The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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2016

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Roger Birnbaum/Todd Black

Screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto/Richard Wenk

Based on “Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa

Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa/Shinobu Hasimoto/Hideo Oguni

And “The Magnificent Seven” directed by John Sturges

Written by William Roberts

There’s a scene in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN where they’re all sitting around just talking. It’s one of several scenes where we get to know these men and they get to know each other before the apocalyptic final battle in which they know full well that some, maybe none of them will survive. One of The Seven says that to die in the company of such men as these in the service of others is the highest honor he can imagine in life. And that pretty much sums up why the the concept of a small band of men of superlative fighting skills protecting those who can’t protect themselves worked in “Seven Samurai” and continues to work. “Seven Samurai” has been remade numerous times unofficially but the official sequel, the 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” is that rare sequel that has become just as legendary as the original. And I think it’s because of that ideal of dying honorably in the service of others, doing what is right just because you know in your gut and in your soul that it is right. It was one of the ideals that used to define manhood in our society and I think that’s why the 1960 version is still such a beloved movie, along with “Seven Samurai.” I don’t know if the 2016 version will still be watched 56 years from now but I like to think that all three of them still will be.

Just like in the 1960 version we have a gunfighter in black assembling a team of gunslingers to defend a town from a band of marauders. But this time, the gunfighter just doesn’t wear all black. He is black. Bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is persuaded by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to come to the mining town of Rose Creek to wrest the town from the iron-fisted control of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sargaard.) He has made virtual slaves out of the townspeople and goes around slaughtering anybody who dares speak up against him, including Emma’s husband.

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Chisolm rounds up a band of decidedly deadly yet eccentric gunslingers. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is a quickdraw expert and gambler. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) gained a reputation during The Civil War as the most dangerous sharpshooter in the country. His partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is expert in close quarter combat with knives. Mountain man/tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is an earthquake on two legs, possessed of terrifying physical strength. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw who seems to be incapable of missing anything he shoots at. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior who seemingly throws in with Chisolm on a whim but there is a deeper, more spiritual reason for him to join his cause.

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Now, the two things that distinguish this incarnation of The Seven from all earlier ones (I’m counting the casts of “Return of The Seven” “Guns of The Magnificent Seven” and “The Magnificent Seven Ride!” in this) is first of all, the racial diversity.  We’ve got a black man, a Cajun, a native American and a Mexican on the team which makes a lot more sense historically. And because each member of The Seven has a distinct style of fighting, it’s visually more thrilling during the fight scenes since it’s not just a bunch of guys all banging away with their guns with the bad guys. It also gives them all specific tasks to do during the movie, according to their gifts.

A large part of the fun of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is the enthusiasm of the cast. It’s hard not to have fun watching the movie when the cast obviously had fun acting in it. I like how the story takes it’s time to introduce The Seven and lay out their motivations for taking on the task of liberating Rose Creek from the clutches of Bogue. Director Antoine Fuqua knows his Westerns, that’s for sure. There are plenty of shots and scenes in this that are direct swipes from classic Westerns directed by John Ford, Sergio Leone and Walter Hill.

For this to be Denzel Washington’s very first Western he sure goes through it as if he’s been doing horse operas most of his career. There’s echoes of the world weariness and moral center of Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams and they both wear all black but that’s where the similarities end. Chris Pratt is fun as the freewheeling Faraday who does card tricks to confound his enemies but let’s be honest; when is Chris Pratt not fun to watch in a movie? He’s like a big kid who’s being allowed to just have fun and he does so with energy and aplomb. You just can’t help smiling when he’s onscreen. Ethan Hawke’s wonderfully named Goodnight Robicheaux is a sort of mash-up of the Robert Vaughn and Brad Dexter characters from the 1960 movie while Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks is introduced to us in a nifty callback to James Coburn’s introductory scene in the original. The only real grumble I had with this movie as I was going out the door was that the classic theme song was used so little. I understand that this movie was the last one scored by James Horner so I fully comprehend that the studio wanted as much of his music to be used as possible as Mr. Horner was a true innovator and his movie scores are magic. But c’mon…

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I’ve read reviews that criticized Antoine Fuqua for not bringing anything new to the Western genre with this version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. But he really didn’t have to. We all know the story. The 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” is one of those movies that even people who don’t like Westerns have seen and if they haven’t they know the story just as well as they know Superman’s origin or what the meaning of ‘Rosebud’ is in “Citizen Kane.” You don’t go to see THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN for plot twists or unexpected surprises. You go to see how well the story is retold. And it’s retold exceptionally well here. I’m also glad I got a chance to see it in IMAX and I heartily recommend that you do so as well. You guys know how much I love Westerns so I freely admit I’m biased. I simply love being able to go see a Western on the big screen and I love this version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

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133 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Captain America: Civil War

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2016

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon

If you had asked me a couple of days ago what my favorite Marvel movie is, I’d have said with no hesitation at all; “The Avengers.” But that was before I saw CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. I am now prepared to not only proclaim that not only is CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies but also that it just may be the best superhero movie made to date, period.

I might have said this before in my reviews of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but it bears repeating, I think. One of the strengths of the MCU is that movies featuring characters in their solo movies take their time to explore the worlds in which these characters operate. So Iron Man movies are about technology and ways they can be used or misused for good or evil. Thor movies are full of mythology, fantasy and cosmic adventures. And Captain America movies are about political struggles, the role of government intelligence agencies in modern warfare which is so different from the way Steve Rogers knew war back in World War II. And morals are always at the forefront of a Captain America movie. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Captain America movies are so popular now because Steve Rogers embodies a way of life and adherence to core beliefs and morals that we as a country and people have gotten away from but desperately long to get back to. But not Cap. He’s The Last Stand-Up Guy and he’s not ashamed of it either.

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Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is engaged in a covert mission in Lagos. His job is to keep a biological weapon out of the hands of Crossbones/Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo.) Cap has brought along as backup The Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) The Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and The Scarlet Witch/ Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen.)

They do manage to secure the biological weapon but during the intense fighting, Wanda accidentally destroys an office building which kills a dozen citizens of the isolationist African country Wakanda. This brings King T’Chaka (John Kani) and his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to spearhead what comes to be known as The Sokovia Accords. U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) presents The Sokovia Accords to The Avengers. If they agree to it and sign it, a United Nations panel will control their activities and supervise The Avengers.

Steve thinks it’s a lousy idea and is surprised that Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is all for it. Tony is obviously still dealing with PTSD brought on by not just the Chitauri Invasion of New York but the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as well. Unbeknownst to his friends, Tony’s many chickens have all come home to roost in a big way and that is why he insists that The Avengers sign and abide by The Sokovia Accords.

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The situation grows even more hostile and volatile when the representatives of over a hundred countries meet an a conference in Vienna to ratify The Sokovia Accords. The conference is bombed and all the evidence points to James Buchanan Barnes/Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) as the bomber. This situation divides The Avengers even more as Steve believes that Bucky shouldn’t be held responsible for crimes he committed while in a brainwashed state as The Winter Solider.

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The Black Widow, War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle ) The Vision (Paul Bettany) and Spider-Man/Peter Parker take Stark’s side while The Falcon, The Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) side with Captain America. The battle lines are drawn but there two wild cards in the deck; T’Challa has inherited not only the kingship of Wakanda but the heritage of The Black Panther as well. His agenda does not exactly line up with either Captain America’s or Iron Man’s as he is driven by pure vengeance to exact punishment on the murderer of his father.

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And in the background, quietly and methodically working on a plan to destroy The Avengers is a man named Zemo…not the one you’re thinking of. But he is no less dangerous. One of the jaw-dropping moments in this movie that is full of them is watching how Zemo manipulates every other character.

I’m not gonna pussyfoot around on this one; CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is such a finely crafted piece of superhero cinema I honestly am in awe of what the directors, writers and cast have done here. The movie works as both a Captain America solo movie and as an Avengers movie as well, which in itself is no small feat. There’s an exceptionally large cast of characters packed in here but everybody gets a chance to shine. I appreciated how the movie slowed down for such treats as the conversation The Vision and Wanda have while they bond over cooking dinner. I loved the scene where Rhodey and Sam are arguing their points of views about The Sokovia Accords. Remember that these are two black men who have both served in the U.S. military. But they have very different ideas about the role The Avengers should play in the world. And while we’re on the subject, when was the last time you saw a superhero movie that had three black superheroes in prominent roles?

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The discussions the characters have about The Sokovia Accords, their responsibility in how they use their powers and their views on how the public sees them now is something that I found fascinating. The world governments are starting to think that maybe superheroes really aren’t all that nice to have around since they seem to attract death and destruction (something that The Vision himself points out in one of the movie’s best scenes.)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR manages to give us the superhero action we crave (the Free-For-All Brawl at the airport is now the greatest superhero fight scene EVER.) while giving us plenty of deeper emotional stuff such as The Avengers having to deal with the consequences of their actions. The world has united in their demand that The Avengers simply not level cities and then go home in time for Corn Flakes and watching Captain Kangaroo.

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And I have been waiting all my life to see The Black Panther on a movie screen and now I have. Chadwick Boseman (along with Paul Rudd) walks away with the MVP award. And you all know how I feel about Chris Evans. The guy IS Captain America. ‘Nuff Said. And let me just say that I have never been a big Spider-Man fan but after seeing Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his smokin’ hot Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) I wouldn’t mind going to see the next Spider-Man movie.

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Bottom Line: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is spectacular entertainment from start to finish. I judge superhero movies by this: do they make me feel the same sense of excitement and wonder that I got from reading the comic books when I was 12 years old? Do they put me in touch with those feelings I got on a Saturday afternoon when I pulled out a stack of of my favorite comics books and read them for hours on end? CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR does indeed make me feel that way. Most movie series decrease in imagination, excitement and pure fun. Not this one. Each succeeding Captain America movie has been better than the one before and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is no exception.

 

 

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Warner Bros./Kennedy-Miller-Mitchell/Village Roadshow Pictures

2015

Directed by George Miller

Produced by Doug Mitchell/George Miller/P.J Voeten

Written by George Miller/Brendan McCarthy/Nico Lathouris

With all the deserved praise that he’s been getting for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, nobody seems to have mentioned that George Miller has revived a time honored movie tradition that has been forgotten in our age of reboot fever: he just simply recast a new actor to play Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.  He didn’t reboot the series or felt that he had to explain why Max hasn’t aged in the thirty years between this movie and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” In fact, through some subtle visual clues such as Tom Hardy wearing the same jacket and leg brace that Mel Gibson did in the three previous Mad Max adventures, Miller lets us know this is the same guy. Hardy even gets to briefly drive the iconic black V8 Interceptor.

But he doesn’t feel the need to work some kind of jiggery pokery as to why Mad Max is now Tom Hardy and not Mel Gibson. He simply presents MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as another adventure of his signature character. You can take it or leave it. And in fact, that attitude runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a perfect example of that old adage: “Show. Don’t Tell.” Miller doesn’t waste our time having his characters stand around mouthing meaningless exposition, explaining things to each other that they already know or filling us in on the background of this visually deranged world. Miller’s attitude seems to be: “Here’s the characters. Here’s the situation. Now sit back and watch the damn movie.”

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who holds sway over a hoard of worshippers due to his control of an unlimited supply of water in the middle of a desert wasteland somewhere in Australia. Immortan Joe has used the water to create an oasis where he lives with his private army, known as The War Boys and his Five Wives. They are all women of exceptional beauty he uses strictly for breeding.

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Max is kept alive and used an an unwilling blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult). While trying to figure out a way to escape, Joe’s right-hand woman Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps The Five Wives do just that very thing, hijacking the heavily armored War Rig. She intends to take them to The Green Place where she grew up. Once he discovers his wives are gone, Immortan Joe takes off after Furiosa with not only his War Boys but the armies of Gas Town and The Bullet Farm as well. Nux joins the pursuit with Max strapped to the front of his car and during that pursuit Max manages to escape and joins up with Furiosa and The Five Wives.

And that’s really all you need to know about the movie. What you’re getting is a two-hour epic car chase that is like a deliriously demented “Smokey and The Bandit” on acid. This is one of those movies that I watch in genuine amazement that nobody got killed working on this thing. It’s even more of an impressive achievement when you realize that most of the stunts and effects were done practically, at George Miller’s insistence. The use of CGI was used only when absolutely necessary and it’s actually Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron performing most of their stunts.

And speaking of Charlize Theron, she’s absolutely astounding here. The only other movie I can recall where she de-glamorized herself to this degree was “Monster.” Her role as Furiosa isn’t as dramatically daring as that of Aileen Wuronos but it’s no less captivating as she’s the best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens.” Yes, she’s that badass. Easily the equal of Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. They’re both warriors and survivors and come to respect each other because of their respective abilities to stay alive in this insane world. There’s no phony tacked on romance between them. They don’t have time for that bullshit. There’s only time to stay alive and ahead of the three armies chasing after them trying to kill them.

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Just on a purely visual level MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is brilliant. The vehicles on display are bizarre and just plain wacko. The Doof Wagon has to be seen to be believed. It’s a stage on wheels with six drummers banging away on drums while a guitarist swings back and forth on bungee cords playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar to Immortan Joe’s War Boys as they charge into battle.

Taking into account that he’s 70 years old, the imaginative visual power and energy of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is nothing less than astounding. Miller throws ideas and concepts up on screen for a couple of minutes that other filmmakers would make whole movies out of. You’d expect this kind of movie from a younger director, eager to show off what he can do.

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And maybe that makes all the difference. George Miller already knows what he can do. He did it before with “Mad Max” and with “The Road Warrior” which revolutionized the modern action movie. And he does it again with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop procrastinating. It’s definitely one of the best movies of 2015.

Rated R

120 Minutes

 

Furious 7

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2015

Universal Pictures/Original Film/One Race Films/Relativity Media/Media Rights Capital

Directed by James Wan

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell

Screenplay by Chris Morgan

Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

I have a lot of admiration for “The Fast and The Furious” film series. The first movie “The Fast and The Furious” was little more than an unofficial remake of “Point Break” substituting street racing clubs for surfers. Gradually the movies changed and developed into crime thrillers, teenage coming of age dramas and heist movies. With “Fast & Furious 6” and now FURIOUS 7 they’ve become full tilt boogie action-adventure spectacles with international locations, larger-than-life villains, breathtaking fight scenes and mind-boggling stunts that easily match and yes, sometimes top what you would expect to see in a James Bond or Mission: Impossible movie. There a scene in this movie where silky smooth spymaster Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) tells Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) “This is the world you’re in now, like it or not.” Which I interpret as a sly hint that this type of globe-trotting espionage capers is where the franchise is heading now. And if we’ve got more movies as good as FURIOUS 7 coming, then I eagerly await them.

It seems as if life has finally settled down for Dominic and his family. He’s helping Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) try and regain her lost memories. Ex-cop/Ex-FBI agent turned professional criminal Brian O’Conner has resolved to become a family man with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their son Jack even though he reveals to Mia that he misses the jazz of his dangerous life.

None of them have to worry about being bored. Dom’s house is blown up and he’s informed by his ally Luke Hobbs of the Diplomatic Security Service (Dwayne Johnson) that Dom and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) the older and definitely meaner brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) the villain from the last movie who is now in a coma. Deckard is out for revenge and has already killed Han Lue (Sung Kang)

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Dom is contacted by Mr. Nobody who offers to help Dom catch Deckard if Dom and his crew will help him stop a vicious mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Honsou) from getting his hands on God’s Eye. It’s a frighteningly sophisticated computer program that can use any digital device in the world to track any individual (think of it as the little sister of the Big Brother-ish Machine from “Person of Interest’) and Jakande has the creator of God’s Eye, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) After rounding up Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris Bridges) the band is back together and they set out to rescue the hacker, recover God’s Eye and save the world.

Well, maybe not save the world, but there certainly is that kind of feel as our heroes race around the globe from the Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles. And in each one these locals there are jaw-dropping action sequences that are insanely preposterous but I couldn’t help but watch with a goofy grin on my mug because dammit, that’s the reason why I go to see movies of this type. Give me the insane and the preposterous every time.

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What’s even more amazing to me is that all this astounding action is served up by James Wan, who as far as I know has directed mainly horror movies. Who knew that this cat had this kind of action movie in him? And now that we know, he should be given nothing but action movies to do. Seriously, FURIOUS 7 would be an impressive piece of work from a seasoned action director. But coming from Wan, who hasn’t done this genre before…well, he gets a standing ovation from me.

By now, everybody knows their characters inside and out and in a way, we all do as well. The team just isn’t a team. It’s a family as well and while that aspect may feel like it’s being beaten to death at times, it’s such an essential element of these characters that there’s no way a “Fast and Furious” movie can do without it. Especially not when the story has these kinds of stakes, what with Torretto & Co. being hunted by Deckard for personal reasons. James Wan isn’t afraid to slow down the action to develop emotional scenes between his characters and that gives resonance to the story in-between the cars flying through buildings and parachuting out of planes.

There’s a lot of great fight scenes in here, more elaborate than I can remember being in the other movies. Paul Walker and Tony Jaa as Jakande’s Oddjob go at it. Michelle Rodguez and Ronda Rousey have a memorable throwdown that while I enjoyed the hell out it also had me wondering since when did Letty become such an accomplished martial artist that she’s able to take down three other opponents at the same time before her main bout with Rousey’s character? We also get Johnson vs. Statham and Diesel vs. Statham. There’s your money’s worth right there, partners.

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So should you see FURIOUS 7? What, are you kidding me? YES. It’s a non-stop action extravaganza that’s not afraid to show heart and emotion, especially at the movie’s end which is both a truly moving tribute to Paul Walker and a sendoff for Brian O’Connor. If they never do another “The Fast and The Furious” movie, FURIOUS 7 is a more than satisfying way to end the series. This is the rare film series that has has gotten bigger and better with each new entry (I won’t mention “Tokyo Drift” if you won’t, okay?) and I hope it only continues to get bigger and better. Highly Recommended.

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137 Minutes

PG-13

The Expendables 3

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Directed by Patrick Hughes

Produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton, Danny Lerner, Les Weldon and John Thompson

Screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt and Sylvester Stallone

Based on a story by Sylvester Stallone

Based on characters by David Callaham

It seems like a small and petty thing, I know. But every time I watch an Expendables movie I always wish I had thought to name one of my characters Hale Caesar before these series of movies started. What does that have to do with my review of THE EXPENDABLES 3? Absolutely nothing. It was just a random thought that occurred to me when Terry Crews showed up on the screen I thought I’d share. The time it took for me to relate that thought is also about the same amount of screen time that Terry Crews/Hale Caesar has before he’s shot by Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) the man who co-founded The Expendables along with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) Stonebanks turned on his own team to become an illegal international weapons dealer, forcing Barney to come after him. Barney thought he had killed Stonebanks. He thought wrong.

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Barney’s CIA contact Max Drummer (Harrison Ford) tells Barney he’s got one more shot at Stonebanks as he’s wanted by The Hague to stand trial as a war criminal. For reasons that are never really made clear, Barney fires his current team: His second-in-command and knife expert Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) Sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundren) Demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) one of the original Expendables who just might be as good if not better with knives as Lee Christmas and also acts as team medic.

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With the help of “talent scout” Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) Barney recruits a younger, hipper squad of Expendables: ex-Navy Seal John Smilee (Kellan Lutz) Hand-to-hand combat specialist and professional bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousy) hacker Thorn (Glenn Powell) and sharpshooter Mars (Victor Ortiz) The one more shot at Stonebanks goes fubar and Barney has to swallow his pride to get his old team back to help him rescue the kids, assisted by Barney’s best frenemy Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) and Galgo (Antonio Banderas) expert sharpshooter and professional madman.

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Whew. Sounds like a lot to keep track of, doesn’t it? Well, there are a whole lot of characters and because we’ve got so many characters, the plot seems a lot more complicated than it actually is. While I enjoyed THE EXPENDABLES 3 a lot I can’t help but think that this one should have focused totally on the Stonebanks plot and saved recruiting a new team of younger Expendables for the fourth movie. Because the biggest WTH in the movie is Barney firing the old guys who most certainly have more of a reason for taking Stonebanks down since it’s their teammate he put in the hospital and both Barney and Doctor Death were on the original team betrayed by Stonebanks.

It also sticks out like the moles on Morgan Freeman’s face that the movie adheres to the rule that there can only be one black guy on a team at a time. Me, I’d have had Gunner get shot and near death for most of the movie’s running time. Nothing against Dolph Lundgren, understand. I just like Terry Crews/Hale Caesar more and would have enjoyed seeing him get more screen time and usually it’s him and Randy Couture who get shorted in the two sequels we’ve had.

The acting honors in this one goes to Mel Gibson who played a bad guy in “Machete Kills” and stole that movie like he steals this one. Stonebanks really doesn’t have much characterization or motivation for what he does but he’s a bad guy who so obviously enjoys being a bad guy I ended up liking him a lot. And Antonio Banderas is practically a live action cartoon as a mercenary desperate to join The Expendables who simply cannot stop talking. Banderas acts totally off the wall and is obviously having a lot of fun. Out of all the new Expendables introduced I’d most like to see him and Ronda Rousey return. A female MMA who is ranked at being #1 in the world in her class, she gets some really terrific fight scenes in the climactic battle between The Expendables, old team and new versus the onslaught of Stonebanks’ private army. I really enjoyed the chemistry she has with Banderas and hope they exploit it in the next movie (what, you really think that there isn’t going to be an “Expendables 4?’)

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I’ve heard and read some less than favorable reviews of THE EXPENDABLES 3 and I’m not going to say that they’re not valid. But for me, I went into the movie expecting nothing more an an action movie version of “The Avengers” and that’s what I got. For me it’s just a lot of fun seeing all these actors together on the same screen blowing shit up and shooting everything in sight. I’ve heard some complaints that there’s really no reason for people like Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer to be in the movie and that Jet Li should have had more to do. I was perfectly happy with Kelsey Grammer coming in, doing what he’s supposed to be doing and then he’s gone. Jet Li has already been established as a team member so having him show up for the final fight to back up his friends is okay by me.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 3? If you saw and enjoyed the first two, then Yes. The action sequences will definitely get your adrenaline pumping and I for one appreciated the effort on the part of the screenwriters to give us a story totally different from from the first two “Expendables” and at least make an effort to take the franchise in a new direction. Now the real test is going to come in “The Expendables 4” Are the new kids going to stick around and we’ll see Barney work at integrating the old-timers with the new kids and teaching them how to work as one unit? I hope so. We’ll see. In the meantime, go see THE EXPENDABLES 3 and have a good time.

126 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

300: Rise Of An Empire

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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 it seems to have forgotten that Queen Gorgo is supposed to be telling the story as now 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)

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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.