Action Adventure

300: Rise Of An Empire

300-Rise-Of-An-Empire-wallpapers-22014

Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures

Directed by Noam Murro

Produced by Zack Snyder, Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Deborah Snyder and Bernie Goldmann

Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad

Based on “Xerxes” an unpublished graphic novel by Frank Miller

The story goes that Warner Brothers executives, delighted with the open weekend box office numbers of “300” immediately wanted a sequel.  Apparently they hadn’t taken the time to watch their own movie. It’s taken them eight years to figure out how to do a sequel to that movie and to give the filmmakers credit, they haven’t simply reshuffled elements around from the first movie. There’s an honest effort here to give us new characters in a new situation but 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE still didn’t give me that same feeling I had when I first saw “300”. I fell so much in love with that movie I wanted to marry it and take it home to meet my mother.

But that rush of adrenaline I got when I saw “300” came mainly from the visuals which were unlike anything I had seen before in movies. That’s because back in 2007 when”300” was released, the digital backlot technology/method of filming movies was still fresh and eye-popping. The only other movies I had seen using that technology were “Sin City” and “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow”. Since then we’ve had  “Speed Racer” “The Spirit” “Avatar” “Immortals” and half a dozen other movies utilizing digital backlot techniques. So my eyes have become accustomed to the look over the years. That’s not to say there aren’t some incredible visuals in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. There are. It’s the story that doesn’t match the visuals.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE did intrigue me at the start in that this isn’t your ordinary sequel or prequel. It tells a story that tells of events taking place before, during and after “300” It starts off with Gorgo, Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey) narrating to an army of Spartan warriors the story of how the war between Persia and Greece began, throwing in the origin of the Persian god king Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro) as a bonus. We’re also introduced to Artemisia (Eva Green) who is quite literally the woman that made Xerxes the god king he is now. She’s also the commander of his 1000 ship fleet and the best thing about the movie. More on that later.

300-A-Ascensao-de-Um-Imperio-24Nov2013-15Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton) is attempting to unite Greece’s squabbling city states in order to present a unified nation to fight Persia but has no luck. The politics of all this is murky at best and really just gets in the way of what the movie wants to do: get to the numerous blood-saturated CGI sea battles that are the real heart of the movie. And when I say blood-saturated, I mean it. When somebody gets slashed with a sword, that worthy just doesn’t bleed. A geyser of blood throws a sheet of blood all over the screen. There’s a nice scene where Themistocles goes to ask Queen Gorgo for Sparta’s help which from the dialog I guess takes place right after Leonidas (Gerard Butler in footage from “300 is seen here and there during the movie) has gone with his 300 to hold the Persians at The Hot Gates. Rebuffed by Queen Gorgo (which is a pretty mild way of putting it.) Themistocles determines to take his 200 ships and handful of desperate warriors and go meet the Persians at sea.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire-03jan2013-03And that’s about all the set-up you need in order to watch the movie. Everything after that is bloody carnage. Halfway through the movie ti seems to have forgotten that Queen Gorgo is supposed to be telling the story as we’re seeing events and hearing dialog that she couldn’t possibly know about. And you should be warned that the violence in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is not the stylized, balletic action of “300” In this one it’s much more brutal and savage and I can’t remember the last movie where I’ve seen so many heads and limbs chopped off. In one scene Artemisia is carrying bunches of severed heads by the hair as if they were Pathmark shopping bags.

And that brings me to the best thing about the movie: Eva Green. Whenever she’s not on screen you’ll be eagerly waiting for her to come back because Artemisia is the best character in the movie. She’s far more intelligent, formidable, skilled and ambitious than anybody else and I’m willing to bet that like me, by the time you get to the halfway point you’ll be wondering why the whole movie wasn’t about her. She’s the kind of bad guy you secretly root for; the one that you hope ends up winning in the end. In fact, if 300: RISE ON AN EMPIRE had Artemisia and Queen Gorgo going at it, it would have been an immensely more interesting clash of characters as Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles is such a block of wood it’s excruciating. He spends most of the movie making speeches about honor and loyalty and loving your family and land that sound uncomfortably similar to the ones Leonidas made but Stapleton doesn’t even come close to the white hot energy Gerard Butler had. In fact, the only scene where Stapleton’s character comes alive is in a sex scene with Artemisia that turns into an attempted rape but we’re not really sure who’s raping who here.

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMSo should you see 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE? If you saw and liked “300” this is pretty much more of the same, only at sea and far bloodier and violent. I’d say try and catch a matinee if you can so this way you won’t feel robbed. It’s got spectacular visuals and that equally spectacular Eva Green performance going for it in its favor so enjoy.

Rated R

102 Minutes

The Assassination Bureau (LTD)

the-assassination-bureau-movie-poster-1969-1020248877

THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.)

Directed by Basil Deardon

Produced by Michael Relph

Screenplay by Michael Relph and Wolf Mankowitz

Based on the novel by Jack London and Robert L. Fish

 

Professional assassination is the highest form of public service.

Chiun, The Master of Sinanju

 

I start off this review with that quote because Chiun would understand the underlying philosophy that created the worldwide organization known as THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) being in the same business himself. As the Chairman of the organization, Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed) puts it; The Assassination Bureau fulfills a necessary evil. The Bureau assassinates those who are evil and who need assassination. They do not kill indiscriminately. They are not murderers. The Bureau assassinates those who only cause pain, misery and suffering. The Assassination Bureau (Ltd.) demands proof that the people who are contracted to be assassinated truly deserve assassination.

At least that was the dream of Ivan’s father. However, due through the corrupting influence of the Bureau’s Vice Chairman Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas) on the other members of the Bureau, the purpose of The Assassination Bureau (Ltd.) is no longer what it once was. That is why Ivan accepts the commission of aspiring journalist and women’s right advocate Sonia Winter (Diana Rigg) to have him assassinated by his own organization. Ivan sees this as the ultimate test of his organization. If they kill him, so be it. He is the supreme assassin and if they kill him they he does not deserve to lead.  But this gives him the opportunity to remove the dead wood from his organization and test their loyalty. It’s kill or be kill, assassin against assassin. And in the middle is Sonia Winter who has no idea that she is feeding vital information to Lord Bostwick, who owns the newspaper she wants to write for as she is unaware of Lord Bostwick’s affiliation with the very organization she wishes to expose.

During the 1970’s there had to be somebody in charge of programming at ABC here in New York who loved THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) I have no idea who they were, if they were male or female but I thank God for them. Because they scheduled THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) on a regular basis on The ABC Sunday Night Movie which is where I first saw and fell in love with this movie. And every time it aired, I watched it. In fact, I turned my mother and father onto it as they simply had to see this movie because if I knew it was coming on Sunday night, I refused to leave the house for any reason at all.

In short, THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD). is a movie that I fell in love with the first time I saw it and one that I have recommended to everybody who will listen to me. It’s one of the best examples of a pure adventure movie that I’ve ever seen. It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s heart-pounding and it’s funny. In fact, it’s wasn’t until I saw “Raiders of The Lost Ark” that I fell in love with a movie as much and yes, THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) is that good.

As Ivan Dragamiloff Oliver Reed creates a hero who is as charismatic, knowledgeable and brilliantly resourceful as Doc Savage, James Bond or Sherlock Holmes. This movie should be seen simply for seeing Oliver Reed in a heroic role. I love his performance for the same reason I love Richard Boone as Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel.” These are actors who look more like the bad guys but are able to translate that into good guy roles of interesting dimensions. Oliver Reed’s Ivan Dragamiloff is so much fun to watch because I got the impression watching him in action in this movie because he seems to have so much fun playing a good bad guy.

1249104190-the_assassination_bureau_5

And this movie also has to be seen for Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.)  had to be made around the same time as “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” which they also starred in and their chemistry is apparent in this movie as well. It’s nothing short of a delight to see them on screen together. In fact, everybody’s chemistry works well together. Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg also have a great time in their scenes together and it’s so much fun to watch them work.

cdf50b1c778996628e9e66ff891_prev

Okay, I’m not going to go on and on and on about it. THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) is one of my favorite movies and if you’ve been reading my reviews all this time then you either trust me or not. Watching it won’t cost you a thing because the movie in its entirety is available on YouTube and you can watch it at the link provided below this review.

The bottom line is this: if you trust my judgment at all when it comes to movies then watch THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) It’s one on the best movies I can recommend to anybody in terms of story, casing, acting and just sheer fun. It’s one of My Ten Favorite Movies Of All Time and I suspect that after you watch it, it’ll be one of yours.

Riddick

riddick-poster-key-art

 

RIDDICK

2013

Universal Pictures/Entertainment One

Written and Directed by David Twohy

Produced by Vin Diesel, Ted Field and Samantha Vincent

Based on characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat

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

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

Riddick-3

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

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

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

Riddick-3-mercenaires-tournage

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

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

Riddick3-katee-sackhoff

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

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

118 minutes

Rated R

Better In The Dark #84: CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF BOREDO…SOLACE! WE MEAN SOLACE!

007-daniel-craig

The journey the Boys Outta Brooklyn started back in Episode 34 is getting closer to completion as Tom and Derrick discuss the first  two films of The Reign of Craig. They examine how Bond was re-imagined for the 21st century, and how the unconventional choice of Daniel Craig fit the remit for change. They really like one film, hate the other one, and then talk about the present situation with MGM and what it bodes for the world’s longest-running movie franchise. All this, plus a little disagreement on the hotness of Karen Gillan, a major announcement, and the revelation of what the letters in QUANTUM stand for. It’s a six-head’s worth of fun, so get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/episodes-81-90/

Better In the Dark #47: LIVE AND LET DIE and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

600full-live-and-let-die-poster

 

Our survey of The Bond Films arrives at a major turning point as The Boys Outta Brooklyn reviews the first two movies to feature Roger Moore. It’s the edge of some very, very dark territory with some seriously goofy films (including one Tom subtitles ‘Black People Hate Bond’), but they do the usual cool eyed dissection. Plus Derrick says something so hilarious it makes Tom speechless and we rant about our choice for the worst Bond Girl ever. There’s a solar-powered laser weapon aimed at your head…so get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-41-50/

man-with-the-golden-gun-the_1

Action Jackson

1988

Silver Pictures/Lorimar Film Entertainment

Directed by Craig R. Baxley

Produced by Joel Silver

Written by Robert Reneau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

96 minutes

Rated R


The Bourne Legacy

2012

Universal Pictures

Directed by Tony Gilroy

Produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley

Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy

Based on a story by Tony Gilroy

Inspired by The Bourne Series written by Robert Ludlum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

135 minutes

PG-13

Next

2007

Revolution Studios

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

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Screenplay by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum

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

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

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

next11

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

nextpic15

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

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

next_30

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

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

Rated: PG-13

96 minutes

Shoot ‘Em Up

2007

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.

86 minutes

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

Mad Max

1979

American International Pictures

Produced by Byron Kennedy and Bill Miller

Directed by George Miller

Written by George Miller, Byron Kennedy and James McCausland

In the “Lethal Weapon” movies Mel Gibson played  L.A. police detective Martin Riggs who undergoes such a severe psychological trauma when his wife is killed that the common held belief is that he’s gone straight flat out crazy.  Insane.  Mad, even.  That’s the main trait shared with an earlier Mel Gibson character: Australian highway cop Max Rockatansky who undergoes such a severe psychological trauma when his wife and son are killed that the common held belief is that he’s gone straight flat out crazy.  Insane.  Mad, even.  In fact, so mad that he’s called MAD MAX.

The movie is set in Australia of the near future after some sort of global disaster.  We’re never told in this movie what the disaster was but the two sequels to MAD MAX make it clear that the world superpowers finally threw down over dwindling oil resources.   Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is a highway cop in The Outback.  Along with his partner Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) and the other members of the small band of cops known as The Main Force Patrol, they do their best to protect the public from marauding bands of motorcycle gangs that roam the highways, looting, raping, pillaging and just generally carrying on cranky.

The cops are so poorly funded that their headquarters, the ironically named Hall of Justice looks like a rotting pigsty with  only one half-crazed mechanic to keep their vehicles running.  The MFP has a hideously dangerous run-in with a psychotic called The Night Rider who steals one of their souped up Interceptors and leads them on a terrifying high speed pursuit that ends in several civilian and police cars wrecked, an officer severely injured and The Night Rider dead.

This starts Max to thinking that maybe it’s time for him to get out.  He’s got a wife (Joanne Samuel) and a baby boy he’d like to be around to grow old with.  The Goose conspires with their boss, Fifi Macaffie (Roger Ward) to get Max to stay by bribing him with a customized Ford Falcon with a supercharged V8 engine.  Max is Fifi’s best cop and if he loses Max then the MFP is going to be in real trouble as they’re barely holding their own against the vicious motorcycle gangs as it is.

The situation heats up when The Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) the leader of the gang that The Night Rider was a member of decides to wage war on The MFP and takes a horrible revenge on Jim Goose, setting a trap for him and burning him alive while he’s trapped in a flipped over truck.  This decides it for Max.  He turns in his resignation, takes his wife and son and heads north, determined to find peace for them while he’s still able.  But Max is next on The Toecutter’s list of revenge.  And if he can’t have Max then he’ll settle for Max’s wife and son instead.

MAD MAX is a good example of what is meant by ‘grindhouse’.  It’s a straight-up B-budget action/adventure with no other purpose than to entertain.  I vividly remember seeing this on 42end Street back when it really was 42end Street and thinking even then it was pretty damn cool.  I watched it last night for about the 12th time and I still think it’s pretty damn cool.  Primarily because of the highly exciting action sequences.  George Miller knows how to film action.  And he knows how to film car chases.  Back in the 70’s audiences had become pretty jaded when it came to car chases because just about every action movie back then definitely had one, sometimes two and if they could figure out any way possible then dammit, they’d throw in three.  But George Miller really has a way of making car chases so energized that you don’t feel like you’ve seen these car chases before.

And even though I’ve got nothing against CGI, I dearly love action films of the 70’s and 80’s because you know that these are real guys in real cars doing these stunts.  When cars are slamming into eighteen-wheelers at 90 miles an hour or guys go flying through the air to land on concrete and roll for another 50 feet you feel it because you can see it’s an actual human being getting busted up and not a CGI.  It also gives an air of believability to the action because nobody is breaking the laws of physics here.  The fighting is sweaty, brutal and painful.  Especially in the scenes where Mad Max faces down The Toecutter and his protégé Johnny The Boy (Tim Burns) during which Max is shot and run over with a motorcycle.  Max doesn’t shrug off his wounds and get up to whoop ass.  He gets up, sure, but it takes time, it hurts like hell and even back then Mel Gibson was a good enough actor to sell the scene.

This being Mel Gibson’s first major starring role is probably the reason most will want to see a movie that’s almost 35 years old and even then you can see the easy charm as well as the grim intensity that would bring him international fame.  He’s as competent as you would imagine in the action sequences but he’s also amazingly gentle and warm in the scenes with Joanne Samuel who plays his wife.  They have a real chemistry together and it’s not hard to buy them as a young couple in love.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Gibson blows the screen apart but he’s a helluva lot better in his first film than a lot of others I’ve seen.  Steve Bisley as Max’s partner Jim Goose is so full of life and so likeable that you wish he had more screen time.  He’s got one of those grins that you’ve seen before: he’s either just put one over on you or he’s about to.  Either way, you’re gonna let him because you just can’t resist that grin.  Roger Ward is one of my favorites in this movie.  Despite being named Fifi, he’s a towering slab of man, bald as a rock, always chewing on a cigar, wearing a flowing black scarf and telling his boys: “Do whatever you want out on the road as long as the paperwork’s straight!”

Hugh Keays-Byrne does something really remarkable with The Toecutter in that you really get the sense that this is a guy who actually tunes into the wavelength of a world we can’t see.  He leaves the stereotypical villain-type acting stuff to Tim Burns who plays Johnny The Boy as a cowardly bad guy.  Much more interesting and fun is Geoff Parry as The Toecutter’s enforcer, Bubba Zanetti.  He’s the main source of humor in the movie as he delivers some really goofy lines but in a sober, dead-pan manner that I found both utterly hilarious and totally chilling.  He was a character I wanted to know more about as compared to The Toecutter and Johnny The Boy he seems rational, calm and he gives The Toecutter advice that is perfectly sane.  I wanted to know how Bubba ended up with these guys but unless George Miller decides to do a prequel, my curiosity will continue.

MAD MAX was followed by two sequels: “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” each of which I heartily recommend.  Both movies aren’t just rehashing the first movie.  They continue the story of Max Rockatansky, deepening his character and humanity even as the world slides further and further into barbarism.  Taken as a whole they’re not only classic action/adventure but also a forerunner of just about every adventure trilogy you see nowadays.  If you haven’t seen MAD MAX in a while, treat yourself.  And if you’ve never seen it, why don’t you?  Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a 100 million buck summer blockbuster but the lack of a budget actually gives the movie a hard and gritty reality that a lot of today’s movies simply don’t have.  And it’s simply just a lot of fun to watch.  Enjoy.

93 minutes

Rated: R