The Terminator

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1984

Hemdale Pacific Western/Orion Pictures

Directed by James Cameron

Produced by Gale Anne Hurd

Written by James Cameron/Gale Anne Hurd

Y’know how long it’s been since I last saw THE TERMINATOR? Long enough that I completely and totally forgot that Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen are in the movie. And no cameos, either. They both have substantial roles to play in the story. And I say substantial because even though they don’t have a lot of screen time they definitely use whatever time they have well. Thanks to the script and their acting, the characters of Lieutenant Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Sergeant Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) are living people and not just plot devices to move the story along.

So why did I watch THE TERMINATOR again after all this time? Well, I’d seen “Terminator Genisys” and in that movie there are scenes recreated from the original movie. And they do a good job of it, right down to Jai Courtney wearing the same Nike Vandal high-top sneakers with the Velcro ankle straps that Michael Biehn wears. So I got a hankerin’ to watch the original. And thanks to Netflix I did. And ten minutes into the movie I was just as engrossed as I was the first time I saw it way back in ’84 at the Metropolitan Theater in downtown Brooklyn.

The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a cybernetic assassin. His metal endoskeleton is covered in living, organic tissue so that it can pass for human to get close to its target: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). In the future, an AI called Skynet will achieve sentience and declare war on mankind by firing all of America’s nuclear missiles all over the world. The human race is saved by a man named John Connor who leads the resistance to victory. But Skynet sends The Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to John. John Connor uses the same time machine The Terminator used to send his best soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect his mother. Neither The Terminator nor Kyle Reese can return to their future time and will never know how the future turns out. But their final battle in 1984 will decide a war being fought in 2029.

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Watching THE TERMINATOR after such a long time the one thing that struck me and what I really appreciated in the lean, economical storytelling. There’s not a thing in the screenplay that slows up the plot or is in there just to pad out the running time. The last three movies in the “Terminator” suffered from serious bloating of the plot and stopping the story cold to have the characters sit around tell each other stuff they already know.

Don’t get me wrong…I like and appreciate characterization in my movies as much as you. But James Cameron as a script writer and a director understands that in an Action Movie you can reveal characterization through action. Even in scenes where Sarah and Kyle get a few minutes to stop and catch their breath, they’re not just sitting there relating to each other. They’re always doing something that never lets us forget that these are two people on the run. Even the sex scene between Sarah and Kyle isn’t just thrown in there for titillation. It’s important to the plot.

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I honestly don’t think this movie would be as well remembered and as highly regarded as it is (The Library of Congress has deemed THE TERMINATOR to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant) if Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn’t played the role. Do you honestly think we’d still be talking about The Terminator if O.J. Simpson had played it? He was the studio’s choice but Cameron wouldn’t have it.  Arnold had made about a dozen movies before THE TERMINATOR but this role as well as Conan seemed to be tailor made for him. I even think his Austrian accent works very well in this movie as it did in his Conan movies because it sounds strange as if The Terminator is still working out the kinks in how to speak like a human being.

Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton are excellent here. Fifteen minutes into the movie and you buy their characters totally. Watching it today I was struck by the energy of their action. Biehn in particular is electric every time he’s on the screen and I couldn’t help but compare his turbo charged performance to Jai Courtney who walks through “Terminator Genisys” as if he’s half asleep.

THE TERMINATOR is one of those movies that I think every director and screenwriter who wants to do an Action Movie should be required to watch. It’s got a full-tilt boogie plot that never seems rushed. The only things in the story/plot is what needs to be there and no more. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron skimps, either. There’s a nice little motif of machines betraying humans dropped here and there. Sarah’s roommate is killed because she’s listening to her Walkman with the sound cranked all the way up and can’t hear her boyfriend getting his ass kicked by The Terminator in the next room. TV’s are constantly giving away information that they shouldn’t. Despite the fact that he had a limited budget, James Cameron made it work for him with imagination, compelling characters and a helluva good story that has mature ideas and themes. If you haven’t seen it in a while, go ahead and revisit it. THE TERMINATOR still holds up very well.

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107 Minutes

Rated R

Terminator Genisys

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2015

Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures

Directed by Alan Taylor

Produced by David Ellison/Dana Goldberg

Written by Laeta Kalogridis/Patrick Lussier

Based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd.

I’ve got nobody to blame but myself. After the dismal “Terminal Salvation” and the utterly boring television series “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” I swore off any and all “Terminator” movies. After the extraordinarily disappointing “A Good Day To Die Hard” I resolved to never again pay money to see Jai Courtney in another movie. I’m sure he’s a fine gentleman and we’d probably have a great conversation over beers. But to date I’ve never seen the man give a performance I’ve liked. He’s got zero chemistry on screen with everybody I’ve seen him act with.

But the lure of Arnold Schwarzenegger proved to be too strong. And to give him his credit, Arnold is a lot of fun to watch in TERMINATOR GENISYS. I think it’s a testament to his growth as an actor that he makes a robot the most human character in the movie. Arnold’s been doing this for so long that he knows how to make us root for The Terminator and how to use the character to get all the laughs in the movie with turning The Terminator into a buffoon or an object of ridicule. I just wish he’d been able to impart some of his acting experience to his co-stars.

Director Alan Taylor and his writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier appear to have drunk 40 ounce sized bottles of J.J. Abrams brand Kool-Aid since the whole premise of TERMINATOR GENISYS is that an entirely new timeline has been created due to a Terminator having been sent back in time to 1973 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from a T-1000. When Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) arrives in 1984 via time machine he expects to find a Sarah Connor who’s unaware of Terminators or that she’s the mother of mankind’s savior.

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Instead, he finds a battle-hardened warrior who is just as proficient with weapons and hand-to-hand combat as he is. She knows all about Judgment Day and the future war with Skynet and its machine army. In addition, her backup is The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has raised Sarah as if she were its daughter. She even affectionately calls The Terminator “Pops”

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Pops has built a time machine himself and Sarah intends to use it to go to 1997 and prevent Judgment Day, the day when Skynet attacked humanity. Due to him remembering the timeline that no longer exists, Kyle insists that they have to go to the year 2017 instead. But when they get there they find a new Terminator. The most advanced Terminator yet since this one is based on nanotechnology. But that isn’t even the worst because this Terminator has a very personal tie to both Sarah and Kyle as it’s their son, John Connor. And before you start foaming at the mouth and screaming; “Spoilers!” let me point out that this very important plot twist is spoiled in the trailers for the movie. It’s a plot twist that definitely should have been kept as the biggest secret in the movie. Just like Schwarzenegger’s iconic “I’ll be back” should have been kept out of the trailers. When we hear him say it in the movie, it should have been a stand-up and cheer moment. But since we’ve seen that scene umpteen times in the trailer we’ve been watching since last year, it’s as dead as yesterday’s fried chicken. There’s no heat behind it. No emotion. And movies run on emotion.

I broke down the plot to its simplest elements because if I took time to adequately explain it in detail, this review could easily run somewhere between three and five thousand words. But if you decide to see this movie the characters will explain it to you over and over and over again. It is amusing to see scenes from the first “Terminator” movie replayed in TERMINATOR GENISYS and there’s some laughs to be had when Kyle meets up with a Sarah Connor who knows more than he does but it quickly goes flat as Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke have no chemistry at all. But as I said earlier, he doesn’t have it with anybody. And it really suffers that the actor playing John Connor (Jason Clarke) also has zero chemistry as well. Given what we know about the relationship between Kyle Reese and John Connor you think that the casting director would have picked a couple of actors who can convince us that they like each other.

Emilia Clarke is no Linda Hamilton, plain and simple. She goes through the movie looking like a little girl playing grown-up and she’s got none of the inner toughness that Linda Hamilton had and was able to project so well. J.K. Simmons shows up late in the movie to provide some much needed humor and it’s too bad that there wasn’t a way his character could have been introduced into the story earlier.

Left to right: Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese, JK Simmons plays Detective O’Brien, and Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

As usual, it’s up to Arnold Schwarzenegger to save the day. He’s become a master at the art of deadpan humor and as such, he supplies most of the funny in the movie. The running gag here is that even after all the time he’s spent taking care of Sarah, he’s still learning how to fit in with humanity. And while he’s been presented as a killing machine in past movies, this Terminator has an IQ that would put Reed Richards to shame. He builds time machines. He formulates elaborate plans in 1984 that won’t come to fruition until 2017. He rattles off quantum mechanics and the theory of mutable timelines as if he invented them. Quite a change from the original “Terminator” where Schwarzenegger only has 100 words. In TERMINATOR GENISYS he talks so much that at one point Kyle asks Sarah if he has an off switch.

And by the time I got to the after credits scene it occurred to me that by now, Skynet is the technological equivalent of Michael Myers and Jason Voohees. No matter how many times it seems like its beaten or defeated, it always manages to find a way to come back in the next movie. Which makes me even less inclined to see the two sequels set in this new timeline.

So should you see TERMINATOR GENISYS? Only if you have nothing else to do and just want to get out of the house for a couple of hours. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. Just a completely unnecessary one and it serves no other purpose than to be chewing gum for your brain. If that’s all you want, go see it with my blessing.

PG-13

Rated 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

 

Sabotage

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2014

Albert S. Ruddy Productions

Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Bill Block, David Ayer, Ethan Smith, Paul Hanson and Palek Patel

Written by Skip Woods and David Ayer

I’m going to put my neck out there and say that I truly and honestly admire Arnold Schwarzenegger for what he does in SABOTAGE. This is a Schwarzenegger who realizes that he would look downright silly trying to do the same kind of action movie he did back in the 1980’s. He can’t be the One Man Army Killing Machine anymore. Sure, he’s still in better shape than 90% of us but he’s no kid anymore. And he doesn’t try to hide it unlike the other two members of The Holy Trinity of Action Movie Heroes. Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis are still trying to convince us they’re still able to pull off stunts they did 30 years ago. But not Schwarzenegger.  He’s got respect for our intelligence. Oh, he still does physical stuff but nothing like the stunts he did in say, “Commando” or “Eraser” These days he’s relying a lot more on story, characterization and supporting casts to give his movies weight.

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SABOTAGE isn’t a movie he could have made back in the 1980’s. He had to wait until now to make a movie like this where he could make his age work for him and for the character he plays. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t Schwarzenegger doing Hamlet (and I still say he should have done it. Who in their right mind wouldn’t pay to see that?) but he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself.

John “Breacher” Warthon (Arnold Schwarzenegger) ramrods an elite team of wildass DEA agents. These agents are just one notch above being full blown renegades. A couple of them (Sam Worthington and Max Martini) appear to have severe psychological issues while Lizzie (Mireille Enos) is the team’s loose cannon, brazenly flaunting her drug habit and sexual promiscuity in the faces of her boss, her teammates and her husband (Worthington)

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During a raid on a cartel safehouse, Breacher and his team help themselves to $10 million of the cartel’s money and blow up the rest to cover their theft. They hide the $10 million but when they go to recover it, they’re pissed off beyond words to find it’s gone. In the meantime, the DEA has somehow found out about the stolen money. Breacher is put on a desk job and his team suspended pending an investigation. Six months later and with no concrete evidence tying them to the money, Breacher and his team are reinstated.

Turns out that isn’t a favor at all as a couple of team members are gruesomely killed and there’s only two possibilities: either the cartel is killing off Breacher’s team in revenge for stealing their money or it’s a team member who is killing his (or her) partners to keep all the money for themselves. Either way, Breacher’s stuck in the middle. Unable to trust his team or the DEA, he has to rely on the help of Investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) the homicide cop assigned to the case. But can Inspector Brentwood trust Breacher? Because during the course of her investigation she discovers that Breacher just may have more motivation than anybody else on his team to steal and kill for the money.

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By now you should have tumbled to the fact that Schwarzenegger isn’t playing his usual good guy. In fact, this may be the closest we’ll get to see him playing a bad guy as Breacher nor his team are likeable characters. In fact, they’re all really not much better than the criminals they go after. But that’s okay by me. I don’t need my characters to be likeable. As long as I understand their motivations for doing what they do, I’m cool.

The supporting cast in SABOTAGE is an unusually strong one for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and yet another sign that you’re not getting your usual Schwarzenegger Shoot-Em-Up. Terrence Howard and Josh Holloway are members of Breacher’s team while Harold Perrineau is a cop partnered with Brentwood and provides the movie with much needed comedy relief. Believe it or not, it’s Sam Worthington who walks off with the acting honors in this movie as well as Mireille Enos. Their characters are complicated enough to deserve a movie of their own. They’re married DEA agents who have long ago surrendered to corruption and spiritual degradation in the pursuit of justice. Mirelle Enos just about steals the movie from everybody in sight during the third act.

What else? Oh, the violence…seriously, this just may be the most violent movie Schwarzenegger has made and considering his track record, that’s really saying something. Director David Ayer is not interested in cartoon violence or the glorification of it. The violence in SABOTAGE is amazingly cruel, bloody and horrifically messy. And Schwarzenegger has got quite the potty mouth as well. I gave up counting after his twentieth F-bomb.

So should you see SABOTAGE? If you’re a longtime Arnold Schwarzenegger fan like me you probably already have. But if you haven’t, give it a chance. It’s not his usual action movie and has far more of a mystery thriller aspect than the trailers would lead you to think. I appreciate him always trying to expand the range of what he can do in films and I think that with movies like this and “Escape Plan” in which he also played a different kind of character than we’re used to seeing, he’s showing that Arnold Schwarzenegger still has a lot to offer us.

109 minutes

Rated R

 

Escape Plan

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2013

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

Produced by Robbie Brenner and Mark Canton

Screenplay by Jason Keller and Miles Chapman

Story by Miles Chapman

My guess is that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had way more fun acting together than they thought they would in the two “Expendables” movies. In the first “Expendables” Stallone and Schwarzenegger shared the screen (along with Bruce Willis) for maybe two or three minutes. “The Expendables 2” gave Stallone and Schwarzenegger more screen time together but ESCAPE PLAN has them truly co-starring for the first time in an action movie together. And let’s be honest, seeing two of the greatest and most successful action stars of the 80’s in a movie together is the drawing power of this movie. What surprised me is that there also was a damn good story to go along with the pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger with Ah-nuld doing some really good acting.

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Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is partnered with Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) in a highly unusual security firm. Ray is an absolute genius at breaking out of maximum security prisons. To date he’s broken out of 14. The goal is to show where the weaknesses in the prison security are so that they can be corrected. Ray is offered an obscene amount of money by the CIA to test a top secret corporately funded prison. The Tomb is an experiment in escape proof prisons. The location is secret and unlike most prisons, since it’s run by a for-profit corporation, if you have enough money to pay them to keep somebody you don’t like locked up for as long as you like, it’s all good.

Turns out that Ray has been set up. Warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) informs him that The Tomb was built using Ray’s own textbook he wrote on how to build escape proof prisons. A book Hobbs keeps on his desk. The cell walls are transparent, the robotic looking guards have no problem beating prisoners into submission and Hobbs himself is totally merciless when it comes to maintaining order in his prison. Ray’s support team (Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) have no idea where he is or how to find him and Lester is no help at all

However, Ray still believes he can break out, using his method of Layout/Routine/Help. But the help this time comes in the hulking form of a fellow prisoner, Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who joins up with Ray. He’ll use his resources in The Tomb to help Ray and in return, when Ray breaks out, he’ll take Rottmayer with him.

Having spent an obscene amount of time during the 1980’s going to see their movies, I was delighted to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger back in action yet again. Yeah, yeah, I know that they’re older…but so am I. The screenplay affords them the opportunity to use their brains and wits more than they did in their past movies. If this had been made during the 80’s, Stallone and Schwarzenegger would simply have beat the hell out of everybody and walked out of the prison.

The surprising thing here is that Schwarzenegger walks away with the acting honors as he’s the comedy relief in this movie. I estimate he’s got 65% of the funny lines in the movie and it’s truly amusing to watch him and Stallone as a musclebound Crosby/Hope pairing. He also has a great scene where he has to provide a distraction for his partner and goes into a religious rant spoken entirely in German. And he proves that he’s still got it in the action scenes. There’s a part where he finally gets his hand on a heavy machine gun and the audience in the theater just about went nuts because we all knew what was coming next.

Almost as good is Faran Tahir as Javed, the leader of the prison’s Muslim population who joins up with Ray and Rottmayer. The way the relationship between him and Rottmayer is really interesting to watch and it’s always a bonus to see a Muslim character in this type of movie depicted as a man of respect, devout faith and intelligence.

Stallone plays a more cerebral character than we’re used to him seeing and I liked how his smarts was displayed. When Ray is explaining how he’s going to execute his plans and breaks it down step by step, it’s jaw-droppingly good the way director Mikael Hafstrom uses CGI diagrams and floor plans to help explain.

Jim Caviezel is nothing less than amazing and if you like him playing a good guy on TV’s “Person of Interest” then you’re going to enjoy even more seeing him play a bad guy. He’s the best kind of bad guy: the one who doesn’t have to raise his voice because he has no doubt he’s in control. Vinnie Jones as his chief enforcer/guard does his usual barking-mad-foaming-at-the-mouth badass. Nothing special here but Vinnie Jones has got this type of role locked down so well it should have his copyright on it.

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Wish I could say more about Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson but the truth of the matter is that they really don’t have much to do other than yell at Lester about why isn’t he doing anything to find Ray. Sam Neill picks up a neat paycheck for playing The Tomb’s doctor. I hate to see an actor of Sam Neill’s talent wasted and he’s here in this movie for one reason and one reason only: to send an email.

So should you see ESCAPE PLAN? If you’re a fan of 80’s action movies and want to watch a movie that’s a throwback to that decade, Yes. If you’re a fan of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Yes. If you want to watch a decent action thriller that’s a little bit smarter and better acted than it needed to be, Yes.

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115 minutes

Rated R: For violence and language. The “F” bomb must have been dropped about fifty times in this movie so if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Raw Deal

RAW DEAL

1986

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Directed by John Irvin

Produced by Martha Schmacher

Screenplay by Gary DeVore and Norman Wexler

Story by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati

For a change I’ll get right to the point and tell you guys exactly why I like RAW DEAL so much. For a considerable amount of screen time, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going around wearing tailored Armani suits with slicked back hair, trading insults with badguy Robert Davi while smoking foot-long Cuban cigars and playing baccarat while flirting with Kathryn Harrold in hidden underground Detroit gambling casinos. To the point where I honestly think he looked on this movie as an audition for him to play James Bond.  RAW DEAL isn’t a movie mentioned when Schwarzenegger movies are discussed and that’s a shame because RAW DEAL is a lot of fun. He isn’t required to be a one-man army until near the end of the movie unlike a lot of his movies where he’s shooting up folks from start to finish. I think RAW DEAL gets forgotten because the next year he would star in “Predator” and that was when his movie career would really take off.

Mark Kaminsky (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was once one of the FBI’s best agents. But he beat a suspect who molested and murdered a girl, nearly to death and federal prosecutor Marvin Baxter (Joe Regalbuto) forced him to resign. The only job Kaminsky could get was as the sheriff of a small town. His wife (Blanche Baker) is an unhappy alcoholic who cannot adjust to small town life and Kaminsky has no idea how to fix his marriage.

An opportunity presents itself when FBI Chief Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin) contacts Kaminsky. Shannon’s son was killed while protecting an informant who was going to testify against mobster Luigi Patrovita (Sam Wanamaker.) Shannon wants Kaminsky to join him on a secret mission of revenge. If Kaminsky will infiltrate Patrovita’s organization and destroy it from within, Shannon will get Kaminsky’s old job back. Shannon informs Kaminsky that there is a serious leak that has been getting their previous agents sent to infiltrate Patrovita’s mob killed so the only person who will know about Kaminsky is Shannon.

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Kaminsky fakes his death and shows up in Chicago as Joe Brenner, disgraced Miami hood looking for a new home. After meeting with Patrovita’s right hand man Rocca (Paul Shenar) and Rocca’s right hand man Max Keller (Robert Davi) Kaminsky/Brenner goes full blown Yojimbo, working on the inside to turn the various members of Patrovita’s gang against other as well as stirring up trouble with Patrovita’s chief rival Martin Lamanski (Steven Hill) In the meantime he’s also busy trying to figure out exactly where gambler Monique (Kathryn Harrold) fits in all this and who’s side she’s on.

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There’s a couple of points in RAW DEAL that for me kick it up a notch above most of Schwarzenegger’s bloodbaths. I like how he gets to wear cool suits and act all smooth. He carries it off a lot better than you would think. He’s no Roger Moore but he’s no slouch either. He knows what fork to use to eat his shrimp and how to play baccarat and that puts him two points up on me.

I liked the scene where Shannon is trying to talk Kaminsky into the job. He makes it very clear this is an unsanctioned mission of pure personal revenge that he himself is financing with his life savings. In an unexpected bit of business, Kaminsky says to Shannon that his son knew that by being an FBI agent his life was at risk every day and he accepted that. Shannon should accept it as well and just move on. It isn’t until Shannon mentions that he can get Kaminsky’s job back that Kaminsky agrees to take the job. I always appreciate it when the writers of a movie acknowledge that sometimes a hero does things because there’s something in it for him as well. It’s a good piece of motivation that didn’t have to be there but I’m glad it is.

I also liked the scene where Kaminsky meets with Shannon to tell him that he’s seriously considering going off the reservation and embracing Joe Brenner’s life for real. Again, it’s a scene that didn’t have to be there but it’s a scene that shows that the writers didn’t want this to just be another shoot ‘em up and at least wanted to give some depth to the Kaminsky character and not have him be the typical Schwarzenegger One Man Army.

I hadn’t seen this movie in ages but I think it holds up pretty well and a large part of that is due to the supporting cast, all of them seasoned pros who know how to play this material and do their jobs. The quasi-romance between Kaminsky and Monique is handled with just the right touch as Kaminsky still loves his wife but is plainly attracted to this woman who is also strongly attracted to him.

And yes, we do get Schwarzenegger as the unstoppable killing machine at the end where he takes on the entire Patrovita mob in an orgy of gunfire and non-stop violence. But the movie gives us a satisfying emotional ending as well between Kaminsky and Shannon.

So should you see RAW DEAL? Without a doubt. No, It’s no “Commando” or “Total Recall” but I think it’s an awfully damn good movie for Schwarzenegger to attempt at that stage of his acting career. If you’re an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan, you’ve probably seen RAW DEAL already. But if you haven’t, do so. I guarantee you’ll see a side of him you never saw before.

106 minutes

Rated R

The Expendables 2

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Avi Lerner

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Richard Wenk

Story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Richard Wenk

Based on characters created by David Callaham

If they continue on making them this entertaining and this much fun, they can make Expendables movies from now until the lid is slammed shut on me. They last time I had this much fun watching a movie was when I saw “The Avengers” and for a lot of the same reason: I felt like I was watching a lot of old friends that I’ve known for years together at last. And like “The Avengers” which put together a bunch of classic Marvel superheroes on screen at the same time for the first time, THE EXPENDABLES 2 finally gives up what the first “Expendables” only teased us with. At last The Holy Trinity of Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis) standing shoulder to shoulder blasting the hell outta the bad guys.  It’s a stand-up and cheer moment for sure and it only gets better when none other than Chuck Norris joins the party.

But before that we get an absolutely outlandishly kick-ass pre-credits sequence where The Expendables invade Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman. The old crew is back together: leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren.) They also have a new member: Billy The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) because you can never have enough snipers.

After the Nepal rescue, Barney is approached by CIA spook Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who still is not happy about the way the Vilena mission The Expendables undertook for him went down. He proposes a new mission to clean the slate. Barney will take on another new member, technical expert Maggie (Yu Nan) and fly to Albania to recover an item from a crashed airplane. The Expendables do so, only to have the item stolen from them by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his private terrorist army, The Sangs. Maggie reveals that the item is a computer that contains the blueprints for an abandoned Soviet Cold War era mine being used to store five tons of plutonium. Vilain and his right hand man Hector (Scott Adkins) have some really wicked plans for this plutonium.   It’s up to The Expendables to stop Vilain and if they have to blow up the country to save the world…well, that’s just what they’ll do.

And at times it does seem as if they’re going to blow up the country with all the explosions going off. Not to mention the horrendously high body count they rack up in their pursuit of Vilain. And that’s before The Expendables are joined by Mr. Church, the mysterious lone wolf commando Booker (Chuck Norris) and Barney’s rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who comes along for the ride. You can imagine the carnage that ensues with that kind of extra firepower added to the team.

And what a ride it is. Watching THE EXPENDABLES 2 for me is like stepping into a time machine and going back to the heyday of Action Movies: the 1980’s. I suspect that those of you, like me, who remember going to the theaters back then when it seemed like every week there was a new movie starring one of these guys playing will get more of a thrill just out of seeing these guys on screen together than anything else. Seeing them all together and obviously having so much fun is nothing less than a blast. And there’s a lot of inside jokes that I chuckled at but I suspect went right over the heads of most of the people in the theater I was watching the movie with.  My favorite one is when Barney casually mentions that Gunner has a degree in chemical engineering and threw away a promising career in that field for a girl. Google Dolph Lundgren and you’ll see why I found that funny. I also got a big grin out of Chuck Norris’ character being named Booker and being described as a lone wolf. Again, Google Chuck Norris and check out the synopses for “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “Good Guys Wear Black” and you’ll get the joke.

With the new members of the team on board as well as Willis and Schwarzenegger having bigger roles in this one that means that Toll Road and Hale Caesar don’t have as much to say but they get just as much of their share of the mayhem. And I like how Randy Couture quietly reminds us that his character is the team’s intellectual by having Toll Road simply reading a book in the background while plot exposition is going on in the foreground. And while Hale Caesar does not have a show-stopping moment in this one as he did in “The Expendables” (but let’s face it…taking down an attack helicopter by throwing a missile at it is a tough act to beat) Terry Crews makes sure that when Hale Caesar does have something to do, it’s memorable.

I also liked the action sequences in THE EXPENDABLES 2 better than the first one. The editing on the first movie was way too choppy in several fight scenes and during the final assault. That’s not the problem here. The action scenes are wonderfully and cleanly shot, full of noise and energy and gloriously blood-drenched with plenty of really impressive practical stunts.

That’s not to say I liked everything about the movie. I didn’t like how one of my favorite characters from the first movie has what amounts to a glorified cameo and simply drops out of the movie. And I’m not merely being descriptive. The character actually does drop.  Charisma Carpenter is totally unnecessary in this movie.  Even more so than in the first one and really, there’s no reason for her character to be in either one of them. The subplot dealing with the relationship between her character and Statham’s Lee Christmas is even more ridiculous considering that Lee spends more time talking to Barney about it than he does to his supposed girlfriend. I’m a big fan of Charisma Carpenter and hey, if the movie wants to give me gratuitous shots of her in a scandalously skimpy dress wiggling and jiggling in a bar, I’m not gonna complain. But she’s too good an actress to be wasted on a three-minute scene that any actress could have played.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 2? If you saw the first one, absolutely. Even if you didn’t see the first one, go see THE EXPENDABLES 2. The action is spectacular, especially the Nepal rescue and the final showdown in an airport where Couture, Crews, Lundgren, Norris, Schwarzenegger and Willis decimate the Sangs while Stallone and Van Damme have their mano-a-mano deathmatch. The jokes are as fast as plentiful as the bullets and it’s just such a pleasure to see a good old fashioned Action Movie made by and starring talent who know what they’re doing and do it supremely well. THE EXPENDABLES 2 gets my highest recommendation.

103 minutes

Rated R