New Line Cinema
Written and Directed by Michael Davis
Produced by Susan Montford and Don Murphy
I’m going to give you the best recommendation I can give you for SHOOT ‘EM UP and it comes from my wife Patricia. We went to see this movie and I was fully prepared for her to hate it. 86 minutes later the credits are rolling and I asked her what she thought of it.
“I loved it.” Says she, taking me totally by surprise and yet again reminding me that I should never be so arrogant as to presume to predict what a woman will think.
“What did you like about it?” I ask.
Patricia smiles at me and says quite seriously: “I like a movie that gives you exactly what the title says it will give you.”
And she’s right on the money: SHOOT ‘EM UP is exactly that and nothing more: a series of gloriously over the top, spectacularly inventive and violent shootouts that is hung on a plot so bizarre and outrageous that it leaves you with only two options: sit back and have a good time or just eject the DVD and watch another movie. Really. SHOOT ‘EM UP is just that kind of movie. It makes no apologies for what it is. You either just have to go along or go home.
Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) is sitting on a bench waiting for a bus, eating raw carrots when a bleeding pregnant woman runs past him. Five seconds later a bunch of guys with guns in a car screech past him, waving guns out of the windows and following the pregnant woman. On an impulse, Mr. Smith follows and in a devastating gun battle wipes out the guys in the car and delivers the baby, severing the umbilical cord by firing a bullet through it. The mother catches a round through the forehead and Mr. Smith goes on the run with the child. He’s being pursued by Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) a former FBI forensic profiler gone bad who now leads a team of badass gunslingers whose only job is to recover the child Mr. Smith is now caring for.
Mr. Smith enlists the aid of Donna Quintano (Monica Belluci) a prostitute whose specialty really comes in handy: you see, she fulfills men who have breast feeding fantasies. So Mr. Smith offers her $5000 dollars to breast feed the baby while he goes about the business of annihilating the army of killers Mr. Hertz sends after him and maybe while he’s doing that he can find out why everybody seems intent on killing this baby.
If I told you that Mr. Smith eventually learns that the baby is tied into a dying Presidential candidate whose life can be saved only by the bone marrow of infants and his campaign is being bankrolled by a arms merchant you’d call me crazy. But it is what it is. SHOOT ‘EM UP is the kind of movie that John Woo used to make before Hollywood destroyed his talent. It’s a ‘movie’ movie if you know what I mean. It makes no pretensions at being realistic. It throws the most improbable characters, situations and plot twists at you and you either say; “What the hell, I’m having fun” or you say ‘Screw it.” You kinda get what writer/director Michael Davis is going for in the first confrontation between Mr. Smith and Mr. Hertz when they’re pointing guns at each other while Mr. Smith, who is chewing a carrot says; “What’s up, Doc?” and Mr. Hertz responds with: “You wascilly wabbit, you” Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti are playing live action versions of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd who are really trying to kill each other with no bullshit.
Clive Owen is one of my favorite actors and he is obviously having a fun time playing the stone-faced hero who can escape from any situation and who handles a pair of 9mm Berettas almost as good as Chow Yun Fat. He and Monica Belluci make a great team as the dysfunctional surrogate parents of the child that they have inherited and there is something honestly redeeming about the way they determine to protect this child. Paul Giamatti is the one actor who is having the best time in this movie. It’s so unlike anything he’s ever played before and you can see it in his eyes how much he’s enjoying himself. And yeah, Giamatti makes for one great bad guy.
And how about those gunfights? Take it from me: every single gunfight in SHOOT ‘EM UP is good enough that any other director would have ended his movie with any of them. But here, they come one right after another. Just when I thought the one I just saw was so outrageous that it couldn’t be topped here comes another one that not only thrilled me with the sheer energy and audacity of the choreography but made me giggle like a schoolgirl as well. The daddy of ‘em all has to be the gunfight that takes place between Mr. Smith and a dozen assassins who have all jumped out of a plane and are plummeting to the ground while blasting away at each other. It’s a sequence that absolutely has to be seen to be believed.
So should you see SHOOT ‘EM UP? If you’re an action movie junkie like me, you probably already have. SHOOT ‘EM UP doesn’t have a single realistic moment in the movie. But I enjoyed the hell out of the fact that the actors and filmmakers were willing to throw everything out the window and just have a good time telling a really out there story and do it with incredible action and their collective tongues firmly in their cheeks. SHOOT ‘EM UP gives you exactly what the title says it’ll give you and if you expect any more than that then you paid your money for the wrong movie.
Rated R for graphic violence and language. And I mean it. There’s an extraordinary amount of violence here as well as a pretty graphic torture scene near the end. And don’t even get me started on the scene where Clive Owen and Monica Belluci are having sex and he has to fight off half a dozen guys trying to kill them and continue having sex with her. They tried to copy this scene in “Drive Angry” but trust me, SHOOT ‘EM UP does it way better.
Directed by Robert Fuest
Produced by Albert Fennell and Brian Clements
Written by Brain Clements and Terry Nation
AND SOON THE DARKNESS is regarded as a minor cult classic of 70’s British horror movies and now, after finally seeing it for myself I can see why. It’s a neat, effective little horror/suspense movie that gets the job done with a subtle, intelligent script and solid acting. It’s my kind of horror movie as the situation is one that could plausibly happen and the characters behave as I can see actual people in such a situation would act and as such I can take the movie much more seriously than say, the brain dead 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS. But that’s another review. Let’s get back to this one.
Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice) are two young and very pretty English girls on holiday, biking through the French countryside. They’re best friends but they have very different idea of how they want to spend their holiday. Jane’s insistent they stay on schedule and she’s constantly consulting her stack of maps and checking their time against their itinerary. Cathy wants to slowpoke it, take their time and enjoy the local color.
Part of that local color is Paul (Sandor Eles) a handsome young French man who catches Cathy’s eye in a café the two girls stop at briefly to get directions. They go further on up the road and Paul passes them on his motorcycle, only to stop at a roadside cemetery. In a blatant attempt to kill time and wait for Paul to catch up to them, Cathy insists that the girls stop to sunbathe at the side of the road. This leads to a quarrel where Cathy tells Jane she’s fed up with being bossed around and that she’s going to have some fun. Jane leaves Cathy and continues on by herself, stopping at another café a little ways up the road. After a while, when she’s cooled off, she goes back for Cathy.
Except Cathy’s gone. Jane finds her bicycle but except for that, there’s no sign of Cathy at all. Jane frantically searches for her with no luck. She runs into Paul, who claims to be a police detective and offers to help. He certainly is more willing to do so than the local gendarme (John Nettleton) who treats Cathy’s disappearance with a laid-back casualness that frustrates Jane to no end. The locals are of no help because Jane doesn’t know any French and so can’t tell them what’s wrong. And then it turns out that Paul has disturbingly graphic knowledge of a girl who a couple of years ago was raped and murdered near the same spot where Cathy disappeared…
If you have any knowledge of the careers of the writers and director of this movie then you know these guys aren’t amateurs. Robert Fuest directed the two classic “Dr. Phibes” movies. Brian Clements was a producer and main script writer of “The Avengers” as well as writing so many other classic British TV series and movies such as “Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter” which he also directed. Terry Nation created The Daleks and if I have to tell you who they are then you’re in the wrong place. He also created several notable British science fiction TV series including one of my favorites; “Blake’s 7”
Add to this the considerable acting talent of Pamela Franklin who starred in what I consider the second best haunted house movie ever made; “The Legend of Hell House” and was a standout in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” where she played the intellectually and sexually precocious Sandy. Pamela Franklin had a good career back in the 60’s and 70’s and if you see her name in the credits of a movie, watch it. She’s a fine actress with terrifically expressive eyes who knows exactly what she’s doing in front of a camera and it’s a treat to watch her work.
The movie also is fun to watch because despite the title, 100% of AND SOON THE DARKNESS takes place during the daytime in broad daylight. The events of the movie play out in the course of one day and just because it all takes place during the daylight hours doesn’t make it any less scary or suspenseful. Increasing the suspense is Jane’s inability to communicate with anybody except the two people she suspects of having taken her friend. It’s a smart move by the director to not subtitle when French is spoken and so as the audience we can share in Jane’s growing frustration and paranoia at her situation.
So should you see AND SOON THE DARKNESS? I recommend so highly. It doesn’t have graphic violence or gore but if you’re looking for a nifty little horror/suspense thriller that will keep you guessing right up until the end of the movie, this is for you. It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix so enjoy.
Sony Pictures Classics/Stage 6 Films/POM Wonderful
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Written by Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick
Produced by Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Abbie Hurewitz, Keith Calder, Jessica Wu
POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD may just be The Greatest Documentary Ever Made. And here’s why. Imagine that a magician like David Copperfield is going to perform the most amazing illusion you’ve ever seen. But before he does the trick he breaks it down and explains to you in every single detail exactly how he’s going to do it. After that, he goes ahead, performs the illusion and your mind is still totally blown at what you’ve just seen even though you know how he did it. POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD is kinda like that. Morgan Spurlock sets out to make a movie about product placement in movies by getting advertisers and marketing agencies to finance the movie. Some corporate executives are quite simply gobsmacked when Spurlock comes into their offices with his storyboards and his pitch. “Lemme see if I got this straight,” one of them says. “You want to make a movie about product placement that is paid for with product placements?”
That’s exactly what Morgan Spurlock wants to do and he does it in a manner that is so goofy that this documentary easily qualifies as a comedy in my eyes as during one encounter after another Spurlock explains his concept and is met with either outright astonishment, derision or really excited enthusiasm.
He doesn’t go into this completely blind. He interviews directors such as J.J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Berg and Brett Ratner to find out how they feel about the demands studios place on them for product placement and what he should expect going into those types of meetings. I found their honest opinions about it quite refreshing, especially Brett Ratner who says bluntly that studios only care about two things when it comes to movies: “How much is it going to cost and how much is it going to make?” and that’s why they welcome product placement to help them pay for a movie. Spurlock’s conversation with Ralph Nader about truth in advertising gave me some the best laughs in the movie as Mr. Nader is one of those people who are at their funniest when they’re not trying to be funny.
Some companies turn Spurlock down in a New York minute. Some never even return his calls. Others jump into the project wholeheartedly like POM Wonderful who kicks in a cool million simply to have their name in the title of the movie. The rock band OK Go gleefully agrees to provide a theme song, naturally titled “The Greatest Song I Ever Heard.”
And the free stuff that Spurlock gets from the participating companies is mind-boggling. He gets not one, not two, but six Mini-Coopers. JetBlue lets him fly free. Hyatt lets him stay in their Executive Suites. Sheetz lets him pump free gas into his free Mini-Cooper. Old Navy gives him truckloads of clothing. It’s crazy. But he’s getting away with it as he’s showing us exactly what these companies are willing to do just to insure their product and their company name is in a movie.
I wasn’t all that crazy about Morgan Spurlock’s first movie, “Super Size Me” as it seemed like a pretty pointless stunt to me. I mean, even if you eat nothing but salad everyday it’s still going to have a detrimental effect on your body. And I don’t need to watch a 90 minute documentary to tell me that eating McDonald’s fast food everyday isn’t good for me. Tell me something I don’t know. I enjoyed his short-lived FX series “30 Days” much more. Every episode had either Spurlock or some other person spending 30 days living a lifestyle they were completely unfamiliar with, such as a Christian living as a Muslim. It was a show that truly educated and it was a shame FX cancelled it. If you can find it on DVD or on Netflix, by all means check it out.
But POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD I can recommend totally and completely. Morgan Spurlock’s enthusiasm for the project is infectious and the reactions of the various corporate executives and their negotiations for their products are funnier than anything that could have been scripted. It’s a documentary that doesn’t preach, doesn’t beat you over the head with a message until your ears bleed (I’m looking at you, Michael Moore) but gets its point across while it’s entertaining you at the same time. Highly recommended.
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Mark Huffam
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Screenplay by William Osborne and Michael McCullers
Story by Peter Hewitt and William Osborne
Based on “Thunderbirds” created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
I used to have this theory regarding TV shows turned into feature films: If the original theme song is used then the movie will turn out to be a good one. If the original theme song is not used then the movie will turn out to suck beef jerky. For example: “The Wild Wild West” “The Avengers”. Well, consider that another brilliant theory of mine blown all to hell because THUNDERBIRDS does use the original theme song but it’s such an incredibly bad movie that the theme song is the only thing I can recommend about the whole thing. In fact, if the movie had possessed the zip and charm of the opening credits it would be worth watching. The animated credits show the various Thunderbird vehicles at work while the stirring theme song plays and it’s easily the best part of the movie.
The movie was especially a major letdown for me because I’ve been a fanatical lover of THUNDERBIRDS ever since I was a kid. In the 60’s Gerry and Sylvia Anderson created a series of popular futuristic action/adventure shows featuring puppets. There was “Stingray” the adventures of a submarine crew protecting an underwater city. “Fireball XL5” was set in outer space and “Captain Scarlet” which was a really fun series about a group of aliens called The Mysterions trying to take over Earth. Standing in their way is an organization called Spectrum whose members all have color based names and rankings. Captain Scarlet is the major enemy of The Mysterions due to their accidentally giving him a healing factor while trying to duplicate him and bring him under their control. Captain Scarlet can regenerate after any and all injuries and may actually be immortal since he dies several times during the series and comes back to life.
The THUNDERBIRDS TV series concerned the adventures of International Rescue, an organization created by and staffed by The Tracy family who live on a Pacific island paradise that houses their spectacular fortress containing their specialized rescue vehicles, called Thunderbirds. International Rescue is a freelance crisis response team that immediately zooms to wherever disaster strikes. Thunderbird One is a hypersonic jet. Thunderbird Two is a heavy cargo carrier. Thunderbird Three is a spaceship. Thunderbird Four is a submarine while Thunderbird Five is the Tracy family’s personal space station that monitors all emergency channels and potential disaster spots from orbit above Earth. Each vehicle is operated by one of the sons of Jeff Tracy, ex-astronaut and billionaire. In a nice touch, Tracy’s sons: Alan, Scott, Gordon, Virgil and John are all named after the Mercury astronauts. Providing back-up and support for The Thunderbirds is their resident scientific genius Homer Newton III aka Brains, faithful manservant Kyrano and his daughter Tin-Tin (who has a crush on Alan) and ex-superspy Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward who is more or less Jeff Tracy’s personal enforcer. Based in London and backed up by her trusty cockney sidekick Parker, Lady Penelope lives in swinging London where she tools around town in a six-wheeled pink Rolls Royce pimped out with as many gadgets and weapons as The Batmobile or The Black Beauty.
Despite being dismissed as a ‘kid’s puppet show’ by many, THUNDERBIRDS was actually a pretty mature show. First off, the premise of the show wasn’t about good guys vs. bad guys. Most of the episodes were nail-bitingly suspenseful as International Rescue had to figure out how to avert some disaster or save people trapped in a life-threatening situation. One of the best episodes was the one where The Empire State Building collapses and the only way to reach workers trapped in the basement is by an underground river. But sometimes The Hood, Kyrano’s half-brother who wanted to steal the secrets of The Thunderbirds to use for criminal purposes would cause a disaster to bring International Rescue out. Usually The Thunderbirds never dealt directly with The Hood. That was reserved for Lady Penelope and Parker.
Now with a premise like that, the movie version of THUNDERBIRDS should have been a no-brainer. But the writers and the director, Jonathan Frakes (Command Riker from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) threw out everything that made the original show so much fun and so enjoyable, instead turning it into an out-and-out children’s action movie that looks as if it were made for The Disney Channel.
The plot centers around Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) who dreams of the day when his father Jeff (Bill Paxton) will finally let him join his brothers as they fly around the world saving lives. Alan’s best friend is Fermat (Soren Fulton) who takes after his dad Brains much the same way Alan takes after his dad. While on spring break at Tracy Island, The Hood (Ben Kingsley) fires a missile at Thunderbird Five, knocking it out of orbit. Jeff and the boys charge up there to save John Tracy and end up stuck on the space station that is falling back to Earth. The Hood takes control of the island and plans to use Thunderbird Two to rob The Bank of London. It’s up to Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin (Vanessa Ann Hudgens) to stop The Hood and save Jeff and the others on the space station.
None of this is anywhere as exciting as it sounds. It fact, it’s downright dull in most spots, despite the kids running around and shouting all their dialog, even during scenes where they’re supposed to be hiding from the bad guys. Ben Kingsley apparently thinks he’s acting in a completely different movie since he plays his role totally straight while everybody else knows they’re making a live-action cartoon. Kingsley and Bill Paxton are both excellent actors and while watching this I was trying to figure out whom they pissed off so much to have gotten stuck in this mess of a movie. Sophia Myles and Ron Cook as Lady Penelope and Parker are apparently the only ones who bothered to rent the DVD box sets of the original show and watch them. They hit the right note with their characters and when they’re on screen I felt I was actually watching a live action episode of the TV show.
The set designs and production is very good, what with the look of Tracy Island and the vehicles reproduced in faithful detail. It’s too bad it was wasted in such a shameful manner. The other Tracy boys are totally ignored in favor of the three teenage heroes so it’s hardly even mentioning the actors who play them. And out of the teenage actors Vanessa Ann Hudgens is the only one who’s fun to watch and can actually act. Her two male co-stars are embarrassingly bad and she easily steals every scene she’s in. Maybe if they had put her in the role of Jeff Tracy’s daughter THUNDERBIRDS might have been more enjoyable. As it is, if you’re an old time fan of the show like me, you’re going to be tortured sitting through this, so don’t.
Do yourself a favor for me: go get yourself the DVDs of the original series and the two feature films made back in the 60’s: “Thunderbirds Are GO!” and “Thunderbird 6!” because you’re my friends and you deserve to watch the real THUNDERBIRDS in action.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Produced by Robert Evans and Alan Ladd, Jr.
Directed by Simon Wincer
Written by Jeffrey Boam
Based on “The Phantom” created by Lee Falk
I have absolutely no idea why some movies become major hits and others fail miserably. Especially movies such as THE PHANTOM which ranks right up there with “Superman: The Movie” Tim Burton’s first “Batman” “Batman Begins” “X-Men: First Class” “The Rocketeer” and Ang Lee’s “The Hulk” as one of the best superhero movies ever made. Hell, it’s a damn good movie, period. The cast is outstanding, the locations beautiful, the action non-stop, the music appropriately heroic and romantic. This was a movie that should have been a blockbuster hit in theatres. But it failed to find an audience. I was one of those who saw it during the original theatrical run. I went during a matinee and there was just myself and two guys in their seventies who remembered reading “The Phantom” in the newspapers as kids. We all had a great time watching the movie. Since then I’ve recommended THE PHANTOM to a lot of people who have seen it and loved it. They claim that they never saw advertisements for the movie but that may be just as well. The tagline for the movie was so colossally stupid I hope the egg roll that thought of it was demoted to Junior Washroom Attendant (What the hell was ‘Slam Evil!’ supposed to mean?)
It may be that people just looked at the ads and assumed that The Phantom was a rip-off of Batman set in the jungle. Actually, The Phantom debuted in 1936 and Batman didn’t appear until 1939. Indeed, The Phantom is credited as being the very first costumed superhero. But so many things that made The Phantom unique has been taken as adopted by creators of other superheroes that it’s not surprising that many modern day viewers dismissed the movie as being an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Batman and Spider-Man. Which is really a shame. THE PHANTOM is remarkably faithful to the source material and a movie done with a tremendous amount of respect and love for the character.
The origins of The Phantom is told to us during the credits: In 1516 a young boy named Kit Walker is serving as cabin boy aboard his father’s ship. During a routine voyage to Africa to trade goods the ruthless Singh Brotherhood, a feared band of pirates, attacks the ship. The boy Kit is the only survivor and escapes to be washed up on the shores of Bengalla. The Bandar tribe befriends him, teach him their language and heir ways. Kit finds the body of his father, partially eaten by scavengers. He takes his father’s skull and swears an oath upon it: Kit and all his descendants will combat piracy in all its forms. And so The Phantom is born. When one Phantom dies, his eldest son takes on the role of The Phantom. As a result, there is a myth that The Phantom cannot die and is immortal. He is known the world over as The Ghost Who Walks and it is this belief that is The Phantom’s strongest weapon in his battle against evil. Only the Bandar tribe, the wives and family of the various Phantoms know the true secret.
THE PHANTOM takes place in 1936 where the current Phantom/Kit Walker (Billy Zane) finds himself up against Xander Drax (Treat Williams) a millionaire industrialist/crimelord who is searching for the Three Skulls Of Togunda: mystical artifacts that when brought together will give him ultimate power. Drax has two formidable henchmen in the mercenary Quill (James Remar) who killed the 20th Phantom (Patrick McGoohan) and female martial arts expert/pilot Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones). But The Phantom has help from the equally formidable Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer, yay!) who has uncovered a connection between Drax and The Singh Brotherhood. Diana’s a plucky, adventurous girl with a mean right hook that still carries a big torch for a boy she loved in college. They had thought about getting married but his father died and he had to leave The United States to take over the family business. The boy’s name was Kit Walker.
Diana and The Phantom meet after Diana’s plane is forced down by Sala and her crew of female fighter plane pilots and The Phantom has to rescue her from a tramp steamer crewed by merciless killers. From then, it’s on to New York where Diana and Kit have a reunion that’s both painful and touching. But then Diana is once again kidnapped by Drax and his crew and taken to the horrifying island fortress of The Singh Brotherhood located in The Devil’s Vortex, from which no man ever returns. But it’s there that the third skull is located, held by the bloodthirsty Kabai Sengh (Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa) the current leader of The Singh Brotherhood. And they have their own plans for the Three Skulls…a plan that will also end their 400-year-old war with The Phantom…
Anybody who knows me knows I eat up this stuff and totally choke on it. I’ve seen THE PHANTOM perhaps a dozen times and I’ll gladly watch it a dozen more. It is the best of pulp action adventure that is presented in such a fun way that I honestly don’t see how anybody couldn’t watch this movie without a goofy grin of delight on his or her face. Billy Zane is totally perfect in the role of The Phantom/Kit Walker in the same way Michael Keaton was perfect for Batman/Bruce Wayne and Christopher Reeve was perfect for Superman/ Clark Kent.
I really like how The Phantom is presented in this movie. First of all, Billy Zane insisted that the suit not be padded. So those muscles you see are actually his. And yeah, Billy Zane wears a purple bodysuit and makes it look damn cool. But the suit isn’t a bright purple. It’s a dark, muted purple that is even darker by what appears to be black tribal markings/tattoos on the suit that brings down the purple even more. It gives The Phantom’s costume the appearance of a tribal ceremonial garb he’s adopted for his purposes which works well with the jungle background of the character. And The Phantom is wonderfully low tech. He gets around on a magnificent Arabian stallion named Hero. His enforcer is a wolf named Devil. He carries no gadgets, just two black .45 automatics that he uses with such skill that he can knock a gun out of a man’s hand with a single shot. His radio is operated by his faithful servant/boyhood chum Guran (Radmar Agana Jao) who has to pedal the electric motor to give it power. Guran also won’t let you smoke in The Phantom’s base of operations, The Skull Cave.
It makes for a terrifically physical hero who relies more on his wits, brains and athletic abilities to get out of scrapes than we’re used to in these kind of movies. The Phantom can’t pull stuff out of his utility belt to get out of trouble which makes for a lot of really tense action scenes where you’re really wondering: “How’s he going to get outta this one?”
If you don’t know that I totally love Kristy Swanson, then be advised now that I do. I remember seeing the original “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” movie she starred in back in 1992 and I immediately became infatuated with her. And I love her in THE PHANTOM. She’s a vastly underrated actress who should have had a bigger career. She deserves it. She’s gorgeous, she’s intelligent and every time she’s on screen you believe what she’s doing. James Remar and Catherine Zeta-Jones have a great deal of fun with their badguy roles. And Patrick McGoohan is wonderful as the former Phantom who might be an actual ghost coming back to advise his son on how to handle the family business or he might be a psychological quirk that Kit needs to get through his job.
So should you see THE PHANTOM? Without a doubt, yes. In my opinion it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made and should be seen just for the performances and production values alone. It’s an awesome looking movie, period. The costumes the cars, the whole 1930’s period is recreated in fantastic style. And the damn movie is just so much fun. The Phantom is a hero is actually enjoys being a hero and it’s a change to see a hero who enjoys doing what he’s born to do to. He doesn’t angst about it or moan and cry or worry about paying rent or whatever. Simon Wincer directs this movie with a great sense of style and you get the feeling that everybody had a wonderful time making this movie.
If you’ve been reading my reviews and trust my opinion at all then go get yourself a DVD of THE PHANTOM, get the snacks and drinks of your choice and have yourself a great time watching a great movie. Enjoy.
Directed by Sylvester Stallone
Produced by Avi Lerner
Written by Sylvester Stallone and David Callaham
There are those who said even before the movie came out, speaking just on having seen the trailers that THE EXPENDABLES looked to be nothing more than Sylvester Stallone attempting to relive his glory days when he was one of the major action stars back in the 80’s. These good folks, having regaled me with their smug wisdom sit back and ask me what I thought of that.
My response is that he does have glory days to remember and try to relive which is more than most of us will be able to say when we check out of this existence. And he’s blessed that he can relive those days in some excellent company indeed in this movie. THE EXPENDABLES will probably be most appreciated by those like me who remember the seemingly endless truckloads of action movies produced by Golan-Globus and Cannon Films back in the day. THE EXPENDABLES is a love letter to the testosterone fueled action genre of the 1980’s and testosterone is exactly what you’re going to get. Ladies who go see this movie should immediately check themselves in the rest room after viewing to be sure they aren’t growing hair on their chests or have a few more dangly bits they have no business having.
The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture) are an elite team of mercenaries headquartered in a tattoo parlor owned by Tool (Mickey Rourke) who has retired from field duty but apparently handles the team’s accounts. He sets up a meeting with the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who wants to hire The Expendables to take down General Garza (David Zayas) the brutal dictator of Vilena, a South American country that would be a paradise if it weren’t for Garza’s death squads running around doing what death squads do best: cause death.
Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham) go down to recon the layout and finds out it stinks worse than houseguests who just won’t leave. Seems as if Mr. Church didn’t tell them the whole story, surprise, surprise. Garza’s just the front man. Vilena is really being run by rogue CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts) and his two hulking huge henchmen (Steve Austin and Gary Daniels) Barney and Lee escape from Vilena but they have to leave behind their contact Sandra (Gisele Itie)
Something about Sandra’s passion to deliver her country from the hell it’s becomes wakens something in Barney’s spirit and after a heart-to-heart with Tool, he’s determined to go back to Vilena and put things right. Not for the money but for his own redemption. Naturally his team can’t let him go it alone and that leads to The Expendables taking on an entire army in a massively apocalyptic battle that could easily qualify as Vietnam Part II.
I had a lot of fun watching THE EXPENDABLES. Sometimes I’m awful easy to please and this movie had me right from the gunfight at the beginning. A gunfight that itself had more of a body count than entire movies. And who honestly can resist a movie that for the first time has the Holy Trinity of 80’s Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone & Willis) on screen together? Oh, sure there are a lot of lines between the three that are nothing but nudge nudge wink wink to the audience but hey, it’s that kind of movie and I liked the whole “Hey! We’re puttin’ the band back together!’ feel of the movie even though this is the first time some of these guys have worked together.
Stallone and Statham work together as smoothly as if they’ve been making movies together for the past ten years. Randy Couture was an unexpected source of humor as his character, demolitions expert Toll Road is the intellectual of the group. Dolph Lundgren gets to demonstrate his trademark scowl as the psychologically damaged sniper Gunnar. Jet Li also shows a surprising flair for comedy as he provides the movie’s running joke of him continually demanding a raise. His deadpan delivery is what sells the running joke and I cracked up every time he came up with a new reason why he needs more money.
Everybody makes the most of their screen time and every one of the characters, good or bad gets a moment to show off which I really liked as both the good guys and bad guys are all accredited badasses and that makes the final showdown one between groups of equal skills and strength.
That’s not to say that I don’t have my gripes with the movie. The Jet Li/Dolph Lundgren fight could have really been a David vs. Goliath type of match-up but the way it’s choreographed I really couldn’t appreciate Jet Li’s moves. The Expendables all have colorful, wonderful names but I didn’t even know what the names of Randy Couture’s and Terry Crews’ characters were until I read them in the end credits.
The editing during the hand-to-hand combats were too choppy for me at times and one thing I really hate in a fight scene is not being able to tell who’s beating the piss outta who.
But that’s just me. The whole point of THE EXPENDABLES is as simple as a hammer to the back of an unprotected head: put a dozen tough guy actors together in one movie and give them 103 minutes to shoot, stab, blow stuff up, run over everything in sight, smash, slice and generally raise cinematic hell. And have a lot of fun doing it. I know I had a lot of fun watching them do it.
Rated R: For the astounding level of violence in this movie. It’s not as jaw-droppingly brutal as say, the last 30 minutes of “Rambo” but its close.
Directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson
Produced by Tim Burton and Allison Abbate
Written by John August, Pamela Pettler and Caroline Thompson
There’s only two types of filmmakers that would do a stop-motion animation film these days: one who is either insanely patient or one who has a genuine and deep love for the art form. Most animation is done on computers these days and stop-motion animation just simply isn’t done any more because…well, let’s put it this way: you don’t do a stop motion animated film if you’re in a rush. Simply put: the process involves building extraordinarily detailed model figures and then moving them just a millimeter, shooting one frame of film, then moving the character another millimeter, shooting that frame and so on and so on. I’ve read that when this process is going well, stop-motion animators can get two minutes of film every two weeks, which they consider fantastic.
Ray Harryhausen is the undisputed master of stop-motion animation and the battle between half a dozen live actors and nearly a dozen skeleton swordsmen in “Jason And The Argonauts” is still considered to be the greatest stop-motion animated sequence of all time and even Mr. Harryhausen has said that doing that sequence nearly drove him crazy. There’s a nice little homage to Mr. Harryhausen in TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE that I liked. I like it when I see acknowledgments to artists like Mr. Harryhausen as it’s easy to forget that men like him were the ones who were able to pioneer their art form that give us movies like TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE.
And the movie should be seen and appreciated for the brilliant technical work that’s gone into making it but as for the actual story itself…well, that’s another matter altogether….
Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) is roped into an arraigned marriage by his parents (voiced by Tracy Ullman and Paul Whitehouse) who have gotten rich from selling fish, if you can believe it. The marriage will bail out the parents of Victoria Everglot (she’s voiced by Emily Watson while Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney are the parents) who have position, breeding and social standing but are stone cold broke. The marriage is advantageous all way around: The Van Dorts get social credibility while The Everglots get a much needed transfusion of cash into their blue blood veins. The only ones not happy about the marriage is Victoria who was hoping that she’d be in love with the man she going to marry while Victor is simply too much of a nervous wreck to be able to go through with the rehearsal.
Victor goes to the graveyard behind the church to practice his wedding vows and while doing so places the ring on what he thinks is a rotted twig but is actually the finger bone of Emily (Helena Bonham Carter)
whose arm is sticking up out a hastily dug grave. Emily was murdered by the man she was supposed to run off with and marry and when she comes up out of her grave, still garbed in her tattered wedding dress she falls in love with Victor and takes him with her to the land of the dead where their marriage is celebrated. Meanwhile, back in the land of the living, The Everglots have decided that since Victor has apparently run off, they quickly fob Victoria off on the mysterious and sinister Baron Barkus Bittern (Richard E. Grant) whose eventual role in the story will come as no surprise. Will Victor be able to return to the land of the living in time to prevent Victoria’s marrying Baron Barkus? And even if he does, what will happen to Emily since he did marry her of his own free will and even though she’s dead as Julius Caesar, she do love that man of hers and has no intention of giving him up to some floozy whose heart is still beating.
TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE is the kind of movie that I expected I would fall in love with as I did with “The Nightmare Before Christmas” but I just couldn’t get into this one. It’s absolutely wonderful to look at and the stop-motion animation is spectacular but the story didn’t grab me at all. Only Tim Burton would make a love story this gothic and dark, filled with murder, death, betrayal and good-natured mean-spiritness. But I found myself admiring the technical aspects and not really paying much attention to what was going on story-wise. I liked the voice work a lot and I liked how the animators even managed to make Emily sorta sexy even though she’s a rotting corpse. But the movie isn’t horrific enough or romantic enough or funny enough. Tim Burton throws in a lot of elements but none of them seem to come together, especially the big musical number, which explains the story of The Corpse Bride. The sequence is just thrown in there mainly because I think Burton wanted a sequence with a chorus line of dancing skeletons.
In fact, the land of the dead doesn’t seem to be such a bad place as everybody seems to having a better time dead than they did alive. The colors are brighter, everybody’s partying and wisecracking all over the place and Victor is happily surprised to be reunited with his dead dog Scraps who is now just a playful skeleton. “You should have seen him when he had fur,” Victor says fondly while tickling the dog’s skull.
I think Tim Burton was going for a different sort of Halloween movie just as his “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was a different kind of Christmas movie but I thought that earlier film much more fun and entertaining with characters that really moved the story. That doesn’t happen here and actually, the movie seems slow moving and even plodding in spots and even though it’s only 76 minutes it seems twice as long. But most of the wisecracks coming from the dead folks are really funny and The Town Crier has what is perhaps the best line in the movie and the only one that made me laugh out loud. But the Peter Lorre inspired maggot who lives in Emily’s head was just downright annoying and a distraction from what was really going on.
So should you see TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE? It’s a magnificent movie if you’re looking at it strictly from a technical standpoint and as a Tim Burton movie it’s definitely worth a viewing if you’re a fan of the director.