Author: Derrick

Last Vegas

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2013

Good Universe/CBS Films

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Produced by Laurence Mark and Nathan Kahane

Written by Dan Fogelman

If you saw the trailer for LAST VEGAS you probably thought like me: that it would be a raunchy, senior citizen version of “The Hangover.” I imagined that Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline got together after seeing the “Hangover” movies and said; “Let’s show these guys how it’s really done.” And you’d be forgiven for thinking that way because that’s precisely how the trailers sold the movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. LAST VEGAS is two things: a Lifetime movie made for men and a 105 minute commercial for Las Vegas.

Michael Douglas is Billy who decides at a funeral for a friend that he wants to get married and proposes to his girlfriend. He contacts his three best friends: Paddy (Robert DeNiro) Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) who decide to throw him the best bachelor party ever in Las Vegas. They also think they can talk him out of marrying a girl young enough enough to be his granddaughter.

The situation is complicated by a couple of things: Paddy is still mourning for his wife who passed away a year ago. And he’s still pissed off at Billy for not coming to her funeral. Archie has to break out of his own house as his overprotective son won’t let him do anything since Archie had a minor stroke. Sam is bored to death living in a retirement community and sees the trip to Vegas as a way of getting back his zest for life.

This aging wolfpack heads to Las Vegas where they quickly become friends with lounge singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen) and she joins the guys on their last big adventure while becoming attracted to both Billy and Paddy and the two of them find themselves really becoming attracted to her.

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Trust me on this, I’m making LAST VEGAS sound a lot more than it really is. Considering the star power in this movie I expected a really outrageous comedy but what we get is a predictable, flat product. I’ve watched episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” that were raunchier than this movie. Which is really disappointing. I’ve seen these guys cut loose and get crazy in other movies and I was hoping to see that here. Nope. This is a movie made for senior citizens who don’t like to see violence, sex, drug use or a lotta cussin’ in their movies. It’s as bland as white bread with butter. And not that that’s a bad thing. I’m glad to see that Hollywood is acknowledging that there’s an audience out there who isn’t interested in seeing superhero movies, CGI blockbusters and hyper-violent action thrillers and are making movies for them so that they can get out and enjoy an afternoon or evening at the movies like everybody else. It’s a good thing.

To give them credit, Kevin Kline, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen all look like they’re having fun working together. I only wish that Joanna Gleason had more to do here as she’s a very talented actress and what she has here is little more than an extended cameo as Kevin Kline’s wife.

The guys spend the movie flirting with young cuties, showing the kids how to get down and party, drinking, playing blackjack, teaching life lessons to a bully (Jerry Ferrara) judging a wet bikini contest and just hanging out in Vegas, making it look like a really hip and fun place to be. Like I said earlier, it’s a commercial for Las Vegas and on that level, it’s a pretty good one.

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Of course by the end of the movie, the guys have all resolved their personal problems, Paddy and Billy have kissed and made up and Diana ends up with one of them. There’s not a single surprise in the movie and it’s so structured by the numbers that you can safely predict what is going to happen and when. That’s not to say it isn’t amusing or cute. It is fun seeing DeNiro, Freeman, Douglas and Kline working together and they do their jobs. They’re just not stretching themselves. They’re basically doing riffs on their patented screen personas and they do it well.

No need to draw this out. Wait for LAST VEGAS to come to Netflix. Or if you really have to see it, then catch a matinee.

105 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Chev Chelios Vs. Machete

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Grind House

Better In The Dark #154: The Sunshine Evictors Who Own Lisa And The Baby Homebodies (With Special Guest Des Reddick!)

Better In The Dark Episode # 154: THE SUNSHINE EVICTORS WHO OWN LISA AND THE BABY HOMEBODIES (With Special Guest Des Reddick!)
Once more The Boys Outta Brooklyn unite with their Brother From The North for a special 70’s themed Obscure Horror Movies Episode!  Join us as we discuss films about murderous old people, blind marauders, lollipop-sucking devils and adult babies.  Plus gratuitous Don Cheadle Ass, the question of who killed who in Electra Glide In Blue and the new reality series Satanic Orgy House! You know you don’t want Zalman King pulling on your wig, so get to clicking (and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @BITDShow)!
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12 Years A Slave

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2013

Regency Enterprises/Film4/Plan B Entertainment

Directed by Steve McQueen

Produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Bill Pohlad

Screenplay by John Ridley

Based on “Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup

 

Let me say this up front so that you won’t waste your time reading this review: if you’re the type of movie goer whose mantra is “When I go to see a movie I just want to turn off my brain and be entertained” then you should give 12 YEARS A SLAVE a pass. And I’m not saying that to put you down. Your movie choices are your own and God Bless. But 12 YEARS A SLAVE simply isn’t that kind of movie where you can turn off your brain. It won’t let you. It’s not mental bubble gum that you enjoy while it’s on the screen and then can barely remember what it was about the next day. And it’s not a casual date night movie. It’s not a movie you approach as light entertainment. I actually hesitate to call 12 YEARS A SLAVE an entertainment because of the subject matter and the way the story is told. It’s a movie that transports you right into the middle of the hell of slavery. It doesn’t turn away from the brutality, violence and dehumanization of slavery. I honestly haven’t had feelings like this watching a movie since I saw “The Passion of The Christ.” Unlike “Django Unchained” which uses slavery as a backdrop for its pulp spaghetti western inspired revenge epic, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is about the pure horror of slavery from start to finish and never once during its 134 minutes does it let you forget that.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in Saratoga, New York in the Year of Our Lord 1841. Solomon supports his wife and two children as a professional violin player. He’s a true gentleman of education and manners, quiet spoken and compassionate. He’s a man of property who owns his own home and he’s treated with respect by his white and black neighbors alike. So Solomon doesn’t attach any nefarious doings to two seemingly respectable white men who approach him about touring with their travelling show. The pay is good and they assure him he’ll be back home by the time his family returns from their own out of town trip. Solomon agrees.

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Solomon goes out for dinner and drinks with his newfound friends and passes out from what he assumes is too much drink. Actually he’s been drugged and when he awakens it’s in chains as he’s been sold into slavery. His protests that he is a free man only earns him hideously savage beatings. Renamed ‘Platt’ he’s transported along with other Shanghaied free black men and women to New Orleans where he is purchased by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and taken to work on his plantation. Master Ford actually isn’t that bad a master, Solomon says to Eliza (Adepero Oduye) whose children have been sold to another plantation. Eliza points out to Solomon with wickedly barbed common sense that just by the very way Solomon speaks it’s obvious he isn’t just another uneducated field nigger but Master Ford pointedly ignores that fact since that means he might have to acknowledge some facts that could land him in jail.

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Solomon’s real trials are still yet to come when in order to save his life from a sadistic overseer (Paul Dano) Ford has to sell him to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) who demands that his slaves pick 200 pounds of cotton a day. Each. If they don’t they are whipped. If that wasn’t horrific enough, the slaves are used as living pawns in a vicious war between Epps and his wife Mary (Sarah Paulson.) The main pawn being Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) a beautiful slave girl Epps uses as a spittoon for his sperm, brazenly flaunting it in front of his wife. Not only does Patsey have to endure being raped by him but suffer frenzied attacks from Mary. Solomon has to walk a fine line with the Epps, both of whom are clearly insane and possibly derive some kind of sexual satisfaction from their mutual abuse of their slaves. Solomon clings to the shreds of hope that somehow, someway he’ll be able to get word up north and get somebody, anybody to come down south with his papers proving he’s a free man and save him from this waking nightmare.

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I can’t emphasize enough that 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a difficult movie to sit through. Some may question if we really need a movie this graphic in its depiction of slave life on a southern plantation and I think we do. Sometimes movies shouldn’t be all about having a good time. It should be about making us feel and think about things we’d rather not feel or think about and on that level, this movie succeeds magnificently.

I really can’t pick out one actor over the other to award the acting honors to as everybody brings their A game to the court. I’ve enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor in other movies such as “Kinky Boots” “Serenity” and “Dirty Pretty Things” and in this movie, just as in those three he uses his incredibly expressive eyes to maximum effects, especially in a gutpunch of a scene where through his joining in singing a spiritual with the other slaves we realize that he has accepted his fate and committed himself body and soul to being a slave.

Michael Fassbender is utterly demonic as Epps and never less than believable. It would have been way too easy to have turned Epps into a mustache twirling Simon Legree but the complicated relationship he has with his wife and Solomon allows him to explore his character in interesting ways. Like many of the other white characters in the movie, Epps is aware that there’s something radically different about this slave. It’s that difference that causes Epps to alternately elevate Solomon at times and at others try to kill him.

Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey is nothing less than extraordinary. This is the kind of film debut that earns actors and actresses Academy Awards. There are some really disturbing scenes involving Patsey and Lupita Nyong’o handles them with sensitivity and real emotion. I can’t sing her praises enough.

Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t have a major role here but he more than makes the most of his screen time. This is a guy who I can easily see having a career like Michael Caine or Albert Finney as he’s that good. Michael K. Williams from ‘The Wire’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ has a pivotal cameo here as does Brad Pitt.

So should you see 12 YEARS A SLAVE. If I could I’d pay for all of you to see it, that’s how important a movie I think this is. But I also have to be fair to those of you who may be too sensitive for the horrendous brutality depicted so graphically and do not wish to see such. And there are many scenes of graphic violence. I can’t put it any plainer than that.

But if you want to see a movie that has the courage to not sugarcoat or trivialize the cruel, soulless brutality of slavery and is relentless in showing the atrocities done then by all means go see 12 YEARS A SLAVE as this is about a true horror story. One we all still live with today.

134 minutes

Rated R for extremely graphic violence

Escape Plan

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2013

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

Produced by Robbie Brenner and Mark Canton

Screenplay by Jason Keller and Miles Chapman

Story by Miles Chapman

My guess is that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had way more fun acting together than they thought they would in the two “Expendables” movies. In the first “Expendables” Stallone and Schwarzenegger shared the screen (along with Bruce Willis) for maybe two or three minutes. “The Expendables 2” gave Stallone and Schwarzenegger more screen time together but ESCAPE PLAN has them truly co-starring for the first time in an action movie together. And let’s be honest, seeing two of the greatest and most successful action stars of the 80’s in a movie together is the drawing power of this movie. What surprised me is that there also was a damn good story to go along with the pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger with Ah-nuld doing some really good acting.

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Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is partnered with Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) in a highly unusual security firm. Ray is an absolute genius at breaking out of maximum security prisons. To date he’s broken out of 14. The goal is to show where the weaknesses in the prison security are so that they can be corrected. Ray is offered an obscene amount of money by the CIA to test a top secret corporately funded prison. The Tomb is an experiment in escape proof prisons. The location is secret and unlike most prisons, since it’s run by a for-profit corporation, if you have enough money to pay them to keep somebody you don’t like locked up for as long as you like, it’s all good.

Turns out that Ray has been set up. Warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) informs him that The Tomb was built using Ray’s own textbook he wrote on how to build escape proof prisons. A book Hobbs keeps on his desk. The cell walls are transparent, the robotic looking guards have no problem beating prisoners into submission and Hobbs himself is totally merciless when it comes to maintaining order in his prison. Ray’s support team (Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) have no idea where he is or how to find him and Lester is no help at all

However, Ray still believes he can break out, using his method of Layout/Routine/Help. But the help this time comes in the hulking form of a fellow prisoner, Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who joins up with Ray. He’ll use his resources in The Tomb to help Ray and in return, when Ray breaks out, he’ll take Rottmayer with him.

Having spent an obscene amount of time during the 1980’s going to see their movies, I was delighted to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger back in action yet again. Yeah, yeah, I know that they’re older…but so am I. The screenplay affords them the opportunity to use their brains and wits more than they did in their past movies. If this had been made during the 80’s, Stallone and Schwarzenegger would simply have beat the hell out of everybody and walked out of the prison.

The surprising thing here is that Schwarzenegger walks away with the acting honors as he’s the comedy relief in this movie. I estimate he’s got 65% of the funny lines in the movie and it’s truly amusing to watch him and Stallone as a musclebound Crosby/Hope pairing. He also has a great scene where he has to provide a distraction for his partner and goes into a religious rant spoken entirely in German. And he proves that he’s still got it in the action scenes. There’s a part where he finally gets his hand on a heavy machine gun and the audience in the theater just about went nuts because we all knew what was coming next.

Almost as good is Faran Tahir as Javed, the leader of the prison’s Muslim population who joins up with Ray and Rottmayer. The way the relationship between him and Rottmayer is really interesting to watch and it’s always a bonus to see a Muslim character in this type of movie depicted as a man of respect, devout faith and intelligence.

Stallone plays a more cerebral character than we’re used to him seeing and I liked how his smarts was displayed. When Ray is explaining how he’s going to execute his plans and breaks it down step by step, it’s jaw-droppingly good the way director Mikael Hafstrom uses CGI diagrams and floor plans to help explain.

Jim Caviezel is nothing less than amazing and if you like him playing a good guy on TV’s “Person of Interest” then you’re going to enjoy even more seeing him play a bad guy. He’s the best kind of bad guy: the one who doesn’t have to raise his voice because he has no doubt he’s in control. Vinnie Jones as his chief enforcer/guard does his usual barking-mad-foaming-at-the-mouth badass. Nothing special here but Vinnie Jones has got this type of role locked down so well it should have his copyright on it.

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Wish I could say more about Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson but the truth of the matter is that they really don’t have much to do other than yell at Lester about why isn’t he doing anything to find Ray. Sam Neill picks up a neat paycheck for playing The Tomb’s doctor. I hate to see an actor of Sam Neill’s talent wasted and he’s here in this movie for one reason and one reason only: to send an email.

So should you see ESCAPE PLAN? If you’re a fan of 80’s action movies and want to watch a movie that’s a throwback to that decade, Yes. If you’re a fan of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Yes. If you want to watch a decent action thriller that’s a little bit smarter and better acted than it needed to be, Yes.

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115 minutes

Rated R: For violence and language. The “F” bomb must have been dropped about fifty times in this movie so if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Better In The Dark #153: Just A Couple Of Good Time Guys Sitting Around Jawing-LIVE!

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In our latest episode, The Guys Outta Brooklyn welcome one of their major fans–and a major presence on our Facebook Group–into The BiTD Cave for a freeform conversation about pop culture.  Listen in as Tom, Derrick and Jay as they discuss the James Bond Expanded Universe, childhood television memories, Stanley Kubrick, reality television, tabloid talk shows and the silliest kaiju ever created!  You know kids are people, too (WackadoWackadoWackado), so get to clicking, and don’t forget to Twitter us at @BITDShow!

http://earth-2.net/podcasts/betterinthedark/betterinthedark.php

Machete Kills

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Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Produced by Rick Schwartz and Alexander Rodnyansky

Screenplay by Kyle Ward

By now the story has become legend: 2010’s “Machete” was a full length feature film based on a fake trailer made for 2007’s “Grindhouse” which was a double feature of movies directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment to recreate the movie-going experience of the 1970’s when grindhouse theaters showed double features of popular exploitation movies. Five fake trailers were made and of those, two movies actually were made; “Machete” and “Hobo With A Shotgun” starring Rutger Hauer. I’m still holding out for “Werewolf Women of The SS”

“Machete” turned out to be a really damn good movie with Danny Trejo backed up by an all-star supporting cast including Robert DeNiro, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsey Lohan, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba. Yeah, the plot was pure pulp absurdity but it was grounded in just enough reality to make the whole thing go down well. And even among all the wild shootouts and Danny Trejo chopping up everything in sight with everything he can get his hands on (one of the enjoyable bits of the movie is how Machete can improvise bladed weapons on the fly) Robert Rodriguez managed to get in some pretty on-point political statements about Mexican-American relations and illegal immigration. It also had Electra and Elise Avellan in nurses uniforms blasting away at rednecks with machine guns, so for me the movie was a major success.

Wish I could say the same about MACHETE KILLS. The initial set-up is just fine and had me sitting up straight to see what was going to happen next but director Rodriguez and his screenwriter Kyle Ward just didn’t know when to leave well enough alone. Be patient just a bit and I’ll tell you where the movie went wrong for me.

Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) and his girlfriend/partner Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) are in the middle of breaking up an illegal arms sale on the Texas/Mexico border. Members of the Texas Army Reserve are selling military weapons to a Mexican drug cartel. A third party intervenes, leaving everybody dead except for Machete who is captured by Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler) who intends to give Machete a quick trial and even quicker execution for messing up his arms deal.

Reprieve comes in the form of not the governor but The President of The United States himself; President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez/Charlie Sheen) who has a mission for Machete. He wants Machete to go back down to Mexico to find and assassinate the revolutionary Marcos Mendez aka The Madman (Demian Bichir) who has a nuclear missile pointed at Washington, D.C. Machete agrees and upon finding Mendez discovers that he has three separate personalities: there’s one who is an out and out psychopath and that’s the one who wants to destroy Washington, D.C. There’s the revolutionary who only wants what’s best for Mexico but doesn’t want to slaughter millions to do it. And then there’s the core personality which is that of Mendez, the undercover government agent who started this whole thing simply to get information on the drug cartels and was forced to watch his wife and daughter be killed.

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This is where I wanted Rodriguez to stop. Right there he had way more than enough plot and characters to work with and I’d have been happy with Machete struggling to stop this three-in-one villain. But no…he’s got to throw in Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) and her crew of machine gun toting prostitutes to chase Machete as well as the metamorphing killer El Camaleon (Lady Gaga/Antonio Banderas/Cuba Gooding, Jr./Walton Goggins) This is before we get to the second half of the movie which is, believe it or not, a straight-up riff on “Moonraker” with Mel Gibson as the James Bondian villain Luther Voz who reveals that Mendez’s missile is only one of many he gave to mentally unstable world leaders so that they could fire them off at each other and destroy the world while Voz takes his selected people to his orbiting space station.

Now by the time we’ve gotten to this point of the movie, we’ve abandoned all reason and entered the realm of WTF as Rodriguez throws armies of killer clones at Machete, has him using a raygun that turns people inside out…and it doesn’t stop there. Voz rides around in a replica of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder. We’ve got people being machine-gunned and then brought back from the dead.  Mexican workers are being teleported off the planet to labor on Voz’s space station and She (Michelle Rodriguez) no longer runs The Network from a dilapidated warehouse. Her new headquarters are as high-tech as the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. It’s as if Machete/ Danny Trejo has been suddenly transplanted into the middle of a Derek Flint movie.

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Before watching this movie I had listened to the review done by the talented guys over at The Grind Pulp Podcast and they mentioned that they thought one of the things about this movie that was detrimental to it was that it looked “too good” and after having seen it for myself, I understand perfectly what they meant. Rodriguez totally abandons the grindhouse look that MACHETE KILLS cries out for. The movie should have looked aged, beat-up. In fact, the trailer for “Machete Kills Again…In Space!” looks the way this entire movie should have looked. I never thought I’d be complaining that a movie looked absolutely spectacular but in this case I am. MACHETE KILLS has amazing cinematography and it shouldn’t. The cinematography should look like shit. Seriously. You know what I mean.

But I’m glad to say that everybody in this movie looks as if they were having an absolute party making it. Everybody shamelessly steals every scene they get with Sofia Vergara and her gatling gun bra being among the standouts. But I totally loved Amber Heard as a secret agent whose cover is that of a professional beauty pagent contestant.

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The running gag of El Cameleon is the best one in the movie among all the craziness going on. Mel Gibson is totally off the wall as a James Bond supervillain and if you have any further doubts about how loopy everybody else is then lemme just say that when mollyfoggin’ Charlie Sheen is your most restrained cast member, nothing more needs be said.

And I have to mention Alexa Vega. As I said in a post on the Better In The Dark Facebook page, after seeing her in this movie I now have to throw away my “Spy Kids” videos as I fear that I can no longer watch the innocent little girl she was in those movies without having pervy old man thoughts of her as Killjoy infecting my consciousness:

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So should you see MACHETE KILLS? Chances are most of you reading this already have and so my review is irrelevant. For those of you who haven’t I’d recommend you catch a matinee if you really want to see it. Otherwise, wait for Netflix or until you can see it for free somewhere. I gotta say this is actually this first movie Robert Rodriguez made that I felt disappointment when the final credits rolled. I think he had the opportunity to continue to make Machete a truly unique Mexican hero and dropped the ball with this movie.

However we do have Electra and Elise Avellan in tuxedo jackets, stiletto heels and mini-skirts blasting away at clones with machine guns so the movie isn’t a total loss.

107 minutes

Rated R