealing with the relationship between her character and Statham’s Lee Christmas is even more ridiculous considering that Lee spends more time talking to Barney about it than he does to his supposed girlfriend. I’m a big fan of Charisma Carpenter and hey, if the movie wants to give me gratuitous shots of her in a scandalously skimpy dress wiggling and jiggling in a bar, I’m not gonna complain. But she’s too good an actress to be wasted on a three-minute scene that any actress could have played.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 2? If you saw the first one, absolutely. Even if you didn’t see the first one, go see THE EXPENDABLES 2. The action is spectacular, especially the Nepal rescue and the final showdown in an airport where Couture, Crews, Lundgren, Norris, Schwarzenegger and Willis decimate the Sangs while Stallone and Van Damme have their mano-a-mano deathmatch. The jokes are as fast as plentiful as the bullets and it’s just such a pleasure to see a good old fashioned Action Movie made by and starring talent who know what they’re doing and do it supremely well. THE EXPENDABLES 2 gets my highest recommendation.

103 minutes

Rated R

Let’s All Go To The Lobby With: PARKER STANFIELD

Derrick Ferguson: Who Is Parker Stanfield?

Parker Stanfield: I’m an actor/writer/director of independent film. I’ve only got one feature under my belt, but I look forward to making more. Coffee is my poison of choice, YouTube is how I scramble my brain, and I have an obsessive love for Radiohead.

DF: Where do you live and what do you do to earn your daily bread?

PS: I live in Fernley, NV, which is a short way from Reno. I’ve been working part time at a sushi bar called Sushi Moto, and I enjoy the company of the people I work with.

DF: Your particular passion is movies. What’s the very first movie you can remember seeing in a movie theater?

PS: I went to see a lot of Disney films when I was little and the very first of them that I remember seeing was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I ate it up and I remember the villain being rather terrifying despite me being too young to get the religious context of his character.

DF: When did you decide you wanted to be a film maker?

PS: When I was in kindergarten, I had a fascination with dinosaurs. Knowing this, I saw a double VHS copy of Jurassic Park. My mom bought it for me, and I was absolutely amazed with what I saw. I popped in the second cassette thinking it was another movie, when what I got was a Behind the Scenes documentary. That was my first exposure to the concept of filmmaking, and watching Spielberg working on the movie made me think “This guy is so cool! I want his job.” So that’s when I decided I wanted to make films.

DF: What do you think about the movies being produced today?

PS: Despite the whole remake problem with the genre of horror (which admittedly has potential to result in a good end result), I feel that there’s a lot of creativity happening on both indie and big budget films. There’s a lot of films out there that are admittedly familiar, but the people who are making them want to do things with said films that result in a cinematic experience that feels unique to me. No Country for Old Men is one of those experiences. Something that perplexed me (in a good way) when I saw it in the theater. But there are other films that are different, but in that they are finding creative ways to be offensive to its audience. Take your pick of Michael Bay’s filmography.

DF: Who’s the best director working right now? Who’s the worst?

PS: My personal favorite for at least four years now has been Paul Thomas Anderson. I could talk about this guy for hours. Hard Eight is one of the only movies I’ve seen that makes Reno seem awesome in a strange sort of way. In my opinion, he’s never made an objectively bad film yet. Sure, some people seem to be confused by what he makes, but every film he does is a perfect practice in poignancy and humor, and he clearly knows what he’s doing. His upcoming film, The Master, is my most anticipated of the year.

Now the worst is someone I’ve had the displeasure of discovering quite recently. There’s a lot of bad filmmakers out there. James Ngyun (Birdemic), Uwe Boll, Tommy Wiseau. As a filmmaker myself however, it’s hard for me to say that I would want to take away any filmmaker’s joy. I like making movies and they like making movies. It’s hard for me to say they shouldn’t be able to do that. The lone exception is Lucifer Valentine. Stupid name, an even worse excuse for a director. The term Torture Porn is more appropriate a term for his movies than anything Hollywood claims to be torture porn.  I tried to watch his first film, Slaughtered Vomit Dolls and after 20 minutes of offensive imagery, dumb sound editing (every piece of dialogue is played slowly to make it sound Satanic) and overall failure, I wanted to take away any joy Mr. Valentine could ever experience. To give you an idea, he is considered the creator of the “Vomit Gore” genre. I wish I was making that up. Not only does he make terrible films, but his personal life’s story is so horrible, I don’t know how someone even gave this guy a camera to begin with.

DF: You’ve written and directed your own independent film.  Tell us about it. 

PS: It’s called AT THE ZOO, and it’s a crime film based on the music of Simon and Garfunkel. In particular, it’s my personal take on Richard Cory, the rich man everyone knows in both the poem and song. It centers around Richard in his early 20s as a member of a group of criminals known as the Baby Drivers. One morning, Richard finds his girlfriend dead and he is in shock, as he saw her as his one way to regaining the happiness he lost as a child. He goes on to perpetuate a series of events involving murder and characters named after various songs from the duo. Along the way, we follow a kid named Arthur, who Richard met the night of Emily’s death, and the story gets more complex from there. The film is meant to appeal to fans of folk music (which is mighty prevalent here in the Reno area), and people who love crime flicks with good dialogue, which I hope that I’ve accomplished.

DF: In our private discussions you’ve indicated that AT THE ZOO is an intensely personal project for you. Can you go into some detail about how?

PS: The best way I can put it is comparing the idea of the film to someone who’s a fan of a particular rock group and they come on camera (I’ve seen this in a lot of music documentaries so bear with me) and say “This band saved my life.” I feel a similar way to this film. It got me out of a serious depression and writing it was an important experience for me. I had written a script before, but it was far from an original idea, so I was merely doing it as an exercise. Maybe I will get to make that film someday, but I don’t see it happening unless I make a smash hit first. But AT THE ZOO seemed plausible to me and that gave me a sense of hope that I could do something with my life. So there’s been a lot of emotional baggage that has been associated with the film. It’s my baby.

DF: What were the major obstacles you encountered while making your film?

PS: It was a one man crew, and it was a struggle to get made. Particularly, I had to make a lot of phone calls over the six months of shooting, and I can’t even count the amount of times that an actor had something else to do and cancelled on me. Either that or they flat out said “I can’t do it this weekend. I have chores to do.” It definitely comes across in the film, but it was really difficult getting X number of actors together to do a scene.

DF: What is the most satisfying thing about being a director?

PS: Whenever I work on a movie, I love the simple task of setting up the composition of a shot. I love moving the camera especially. Sometimes it can be rather tricky to get the shot I intended, but most of the time, we improvise and end up getting a shot that actually looks better than the intended did in my head. Now, to anyone reading, the end product doesn’t exactly look like The Godfather, as it was shot on DV tape, but I’m particularly happy with how AT THE ZOO looks considering our no budget approach.

DF: What did you enjoy most: the actual shooting of the film or the editing process?

PS: I don’t like picking favorites, but since both the shooting and post production process were pretty much done simultaneously, I had a little bit more fun shooting than editing. Editing is fun for me, but doing it by myself didn’t feel as good as interacting with the actors. A few of them had a lot of suggestions for their character that I loved, and I was glad to see them through the LCD screen of the camera, telling them where to stand and all that. To give you an idea, I had a blast shooting the scenes at the school. There’s a scene in the middle of the film in particular that was a blast. Chasing a character with the camera on a steadicam made for a fun shooting day. We had so much fun, we even made a sketch called “The Plight of a Genius” which can be found on both YouTube and the film’s DVD.  That kind of fun can’t quite be done while working at your computer.

DF: Do you consider yourself an “actor’s director” and what does that phrase mean to you?

PS: I think it’s a little too early for me to categorize myself as an actor’s director. I definitely want to be that, but I don’t know if my experience with AT THE ZOO was enough to justify me calling myself that. There were two actors in particular (I’d care not to mention their names, but you could probably guess when you see the film) that I had trouble getting good enough performances out of, and that’s why I put them in the roles I put them in. The actors that I wanted to be good though, I felt were damn good. Eli Shumway, who plays Richard Cory, is a funny guy and a talented performer. He did the character justice, which makes it a shame that I can’t put him in another movie as he moved to CA before the movie even wrapped.

Tom Plunkett and Tom Jacobs (Harry and Richard’s father, Devon) were both perfect for their roles too. I kind of like to depend on my writing of the character to get an actor to do a good job than me telling them how to feel in a scene. I feel that the character needs to be readable to the actor before I even bother filming them. I did get a chance to tell an actor to “tone it down” or “give it more of this” if I felt like a scene wasn’t working. I always like doing that, so I’m partly there at least. To me, the term “actor’s director” is really good to describe people like the Coen Brothers or David Fincher. People who take an actor who’s for the most part adequate, and get amazing performances out of them. When an actor works with an actor’s director, they’ll end up being a better actor for it. Someone who’s not an actor’s director, is probably more interested in spectacle than story anyway to care about whether or not the actor did a good job.

DF: What have you got planned for your next movie?

PS: Since finishing the first drafts of AT THE ZOO, I’ve worked on a few other screenplays. A ghost story about a priest, a film about angels with superpowers, and one where a junkie makes a deal with the devil. All three of those have religious elements to them, so I’ve been dying to make all of them. But the one I want to do next is something completely different from my first, in that my little brothers can watch it. So what I came up with was FREDRICK, a puppet road trip movie. It’s about a group of puppets who are unaware that human beings like you and I exist. They live under the iron clad rule of a puppet named Count Goodoo, who claims to be their creator. One of them, Fredrick, finds out that their true creator is a human inventor named Wally Wilson. He and his two friends decide to steal Goodoo’s truck and go on the road trip to find Wilson. It’s much goofier of a script, but I feel like it will be quite a challenge and a lot of fun. I hope to get some new people in to lend the voices, but I know I want to work with Plunkett again.

DF: If somebody wants to see AT THE ZOO, how can they do so?

PS: While the film is sold on DVD, I’ve taken the liberty of posting the entire thing on one big chunk on YouTube and Blip. You guys can watch it for free here:

For those who like it enough to buy the DVD ( it comes with an audio commentary), you can find it on Amazon or here:

I hope you all enjoy it!

DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Parker Stanfield like?

PS: Unless I happen to be working, many would find my life pretty mundane, but when I’m not working on movies, I love doing the following things every day. I get my cup of coffee, and immediately boot my computer up. I proceed to go on one big YouTube binge and watch as many videos as possible as the day goes on. I can be rather lazy, but I simply love being entertained by the drama of the internet. For those who might be wondering, Retsupurae (The Mystery Science Theater of bad videos), The Spoony Experiment, and Hellsing920 (who does a series called Reaction and Review where he watches and reviews a movie) are among my favorite video posters. When I feel particularly curious, I watch tutorials about filmmaking, much of which I consider my film school.

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?

Parker Stanfield: Feel free to look me up on Facebook if you guys want to talk to me about anything. Feedback on the film, questions, suggestions, anything that comes to your mind. I’d like to improve with every film I make, and any criticism would be appreciated.  Those who happen to like AT THE ZOO can go to the fan page and like it here:







Action Jackson


Silver Pictures/Lorimar Film Entertainment

Directed by Craig R. Baxley

Produced by Joel Silver

Written by Robert Reneau

Whenever action movies of the 1980’s are discussed by movie fans, plenty of titles leap out right away: “Die Hard” “48 Hours” “Beverly Hills Cop” “Rambo” “Commando” “The Last Dragon” “Road House” “Tango & Cash” “Lethal Weapon” “Lone Wolf McQuade” “Predator” and at least two dozen more. Hell, even “Megaforce” and “Treasure of The Three Crowns” will get mentioned just for shits n’ giggles if nothing else. But nobody ever seems to remember ACTION JACKSON.  Which is a downright shame as the movie features Carl Weathers in a starring role for a change and for my money he showed he had what it takes to stand alongside Stallone, Schwartzenegger, Willis, Seagal and Norris as an Action Movie Hero.

Sgt. Jericho “Action” Jackson (Carl Weathers) of the Detroit Police Department has been riding a desk for two years since his demotion from Lieutenant.  In his pursuit of a hideously deviant sexual predator he nearly killed the man, almost ripping his arm off. This particular hideously deviant sexual predator happened to be the son of Peter Dellaplane (Craig T. Nelson) who has some bad wiring himself but hides it better. Being Detroit’s most powerful businessman enabled Dellaplane to get Jackson demoted.

But Dellaplane gets back on Action Jackson’s radar due to the horrific deaths of a number of influential officials of the city’s auto workers union. Dellaplane’s trophy wife Patrice (Sharon Stone) gets a whiff that something’s not right with her husband and confides in Jackson which gets her right dead right quick. Dellaplane frames Jackson for the murder. On the run from both his own friends and fellow cops, Jackson has to depend on the help of his network of street people and Sydney Ash (Vanity) Dellaplane’s singer/heroin-addict mistress  to clear his name and bring Dellaplane down before he assassinates the president of The Auto Worker Alliance. He’s also being hunted by The Invisible Men, Dellaplane’s cadre of ninja-like killers. It’s a lot to do in only 96 minutes but they don’t call him Action Jackson for nothin’

When this movie opened back in 1988 it was enough of a hit that there was talk of two, three and even four sequels to this picture. And considering the amount of time the movie takes to set up the large number of supporting characters in this one, it certainly feels like this was intended to be the first movie of a series.  During the course of the movie, Action Jackson picks up some interesting sidekicks such as Kid Sable (Chino ‘Fats’ Williams) an ex-boxer who now runs a fleabag hotel. Dee The Hairdresser (Armelia McQueen) who is a library of illegal information which she dispenses almost entirely in words starting with the letter ‘D’.  Mr. Edd (Prince A. Hughes) Sydney’s man-mountain of a bodyguard who speaks like a scholar and deplores using violence even though he’s very good at doing so. And Albert Smith (Stan Foster) a purse snatcher who faints dead away upon meeting Action Jackson for the first time, so fearsome is his reputation. And Action Jackson himself isn’t just a rogue cop running around blowing stuff up. He’s also famous as a local boy who made good as a celebrated athlete running track in high school and going on to graduate from Harvard.

Craig T. Nelson does a very good job of villainy in this one. One of the reasons I like ACTION JACKSON is that he’s not put up against some drug kingpin, terrorists or gang bangers. No, Dellaplane’s scheme is to gain control of the powerful auto unions (and back in the 80’s they were pretty powerful) and use their political clout to muscle who he wants into key government offices to benefit his business interests. His Dellaplane makes a very good adversary for Jackson as both men are evenly matched in intelligence, physical abilities and their need to win. It’s even pointed out to Jackson that Dellaplane actually is a lot like him.

Sharon Stone is surprisingly good as Dellaplane’s wife. She’s never much interested me as an actress but I found myself actually liking her a lot in this one. Vanity is just as gorgeous and as charming in this movie as she is in “The Last Dragon” and she has a nice chemistry with Carl Weathers. Sure, they go through the usual male/female bickering that I’m used to in Action Movies but if it’s done well, I don’t mind.

The direction by Craig R. Baxley is tight due to his having worked as a stunt coordinator and second-unit director on movies such as “The Warriors” “The Long Riders” and “Predator” as well as TV’s “The A-Team.” So he knows how to direct action and fight scenes that are sharp, energetic and full of power.

What else? There’s a lot of faces from 80’s movies and TV you’ll recognize here that turn in solid supporting performances such as Bill Duke, Robert Davi, Bob Minor, Branscombe Richard, Ed O’Ross, Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen from “Back To The Future”), Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. and Sonny Landham who along with Carl Weathers and Bill Duke was in “Predator”

And above all, ACTION JACKSON never loses sight of its purpose: it’s an Action Movie. It’s not designed to illuminate the human condition or cast an eye on the state of the world or contemplate existential middle-class angst. It’s supposed to deliver 96 minutes worth of shootings, impalings, stabbings, immolations, explosions, fights, out-of-control car chases, snappy one-liners, sexy women, bad guys and good guys beating up on each other and do it in the most entertaining manner possible.  ACTION JACKSON gets my highest recommendation.

96 minutes

Rated R

The Bourne Legacy


Universal Pictures

Directed by Tony Gilroy

Produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley

Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy

Based on a story by Tony Gilroy

Inspired by The Bourne Series written by Robert Ludlum

I will give THE BOURNE LEGACY credit for being original in one major area: it’s not a prequel or sequel to the previous three Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon. The events of this movie take place at the same time the events of “The Bourne Ultimatum” play out. Jason Bourne is mentioned a few times and we briefly see pictures of him but for all intents and purposes these are new characters dealing with a different level of fallout caused by Jason Bourne exposing Operation Blackbriar and Project Treadstone.

But after that I’m sad to say I can’t give THE BOURNE LEGACY any more credit after that. Matter of fact, by the time I got to the end of the movie (which has a terrific new version of Moby’s “Extreme Ways” playing over the credits) I felt the filmmakers owed me.

While Jason Bourne is in Manhattan carrying on cranky, CIA Director Kramer (Scott Glenn) and Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) bring in Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to help control the chaos. Turso and Byer are apparently part of a larger organization/conspiracy that has way more power than the CIA since Byer is able to sanction the dismantling of all CIA Black Ops programs. Including Operation Outcome which is genetically modifying super agents through blue and green pills that enhance physical and mental abilities via a virus that can actually restructure DNA. Byer also sanctions the assassination of all Outcome operatives.

One of these super agents, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is on a training mission in Alaska. He meets up with another operative, Number Three (Oscar Isacc) and caught by a blizzard, accepts Number Three’s invitation to stay the night. Kinda makes it easy for Byer to attempt to kill them both by using a U-CAV to blow up the cabin. Cross alone survives and somehow makes his way back to the lower 49 as he is out of blue and green pills and must get a new supply.

Virologist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) is the only one who can successfully make more pills, all the rest of her colleagues having been brutally murdered in what is for me the movie’s best and most suspenseful scene. Marta barely survived that massacre and it’s only through Cross showing up at her house in time that she survives a hit team of CIA agents sent to kill her.  From then on, it’s Cross and Marta trying to stay one step ahead of various attempts to kill them. The film jumps back and forth between them and Byers, Turso and a buncha other suits in a control room that would give NASA technicians fits of envy. They spend most of their time fretting about their dirty tricks being discovered.  Really.  That’s all they do. They also yell at each other a lot. Cross and Marta don’t do nearly as much yelling but they sure do a lot of running.

I really wanted to like THE BOURNE LEGACY a lot. There isn’t an actor in this movie I don’t like or didn’t turn in a solid, professional performance. Jeremy Renner with this movie goes up a dozen rungs on the ladder to being the Next Big Action Star. Edward Norton doesn’t know how to do anything less than be terrific in any movie he’s in and Rachel Weisz is way more interesting playing a scientist than a lot of other actresses who have played brainy types.

But it’s that first hour of THE BOURNE LEGACY that sank the movie for me. Now I don’t mind a movie that makes me work and makes me think about what I’m watching but there is so much that happens in the first hour that is not explained and characters introduced and I wasn’t sure of who they were or why they were there or what they were doing or why should I care about any of it. Maybe it would have helped if I had re-watched the first three BOURNE movies before seeing this one but I don’t think that really would have helped.  The only actors from those movies who are in this one are Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney but their appearances are little more than cameos.

John Gilroy did the editing for this movie. Now if you’ve been reading my reviews for a while you’ll note that I generally don’t mention editing unless it’s spectacularly bad and it is in this movie during the action and fight scenes. You can’t convince me that Aaron Cross is supposed to be an unstoppable fighting machine unless I can tell who he’s hitting and how he’s hitting them. Just a frantic blur of motion and bodies flying through the air don’t cut it for me. It’s not shaky-cam but it’s almost as bad.

Another thing that bothered me was the high number of innocent bystanders who get killed in this movie. If I’m correct and counted right, Aaron Cross kills at least six people who have nothing to do with the conspiracy trying to kill him and were merely people who were just doing their jobs. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And by the time I got to the ending I finally figured out why the movie is constructed the way it is. The studio is obviously so convinced this movie is going to be such a huge hit that a sequel is guaranteed and they needed to save a lot of story for that.

So should you see THE BOURNE LEGACY? I’m gonna grudgingly say yes. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s professionally made and the performances are good. But it’s just that whole confusing first hour that didn’t work for me and the poorly edited action sequences.

135 minutes


Better In The Dark #135

The Boys Outta Brooklyn commemorate the passing of the star of such films as THE WILD BUNCH, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK by inducting him into the Hall of Great, Great, Men. Hear Tom and Derrick discuss a wonderful career that saw Borgnine play heroes and villains, goofs and tough guys, main characters and supporting guys, all with his trademark wolf’s grin. Plus Eurocrime Expendables, what Snake Plissken and Jack Burton have in common besides being played by Kurt Russell, and a double feature of movies made when William Shatner was living in his van. You know you don’t want to ride that train, so get to clicking!

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Nocturne, The City That Lives By Night….needs a darker shade of protector



Revolution Studios

Produced by Nicholas Cage, Todd Garner, Norman Golightly, Graham King and Arne Schmidt

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Screenplay by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum

Based on “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick

One question folks like to ask me is this golden oldie: “Have you ever seen a movie so bad that you walked out on it?”  And I’ve always answered: “No.”  And don’t think that I stay to watch a movie all the way through out of some principal that I should stay to the end of a movie so that if I trash it later on I can do it fairly.  I stay because I’ve paid my money and I’m not getting up until I’ve seen what I’ve paid for.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of movies I’ve wished I’d walked out on.  I could give you a list in two minutes flat of 25 movies I wished I’d walked out on.  And NEXT is near the top of that list. NEXT is so appallingly bad that I don’t know who I feel sorrier for: the people who see it or the people who were contractually obligated to work on this movie.  At least I hope they were contractually obligated.

Cris Johnson (Nicholas Cage) is a third rate Las Vegas magician performing under the name Frank Cadillac.  He’s not flashy enough to play the big rooms.  He mainly works the small lounges where the losers nurse their drinks while trying to figure out how to tell their wives they’ve lost the kid’s college fund shooting craps.  Cris deliberately stays under the radar because he does have a gift that is akin to real magic: he can see two minutes into his own future and tell what’s going to happen to him before it happens.  He uses this talent to rake in some extra cash at the blackjack tables until one shitty night when he finds himself preventing a robbery that hasn’t happened yet and winds up on the run from not only the Las Vegas Police Department but also FBI Special Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore)


Turns out that Agent Ferris knows all about the special power Cris has, apparently from studying casino videotapes and somehow she’s convinced herself that Cris can help her find and stop a band of terrorists who have a nuclear device somewhere in Los Angeles that they’re going to denote in five days. Yeah, you read that right.  Terrorists have an active nuclear device on American soil and the FBI is chasing after a Las Vegas magician instead of trying to find the bomb.  Using his ability, Cris manages to stay out of the clutches of the cops and the feds as he desperately needs to find Liz (Jessica Biel) a young woman who keeps appearing in his visions of the future.  But these visions don’t take place two minutes in the future.  They apparently take place days and even weeks ahead.  Cris wants to find her to find out why.  This leads to a scene that is actually kinda amusing and clever: using his ability to see two minutes ahead Cris can actually ‘try out’ different approaches of meeting Liz until he finds one that works.


Now while Cris and Liz are falling in love and Agent Farris is tearing her hair out trying to catch up to Cris, the head terrorist (Thomas Kretschmann) finds out that the FBI is trying to catch Cris because they think he can help them.  In a stunning leap of logic that dazzled me beyond belief, Terrorist Number One pulls all of his people from their main objective of blowing up Los Angeles and sends them to kill Cris.  His reasoning?  Well, if the FBI thinks Cris can catch him then Cris has got to be killed at all costs.  You think the guy would do a background check or something before committing all of his people to such an action but NEXT never lets anything resembling common sense or logic get in the way of the next CGI action sequence.

Supposedly NEXT is based on a ‘novel story’ called “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick.  I’ve never read the story but I’d be willing to bet you my autographed copy of Clive Barker’s ‘Weaveworld’ that it bears no relation to the movie at all.  In fact, NEXT feels an awful lot like a television pilot on steroids.  It plays as if the Johnny Smith character from ‘The Dead Zone’ was the hero of ‘24’ instead of Jack Bauer.  To be honest, I think the character of Cris Johnson/Frank Cadillac to be interesting enough to sustain a television series and the ways he uses his power in the movie shows he’s a guy with brains. It’s a given that he can actually dodge bullets since he knows where a sniper is going to shoot him before the sniper pulls the trigger. And he can evade and escape his pursuers since he literally knows where they’re going to be before they do.  He can outfight just about anybody since he knows from which direction their punches are coming.  But there’s a goofy chase sequence where he orchestrates an escape that has a kind of lunatic Wile E. Coyote kind of deranged genius in the way one thing crashes over and flips something else over and causes something else to roll downhill.  There’s also a nifty scene where Cris ‘searches’ an entire ship by himself simply by running through his mind every possible route he could take through the ship and foreseeing how the multiple routes will end.


And even though “Ghost Rider” is the better movie (although not by much) I liked Nicholas Cage’s performance in NEXT much better.  Not once in “Ghost Rider” did I buy him as a daredevil motorcycle stunt rider but here, he inhabited the skin of this character very well.  Julianne Moore walks through her performance as if she just wants to get this over with, get her check and call Paul Thomas Anderson to beg him to have a role for her in his next movie.  After seeing Jessica Biel in “The Illusionist” and being highly impressed with her in that movie I was wondering if she was truly developing into a gifted actress or if it was just the director and the material of “The Illusionist” that made her look better than she was.  After watching her in NEXT I would say that yes, her performance in “The Illusionist” was a fluke.  And Peter Falk is in the movie for all of five minutes.  If you sneeze you’ll miss him.  The director Lee Tamahori knows how to direct action as anybody who’s seen “Die Another Day” and “XXX: State Of The Union” can attest but the action sequences in NEXT all were familiar to me, as if I’d seen them before.  Especially in the last 30 minutes that play like outtakes from ‘24’.

And the ending of NEXT…I sat there in my seat for maybe a minute not believing that they actually had ended the movie the way it did.  I’m sure that the writers sat around congratulating themselves on how clever they were.  I don’t think they were clever at all.  I think they wasted my time and the time of everybody at the showing I saw it with.  I remember vividly seeing this in the theater while on vacation with my wife in Florida. I looked at some of the faces of the people leaving the theater with me and they were not happy faces at all.  That ending, combined with the silly, sloppy premise of the story and an overwhelming number of plot holes as big as craters on The Moon made for a horrendously disappointing movie.

Rated: PG-13

96 minutes

Shoot ‘Em Up


New Line Cinema

Written and Directed by Michael Davis

Produced by Susan Montford and Don Murphy

I’m going to give you the best recommendation I can give you for SHOOT ‘EM UP and it comes from my wife Patricia.  We went to see this movie and I was fully prepared for her to hate it.  86 minutes later the credits are rolling and I asked her what she thought of it.

“I loved it.” Says she, taking me totally by surprise and yet again reminding me that I should never be so arrogant as to presume to predict what a woman will think.

“What did you like about it?” I ask.

Patricia smiles at me and says quite seriously: “I like a movie that gives you exactly what the title says it will give you.”

And she’s right on the money: SHOOT ‘EM UP is exactly that and nothing more: a series of gloriously over the top, spectacularly inventive and violent shootouts that is hung on a plot so bizarre and outrageous that it leaves you with only two options: sit back and have a good time or just eject the DVD and watch  another movie.  Really.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is just that kind of movie.  It makes no apologies for what it is.  You either just have to go along or go home.

Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) is sitting on a bench waiting for a bus, eating raw carrots when a bleeding pregnant woman runs past him.  Five seconds later a bunch of guys with guns in a car screech past him, waving guns out of the windows and following the pregnant woman.  On an impulse, Mr. Smith follows and in a devastating gun battle wipes out the guys in the car and delivers the baby, severing the umbilical cord by firing a bullet through it.  The mother catches a round through the forehead and Mr. Smith goes on the run with the child.  He’s being pursued by Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) a former FBI forensic profiler gone bad who now leads a team of badass gunslingers whose only job is to recover the child Mr. Smith is now caring for.

Mr. Smith enlists the aid of Donna Quintano (Monica Belluci) a prostitute whose specialty really comes in handy: you see, she fulfills men who have breast feeding fantasies.  So Mr. Smith offers her $5000 dollars to breast feed the baby while he goes about the business of annihilating the army of killers Mr. Hertz sends after him and maybe while he’s doing that he can find out why everybody seems intent on killing this baby.

If I told you that Mr. Smith eventually learns that the baby is tied into a dying Presidential candidate whose life can be saved only by the bone marrow of infants and his campaign is being bankrolled by a arms merchant you’d call me crazy. But it is what it is.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is the kind of movie that John Woo used to make before Hollywood wrecked him.  It’s a ‘movie’ movie if you know what I mean.  It makes no pretensions at being realistic.  It throws the most improbable characters, situations and plot twists at you and you either say; “What the hell, I’m having fun” or you say ‘Screw it.”  You kinda get what writer/director Michael Davis is going for in the first confrontation between Mr. Smith and Mr. Hertz when they’re pointing guns at each other while Mr. Smith, who is chewing a carrot says; “What’s up, Doc?” and Mr. Hertz responds with: “You wascilly wabbit, you” Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti are playing live action versions of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd who are really trying to kill each other with no bullshit.

Clive Owen is one of my favorite actors and he is obviously having a fun time playing the stone-faced hero who can escape from any situation and who handles a pair of 9mm Berettas almost as good as Chow Yun Fat.  He and Monica Belluci make a great team as the dysfunctional surrogate parents of the child that they have inherited and there is something honestly redeeming about the way they determine to protect this child.  Paul Giamatti is the one actor who is having the best time in this movie.  It’s so unlike anything he’s ever played before and you can see it in his eyes how much he’s enjoying himself.  And yeah, Giamatti makes for one great bad guy.

And how about those gunfights?  Take it from me: every single gunfight in SHOOT ‘EM UP is good enough that any other director would have ended his movie with any of them.  But here, they come one right after another.  Just when I thought the one I just saw was so outrageous that it couldn’t be topped here comes another one that  not only thrilled me with the sheer energy and audacity of the choreography but made me giggle like a schoolgirl as well. The daddy of ‘em all has to be the gunfight that takes place between Mr. Smith and a dozen assassins who have all jumped out of a plane and are plummeting to the ground while blasting away at each other. It’s a sequence that absolutely has to be seen to be believed.

So should you see SHOOT ‘EM UP?  If you’re an action movie junkie like me, you probably already have.  SHOOT ‘EM UP doesn’t have a single realistic moment in the movie.  But I enjoyed the hell out of the fact that the actors and filmmakers were willing to throw everything out the window and just have a good time telling a really out there story and do it with incredible action and their collective tongues firmly in their cheeks.  SHOOT ‘EM UP gives you exactly what the title says it’ll give you and if you expect any more than that then you paid your money for the wrong movie.

86 minutes

Rated R for graphic violence and language.  And I mean it.  There’s an extraordinary amount of violence here as well as a pretty graphic torture scene near the end.  And don’t even get me started on the scene where Clive Owen and Monica Belluci are having sex and he has to fight off half a dozen guys trying to kill them and continue having sex with her. They tried to copy this scene in “Drive Angry” but trust me, SHOOT ‘EM UP does it way better.

Primary Colors


Universal Studios

Directed by Mike Nichols

Produced by Mike Nichols, Jonathan Krane and Neil Machlis

Screenplay by Elaine May

Based on “Primary Colors” by Joe Klein

A lot of you reading this review won’t remember the controversy and hullabaloo when PRIMARY COLORS hit the screens back in ‘98. The book it’s based on was originally credited to “Anonymous” as it is in the movie’s credits.  Written by political journalist/columnist Joe Klein, the book and movie were both supposedly based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. And after watching John Travolta and Billy Bob Thornton doing dead-bang near perfect impersonations of Bill Clinton and James Carville it’s hard to argue against that.  But even if you don’t know a dodgamn thing about Bill Clinton or his presidency, PRIMARY COLORS works as a spectacularly insightful political drama/satire/comedy on all levels due to the exceptionally strong work of the amazing cast. Sure, there are a few serious bumps along the way but on the whole, PRIMARY COLORS is a Must See Movie about American politics.

Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) is the idealistic grandson of a 1960’s civil rights leader.  He’s involved in American politics in small ways until he’s practically kidnapped into the presidential campaign of Senator Jack Stanton (John Travolta).  Henry’s extremely reluctant to take the job of Campaign Manager until he sees Stanton interact with the public, especially at a meeting with the students of an adult illiteracy class where Stanton brings everybody to tears with the story of how his Uncle Charlie won the Congressional Medal of Honor but didn’t have the courage to admit he couldn’t read. Uncle Charlie will also be influential in other ways later on in the story I dare not reveal.

Henry is totally swept into the campaign by Stanton’s trusted circle: his wife Susan (Emma Thompson) political strategist Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) Spokeswoman Daisy Green (Maura Tierney) and Howard Ferguson (Paul Guifoyle). And they hit the campaign trail which takes them all in directions none of them ever imagined a presidential campaign would take them. Mainly because Jack’s inability to keep it in his pants. One scandal piles on top of another as one of Jack’s mistresses comes forward with tapes of their romantic conversations. And if that wasn’t enough, one of Jack’s friends informs Henry that his 16 year old daughter is pregnant and claims Jack as the father.  To counter all this, Henry, Daisy and Richard bring in Libby Holden (Kathy Bates) to dig up the dirt on the Stantons and clean it up before it can be used against them. Libby has special qualifications for the job as she is a firm political ally of the Stantons and has known them since they were all radical college students.  But Libby suffers from the same disease as Henry. They both have what Richard calls “Terminal TB” They’re both True Believers in Jack Stanton and that belief may be more dangerous than anything else…

Believe it or not, despite my description, PRIMARY COLORS is actually very funny at times. And it worked for me because it made me feel as if I were really getting inside the heart of a political campaign and seeing how it operates.  I liked the scenes where it showed that while Jack Stanton is out shaking hands and kissing babies, it’s his staff that is actually making the pivotal decisions for his career. I liked the scenes where Richard walks into a room and immediately lies down on a bed or couch and fields questions from the other staff members and formulates strategy as if it’s something he was born to do.  I liked how Henry struggled to hold onto to his core values and principals even in the face of such blatant manipulation of public opinion and perception by not only his staff but everybody else involved in the presidential race.

Adrian Lester I knew from the British crime drama “Hustle” and was pleasantly surprised at seeing him in this movie. His British accent and manner slips through at times but he’s good at being our eyes and ears into the Stanton campaign. Maura Tierney is just as good as Daisy Green but then again, Maura Tierney is good in every role I’ve seen her play. Supposedly there was an interracial love subplot between Daisy and Henry that got cut and I can understand why. We see a couple of scenes with the characters together in bed and that’s all we really need to know because the real love affair these characters have is with politics and not each other.

And every time I see this movie I fall in love with Emma Thompson.  She’s simply amazing and totally into the role. I don’t think she’s going so much for a straight-up and down Hillary Clinton impersonation as she is trying to get us to understand the mindset and drive of women who link their destiny to that of men like Jack. The genius of the movie is that we never get a scene with Jack and Susan alone where we get to hear what they discuss in private, away from advisors and press and I like it that way.

But it’s John Travolta and Kathy Bates who clearly walk away with the movie.  As Jack Stanton, Travolta plays a man who is so full of charisma that people fall over themselves to just be in his presence. It’s a performance that just leaves me amazed every time I see it because Travolta does such a good job of disappearing inside of Jack Stanton. And he makes Jack Stanton his own character.  Sure, we see Bill Clinton in there because that’s who it’s supposed to be but Travolta puts spins on the character and I appreciate that he did so in order not to make Stanton a caricature.

And Kathy Bates as Libby is the soul and conscience of the Stantons.  She has a marvelous scene near the end of the movie where she shows Jack and Susan pictures of the three of them when they were young and idealistic and thought they could change the world. And then she begs them to make the right decision. They don’t.

So should you see PRIMARY COLORS? Absolutely yes. It’s a movie full of laughs but it’s also a movie full of seriousness. It feels honest and it feels real. It also feels joyous and sad. It gives hope and then takes it away.  I’m the first person to scoff at a movie that claims to be based on real people or events but somehow I got the sneaking suspicion that PRIMARY COLORS at times comes uncomfortably close to the truth of how politics in America really are.

143 minutes

Rated R