Movies

Lucy

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2014

Universal Pictures

Written and Directed by Luc Besson

Produced by Virginie Silla

I know quite a few people who have said that they’re not going to go see LUCY because it’s “scientifically inaccurate.” You see, the plot of the movie hinges upon the long held belief that human beings only use 10% of their brain capacity and that if we ever gained conscious control of our entire brain then the results would be unimaginable. It could be that we would possess godlike abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy, matter reconstruction, time travel, levitation. The 10% thing has long been debunked as myth and I can’t understand why just because LUCY uses it as a MacGuffin that would keep anyone from seeing it. After all, it’s scientifically inaccurate that a high school student can get bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly gain the ability to climb walls but that didn’t stop people from enjoying Spider-Man movies. It’s scientifically inaccurate that there are hundreds of alien races so close to humanity that they can breathe our atmosphere, mate with us and in general are configured much like humans but that didn’t stop people from enjoying the various Star Trek movies and television series.

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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is going to school in Taiwan and after a night of wild partying with her new boyfriend of a week is tricked by him into delivering a locked briefcase to Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik) a Korean crimelord. The briefcase contains a package of CPH4, a synthetic superdrug that increases brain function. Lucy is drafted into being a drug mule and the package is sewed into her abdomen. There are three other mules, all with identical packages inside their abdomens, heading for different European cities where they will be met by Mr. Jang’s people and the packages removed.

But due to a vicious assault, Lucy’s package leaks and releases CPH4 into her system. It begins expanding her brain functions and she finds herself with greatly enhanced physical capabilities and mental abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy and total control over electronic devices. Due to her now hypergenius status, Lucy realizes she needs the other three packages to continue to expand her capabilities and elevate herself to the next stage of human evolution.

She contacts Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) whose research into higher brain functions may be able to help her. And she enlists the aid of a French policeman, Captain Del Rio (Amr Waked) to find and capture the other mules. In the meantime, Mr. Jang is not far behind as he still wants his merchandise and Lucy’s head as well. And he’s bringing an army to get both.

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Now despite what you may have seen in the trailers, LUCY isn’t as much of an action film as you might think. Oh, sure there are gun fights and car chases but this isn’t start-to-finish-punch-punchy-run-run-kiss-kiss-bang-bang which you certainly have a right to expect from Luc Besson. LUCY actually spends quite a bit of its short running time speculating on neuroscience, biology, evolution, philosophy and metaphysics as Lucy struggles to understand what is happening to her and what she will do with her new found knowledge before she ascends to another level of existence.

It’s a lot of fun watching Scarlett Johansson turn from a giddy party girl into Dr. Manhattan from “Watchmen” with a splash of V’ger from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” added for flavor. As her intelligence and her powers increase, she loses more and more of her emotions but Scarlett Johansson still makes us care for this poor girl who certainly didn’t ask for this to happen to her but desperately wants to do the right thing before she becomes too omnipotent to care.

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Morgan Freeman quite frankly made me crack up because I have never before seen an actor who plainly knows that his one and only function in the movie is to provide plot exposition do it which such gusto. For most of the movie, Freeman is explaining to us what’s happening and what’s going happen and damn if he doesn’t do it in an entertaining manner.

LUCY is a movie that thankfully doesn’t take itself seriously and if you go into it with that attitude that it should be Serious Science Fiction then you’ll be robbing yourself of a solidly made, entertaining thriller than is full of enthusiasm and fun. Luc Besson has yet to make a movie that disappoints me and LUCY is no exception.

Rated R

90 minutes

The Purge: Anarchy

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2014

Universal Pictures

Written and Directed by James DeMonaco

Produced by Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Sebastien Lemercier and Michael Bay

In the interest of full disclosure I should be upfront and say that I had no interest at all in seeing THE PURGE: ANARCHY. I had seen “The Purge” at home about two months ago and thought it one of the most brain dead movies I’d seen in quite a while. Don’t look for a review of it here as I quite honestly wasn’t in the mood that day to rack up wordage on a movie I disliked. But if you do want to read an excellent review of it then I highly recommend you check out Mark Bousquet’s review of “The Purge”

So why did I go see the sequel of a movie that I didn’t like? The theater is why. Patricia and I used to go to a theater on Linden Boulevard here in Brooklyn. But we’ve switched to the Broadway Multiplex Cinema in Hicksville, out in Long Island. Why go all the way out there to go to the movies you ask?

Two-person wide motorized La-Z-Boy leather recliners. That’s why.

We have so fallen in love with the seats in this theater we ended up going to see THE PURGE: ANARCHY even though neither one of us were exactly eager about seeing it. And yeah, I found it just as brain dead as the first one. But I was comfortable as hell while seeing it.

For those of you who didn’t see the first movie (give praise for that) here’s the background. The United States is now administrated by The New Founding Fathers of America who have established The Purge, a 12 hour period taking place annually on March 21/22 from 7PM to 7AM. During this period all crime is legal. Citizens can rob, rape and kill with no fear of legal reprisal whatsoever. The New Founding Fathers insist that The Purge is necessary to give citizens a chance to release their negative and destructive urges. But it’s actually a form of population control as the poor and homeless are usually the victims of The Purge. The rich are rich enough to wait out The Purge in safety in homes that are more like fortified bunkers.

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Diner waitress Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) hurries home to barricade herself in her apartment along with her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) and terminally ill father (John Beasley) Married couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) stop at a market to get some groceries before heading to the house of Shane’s sister to spend the night. Police Sergeant Leo Barnes quietly assembles an arsenal of guns and assault rifles before strapping on his body armor and climbing into his armor plated car. He plans on a very special Purge.

Through a complicated series of horrifying events these five people find themselves thrown together, trying to survive the night. They lose the car and are forced to take to the streets, avoiding hordes of bloodthirsty Purgers. During the course of the night they learn that The Founding Fathers have been sending out their own death squads to increase the body count by killing off the lower classes. And if that weren’t enough, the Big Rich have been hiring their own squads to kidnap people and bring them to secure locations where the Big Rich play The Most Dangerous Game. They hunt people, Purging in complete safety as they have weapons and their prey doesn’t.

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When it got to this part in the movie where our five heroes are on the run on foot I realized that the writer/director wanted so bad for this to be a John Carpenter movie as the situation was one that sort of reminded me of Carpenter’s classic “Assault On Precinct 13” turned on its head. But THE PURGE: ANARCHY is so determined to be So Serious and Say Something Profound About America it’s really not that much fun or that interesting to watch. The movie could use a whole heap of social satire ala the original “Death Race 2000” or “The Running Man”

It also doesn’t help that the characters are so thin that I really couldn’t get interested in what happened to them. There’s an attempt to generate some sympathy for the married couple who have agreed to separate but since I don’t know these people, why should I care if they separate or not? And I really can’t get with a movie that wastes the extraordinary talent of Michael K. Williams. He plays Carmelo, leader of an army of resistance fighters determined to bring down The New Founding Fathers and end The Purge. But for most of the movie we see him ranting and raving on a TV screen and he doesn’t show up in the flesh until near the end of the movie when it’s far too late for him to save it.

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And maybe it’s just me but I simply can’t buy that on a night where any and all crime is allowed, everybody turns into a homicidal maniac bent only on slaughtering everybody in sight. Me, I’m either robbing a bank or looting a Costco, a Wal-Mart or a Target. None of this is shown, except for the super of Eva’s building who has rape on the brain. Apparently everybody in America waits for this one night just so they can go blood simple.

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So should you see THE PURGE: ANARCHY? If you liked the first movie then you most likely have already seen this one. But if you haven’t, stay away from it and wait for it to show up on Netflix. It’s not even worth matinee prices.

Unless of course, your theater has two-person wide motorized La-Z-Boy leather recliners.

103 minutes

Rated R

The White Bus

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1967

Woodfall Film Productions

Directed by Lindsey Anderson

Produced by Oscar Lewenstein

Screenplay by Lindsay Anderson and Shelagh Delany

Based on a story by Shelagh Delaney

If you asked me to explain why I decided out of the clear blue to record THE WHITE BUS and watch it, I couldn’t tell you why. I’d never heard of this movie before and it has no names I recognize as far as the actors or director goes. Anthony Hopkins does have an extremely small role in this movie but I didn’t know he was in it until I read his name in the end credits. I was just scrolling through the guide looking for something to watch and the description of this movie sounded interesting so I set the DVR to record it later on. In fact, I forgot I had recorded the movie and didn’t get around to watching it until two weeks later.

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I watched it once. Got to the end, went to get myself something to eat and then sat down to watch it again. Three days later I watched it for a third time. That’s not as much of a chore as you would think since it’s a short film that’s only 46 minutes long. The reason why I watched it those three times is because the more I watched it the more it reminded me of the films of David Lynch and of “Carnival of Souls” directed by Herk Harvey. Not that it’s a horror film. But there’s a bizarre otherworldly feel to the film. It’s dreamlike and downright surrealistic at times. Strange events take place that are never explained and strange behavior that the characters in the movie just seem to accept calmly as if this kind of oddness happens every day. And in the universe of THE WHITE BUS maybe it does.

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The Girl (Patricia Healy) works in a dull office in a dull office building typing dull reports. It’s so dull she fantasizes about hanging herself right at her desk. Leaving work one day, she hops on a train that takes her to another city. She spends some time wandering around the city and seeing such things as a kidnapping that takes place in broad daylight and a man in an iron lung being transported by an entourage of priests and nuns. The Girl boards a white double decker tour bus. The tour group on the bus is a diverse one. Made up of retirees and foreign tourists. The bus makes stops at a steel mill, a science museum, an art gallery and a school. During the tour The Girl barely speaks a word and simply reacts and listens to her companions on this tour such as The Mayor (Arthur Lowe) who seems to be competing with the official tour guide.  Upon visiting a martial arts school to watch a Kendo match, one middle aged gentleman simply joins in the match, using his cane as a Kendo sword. And the final fate of the tour group and The Girl made me think of Herk Harvey and in fact, THE WHITE BUS would make a nice companion piece to “Carnival of Souls” as I saw certain similarities.

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THE WHITE BUS isn’t a movie that I suggest you put on your Must See list. But if you happen to run across it, by all means check it out. I think you’ll find it highly intriguing and visually interesting if nothing else.

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46 minutes

Dawn of The Planet of The Apes

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2014

20th Century Fox

Directed by Matt Reeves

Produced by Peter Chernin Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Based on characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver

Premise suggested by “Planet of The Apes” by Pierre Boulle

“Rise of The Planet of The Apes” was one of those movies that surprised me in a good way as I didn’t expect a reboot of the classic “Planet of The Apes” series to be quite that good. I appreciated how “Rise” had so much determination to be a true science fiction movie and not simply an action movie wearing a science fiction dress and makeup. And I think it succeeded. And now we have the sequel with continues and amplifies the story and it’s also a very successful movie on a lot of levels. Like “Rise” it doesn’t depend on the major battle at the end for the resolution of the issues raised by the story and the conflicts of the characters. In “Rise” the climactic battle happened simply because Caesar (Andy Serkis) wanted to take his army of formerly captive simians (now enhanced with ALZ which has greatly boosted their intelligence) out of San Francisco to live in the redwood forests north of that city. In this one, the climactic battle is the result of tragic misunderstandings and a stubborn refusal by some humans and some apes to even consider the concept of the two species living in peace.

Caesar and his colony of apes have lived and thrived in the ten years since they escaped captivity. They wonder if there’s any humans left as they haven’t seen any in two years. The pandemic known as the Simian Flu has pretty much decimated humanity. But there’s a community of genetically immune survivors still living in San Francisco who are getting a little desperate because they need a new power source.

Their only chance is to repair a power station at a dam smack dab in the middle of ape territory. After an initial misunderstanding, a human named Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is able to convince Caesar of the sincerity of their request and Caesar allows them to work at the power plant. This doesn’t fly at all with Caesar’s second-in-command Koba (Toby Kebbell) who points at the grisly scars crisscrossing his body and says that they are also human work. Koba still hasn’t forgotten the mistreatment he suffered at the hands of human scientists in the name of scientific experimentation. And on the human side there’s Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) the leader of the community who promptly arms his people and gives Malcolm three days to get the juice turned back on or Dreyfus will start turning up some juice of his own. Caesar and Malcolm walk a thorny road navigating their own diplomatic relationship and growing friendship as they try to keep the peace between their respective communities. What eventually happens is doomed to failure but I think that the ending tries to say that even in failure there can be nobility.

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DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES caught me at just the right time because I hadn’t been to a movie theater in nearly a month due to my lack of interest in a lot of the summer offerings so far. So I was starved for a good story, solid performances and eye-popping special effects and that’s exactly what I got. Andy Serkis is truly a stand-out actor. As Caesar he gives us a magnificent protagonist who earns his victories and his right to rule because of the strength of his character and the choices he makes for his people and not because he’s “The Chosen One” or destined to do so. Caesar makes his own destiny and he does it without a lot of angst or manufactured drama.

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Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Keri Russell (I can’t believe I sat through the whole movie thinking she was Jennifer Morrison) provide solid backup as three humans who more or less are mirror images of Caesar, his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and his oldest son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) who has a really interesting character arc of his own where his loyalties are divided between the ideals of his father and those of Koba. Much like any teenager of any race or species, Blue Eyes longs for the approval of his father but also wants to be acknowledged as being his own ape. He discovers during the events of the movie that those two goals are a lot harder to achieve than he thought. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much about Gary Oldman. Well, that’s because he really doesn’t have much to do in this movie, believe it or not. That’s not to say he doesn’t make his presence known. I mean, he is Gary Oldman, after all. But this movie is all about the apes. His role amounts to little more than a cameo on steroids.

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Matt Reeves showed me that he was a director worth keeping an eye on with “Cloverfield” which is the only Found Footage Movie I’d ever recommend to anybody and “Let Me In” a remake just as good as the original. Here he demonstrates that he can do big action scenes really well and most other directors could take lessons from him. Matt Reeves films his action scenes in these really majestic wide shots where you can actually see what is going on. Most so called “action” directors absolutely refuse to point the camera in one direction and insist on whipping it wildly around to the point where I can’t tell what the hell is going on. Thankfully, Matt Reeves realizes that audiences are paying to see the action. There’s a magnificent shot of of a hoard of apes on horseback firing automatic weapons as they charge the human settlement that I’m positive is a homage to a similar scene in “Lawrence of Arabia”

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So should you see DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES? Absolutely. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year so far and is a sequel that doesn’t have to stand in the shadow of its predecessor. In much the same way Blue Eyes earns the respect of his father, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES earns it’s respect as its own movie. Enjoy.

131 minutes

Rated PG-13

1776

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1972

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Peter H. Hunt

Produced by Jack L. Warner

Written by Peter Stone

Based on the stage musical “1776” with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone

The members of the Continental Congress are thisclose to signing the Declaration of Independence but Edward Rutledge (John Cullum) the representative from South Carolina is adamant in wanting the slavery clause removed before he will sign it. John Adams (William Daniels) is just as adamant in that it stay in. Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) begs his friend to give in just this once. Adams replies that posterity will never forgive them if they do. Franklin’s answer is one that I think says exactly why I love 1776 so much: “That’s probably true, but we won’t hear a thing, we’ll be long gone. Besides, what would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We’re men, no more no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed.”

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1776 treats the Founding Fathers as just that: men. Oh yes, they’re men of staggering accomplishments, intelligence and talents. But still just men. John Adams is obnoxious and disliked, even by his closest friends. Benjamin Franklin hides a devious manipulative nature and a tsunami-sized ego behind jocularity and razor sharp humor. Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) would much rather be home knocking boots with his hot wife (Blythe Danner) than creating a new nation. John Hancock (David Ford) just wants to be somewhere other than Philadelphia in the stifling hot summer. Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate) is a raging narcissist with an ego equally the size of Franklin’s but he’s only got half the brains. Stephen Hopkins (Roy Poole) is a cantankerous old bastard who apparently has joined Congress mainly because of the free rum he is constantly being served by the long suffering clerk McNair (William Duell).

I think that by presenting such towering historical figures in such a down-to-earth manner is exactly the way to go with 1776 which tells the story of how The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776. John Adams of Massachusetts heads up one faction that favors independence from England. John Dickenson (Donald Madden) of Pennsylvania leads the faction that wants to reconcile with England. Through debate and song we watch as these two factions discuss and argue the fate of their fledgling nation and it’s a lot of fun to watch them as they do so.

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It was a solid creative decision on the part of producer Jack L. Warner to cast the movie with actors who had been in the Broadway stage performance of 1776 as they know this material inside and out and play it accordingly. Howard Da Silva and William Daniels are tied with the acting honors in this one. Most people think of William Daniels as either the voice of K.I.T.T. from “Knight Rider” or Mr. Feeney from “Boy Meets World.” I always think of him as Dr. Mark Craig from “St. Elsewhere” or as John Adams here. Yes, his John Adams is abrasive and lacking in diplomacy but his motives are honorable and that softens his edges. And I think it’s an excellent idea to have two songs back to back: “Sit Down, John” and “Till Then” that show Adams from two different perspectives. “Sit Down, John” is sung by Congress and displays their disgust with him while “Till Then” is a tender duet Adams sings with his wife Abagail (Virginia Vestoff) where we see his softer side. Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson is also a standout, particularly in the later scenes where Congress ruthlessly tears apart the precious Declaration he has poured his soul into with their petty debates over the wording. Howard says more with his silence and the expressions on his face than he could have with pages of dialog.

But a musical has to stand and fall on the music and 1776 stands tall in this respect. “Sit Down, John” is a rousing way to start the movie, full of vigor and humor. “But, Mr. Adams” is both clever and witty as Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Roger Sherman (Rex Robbins) and Robert Livingston (John Myhers) argue in song about who should actually sit down and write the Declaration. My favorite is “The Lees of Old Virginia” which for me is one of the greatest show stopping songs in musical history. In fact, my only complaint with 1776 is that“The Lees of Old Virginia” comes twenty minutes into the movie and there’s really no other song after that one which comes close. Especially as sung by Ron Holgate who tears it up with such magnificent energy you can’t help but smile and sing along. And toward the end, the songs get darker and more somber such as “Is Anybody There” where John Adams really lets loose and expresses his frustrations. And “Molasses To Rum” sung by Rutledge in which he lays out explicitly the hypocrisy enjoyed by the Northern states when it comes to the issue of slavery. If you’ve never heard John Cullem sing, you’re in for a treat when you watch 1776.

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And should you watch 1776? If you’re a lover of musicals, you probably already have. If you’ve never seen it, I envy you watching it for the first time. It’s an absolute joy to watch from beginning to end. The cast is first rate and the songs are wonderful. Every year for the past ten years I’ve made it a point to watch 1776 every 4th of July as Turner Classic Movies faithfully shows it on that day. The only reason I don’t watch it more often is because I’m holding out for the Blu-Ray. But don’t you wait. If you’ve never seen 1776, get hold of a DVD copy and enjoy.

PG

142 minutes

The General’s Daughter and Arlington Road

So I’m going through this big blue notebook that I have on my desk that’s stuffed with character profiles, fragments of stories, research on technology and locations for future stories, character names, scraps of ideas for stories I’ll most likely never live long enough to write.  Every so often I’ll make an attempt to try and clear away some of the dead wood.  It’s a continual exercise in futility because I rarely throw away anything I’ve written because sooner or later it gets recycled into other stories.  And that includes the first two movie reviews I ever wrote.

Back around 1997/1998 we didn’t have a computer.  Instead, Patricia and I shared a WebTV that was an Internet access device that worked through your TV.  You plugged it into your phone line and voila, you were able to surf the web, send and receive emails, all that good stuff.  It wasn’t a computer but it was a good way for novices like us to get our feet wet as far as The Internet was concerned.

And it was by means of WebTV that I created the first version of “Derrick Ferguson’s Notebook” which was a website that mostly consisted of comic book reviews, television shows reviews…and oh, yes…movie reviews as well.

So I thought it would be fun for me to present here the very first two movie reviews I wrote.  After all, they’re sitting around not doing anything and I’ve already told you how much I hate waste.  I was tempted to rewrite them but that wouldn’t be fair at all and not nearly as interesting.  The only thing I’ve cleaned up is the grammar and spelling so 95% of what you’re about to read is unchanged from the day I wrote them around sixteen or so years ago.  Enjoy.

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THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER

1999

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Mace Neufeld

Screenplay by Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman

Based on the novel ‘The General’s Daughter’ by Nelson DeMille

THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER is a murder mystery set on an Army base.  Warrant Officer Paul Brenner (John Travolta) is an investigator in The Army’s Criminal Investigations Division.  He’s kinda like an Internal Affairs cop, only for the military.  When he’s on a case he can question Colonels, Generals, anybody he pleases and rank doesn’t matter.  And it’s a good thing for him since his latest case involves the horrifying brutal death of Captain Elizabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson) and Brenner’s quest to find her killer will bring him into contact with some very top brass.

Captain Campbell is the daughter of General Joseph Campbell (James Cromwell) and daughter dear was inconsiderate enough to get herself murdered just as The General is contemplating entering the political arena since he’s practically been promised the Vice-Presidency.

Brenner is assigned to the case by The General himself and told he has 36 hours to find her killer because after that it’s in the hands of The FBI.  The General’s loyal aide, Colonel George Fowler (Clarence Williams III) gives Brenner some advice on how to proceed with his case: “There’s three ways of doing things.  The right way, the wrong way and The Army way.  I trust you’ll know which way to go on this.”

Brenner acquires a partner, Warrant Officer Sara Sunhill and they begin the investigation into Elizabeth Campbell’s murder and the more they find out about her, they more they begin to suspect that the solution of the crime may be more frightening than the crime itself.

What exactly was Captain Elizabeth Campbell’s job in the Army’s Psychological Operations Division?  What kind of relationship did she have with her superior, Colonel Robert Moore (James Woods)?  What could have happened to Elizabeth in her last year at West Point that caused her psychiatric evaluation records to be sealed?

I liked THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER right from the start and it held my attention right up to the end.  There’s some good plot twists and I’m hoping that our military leaders aren’t as twisted in real life as the movie makes them out to be.

The cast has a good time with their roles, especially Travolta, Cromwell, Woods and Williams.  Travolta’s Brenner is a guy who’s shockingly good at his job and he obviously enjoys using his C.I.D clout to bring the big brass down a peg or two.  Travolta has a scene with Woods where they verbally joust, using their wits like rapiers in a psychological duel that’s just as suspenseful as a well-choreographed fistfight.  And James Cromwell does an excellent job as The General.  A good mystery well worth the time and rental fee.

116 minutes

Rated R

 

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ARLINGTON ROAD

Directed by Mark Pellington

Produced by Tom Gorai, Marc Samuelson and Peter Samuelson

Written by Ehren Kruger

First off I have to warn you about two things concerning ARLINGTON ROAD.  One: it’s a slow starting movie and you may spend the first forty minutes or so wondering when something’s gonna happen.  Do yourself a favor and keep watching.  Two: pay attention to what does happen because when you get to the shocking, jaw-dropping ending, everything that has come before clicks into place like a Rubik’s Cube and all the colors are there right where they’re supposed to be.

Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) lives and works in Washington, D.C. where he teaches a class on Domestic Terrorism at the local university.  He’s raising his nine-year-old son and dating Brooke Wolfe (Hope Davis) one of his graduate students.  Faraday’s still trying to get over the death of his wife, an FBI agent killed in action.  The FBI got hold of some bad information concerning an extremist group stockpiling weapons and Faraday’s wife paid for it with her life.

Through an action involving the son of his neighbors, Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack) Faraday becomes friends with Oliver and soon they’re sitting in Oliver’s backyard, drinkin’ beer, and kickin’ the willy bobo about terrorism, bombs and how screwed up the government is.  Y’know, regular backyard talk.

Faraday’s FBI friend Whit Carver (Robert Gossett) is glad Faraday is coming out of his shell through his relationship with Brooke and The Langs and Faraday himself is liking the way his life is going a lot.  Until he notices those blueprints of downtown D.C. office buildings that Oliver has lying around.  It’s probably nothing but Faraday’s paranoid has been reawakened and he does some checking on Oliver’s background.  And he discovers that Oliver changed his name years ago because he tried to blow up a government building in Kansas when he was just 17.  Faraday starts thinking and while he doesn’t like what he’s thinking he can’t ignore the very real possibility that Oliver Lang may be planning a new act of domestic terrorism.

Is Lang really planning a terrorist bombing or is Faraday just being a really, really nosy neighbor?  It’s a lot like Warren Beatty 1974 conspiracy classic “The Parallax View” in which you’re never sure what’s true and what’s not.  At least not until the ending and ARLINGTON ROAD has some ending.

I really can’t go into any more detail because ARLINGTON ROAD depends so much on the mood of paranoia it generates and I don’t want to spoil it for anybody who decides they might want to rent it.  Jeff Bridges doesn’t play a superhero that grabs a machine gun in each hand and sets out to stop the terrorists single-handedly.  He makes mistakes.  He jumps to conclusions with nothing to go on.  He can’t get anyone to listen to him or believe him.  He’s confused and scared and panicked that he might have placed the lives of his son and the woman he loves in danger.  More than anything else, he’s afraid that more innocent people are going to die and he can’t do anything to stop it.  He’s a man whose terrible loss is a weakness that allows him to be twisted and manipulated in such a way that really took me by surprise.

I can’t let the great performances of Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack go without a comment.  Robbins is the perfect next-door neighbor.  Always helpful.  Always smiling.  Just think twice when he offers to take your kid camping.  And Joan Cusack manages to be both creepy and funny at the same time.  She’s like the ultimate Stepford Wife, smiling and baking cookies while sweetly planning murder and mayhem.  I was shocked out of my seat twice and both times it was because of Joan Cusack.

ARLINGTON ROAD.  Watch it.  Then watch your neighbors.

117 minutes

Rated R

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Final Programme

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1973

Anglo-EMI Film Distributors Ltd./MGM-EMI Distributors Ltd./New World Pictures

Directed and Written by Robert Fuest

Produced by Sandy Liberson

Based on the novel by Michael Moorcock

I discovered Michael Moorcock during the late 1970’s. I was in High School and it was right about then that I got turned onto Sword and Sorcery thanks to John Aiken, a guy who I hung out with a lot back then as we went to the same high school and shared a love of comic books and fantastic fiction. Thanks to Marvel Comics “Conan The Barbarian” I discovered Robert E. Howard and it was John who handed me a copy of “Elric of Melnibone” and said that if I liked Howard then I would love this guy.

And John was right. I devoured Moorcock the same way I devoured Howard. And after I read all the Elric stuff I went on to read Corum and the Hawkmoon books, which I still think would beat the snot out of the “Lord of The Rings” movies if they were done right. In fact I loved everything Moorcock wrote until I hit the Jerry Cornelius books.

Jerry Cornelius is a character who appeared in a long series of novels and anthologies written by Moorcock from the 1960’s up until as recently as 2008. The first novel “The Final Programme” which is based on the movie we’re talking about now is for me the most accessible one. It’s also the most fun to read as for the first half it’s a modern retelling of a significant part of “Elric of Melnibone” with Jerry Cornelius as Elric, his brother Frank as Yrykoon and their sister Catherine as Cymoril. In the later novels I simply couldn’t get into what Moorcock was talking about as Jerry Cornelius became not a character but an avatar for Moorcock to explore his own opinions and thoughts on social issues. The Jerry Cornelius books became more about social satire and philosophy than anything else. Forget about the action adventure we were promised in the first book.

M8DFIPR EC002THE FINAL PROGRAMME follows the first half of the book pretty closely. Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch) superspy, adventurer and Nobel Prize winning physicist is summoned to attend the funeral of his father. At the funeral Jerry is approached by a consortium of scientists led by the enigmatic Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) who need a microfilm Jerry’s father had. The microfilm has the secret of “The Final Programme” a genetic code that will create a new being, a messiah that will lead mankind out of the end of the world that is soon to come.

Jerry really isn’t interested in all that. He just wants to get his sister Catherine (Sarah Douglas) away from the sinister clutches of his insane brother Frank (Derrick O’Connor) Frank has Catherine captive in the Cornelius ancestral castle which is protected by all sorts of lethal booby traps that can only be navigated by a member of the Cornelius family. Turns out that Frank has the microfilm and that sets off a worldwide chase after Frank. Eventually Jerry gets hold of the microfilm and turns it over to Miss Brunner and her scientists. But then he finds he’s in even greater danger as Miss Brunner considers him prime genetic material for the creation of her new messiah.

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The main reason to watch THE FINAL PROGRAMME is the direction of Robert Fuest who not only worked on “The Avengers” but directed “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” “Dr. Phibes Rises Again” as well as “And Soon The Darkness.” He throws in a lot of eye candy and wacky set pieces such as a vertical chessboard on a door. The only way to open the door is to move the pieces in the same manner as a famous chess game. If you don’t… There’s a scene in a club that is a giant pinball game where scantily clad girls and patrons are inside clear plastic balls.

final-programme-5Jon Finch is actually quite good as Jerry Cornelius and I wish he’d been given a better script to work with. He plays Jerry as a cynical superhero and it’s a lot of fun to see him run around with his needle gun in his black suit, gloves and frilly shirt nemesising evildoers when the script lets him do so. Jenny Runacre’s Miss Brunner is a character that shows a lot of promise in that she appears to be some sort of vampire that feeds upon the lifeforce of her lovers, male or female. But this is just another promising plot element that is left unexplained. Still, Miss Runacre commits herself to her character and that’s all I can ask from any actor.

Should you see THE FINAL PROGRAMME? Since it’s available to see on YouTube for free (and I’ve provided the link below) I would say Yes. Especially if you’re a fan of the work of Robert Fuest. The movie has some wonderful set designs and the energy of the actors can carry you past the dull parts as everybody in this one gives it their all. Mind you, it’s not a good movie and that ending is nothing less than than a slap in the face to the viewers who have committed their time to this movie. Still, it’s eccentric enough that I can recommend it to those of you who are Michael Moorcock fans like me who may be curious enough to check out what is the best known adaptation of his work to date. Enjoy.

Rated R

81 Minutes

Edge Of Tomorrow

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2014

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Doug Limon

Produced by Erwin Stoff

Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth

Based on “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

After all these years Hollywood has finally managed to do it. They’ve made a video game movie that actually is entertaining to watch and is clever enough that most people who watch it won’t even realize they’re watching a video game movie. But make no mistake; that’s exactly what EDGE OF TOMORROW is. Whenever the hero dies, his life is reset back to a starting point and he has to start all over again. But each time he gets a little further as he gains more knowledge and experience. And there are different levels where he has to accomplish certain tasks before he can move onto the next level.

The story begins in the fifth year of a vicious war humanity is waging against an alien race called Mimics. All of Earth’s armies have combined into the United Defense Force and it’s the job of a slick public relations officer, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) to keep the propaganda machine well oiled. He’s assigned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to provide on the spot coverage from the front line during Operation Downfall, an all-out invasion of Europe, which is entirely under Mimic control. Cage is no combat soldier and foolishly tries to blackmail the General to get out of the assignment. Brigham promptly has Cage arrested, stripped of his rank and thrown to the tender mercy of Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) and his squad of misfits.

Cage and the squad land on the beaches of Normandy and are quickly wiped out by the hordes of Mimics who have apparently been waiting for them. Cage doesn’t last five minutes but is covered in the blood of an Alpha Mimic and it’s this that “resets” him every time he dies. Every time Cage gets killed he immediately wakes up on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport on the morning of the day before Operation Downfall.

Now it doesn’t take Cage long to figure out what has happened and of course he can get no one to believe him. No one except Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) known as “The Angel of Verdun” due to her spectacular victory there where she slaughtered hundreds of Mimics by herself while wearing a Jacket.  Jackets are armored exoskeletons that effectively turn a soldier into a walking tank. It would do that for Cage if he could only figure out how to turn the damn thing on.

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Turns out that Rita once had the ability to “reset” as well and it was this ability that allowed her to kill so many Mimics at Verdun. Before she lost her ability she learned of The Omega Mimic which is the consciousness that controls all the other Mimics and can also reset time. Rita agrees to train Cage so that he can survive long enough to get them to The Omega Mimic and destroy it.

Once you get the gimmick behind the time loop, you can sit back and relax and just enjoy the mayhem. Cage gets progressively better at using his Jacket and since he remembers when and how he and Rita get killed in the previous life he’s able to use that knowledge to avoid getting killed the same way twice and get closer and closer to his goal. You’d think that a movie about a time loop would be repetitive but there’s some really funny moments thrown in to break up the grimness of the story. And I wonder if Rita isn’t a statement on video game players who have no patience with the game they’re playing when they can’t advance as when she gets frustrated she simply kills Cage to “reset” everything and start all over.

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The Mimics aren’t terribly clever enemies. Looking like great big whirling balls of tentacles they’re simply here to fulfill what every video game needs: something to shoot at. Don’t go in expecting a lot of characterization here either. We’re told exactly what we need to know about the characters, no more and no less. I did like how Tom Cruise wasn’t playing his usual gung ho Man Of Action who jumps into the fray with fearless abandon. Will Cage is a coward, straight up and he’s not in the least bit ashamed to admit it. He has to grow and develop into being a hero and Cruise sells it well.

It’s always fun to see Bill Paxton, no matter what and Emily Blunt does a more than capable job backing up Tom Cruise. So how does EDGE OF TOMORROW measure up against the other science fiction/action movies Tom Cruise has done? It’s light years ahead of “War of The Worlds” and “Oblivion” but doesn’t come close to touching “Minority Report” It’s an undemanding movie that does exactly what it’s designed to do: provide you with 113 minutes of spectacular action. It’s also a lot smarter than I expected and a lot more fun as well. It’s the best video game you’re going to see at the movies this summer. Enjoy.

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113 minutes

PG-13

 

 

 

A Million Ways To Die In The West

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2014

Universal Pictures

Directed by Seth MacFarlane

Produced by Seth MacFarlane, Scott Stuber and Jason Clark

Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

I’ll give Seth MacFarlane credit for his ambition in making a western comedy. Mel Brooks pretty much had the last word in that genre with his side-splitting “Blazing Saddles” a film that to this day I still consider the funniest movie ever made. And Mel Brooks is safe as A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST comes nowhere near the level of hilarity that “Blazing Saddles” does. Oh, it tries hard and there are some touches here and there that are homages to “Blazing Saddles”: the overblown theme music that sounds as if it were scored for a straight-up Western Saga. The townspeople who act as a Greek chorus commenting on the antics of the main characters. The gleeful politically incorrect jokes.

But where Seth MacFarlane goes off course that there are long stretches of the movie where I think he forgot he was supposed to be making a comedy. I appreciate his efforts to give us an honest love story in there but he had no idea how to smoothly integrate the two. So we get a comedy that stops dead in its tracks for the love story which in turn has to be put on hold when MacFarlane realizes he hasn’t given us a joke in the last five minutes.

It’s Arizona, 1882 and as failing sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) puts it; “Out here everything that isn’t you is trying to kill you.” People in the town of Old Stump die in horrible, sudden ways and Albert is miserable. The only light in his life is his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) who dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) a foppish dandy with a wicked mustache.

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During a bar brawl, Albert saves the life of Amanda (Charlize Theron) who has come to Old Stump with her brother. The two of them work on a friendship and Amanda encourages Albert to challenge Foy to a duel for Amanda’s hand in a week. Unfortunately, Albert is the worst shot in the West but luckily, Amanda just happens to be a markswoman of near supernatural skill who assures Albert she can teach him to shoot by then. Albert will need to be able to shoot but not for the reason he thinks. Amanda is the wife of Clinch Leatherwood, the most notorious gunfighter in the territory and when word gets back to him via Amanda’s brother (who really isn’t her brother but a member of Clinch’s gang assigned to keep an eye on her) that Amanda and Albert are getting way too close for comfort, Clinch comes to town intending to kill him.

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This actually is a pretty good Western story and if you took the comedy out of the movie entirely you still would have a solid Western, especially when the situation gets complicated with Albert and Amanda actually falling in love and Albert having to sort out exactly which woman and which life he wants. But where the problem comes in is that first of all the movie is simply too long to support such a slim story. Clocking in at 116 minutes there just aren’t enough jokes to justify that running time and as a result we have long stretches devoted to the love story which is actually kinda sweet and charming.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Seth MacFarlane’s performance but I myself didn’t have a problem with it. No, he’s no great actor but he has a sincerity and unpretentiousness about him that I like. He knows he’s no Marlon Brando and doesn’t try to be. He does the best with what he’s capable of doing and for me that was good enough. Liam Neeson is terrific as always but I think somebody must have slipped him an alternate version of the screenplay as he acts as if he’s in a serious Western. It’s Charlize Theron who walks away with the acting honors in this one. She looks like she’s having a ton of fun being in a Western and glides back and forth between the comedic and the dramatic without a hitch or a bump.

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Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman provided a lot of the laughs for me as a Christian couple who have a truly unique relationship. She’s the town’s favorite whore who insists that she and her fiancé (Ribisi) wait until they’re married to have sex. The highlight of the movie is the many cameos sprinkled here and there. Some of them you’ll get right away. Some you won’t. I had no idea Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGregor were in the movie until I read the credits at the end and there’s one cameo that had the audience we saw the movie with cheering and applauding.

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I have to say that the cinematography is absolutely fantastic. MacFarlane shot most of this movie in Monument Valley where so many classic Westerns were filmed and MacFarlane takes full advantage of the location. There are many scenes that are simply beautiful and it goes a long way to making A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST look and feel like a grown-up motion picture instead of like a TV pilot on steroids like “Ted”

So should you see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST? I say yes, but if you haven’t seen it yet, try and catch a matinee instead of paying full price or even wait to rent. It’s a funny movie but nowhere near as funny as it could have been. The too-long running time and thinness of the story means that there’s no way to justify the long lag time between the jokes. Still, the cast is fun to watch and what the hell, it’s the summertime. You won’t hear me say this very often but I will in this case; go see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST and be sure that when you turn off your cell phone before the movie starts, turn off your brain as well.

 

Rated R

116 Minutes

Brick Mansions

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2014

EuropaCorp/Warner Bros./Relativity Media

Directed by Camille Delamarre

Produced by Luc Besson, Ryan Kavanaugh and Tucker Tooley

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

I’m gonna save you a lot of time if you want to go back to web surfing, Tweeting or Facebooking. If you’ve seen the 2004 French action film “District B13” then there is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time and money on BRICK MANSIONS. Not that it’s a bad movie, mind you. BRICK MANSIONS is the filmic equivalent of a Big Mac, large order of fries and a large Coke and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’s all good. Turns out that I just happened to be in that mood and so, even though I’ve seen “District B13” (It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix, along with the sequel “District B13: Ultimatum”) I enjoyed BRICK MANSIONS for what it was.

In the near future, organized crime, uncontrollable violence due to gang warfare and drug dealing has turned the Detroit inner city housing project of Brick Mansions into a war zone. Unable to deal with the savagery, the authorities build a forty foot high containment wall around Brick Mansions, sealing it off from the rest of Detroit. The police set up roadblocks and checkpoints to prevent anybody from going in or out of Brick Mansions. It is controlled completely by the ganglords who rule like feudal lords over those citizens who were too poor to leave when they had the chance.

Undercover police officer Damien Collier (Paul Walker) dreams of the day when he can take down Tremaine Alexander (RZA) drug kingpin and arms dealer who is the unofficial mayor of Brick Mansions. Collier believes Alexander is responsible for his father’s death. Collier gets his chance to get close to Alexander when a genuine mission impossible is handed to him. Alexander has stolen a prototype neutron bomb that is going to detonate in 12 hours. Collier is assigned to get to the bomb and defuse it via a numeric code that will be given to him if he reaches the bomb in time.

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That’s a mighty big if but Collier is given help to do his job in the form of Lino Dupree (David Belle) a man of superhuman agility and athleticism who has taken it upon himself to stop Alexander’s drug dealing on his block. Collier isn’t sure he wants Dupree’s help once he finds out that Dupree killed a cop (don’t shed any tears, he was as dirty as a Kansas City whorehouse) and Dupree isn’t happy about teaming up with a cop as he distrusts any and all authority. All that goes out the window when they find out that Alexander has bolted the bomb to a Russian missile he just happens to have lying around and has tied Lino’s girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) to the missile. Alexander wants $30 million and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to fire the missile right into downtown Detroit. From then on it’s a race against time as our heroes have to battle their way through Alexander’s limitless supply of thugs to get to that bomb before it goes off.

And that’s all there is to it. BRICK MANSIONS doesn’t waste a lot of time in setting up the situation and introducing our characters then putting them into play. This is a stripped down action movie with just enough characterization so that we understand why Collier and Dupree are doing what they’re doing and no more. Anything else we need to know, we pick up along the way.

BRICK MANSIONS is one of the movies completed by Paul Walker before his tragically untimely death and it’s by no means a demanding role but one he does effectively. He’s not trying to build a character here and actually, with a little tweaking of the script and changing the name, this movie could easily have been sold a prequel to the “Fast and Furious” franchise as an adventure Brian O’Conner had before he hooked up with Dominic Toretto and his crew. That’s how similar the Collier character is to O’Conner. Walker doesn’t even try to give this guy a different look from O’Conner.  In fact, Walker goes through much of the movie wearing the same T-shirt, jeans and sneakers I’m pretty damn sure he wore in “Fast Five” and there’s two highly contrived car chases that weren’t in the original movie that I’m positive were placed in this one solely to get Paul Walker behind the wheel.

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Even though it was ten years since he starred in the original, David Belle doesn’t look as if he’s aged a day or slowed down a bit since then. Mr. Belle is one of the founders of parkour and his film work has helped to spread the art of parkour around the world. And with good reason. Watching him in motion is nothing less than breathtaking and reminds us that the best special effect in the world is the human body. In BRICK MANSIONS, David Belle recreates the opening scene in “DistrictB13” where after destroying 20 kilos of cocaine with bleach he escapes a gang of vicious thugs using parkour. Having seen the original just a couple of days ago, that scene is still fresh in my mind and it looked to me like Mr. Belle hadn’t lost a step in the recreation. The man looks as if he’s defying gravity as he leaps from rooftop to rooftop, swings from fire escape to fire escape, runs, leaps and dives in and out of windows. It’s exhilarating. But it’s too bad there’s not more it. One reason to watch “District B13” is because of the amazing parkour performed not only by David Belle but by his co-star in that movie, Cyril Raffaelli.

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RZA walks away with the “Who The Hell Let HIM In This Movie?” award. I give him big ups for not playing your stereotypical drug kingpin. Tremaine Alexander has unexpected depth and solid motivation for why he does what he does that pays off in the movie’s third act which seemed to me took the movie in a sudden direction wanting to become a profound statement on class in American society. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt holder Ayisha Issa starts out promisingly as what could have been a James Bond type of supervillain enforcer but ultimately disappoints with how really little she’s given to do once you stop and think about it.
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So should you see BRICK MANSIONS? Let me put it to you this way: if you’ve got ninety minutes to kill and you can catch a matinee, I say why not?  I myself have a great affection for this type of action movie I’m glad to see has come back to theaters. Action movies with no wires, no CGI, not filmed on virtual sets and with practical effects and real stuntmen doing real stunts. But it’s by no means a movie you have to rush out to see. So if you’d rather wait to Netflix it, by all means, do so. In the meantime, watch “District B13” You’ll enjoy it, trust me.

 PG-13

90 Minutes