A Picture Of You

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2013

Medium 10-12

Written and Directed by J.P. Chan

Based on a story by J.P. Chan and Jo Mei

Produced by Duane Anderson/J.P. Chan /Robert M. Chang/Yasmine Gomez

I will frequently get into arguments with my Facebooks friends who are also rabid movie fans over one simple thing. We’ll be discussing movies and our movie watching habits and the subject of Netflix will come up and they will say; “Oh, I hate Netflix. There’s nothing on there to watch.” And yes, when I hear this quite a bit from them it will drive me up the mollyfoggin’ wall because to me it’s plain and simple as a spit in the eye: if you can’t find anything to watch on Netflix it’s because you’re not looking for anything new to watch.

Take A PICTURE OF YOU for instance. Patricia and I were sitting in the den. We had just eaten a an exceptionally delicious dinner she had prepared and as she is wont to do after we have finished eating dinner she will suggest we watch a movie. She scrolled through the suggestions on her queue, said; “hey, that looks good” and clicked it on. Within thirty minutes we were thoroughly engrossed in an extremely entertaining movie that gave us more than our money and time’s worth and all we had to do was take a chance on it. So let’s table that bullshit about there not being anything to watch on Netflix, okay?  I mean, how many times can you watch “Breaking Bad” or “Doctor Who”? Ohhhhh…yeah, that’s right….”Doctor Who” isn’t on Netflix anymore. Jeezly crow…I guess you might actually have to watch something else, then?

Kyle (Andrew Pang) and Jen (Jo Mei) are estranged siblings who are forced to come together to settle their mother’s estate after her death. It doesn’t help that Kyle had to take care of their mother during the last months of her life without Jen’s help. They leave their lives and move into their mother’s house in rural Pennsylvania to pack up her belongings for a weekend. It also doesn’t help that Kyle has just been through a strained divorce and that Jen is pretty much directionless and self-absorbed. The situation has more gasoline thrown on the fire by Jen inviting her best friend Mika (Teyonah Parris) and boyfriend Doug (Lucas Dixon) up to the house for the weekend. Kyle is understandably pissed that his sister would invite people he considers strangers into what to him is an intensely personal family matter.

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And right around when Mika and Doug arrive is when A PICTURE OF YOU takes a sharp left turn out of Really Heavy Family Drama into 1930s Screwball Comedy. Because Kyle and Jen find pictures on their mother’s computer. Pictures that demonstrate that Moms had a freaky side that Kyle in particular would rather not know about. But Jen is determined to find out exactly what the pictures mean and especially about the sexual partner whose penis is quite prominently featured in the picture of the title.

It’s this shifting of tone that really makes A PICTURE OF YOU such a standout for me and for Patricia who was laughing herself into a hernia during the second half. The first half is pretty much straight family drama about two siblings trying to deal with their mother’s death and their own strained relationship. Once the risque pictures surface and the friends get involved…we go into a whole other sphere of influence here. The movie takes on a comic tone that comes out of the characters and the situations and turns out to be extremely hilarious in spots such as when Our Heroes think they’re spying on an illicit assignation that turns into a polyamorous tryst.

A PICTURE OF YOU is one of those true treasures of Netflix: a movie that like Authors Anonymous was apparently ignored in theaters but deserves to be seen by a wider audience simply because it’s a damn good story presented and acted by artists who believe in the story they’re presenting. I really liked Andrew Pang as Kyle because like him I think there’s some things about my mother’s past I don’t want to know. I really fell in love with Jo Mei because I don’t think there’s another actress alive that could say “holy fucking shit” in so many different ways and have it mean so many different things depending on the situation she’s in.

So should you see A PICTURE OF YOU? Absolutely YES. It’s a movie that deals with the subject of grief and loss of a parent I rarely have seen dealt with in a movie before and it does so in a way that is at both serious and hilarious. Some movies I like to watch because they are a thrill ride. Some let me share in an extraordinary adventure for two hours. And some just let me get at look inside the lives of people I wouldn’t normally not be able to get a look inside of. In that respect A PICTURE OF YOU succeeds admirably. A PICTURE OF YOU is available now for streaming on Netflix and I highly recommend it.

 

90 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

 

A Walk Among The Tombstones

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2014

Universal Pictures

Directed and Written For The Screen by Scott Frank

Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Tobin Armbrust and Brian Oliver

Based on the novel “A Walk Among The Tombstones” by Lawrence Block

 I was about an hour into A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES when it hit me that I was watching a period piece. And it hit me with real surprise because the movie takes place the 1990’s before The Internet, home PC’s and cell phones really became indispensable and integral components of our daily lives. And the thing is this: I remember the 1990’s. I was there. I lived through the 1990’s and I can’t rightly call a movie a period piece if I actually lived during that period, can I?

But yes, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is indeed a period piece because it takes place in the 20th Century and we are now in the 21st. But it’s not just the lack of modern technology that makes this movie a period piece. One of the characters, a street urchin named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) upon finding out that Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is a private detective demonstrates that he’s familiar with Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. And Matthew Scudder is very much a literary grandson of those two classic P.I.’s

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Matthew Scudder, once a NYPD cop, left the force due to an accidental shooting he was involved in while drunk. He’s now sober and maintaining his sobriety while working as an unlicensed private detective. As he puts it to his prospective client, drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) “I do favors for people. And in return they give me gifts.” The favor Kenny Kristo wants Scudder to do for him is to find his wife who has been kidnapped. In return Kenny will give Scudder the gift of $20,000.

Scudder’s investigations put him on the trail of two truly monstrous psychopaths who have hit on a novel idea: they kidnap the wives and daughters of drug dealers knowing full well that the dealers can’t go to the police or FBI for help since that would expose what they do to the authorities. But as Scudder digs deeper into the case he discovers that this pair are more interested in killing their victims than the million dollar ransoms they demand.

Film Title: A Walk among the Tombstones

I never realize how much I miss this kind of story until I see it on screen. All the fun has gone out of being a private eye as now all they have to do is know how to work a computer. Matthew Scudder does it the old fashioned way. He does legwork. He goes to the library and uses a microfiche (Hah! Go ahead and Google that!) He asks questions and interacts face to face with people. And instead of taking DNA samples he uses his brain coupled with his years of experience and the instincts he’s developed to find the kidnappers. It’s quite the performance from Liam Neeson. I know people who saw the trailers for this and dismissed it as another variation of “Taken.” Trust me, in tone, in story and most importantly, in character this is nothing like Neeson’s “Taken” movies. I liked how the Matthew Scudder character doesn’t angst over his alcoholism. It’s part of his personality, yes, but it doesn’t define him. It was responsible for a tragic mistake in his past but he’s stepped up to do something about it so that it doesn’t happen again.

I really enjoyed the supporting cast in this one. Mainly because most of the faces were not familiar to me and so I wasn’t watching the actors playing these roles. I was watching the characters. Acting honors in this movie go to Boyd Holbrook as the drug addicted brother of the drug trafficker. He and Scudder bond over their mutual addictive problems and he turns out to be more pivotal to the plot than you would think at first. Brian “Astro” Bradley is also very good as TJ who bonds with Scudder due to his interest in detective fiction and wanting to be a detective himself.

And living in Brooklyn I naturally loved that the movie was filmed here. Some of those same streets that Scudder walks on I’ve either walked on myself or driven down. My tax guy used to have an office right across the street from the graveyard that figures prominently in a suspenseful and tense hostage/money exchange. Unlike a TV show like “The Strain” which goes out of its way to insist that it’s taking place in Brooklyn but never shows me a recognizable street or landmark, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is very clear that it’s a New York movie and lets you know it with every shot.

So should you see A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES? Absolutely. It’s way better than “8 Million Ways To Die” the 1986 attempt to bring Matthew Scudder to cinematic life. Jeff Bridges did his best in the role but was sabotaged by the direction of Hal Ashby. Brilliant as he is, Ashby was the last director in the world who should have been directing a hard boiled P.I. thriller. And Scudder is such a New York character (New York City itself can be said to be a supporting character in the Scudder novels) that moving him to Los Angeles just seemed wrong.

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But A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES never goes wrong from start to finish. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing throwback of a movie, one full of rock solid performances and a story to match. Don’t wait to see this one on DVD or Netflix. Go check it out while it’s still in the theater. Enjoy.

Rated R

113 Minutes

Guardians of The Galaxy

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2014

Marvel Studios

Directed by James Gunn

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman

Based on “Guardians of The Galaxy” by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

I’m just going to come out and say it straight and plain so you’ll know exactly where I’m going with this review and if you disagree with me you can then stop reading and go onto to something else that you feel is worth your time. Watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY gave me the exact same feeling I had when I saw “Star Wars” for the first time way back in 1977. Yeah, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is that good. It’s that good because it did its job of transporting me to an entire universe of brilliantly colorful characters and spectacularly different worlds. Visually the movie is pure cake and pie. It manages the feat of giving me characters that I thought I knew and making them seem fresh and new. And it tells a rousing story of a group of individuals who overcome their own petty interests and personal demons to make the choice to do the right thing. And by doing so they become Heroes.

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When we meet Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) it’s twenty six years after he was abducted from Earth by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). Yondu is the leader of The Ravagers, space pirates who survive and turn a credit anyway they can. Quill has become quite the accomplished thief as he proves when he steals a mysterious orb hidden in a forbidden temple on the equally forbidden planet of Morag.

It isn’t long before Quill realizes that he’s got a highly dangerous object in his possession as he’s pursed by not only Yondu, but Korath (Djimon Honsou) as well. Korath serves the Kree religious fanatic Ronan The Accuser who also wants the orb. Quill tries to sell the orb on the planet Xandar but winds up ambushed by not only Gamora (Zoe Saldana) the deadliest woman in the galaxy but by the most mismatched pair of bounty hunters ever; the genetically engineered Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and the tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel).  The whole lot of ‘em are arrested by The Nova Corps, the elite police force/militia of Xandar and are thrown into The Kyln, an inescapable space prison. It’s here that they meet up with the formidable Drax The Destroyer (David Bautista) a warrior thirsting for vengeance on Ronan. It’s also here that Quill learns Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, the mad Titan who and has struck a bargain with Ronan; get me the orb and I’ll destroy Xandar for you. It’s up to our band of misfits to break out of The Kyln and keep the orb out of the hands of Ronan as it contains an Infinity Stone, one of the most powerful objects in the universe.

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Now that only covers about the first fifteen minutes of a two hour movie but if that doesn’t make your heart beat a little faster then check yourself into a hospital because you must be dead. But I admit to being heavily biased in favor of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY because it’s been so long since I’ve seen an honest-to-Flash Gordon Space Opera in the movie theaters and even longer since I’ve seen one done this spectacularly well. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is being called a superhero movie and while it does have its superheroish elements, it actually belongs to a older tradition. One that was pioneered by such astounding writers like Leigh Brackett, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Edmond Hamilton. Other creators such a Alex Raymond with “Flash Gordon” and George Lucas with “Star Wars” made significant contributions to the Space Opera and it’s my hope that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY will jump start this genre in the movies much as “Star Wars” did back in the 70’s.

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The vibe I get from the entire movie is one of total confidence in the material, the direction and the acting. The movie does its best at throwing the most improbable situations and elements at us and damn if we don’t go with it, grinning and cheering. This has been a terrific year for Chris Pratt. Earlier this year he scored big with “The Lego Movie” and now here he is in a leading role which he carries with such ease that you would think he’s been starring in mega budget summer blockbusters for the past ten years. He had me right from the opening credits where he avoids death trap after death trap on the planet Morag while never missing a beat of Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love” And I think it was nothing less than brilliant to score the movie with pop songs of the 70’s and 80’s. In a bizarre way I think nobody could have seen coming, the songs fit perfectly and the rationale behind why we’re hearing The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” and “The Pina Colada Song” by Rupert Holmes while flying around in a starship billions of light years from Earth is a poignant one and a constant reminder to us that there is an Earth out there somewhere.

David Bautista really surprised me in this one as I only know him from “The Man With the Iron Fists” He has way more lines in this one and gets to do way more acting and pulls it off quite well. He also provides more than his share of the comedy relief as Drax tends to take everything Quill says literally. Very literally.  Zoe Saldana essentially is playing a green-skinned incarnation of the character she played in 2010’s “The Losers” but she does it so well that I’m willing to overlook it. Karen Gillian is almost unrecognizable as Nebula, another adopted daughter of Thanos that he’s transformed into a cyborg killing machine but she acquits herself well. I enjoyed her Darth Vader-ish I’m-Outta-Here move during the movie’s major battle scene.

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John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro all provide more than able backup in supporting roles and it wasn’t until I got to the end of the movie that I realized just how star studded this movie is and the level of talent involved. You’ve got more than a few in there who have either won Academy Awards or been nominated for such more than once.

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So should you see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY? Chances are you already have but if you haven’t then by all means, stop reading this review and go see it right NOW. For once a movie lives up to all the hype and praise heaped on it. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a movie that for me has saved an otherwise somewhat dull summer movie season and it’s done it by giving me an experience I go to the movies for. It’s action-packed, full of humor and a surprising amount of heart and it’s a movie that I have no doubt will become known as a masterpiece years from now. By all means go see and not only enjoy but be delighted.

PG-13

122 minutes

 

The Assassination Bureau (LTD)

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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.

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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.

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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.  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.

 

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

2011

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.

PG-13

90 Minutes

The Expendables

2010

Lionsgate

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.

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

2005
Warner Bros.

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.

Rated PG
76 minutes