The Core

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Jon Amiel
Produced by Sean Bailey, David Foster and Cooper Layne
Written by Cooper Layne and John Rogers

I suppose that in order to properly appreciate a movie like THE CORE one would have to have been brought up on movies like 1966’s “Fantastic Voyage” in which a team of scientists/surgeons and their submarine are miniaturized and inserted into a human body in order to perform brain surgery from the inside. Or 1965’s “Crack In The World” where a project to tap into Earth’s geothermal energy goes wrong and a massive crack threatens to split The Earth in two as a team of scientists chase it around the world, trying to halt it. Or 1961’s “Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea” where a nuclear submarine has to race time to fire a missile in the right place at the right time to save the world from being fried by The Van Allen radiation belt which is slowly cooking the earth.

THE CORE is a movie that makes science geeks fall out laughing because there’s not a single so called ‘scientific’ fact in it that makes a lick of sense. But while I was watching it I didn’t care one bit. Because THE CORE took me back to a time when I was kid and science fiction movies meant I was going to watch an extraordinary adventure that took me away from my Bed-Stuy neighborhood for a couple of hours and took me to a world where scientists ruled and had outrageous adventures on an everyday basis. They were not only the smartest guys in the room they were the bravest and the ballsiest. They went to the stars. To other dimensions. To the past and the future. They saved the world. They saved their friends and family. And I dearly wished I could be one of them.

Strange things are happening. Thirty people in Boston all drop dead at the same time in a 10-block radius. Pigeons in London’s Trafalgar Square lose their sense of navigation and go berserk, smashing into buildings and terrorizing people as they fly about in a frenzy. The space shuttle Endeavor has to crash land in the middle of Los Angeles because somehow their navigational beacon put them down in the wrong place. It’s only due to the exceptional navigational skills of Major Rebecca Childs (Hilary Swank) that the crew survives and the shuttle comes down in a relatively safe place.

Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) has an idea what is wrong and his research is confirmed by Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) and they both present it to General Purcell (Richard Jenkins): The molten core of The Earth has stopped rotating. As a result the electromagnetic field of the planet is destabilizing and without it, Earth will be a dead planet within a year. There’s maybe only one chance: detonate a series of nuclear bombs in the core to ‘jump start’ the molten core and set it to rotating again. But how can they journey to the center of the earth itself in time?

The answer lies with Dr. Ed ‘Brazz’ Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo) who had his research stolen by Zimsky 20 years ago.  Since then he has been living out in the desert, working on his life’s dream: a ship capable of traveling through the earth utilizing a sonic laser. Brazz is given a blank check by General Purcell to build his ship and a team is assembled: Dr. Keyes, Dr. Zimsky, Dr. Brazzelton along with nuclear weapons specialist Dr. Serge Leveque (Tcheky Karyo) and to pilot the craft: Major Childs and Commander Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood). On the surface their support team will be General Purcell, Flight Commander Talma ‘Stick’ Stickney (Alfre Woodard) and the real wild card in the deck…a computer hacker called The Rat (DJ Qualls) who crippled the FBI’s database a year previously but has taken this job to stay out of jail. Rat’s job is to ‘hack the planet’ and monitor/obfuscate/control the flow of information on The Internet so that the rest of the world doesn’t find out it’s only got a year to live or about the mission to restart the world. The ship is built and the crew embarks on their mission inside The Earth itself to reach and restart the molten core before the world is devastated.

There is absolutely no point in trying to pretend the science of THE CORE is anything like the science we know. Hell, ‘Star Trek’ technobabble makes more sense. But y’know what? It’s so much fun watching actors like Aaron Eckhart, Tcheky Karyo, Stanley Tucci and Delroy Lindo act as if it does I didn’t care. Take for instance when Dr. Brazzelton demonstrates the miracle metal his ship is made of: it gets stronger the more pressure is applied to it and actually draws power from heat. He’s asked what it’s called and Delroy Lindo replies with a straight face: “I call it Unobtanium” How could you not love a movie that has a miracle metal called Unobtanium?

Once the mission is underway the team has to overcome a score of natural threats inside the planet itself such as lava rivers, freefall in a canyon of crystal and believe it or not, a diamond storm. In the meantime, as they travel deeper into The Earth, violent lightning storms devastate Rome and microwaves boil San Francisco. And as the team of the terranaut ship ‘Virgil’ die one by one in what is beginning to look more and more like a doomed mission, on the surface Stick and Rat have to deal with another threat…one with the sinister name of ‘Destini’…

I really can’t see how anybody wouldn’t love THE CORE unless you’re really a science geek who can’t stand anybody monkeying with your beloved rules of physics.  I remember reading an article way back when I was a kid where Isaac Asimov wrote the novelization for “Fantastic Voyage” even though he believed that miniaturization was impossible.  His reason?: “Hey, it’s a good story.” And that’s what THE CORE is. It’s impossible but it’s a good story.

The performances by all concerned are quite good. Especially Hilary Swank who looks like what I figure a real life female Air Force officer would look and behave like rather than a big-breasted bimbo playing dress-up. Delroy Lindo is also quite good as the eccentric inventor of the miracle ship that travels inside the earth. As improbable as the thing may sound, the way Mr. Lindo explains how it works you may be tempted to climb into the thing yourself just for the ride. I also liked Aaron Eckhart as Resident Brilliant Guy who can come up with any solution for any problem. Fans of Alfre Woodard are going to be disappointed as she really doesn’t have a lot to do except stay on the surface and look worried. DJ Qualls has a really nice bit where he uses a comb, the tinfoil wrapper from a stick of chewing gum and gives Eckhart’s character unlimited long distance on his cell phone. And I really liked how the scientists didn’t all immediately jump to be heroes and risk their lives. They’re all men of action but men of thought as well.

THE CORE doesn’t have a typical bad guy. It’s more of a race against time where the characters have to fight against the very elements. I suppose it could be compared to ‘Armageddon’ in a way but it’s a lot better than that Michael Bay noise-fest. The characters in THE CORE are much more likeable and when they die we feel it. It’s edge of your seat stuff that’s nothing but mad fun.  Highly recommended for a Saturday afternoon.

135 minutes

The Expendables



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.

103 minutes.



Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne

Based on a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protsevich

Based on The Marvel comic book THOR created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber

I like a lot of superheroes and love a whole bunch of others.  But ask me who my absolute favorite superhero is and without a doubt I’ll tell you its Thor.  I own a sizeable number of the issues written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby and all of the Walt Simonson issues and they’re among my most prized possessions when it comes to my comic book collection.

Why is Thor my favorite?  Where do I begin?  I love his grandeur, his majesty, his neo-Shakespearean way of speaking.  The fact that he’s not just a superhero: he’s The God of Thunder, wielding the enchanted war hammer Mjolnir.  He doesn’t just fight mortal supervillains such as The Absorbing Man and The Wrecker.  He also battles home grown immortal foes such as Frost Giants and Trolls.  His daddy is Odin, Monarch of Asgard who is so powerful that the gods of other pantheons speak softly around him.  Thor just doesn’t go on missions…he goes on quests to save the entire universe.  I can go on and on for days but you get the idea.  The comic book itself was a good mix of epic fantasy set in Asgard or other mythical realms and straight up superhero action when Thor would visit Earth to hang out with his mortal buddies in The Avengers or assume the humble human form of Dr. Donald Blake, greatest of healers.

I never dreamed that one day a THOR movie would be made but thanks to the quantum leap in movie making and technology, movies that once were considered unfilmable are now being made on a regular basis.  And I couldn’t be happier.  I’ve lived long enough to see a “Speed Racer” movie that blew my mind to splinters and now THOR.  If somebody gets around to making “Doom Patrol” and “Challengers of The Unknown” movies as good as those two I can die a happy man.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the greatest warrior in Asgard, home to a race of humanoids whose technology has given them abilities akin to that of gods.  In fact, they actually were worshiped as gods on Earth ages ago but after a war with The Frost Giants of Jotunheim, The Asgardians withdrew from Earth.  Thor himself is about to ascend the throne and take the place of All Father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as King of Asgard.  But that’s before Frost Giants invade, seeking to reclaim their greatest weapon, The Casket of Ancient Winters.

Defying Odin’s command, Thor invades Jotunheim along with his brother, The God of Mischief, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) childhood crush and warrior maid Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and The Warriors Three: Volstagg The Voluminous (Ray Stevenson) Fandral The Dashing (Joshua Dallas) and Hogun The Grim (Tadanobu Asano).  After the furious battle that takes place, war between The Frost Giants and The Asgardians is renewed, breaking the long peace Odin worked so hard for.  Enraged, Odin casts Thor out of Asgard, stripping him of his god-like powers and sending him to Earth.  Odin also throws Mjolnir to Earth where it lands in the New Mexico desert with this enchantment: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, will possess the power of Thor”

The hammer attracts the attention of the locals, who try to lift it up in a redneck version of the drawing of Excalibur to no avail.  The hammer simply cannot be lifted.  It also attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. who erects a compound around the hammer.  Also interested in the hammer is astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Jane accidentally hits Thor with her truck but that’s okay as he apparently has the answers she needs about her current research which involves wormholes.  In a really nice scene, Thor explains in an off-handed manner that his people know all about wormholes and how to use them to travel between The Nine Realms.  They don’t call their own personal wormhole a wormhole, though.  They call it Bifrost, The Rainbow Bridge and it’s the means by which The Asgardians travel though The Nine Realms.  Thor strikes a bargain with Jane: if she’ll help him get back Mjolnir, he’ll tell her what she needs to know to complete her research.  However, there are complications in this bargain.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie.

THOR bounces back and forth between the doings on Earth with Thor and his new found mortal allies and the intrigue on Asgard.  Odin has fallen into the sacred Odin Sleep to renew his power and that gives Loki the opportunity to step in and take control of Asgard.  The Warriors Three, along with Sif journey to Earth to help restore Thor to his rightful power and in the background, The Frost Giants plot with a secret traitor to destroy Asgard once and for all…

Let me say right up front that you’re not going to get a bad word about THOR outta me.  I absolutely loved this movie from start to finish and there ain’t a lot of movies these days I can say that about.  I loved Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of Thor.  Sure, he’s an arrogant ass but he’s a likeable arrogant ass.  And he’s smart enough to realize during his time on Earth that he doesn’t have all the answers.  He’s teachable.  And that makes all the difference in his relationship to every other character in the movie.  I even liked Natalie Portman who looks much more at home with the SFX in this movie than she did in the “Star Wars” movies.  Maybe it’s because in Kenneth Branagh she had a director who actually likes working with his actors.  Anthony Hopkins is properly majestic and awe inspiring as Odin.  Hell, even Rene Russo gets her moment to shine in her small role as Frigga, wife of Odin.  The SFX are simply staggering and I loved how The Rainbow Bridge looks as if it’s got arcane, ancient circuitry within its structure.

The movie could have ended after the battle with The Frost Giants and I’d have been satisfied because to me that captured the totality of the Lee/Kirby Thor.  And I can’t let this review end with once again giving a standing ovation to the performance of Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson. Coulson has proven to be one of the major linchpins holding the Cinematic Marvel Universe together and with good reason. Thanks to the wonderful on-point performance of Clark Gregg, Coulson demonstrates a quiet authority and calm demeanor even while dealing with Asgardian gods and super-science from beyond the stars.

And Idris Elba as Heimdall is absolutely Epic.  ‘Nuff Said.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do so.  THOR is my favorite Marvel superhero movie. And probably always will be.

114 minutes


And as an added bonus because I couldn’t help thinking of this while the movie was playing: