Author: Derrick

The Family

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2013

EuropaCorp/Relativity Media

Directed by Luc Besson

Executive Producer: Martin Scorsese

Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla and Tucker Tooley

Written by Tonino Benacquista based on his novel “Malavita”

If you’ve seen the trailer for THE FAMILY then perhaps like me, you were expecting a mob/crime comedy with plenty of laughs and inside jokes at Robert DeNiro’s expense, poking fun at the numerous gangster roles he’s played with able backup from Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones who have made more than a few crime/mob movies themselves and know the genre.  And yes, there are some laughs in THE FAMILY at the beginning of the movie.  But the longer the movie goes on, the fewer the laughs and by the time it gets to the end there’s an appalling no holds barred bloodbath with a platoon of mob hitmen shooting it out with a pair of teenagers wielding automatic weapons like Rambo on his best day while Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer are locked in a hideously vicious fight to the death with a killer roughly the size of Richard Kiel.

Giovanni Maznoni (Robert DeNiro) was once one of the most powerful mob bosses in Brooklyn and as such became a threat to The Boss of Bosses, Don Luchese (Stan Carp) who orders a hit on Maznoni and his family that fails. Giovanni turns snitch and Don Luchese goes to jail.  The Maznoni family enters the Witness Protection Program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and relocated to Normandy, France.

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This assignment is far from being easy duty for Stansfield. In fact, the Maznoni family are a collectively big pain in his ass due to the fact that they simply cannot stop being what they are: a mob family.  Giovanni has…anger management issues, let’s say and he’s easily irritated by such things as his tap water coming out brown and nobody taking it seriously. Wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t take kindly to the stereotypical comments that she overhears by pretending she doesn’t speak or understand French. Her response to such is…explosive, shall we say. Daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) is a sweet, soft spoken girl who falls in love with a substitute teacher who tutors her in math. She also has a ferociously violent streak that a Klingon would envy. Son Warren (John D’Leo) is a grifter/forger/hustler who in no time at all has his own junior mafia in his new school.

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The situation is complicated by Giovanni writing a tell all book about his life in the mob. A book that both Maggie and Stansfield tell him can never be published. And through a really bizarre coincidence I just couldn’t buy, Don Luchese finds out where the Maznonis are hiding out and sends a hit team to whack ‘em out and that takes us to the blood-soaked final showdown between the mob and the Maznoni family.

Here’s what I liked about THE FAMILY: The performances are first rate but I wouldn’t expect anything less from old pros like DeNiro, Pfeiffer and Jones.  But the kids step up to the plate and hold their own with the seasoned pros.  Dianna Agron I know from “Glee” and I was surprised to see how well she inhabited this character. The movie was actually almost over before I finally remembered where I knew her from. Judging just by this movie I’d say she has a career in movies if she wants it.  John D’Leo is also a lot of fun to watch as he maneuvers his way towards running his school with the finesse and cold-bloodedness of a Michael Corleone.

I also liked how the movie doesn’t have the kids or the wife BMWing about how they want to have a normal life and why can’t they just be a normal family.  This is a mob family who have accepted and embraced their lifestyle.  They’re criminals and they don’t make any excuses for it. For them this is their “normal” life

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The direction by Luc Besson is also first rate as I would expect from the writer/director/producer of some of my favorite action movies such as “Leon: The Professional” “The Fifth Element” the “Transporter” series “Taken” “Taken 2” and “District 13.”  And I think that’s the problem with THE FAMILY. Luc Besson is an action director and he seems uncomfortable with the comedy in this movie which puzzles me as I’ve seen “Angel-A” a couple of times and I know he can do comedy. Maybe what threw me off is the level of violence in THE FAMILY which is really bloody and brutal and really doesn’t mesh well with the comedy. Oh, there are are funny scenes and funny lines, don’t get me wrong. But right after that we’ll get a scene like the one with DeNiro and the plumber.  It’s a scene that would have been more at home in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” than in a movie that is billed as a comedy.

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So should you see THE FAMILY? I say Yes. There’s really nothing wrong with THE FAMILY except for what I feel is an uneven tempo and off center mix of really violent violence with humor.  It’s as if Luc Besson really wanted to make this a full blown thriller but every once in a while an AD poked him with the script and reminded him he had to throw in a joke here and there.

112 minutes

Rated R

Riddick

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RIDDICK

2013

Universal Pictures/Entertainment One

Written and Directed by David Twohy

Produced by Vin Diesel, Ted Field and Samantha Vincent

Based on characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat

When we pick up on RIDDICK it is five years after the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and he has learned what many a king before him has learned: it is easier to seize a crown than hold it. You may remember that at the end of that movie, Riddick slew The Lord Marshall (Colm Feore) and thereby himself ascended to the throne of The Lord Marshall, leading The Necromongers, religious fanatics who either convert or destroy entire planetary populations. “The Chronicles of Riddick” left us on quite a cliffhanger wondering what the most dangerous man in the galaxy would do with his own army.

Turns out not much at all. Riddick is double-crossed by Commander Vaako (Karl Urban) who tricks Riddick into going to a desolate planet that may or may not be Riddick’s homeworld of Furya. Riddick is left to die on that planet. A fate that he himself thinks he deserves because in those five years he allowed himself to get soft, to lose his edge. As this is a hostile planet full of hideously dangerous lifeforms that appear to do nothing but eat anything and everything, Riddick sees this as the perfect opportunity to get back the edge he’s lost, strip away the surface veneer of civilization and return to what he once was: the perfect killing machine.

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I can’t help but wonder if after the ambitiously baroque excess of “The Chronicles of Riddick” David Twohy and Vin Diesel sat down to plot out this story and themselves wondered if they had lost their edge as well. Maybe they had taken Riddick too far from the character they had established with such overwhelming success in “Pitch Black.” Maybe they felt they had to pull Riddick back to his roots and for that reason RIDDICK plays out a lot like “Pitch Black 2.0” in the third act.

And for the record, I like “The Chronicles of Riddick” a lot. I approve of an ambitious failure much more than a play-it-safe success. The only problem I have with that movie is that it’s actually two movies in one. Once Riddick leaves Helion Prime and gets to Crematoria it’s an entirely different movie with its own supporting cast of characters that have nothing to do with the cast back on Helion Prime. That’s not to say it’s not exciting stuff to watch and if you haven’t seen “The Chronicles of Riddick” yet then consider that your homework assignment for the weekend. But let’s get back to RIDDICK.

Riddick is enjoying his life on this godforsaken planet, regaining his killing edge but the real test is to come when two separate groups of mercenary bounty hunters show up to capture Riddick dead or alive. One group is led by Boss Johns (Matthew Noble) the father of William Johns (Cole Hauser) from “Pitch Black.” He wants answers from Riddick as to his son’s fate. The other group is led by Santana (Jordi Molla) who simply wants Riddick’s head. The cat-and-mouse game of blood between Riddick and the mercenaries quickly develops into an all-out war for survival when the humans are attacked by a horde of savage monsters and must work together to stay alive long enough to get off the planet.

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RIDDICK doesn’t add anything to the mythology of Richard B. Riddick and his universe the way “The Chronicles of Riddick” did and to me it feels like a movie whose only purpose is to re-establish Riddick as the character he was in “Pitch Black” before sending him off on further adventures. I hope so as I’m looking for a proper resolution of the Necromonger storyline in the next Riddick movie as there is still a lot of potential there to be explored.

The acting in RIDDICK is nothing to write home about but neither is it anything to sneer at either. It’s the type of acting that serves the need of the story. No more and no less. Jordi Molla walks off with the acting honors here. Santana is a delightfully goofy character that wouldn’t be out of place in a spaghetti western. Fans of Katee Sackhoff require nothing of her except to stand around looking hot, talk plenty of shit and beat the piss outta guys and so they will be more than satisfied with her performance here.

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As for Vin Diesel himself, he slips back into Riddick’s skin with no problem and he again reminds us that when he wants to, Vin Diesel can act really well. I loved the first half hour or so of the movie which shows Riddick on his own, learning how to survive on the planet. I would have loved it more without the voiceovers but I appreciated the reminder that Riddick isn’t a thug or an ignorant killer. He’s actually very intelligent and perceptive with an inner life he shows to nobody.

So should you see RIDDICK? Yes. Even though to me it feels like a placeholder and not a complete movie. It feels to me like a warm-up before Twohy and Diesel tell a Riddick story that they really care about. It’s not a terrific nail-biter like “Pitch Black” or a pulse-pounding planet-hopping space opera like “The Chronicles of Riddick” but it’s an honest and respectably entertaining entry in the series with hopefully more to come. Enjoy.

118 minutes

Rated R

Better In The Dark# 152.5: BITD’S On The Box Office Grosses Of Destruction

In this messy show, Tom and Derrick looks at the rather epic levels of carnage in this year’s summer blockbuster and wonders…is it too much?  Are we being desensitized to all this damage?  Is it fair for Hollywood to call back to 9/11 for lazy affirmation of their plot developments?  And why is Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM a more responsible film than Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL?  All this, plus the Superman sequel Tom really wants to see!  You know you don’t want to wander Tokyo carrying a red shoe, so get to clicking (and don’t forget to Twitter us at @BITDShow!)

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Intermission

First of all, my thanks to those of you who emailed me and queried via Facebook and IM if everything was okay as you noticed that I appeared to have stopped writing reviews. It was most thoughtful of you and I don’t take your continued interest and support in my work for granted.

And no, I haven’t stopped writing movie reviews. Matter of fact, in the next couple of days you’ll probably be seeing reviews of two Elizabeth Taylor movies I’ve watched recently; REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE and SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER. Those are two movies that are so psychologically screwed up and downright horrifying (indeed, SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER should be classified as a horror movie) that they should be seen just so that today’s movie fans should see the kind of films that were being done back in the 50’s and 60’s that people were going to see without blinking an eye. Movies like these would be considered ‘independent’ films now but back then, this was mainstream fare.

But enough of that. You’ve heard me go on about that subject enough. I’ve seen my share of movies this summer: PACIFIC RIM, which along with 2 GUNS were the best movies I’ve seen this whole summer. PAIN & GAIN which surprised me a lot considering Michael Bay directed it. It’s the best movie he ever done and has an Oscar worthy performance from Dwayne Johnson.

THE BIG WEDDING was a delightful family comedy/drama and TURBO was just charming enough not to be boring.

What else? Oh, THE BUTLER. That turned out to be a lot better than I thought it would be. Who knew that Oprah Winfrey could carry being the comedy relief in a movie so well?

For some reason something or somebody didn’t want me to see THE WOLVERINE as no matter when I planned to go see it, something would come up or I didn’t get to the theater on time for the designated showing. From what I’ve heard of it, I didn’t miss much.

Worst movies I saw this summer? No contest. THIS IS THE END and ELYSIUM. I wouldn’t sit through those movies again if you paid me.

So why didn’t you see reviews of those movies? Because I just simply decided to take a break from writing reviews is all. I found myself going to a movie and halfway through the flick I was starting to write the review in my head instead of just sitting back and enjoying the experience of watching a movie. And you can’t do both at the same time. Trust me. It takes away from the pure undiluted fun of watching a movie when you’re nitpicking at the performances and special effects and cinematography at the same time.

In short, it was time for me to step back and just enjoy going to the movies again as a movie lover. You will be seeing reviews of most of the movies I’ve named as I plan on seeing them again. Especially PACIFIC RIM and 2 GUNS which I’ll probably get on Blu-Ray the day they come out and yes, they are that good.

So the reviews will be coming again, never fear. I’ve put too much work into The Ferguson Theater to just abandon it. And I love writing reviews too much to stop doing that either. But you know what they say…a change is a good as a rest. And I’ve had a good one. Once again, thank you for your patience, your support and your time.

So that’s enough about me. What movies did you see and enjoy this summer?

 

And this is a picture of the first movie theater I can remember going to: The RKO Albee that used to be in downtown Brooklyn. Saw my first Kung Fu movie there: FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH.  

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Judging by the movies being shown I’d say this picture was taken during the early 1970’s. ’73 or ’74.

Better In The Dark #152: Upstream Video: Navigating Netflix Streaming with Guest Host Adam Orchekowski

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Netflix Streaming may be the greatest thing to happen to movie fans since VHS, but there’s so much to see that The Boys Outta Brooklyn enlisted the aid of that Instant Depths videonaut Adam Orchekowski to help our listeners discover the gems hidden within that service.  Along the way, the trio celebrate The Kids In The Hall, Tim Roth, The Apple, DC Animation and so much more!  It’s an hour plus of great film conversation you don’t want to miss.  You know you don’t want to become a chicken, so get to clicking (and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @BITDShow)!

Better In The Dark #151: The Terrors Outside His Window: The Career of Richard Matheson

The Boys Outta Brooklyn mark the passing of one of the greatest genre writers ever to work a typewriter by posthumously inducting Richard Matheson into The Hall of Great, Great Men.  Join Tom and Derrick as they discuss key films both inspired by and written by Matheson, talk about the way he helped bring horror fiction into the living room and gives out some writing advice.  You don’t want to be chased around by some freaking Zuni Fetish Doll, so get to clicking (and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @BITDShow)!
 
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Rocky Balboa

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2006

MGM

Directed and Written by Sylvester Stallone

Produced by Kevin King, Charles Winkler and David Winkler

 I’m sure that many of you, like me, damn near laughed yourself into a hernia upon hearing that Sylvester Stallone was going to make yet another ‘Rocky.’ movie.  After I had my sore ribs taped up and calmed down, I thought about it a little more.  And I found that I really couldn’t blame Stallone.  Here’s a guy who sincerely worked his ass off to step out and try other roles and expand his range as an actor.  I confess that I thought “Oscar” was hilarious and he should have gotten one for “Copland.”  Unfortunately the public got burned one too many times by stinkers such as “Judge Dredd” “Assassins” and “Driven.”  Rocky Balboa is the character Sylvester Stallone is most closely identified and really, is it at all surprising that Stallone would want to bring the story of his favorite and best loved character to a better and more fitting end than the one we got in the dismal and depressing “Rocky V”?  So I sat down with my wife and popped in the DVD of ROCKY BALBOA with an open mind but not expecting much from the movie.  And by the time it was over I was pleasantly surprised at how much I had actually enjoyed the film.  ROCKY BALBOA wasn’t made just so that Stallone could pick up a fat paycheck.  The movie is amazingly emotional and heartfelt.  To honest, boxing really doesn’t matter in this movie.  It isn’t about boxing at all.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has settled down to a quiet retired life in Philadelphia.  He owns and operates a small but fairly successful restaurant named after his beloved Adrian (Talia Shire) who has died.  His pain-in-the-ass brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) continues to be a pain-in-the-ass but Rocky loves him still.  He’d like to be able to share more of that love with his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) but Junior’s too busy being pissed at his dad for having once been the world heavyweight champion.  Junior feels he’s living in his old man’s shadow and has never had a chance to be his own man and earn his own respect.  Rocky spends his time at the restaurant telling the same old stories to patrons who have heard the stories so many times that they recite them right along with Rocky.  He’s bored, he’s depressed and he misses Adrian with a heart wrenching desperation that he can barely articulate.

Things begin to happen that awaken the embers of the fire that used to burn in his heart: he’s introduced to Marie (Geraldine Hughes) a bartender who Rocky actually met years ago when he was just starting out as a boxer and she was a little girl.  She’s grown up now and has a son of her own; Stephenson (nicknamed ‘Steps’) who’s a little wary of what he sees as a punch-drunk has-been keeping time with his moms.  As it turns out, Rocky is less interested in romance than he is in simply making new relationships and trying to keep his life moving forward.  He wants to let go of the past but doesn’t know how and maybe befriending Marie and her son will help.

One night ESPN runs a remarkably realistic computer simulation that matches Rocky in his prime against the current undefeated heavyweight champ; Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon.  Dixon’s career is a massive joke as all his opponents have been picked for him, opponents that couldn’t go three rounds with Elmer Fudd.  The computer simulation has Rocky winning the match which doesn’t sit well with Dixon and his camp at all.  Rocky decides to get back into shape, get his boxing license back.  Maybe do a few small exhibition bouts in the neighborhood.  He just wants to get back in the ring and maybe by boxing he’ll connect with the man he used to be.  And that’s when Dixon comes with an offer: they should do the fight for real in Las Vegas.  Dixon’s people have convinced him that this is a way for him to change his image.  For Rocky, it’s a chance for one more last fight.  To prove to himself that he still has what it takes.  And as he says to Paulie; “Maybe if I let The Beast out one more time and let him burn himself out in the ring, I can let go.”  It’s a fight in which both men will confront what truly lies in their respective hearts.

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I said earlier that ROCKY BALBOA isn’t about boxing and I stand by that.  Certainly we have the scenes of Rocky training along with Bill Conti’s classic “Gonna Fly Now” playing majestically on the soundtrack and we have The Big Fight where Rocky and Dixon wallop the piss outta each other for 10 rounds.  But before we get to that we have a wonderfully written and acted drama about a man who was once rich and famous who is now alone and dealing with what his life has become.  He’s lonely, he’s sad, he’s getting older and he’s trying to find a way to deal with all that.  Yeah, they kinda fudge things a bit to explain how a 60 year old guy can legitimately climb into the ring to slug it out with a man half his age but to give Stallone his credit, he looks in damn good shape.  There’s a bit of flab, sure.  But there’s still plenty of muscle to go along with it.  And his acting is flawless.  He knows this character and has lived with him for 30 years.  This is some of the best acting that Stallone has done in years.  Even in the scenes where Rocky gets a little preachy (and there’s two of them: one where he’s fighting to get his license back and the other is where he gives his son a verbal kick in the ass) Stallone sells ‘em because they’re obviously from the heart.  I felt what he was saying and I felt they were coming from a place that Stallone himself has drawn upon all these years when things weren’t going so well for him in Hollywood.

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Burt Young doesn’t have as many hijinks as Paulie in this one.  The closest we get is when Paulie offhandedly remarks to Rocky that he’s making some back door deals for endorsements.  But he’s there in Rocky’s corner during The Big Fight when it counts.  And speaking of The Big Fight, real life boxer Antonio Tarver is a different sort of opponent for Rocky in this one.  He’s not a brutal killing machine like Clubber Lang or an unstoppable colossus like Ivan Drago.  In fact, Mason Dixon really isn’t a bad guy at all.  He really believes in the sport and is hungry to leave a legacy behind him such as the one Rocky has.  Geraldine Hughes basically stands in for Talia Shire in this one right down to scenes of her at ringside yelling, “Go, Rocky!” just like Adrian used to do.  But the relationship between them is sweet and remarkably mature.  Milo Ventimiglia doesn’t come off nearly as well as the other actors and he’s got some scenes you’ll be tempted to fast forward through.  I will say this: he and Sylvester Stallone do look as if they could actually be father and son.  Amazingly, their lips even twist in a similar fashion when they talk.

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And compared to the other ‘Rocky’ movies, The Big Fight in ROCKY BALBOA is fairly realistic.  Take the fights with Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago in previous movies. If boxers actually fought that way in real life, somebody would be carried out on a stretcher with a sheet over their face by the end.  And the sound of the punches landing isn’t as loud.  In the other ‘Rocky’ fights the punches sounded as if bones were exploding every time one landed.  Not here.  It’s a brutal fight, sure, but only slightly amped up.  Just enough to keep you in suspense as to how this thing is going to turn out.

So should you see ROCKY BALBOA?  I’d say yes.  It’s not a big summer blockbuster or high octane action extravaganza.  It’s a simple film that tells its story without any bells and whistles.  It draws you in with its careful character study and even though it’s so By the Numbers I think you’ll be entertained.  There’s absolutely nothing that’s in this movie you haven’t seen in other ‘Rocky’ movies but Sylvester Stallone manipulates the familiar elements as cleverly and as nimbly as a monkey juggles coconuts and he comes by the resolution at the end honestly.  It’s a far better way to end the series than ‘Rocky V’ and I really enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would.  I think you will too.

102 minutes

Rated PG