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9/10
Suspenseful, entertaining, authentic naval warfare film
18 January 2016
Caught this on Netflix streaming, while I had "nothing better to do;" and, boy, am I glad I did. "Northern Limit Line" is, clearly the most authentic movie about military life since "We Were Soldiers"; and it the most the most authentic film about shipboard life since "Das Boot", but a lot more entertaining. Based on a two incident, what would be called a "clash" by a news reader in a paragraph on a "Nightly News," "Nothern Line Limit" is, alternately, suspenseful, exciting, grueling and, ultimately, touching. Very well written, directed, photographed, acted and scored, "Northern Limit Line" also contains the longest modern naval warfare sea battle I have seen. Hollywood could certainly learn from South Korea about how to film a sea battle. My only slight quibble is the editing. One or two sequences end abruptly, disorienting the viewer for an instant. The movie could also use a slight trimming, particularly the "port departure sequence" on the day of the battle.

Inexplicably, I could not enjoy "Northern Limit Line" on my home theater system. For some reason, the title does not appear on the Netflix "Search" menu on my Roku. Too bad, because the sea battle cries out for a big screen and Surround sound. I give "Northern Limit Line" a "9".
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6/10
Ill-conceived story structure torpedoes potentially good love story
25 November 2015
"Ricki and the Flash" is one-fifth rocker love story and four-fifths cliché family drama. Hitting all the right PC buttons, "Ricki..." features an interracial couple, a gay son and an emotionally disturbed daughter estranged from her biological mother. This movie could have been saved in post-production, by ending the first song sequence with a flashback to the "family drama," then periodically flashing forward to the romantic relationship between Meryl Streep (who looks great OUT of makeup) and Rick Springfield (who also looks great). If this had been done post-production, a barely digestible meal of a movie could have become, at the very least, tasty fast food. I give "Ricki and the Flash" a "6".
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Mr. Nobody (2009)
9/10
Flawed near-masterpiece box office dud
15 November 2015
Beautifully directed, photographed, edited, and, mostly acted, "Mr. Nobody" is testimony to how even the best films prospects can be destroyed by horrendous marketing. While "Mr. Nobody" may be an accurate title, it is a horrible title for a movie of such scope and accomplishment. Perhaps the horrid title is why only a few US theaters played this movie, returning only a few thousand dollars on a film which cost $47M. Fortunately, streaming video makes it possible to see this flawed near-masterpiece. In fact, I saw the theatrical version as part of the Netflix streaming package; and the director's cut, which addresses all but one of what I consider "flaws" is available on Amazon streaming. My only criticism of both versions is the casting of Diane Kruger as the adult "Anna". Juno Temple, an adult actress who plays juvenile roles, is, again, world class, with the intensity needed for the pivotal "Anna". On the other hand, Diane Kruger, lacks both Ms. Temple's intensity and disproportionately large breasts, which makes it pretty hard to believe she is the same character. Better that Temple be aged with makeup or digitally. Nonetheless, "Mr. Nobody" emerges as one my Top 20 all-time favorite films. I give "Mr. Nobody" a "9".
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7/10
Sensuous, perverse, audacious
24 October 2015
While convoluted and, sometimes,tedious, "The Skin I live in" evokes the theme of obsession in a manner worthy of such classic films as "Eyes Without a Face" (1960), "Vertigo" (1958), "The Night Porter" (1974) and "Obsession" (1976), while managing to be even more perverse and disturbing than any of these.

"Vera" (Elena Anaya) whiles away her days in either provocative yoga positions, totally nude, applying sackcloth to sculpture, or receiving experimental skin grafts from her captor, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas. When not totally nude, Vera is clothed in a body suit, which is skin tight right down to shaping her private parts. In addition to Robert applying illegal, genetically modified skin grafts, he gives Vera opium pipes to remove her memory. What connection does this have to the deaths of Robert's wife and daughter? Who is Vera? The answers will both fascinate and horrify you.

As "Vera," Spain's leading actress, Elena Anaya, gives the most sensuous performance since Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice". Her awards and nominations are well deserved. Sadly, for "The Skin I Live In," Elena was overlooked for a Golden Globes or an Oscar. Oh well, maybe her performance in "The Skin I Live in" is just too kinky for these "mainstream" organizations. Banderas is also excellent, the perfect mix of victimized husband and monster.

As for Pedro Almodovar, with "The Skin I Live in," he is either spectacularly good or almost inept, depending upon the sequence in the film. Perhaps, I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate Almodovar's "genius". However, I felt Almodovar misses the mark too many times to either give him or "The Skin I Live In" the praise I would otherwise grant it. Nonetheless, I give a movie that could have been a "10" a solid "7"...and as a writer/producer, I hope someday to have the honor of working with the almost irresistible Elena Anaya.
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Grandfathered (2015–2016)
9/10
New Take on "old hat"
2 October 2015
While the Runyonesque plot of responsibilities of parenthood reforming a rascal go back least as far as "Little Miss Marker" (1934), thanks to a brilliant cast and solid dialog, "Grandfathered" still manages to mine gold from an old mine. Great one-liners and a little sex in the form of luscious Christina Milian, this is the funniest mix of sharp humor and sex since the premiere of "The Big Bang Theory". The satire is comparable to last year's underrated "Selfie"; however, both the casting and even-ness of it is closer to "Big Bang". While Josh Peck's character is written as a bit too annoyingly backward and Milian's as eye-candy for adolescent boys, Stamos has never been more appealing and Paget Brewster seems capable of carrying the show alone. I can hardly wait for the next episode; and I have not said that since "Selfie" departed.
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Focus (II) (2015)
6/10
Frequently rewarding, if mostly disappointing caper flic.
20 August 2015
For the first roughly 40 minutes of "Focus," I had high hopes of a con film on par with "The Sting" and "The Film-Flam Man," a largely-forgotten, minor masterpiece with George C. Scott. Then, "Focus" became as soft and predictable as the "mallow," that is the nickname of one of the characters. What really redeems "Focus" is the chemistry between Will Smith and Margo Robbie. Robbie is a real find; and her chemistry with Smith is most convincingly romantic I have seen in this century. Unfortunately, the sting (pardon the pun) that takes up roughly two-thirds of the movie is utterly predictable and unconvincing. Great production values, fun cast, that wonderful chemistry, clever opening and little else. I give "Focus" a soft "6".
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5/10
What were the Wachowskis' thinking?
23 July 2015
If the final year of the 20th Century, the Wachowski's produced and directed the most audacious and thought-provoking science fiction film of the 20th Century, "The Matrix". Even though the Wachowski's followed up with two disappointing, disjointed and nihilistic sequels, the importance of their accomplishment led one to hope for great things from them in the 21st Century. Alas, whatever talent the Wachowski's promised in the art of storytelling is in no way present in either their next project "Cloud Atlas" nor "Jupiter Ascending". "Cloud Atlas," which had as much potential as "The Matrix," was ruined by DELIBERATELY unintelligible dialog in the exposition and episodes so short they seemed more like scenes from separate movies. On the other hand, "Jupiter Ascending" is ruined by the imposition of more characters (heck, more SPECIES) than a Russian novel, a villain who sounds as if he belongs in an iron lung and unintentionally funny technology (Channing Tatum, in his "gravity boots" reminds me of Wilie E. Coyote wearing a product from Acme)and ludicrous, unfunny social commentary on government red tape. Note to Wachowski's: if you are going to copy "Star Wars," make it "A New Hope," not "The Phantom Menace." I give "Jupiter Ascending" a "5).
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Chappie (2015)
10/10
An instant classic, joining "Robocop" and "Terminator 2" as best of the genre
12 July 2015
Given the insipid ad campaign by Sony for "Chappie," I did not expect much. Boy, was I surprised. "Chappie" joins "Robocop" and Terminator 2" as best of the genre, whose theme is "Do we have a soul; and is the 'soul' what makes us 'human'"? However, while "Robocop" and "T2" asked this question indirectly, while engaging in great action and dark comedy, "Chappie" approaches it directly, while still providing exciting entertainment without the preachiness of "T2". Let us say, while "Robocop" and "T2" struck gold by variations on familiar paths, "Chappie" takes "the road less traveled" and strikes platinum. I certainly hope, when the Academy and the Writers Guild are selecting "Best Screenplay" nominees, "Chappie" is one of them.

"Chappie" takes the "Simpson's dysfunctional family" approach, providing "Chappie" with an extended family of violent drug dealers. Yet, despite their chosen profession and lifestyle, each of the "family" members possess strong redeeming elements of likability, humor, heroism and self-sacrifice. Most notable among these is "Mommy" (Yo-landi Visser), whose off-putting makeup and wardrobe hides an unconventionally beautiful woman, both physically and spiritually. As Chappie's creator, Dev Patel creates an even more engaging "science geek" than the male cast members of "The Big Bang Theory". Dev reminds me a bit of Rahul Kholi on "IZombie". His "home helper" robots are absolutely adorable; and they perfectly reflect Rahul's character.

While Sigorney Weaver is a bit typecast, Hugh Jackman provides perfect contrast to his usual "stalwart hero" roles. One keeps expecting Jackman to turn out to be the "hero" of this piece; and THAT is good casting.

Hans Zimmer provides his usual, beautifully appropriate music to "Chappie". His music particularly raises the adrenalin-level of what are really pretty conventional action scenes.

I can see no way anyone could improve on "Chappie". Thus, I feel fully justified in giving "Chappie" a resounding "10".
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6/10
Boring, episodic movie
5 July 2015
Unlike many reviewers (most of them paid film critics), I will try to separate my personal animosity to US policies in the Middle East from my measure of the artistic merit of "American Sniper".

My wife insisted on us watching "American Sniper," then lost interest in the first hour. Most of the truly engaging, emotional scenes are revealed in the trailers. What comes in between those engaging moments are detached episodes chronicling Chris Kyle's tours in Iraq. I admire Kyle for his personal code. However, I did not admire Kyle's inability to question the policies of those under whom he served, even when director Clint Eastwood slyly presents evidence to motivate Kyle to do so. What Eastwood does fail to do is provide a subtle transition from extroverted "good old boy" to extreme introvert; whom, in his wife's words, is "not here". However, I doubt any director could have done so, given the absence of such scenes in the screenplay.

This being said, while Sienna Miller is very good, Bradley Cooper, as "Chris Kyle" is nothing short of extraordinary. I cannot imagine another acted who could have done it better.

Without revealing the end of the movie (which is ridiculous, given it is "old news"), let me say it is perfectly appropriate. Chris Kyle paid the appropriate price for using his skills to help the wrong people.

I give "American Sniper" a "6".
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6/10
Best of the series, which is not much of a compliment
1 July 2015
I find myself watching the Transformers movies because my wife likes these mindless action flicks. I found "Transformers: Age of Extinction" to be far more bearable than any of the other films in this series and certainly more bearable than the "G.I. Joe" franchise and the last two "Iron Men" movies. First the good news: 1) The action sequences are actually coherent in this one. 2) No Shia LaBoef. Now, the bad news: 1) Insufferably long 2) The climactic fight sequences are a letdown, given the trans-formative capabilities of the new "autobots". 3) No Megan Fox 4) No Rose Huntington-Whitely, either. Definitely, the quotient of female eye-candy has dropped dramatically. The highly touted Bingbing Li is so heavily made up, she looks less real than the worst CGI and her personality is even less realistic. Amazingly, Bingbing purportedly garnered 20 endorsement contracts from this. Oh well, everyone has a right to his own tastes. Fortunately, John Goodman graces us with his great humor and booming voice, making the seemingly endless action sequences a lot more bearable; and Michael Bay keeps the camera moving enough to keep the convoluted storyline from feeling it is unfolding at a snail's pace; which, unfortunately, it is. I give "Transformers: Age of Extinction" a "6".
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Brilliant movie marred by awkward live-action scenes
23 June 2015
Until the last 20 minutes of "The Lego Movie," I was about to call it, "the best animated feature ever". Full of the madcap "Looney Tunes" humor and sly references to the New World Order and libertarian advocacy, I had, to that point, loved every minute. THEN, Will Ferrell shows up and spoils everything. Actually, the unfortunate choice to "wire the ghost" was the first slip-up. However, the live action scenes with Will Ferrell just laid there. Most of the problems in these scenes are likely the fault of the director or editor. In any event, they completely destroy the pacing of the movie. Darn; and I was hoping to say I liked "The Lego Movie" better than "Big Hero 6; which, ironically, reaches its level of brilliance at nearly the same point as "The Lego Movie" falls apart. Oh well, NEARLY "everything is awesome".

I give "The Lego Movie" an "8".
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Rush Hour 3 (2007)
5/10
Sketches do NOT make a movie
19 June 2015
While there is nothing particularly terrible about "Rush Hour 3," there is also nothing particularly remarkable, save Jingchu Zhang's performance as the all-grown-up version of the little girl from "Rush Hour". Jingchu sheds a single, meaningful tear at a critical moment, giving one false hope that the series of barely connected, predictable sequences that preceded would be followed by a real movie. Unfortunately, Jingchu is relegated to "damsel-in-distress", largely off-screen until the final reel. Meanwhile, the audience is subjected to unbelievable setups for Chris Tucker's humor. Even the best element of "Rush Hour 2" (Jackie Chan's romance with a female Secret Service agent) is trashed for weak laughs. What storyline exists is paper-thin and either trite or unbelievable. I give "Rush Hour 3" a "5," primarily for the production values and Jingchu Zhang's brief performance.
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5/10
Trite story, bad direction, poor casting, barely redeemed by performances
14 March 2015
Good romantic films are almost as rare as good comedies. I really did not ask for anything special, as I like "chick flicks" and Hollywood has such a love affair with action movies, Hollywood has almost stopped making them. Nonetheless, I really disliked this one; because, even with the clichés, this movie had so much promise. The movie opens with a fine action sequence; and James Marsden is a really watchable actor. However, as soon as the parallel love stories begin, the movie falls apart. First of all "young Amanda" (Liana Liberato) not only does not look much like "older Amanda" (Michelle Monaghan), their body languages and acting styles are completely different. There is even a bigger disparity with "young Dawson" (Luke Bracey) and "older Dawson" (James Marsden). Thanks to terrific performances by Liana Liberato and Gerald McRaney, the flashback sequences are much more entertaining than the present sequences, even though Michael Hoffman's direction is much better in the present sequences. Hoffman shoots WAY too many of the flashback sequences as medium shots, when closeups would have been far better. Even the ending seems tacked on and trite.

Except for Liana Liberato and Gerald McRaney, "The Best of Me" is anything but. I give "The Best of Me" a "5".
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Hustle & Flow (2005)
The roots of "Empire".
7 March 2015
My wife and I are HUGE of "Empire". So, imagine when I discovered two of my favorite actors, Terrence Howard ("Lucius") and Taraji P. Henson ("Cookie") had appeared together 10 years earlier in a similarly-themed movie about hip-hop. Unfortunately, while "Empire" is consistently entertaining, "Hustle & Flow" builds slowly and unpleasantly. While Terrence Howard's "Djay" is an earlier incarnation of "Lucius," Taraji P. Henson's "Shug" appears mentally-challenged. Worse, the two characters responsible most for the outcome are white. Also, the scene where "Shug" gives "Djay" comes out of nowhere. Just WHERE did the very-pregnant "Shug" get the money to give "Djay" this VERY expensive gift? Not to mention, the Oscar-winning song, "Its hard out there for a pimp" is not as good as the original song created for "Empire"; and it pretty much the only song in the movie.

I fear many of those who see the reviews and awards for "Hustle & Flow" are going to be as disappointed as my wife. I liked "Hustle & Flow" for its raw honesty. However I resent the "tools" given to white racists who will watch "Hustle & Flow" and say, "See?" I give "Hustle & Flow" a "6".
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Elsa & Fred (2014)
4/10
Pretty Lifeless
3 March 2015
I really like Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer. So, I was pretty surprised to find them starring in "Elsa & Fred". After all, Netflix Streaming lists the two stars as (Gasp!) Marcia Gay Harden and James Brolin. Hello Netflix! James Brolin appears in only TWO scenes. I guess whoever listed "Elsa and Fred" are either Gen X or Gen Y. Otherwise, he or she would realized BOTH Shirley MacLaine AND Christopher Plummer have won Oscars! Well, yes, so has Marcia Gay Harden; but JAMES BROLIN? Anyway, the ignorance of those responsible for Netflix Streaming is the LEAST of the problems with "Elsa & Fred". I do not care if Michael Radford DID win an audience award. Radford's direction is listless; and nearly the entire first half of "Elsa & Fred" plays out almost as a series of unconnected scenes. Despite the great efforts of MacLaine and Plummer, there is simply NO chemistry between them during the first half. However, once Plummer's character "comes out of his shell," the chemistry between him and Shirley MacLaine is quite touching. Unfortunately, by then, it is too late. The narrative builds no tension, even with the cliché "character in jeopardy" subplot. More engaging music would certainly have helped.

If you really want to see this type of movie done right, watch "Still Mine," with James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold. Now, THAT is a "geriatric love story" worth seeing.

Oh, I must point out, when MacClaine dresses as "Anita Ekberg," MacClaine proves she is STILL hot at 80. Sadly, I must ALSO point out that James Brolin, at 74, looks WAY too young to be convincing as MacLaine's estranged husband.

I give "Elsa & Fred" a "4".
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4/10
A big step DOWN from "...Revolution"
3 February 2015
"Step Up: Revolution" is, admittedly a hard act to follow. "...Revolution" contains some absolutely jaw-dropping dance sequences, from the opening "cruising scene" to the "art gallery" scene; both of these are some of the flashiest ensemble dance sequences I have witnessed. However, this does not excuse "Step Up: All In" from being such as tacky, lethargic let down. Absolutely none of the dance sequences, individual, team or group, are even remotely memorable, much less equal to even the weakest numbers in "...Revolution".

The trivia mentioned for "...All In" pointed out there were no choreographers listed in the credits. I am not surprised.

There is not even any romantic chemistry between the leads.

What little acting takes place is a pathetic joke.

I wish most of the dancers from "...Revolution" were back, as well as Cleopatra Coleman. While not a dancer, Coleman was a scene stealer in "Revolution"; and not just because she was so hot.

While the production values are top notch, every thing else seems bargain basement. I give "Step Up: All In" a "4", mostly for the photography and sound.
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A fine wine turned to vinegar
12 August 2014
For the first 45 minutes, "The Grandmaster" is exquisitely beautiful, perfected composed and edited production; the likes of which I have rarely seen since the Sergio Leone films and "The Godfather" Parts 1 and 2. Then, when Japan invades China, the movie crumbles in the same tragic manner as the fortunes of the Chinese elite. While the film remains exquisitely beautiful, the storyline becomes so disjointed as to become completely uninvolving. Scenes requiring dramatic impact are summarized in voice-over and scenes which should have played in parallel are presented in flashback. The proper title for this film should be "The Grandmasters," as there are two grandmasters in the foreground; Tony Leung's "Ip Man" and Ziyi Zhang's "Gong Er". Zhang is missing from the film for far too long to care much about her fate. Yet, when we finally do learn what happened to her during the war, Leung's character is missing long enough for us not to care about him, either. The closing scenes are flat and unnecessary. Both my wife and I found ourselves squirming, waiting for the movie to end. This is a shame; as, had "The Grandmaster" been edited in a coherent fashion during the last hour, it would be one of the great martial arts films. Instead, it winds up barely being good. I give "The Grand Master" a weak "6".
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RoboCop (2014)
6/10
Like Murphy/Robocop, nearly lifeless
28 July 2014
I do credit the producers for taking the risks of remaking a classic AND attempting a different perspective than the original. However, in order to do this successfully, one needs to understand the elements that made the original "Robocop" a classic.

The classic film "The Terminator" had already addressed the dangers of robotic warfare, soldiers, armor and drones. However, "Robocop" (1987)focused on the dehumanization of mankind and one man's struggle to regain the humanity taken from him. While physically almost all machine, "Murphy" was more human than all of the other characters, except for his partner and a sympathetic police lieutenant. In this "Robocop," there are plenty of sympathetic humans supporting Murphy, even if some of them are seriously flawed.

Dan O'Herlihy was brilliant playing the white collar psychopath CEO of Omnicorp in "Robocop" (1987). His CEO was not even aware he was a monster. Likewise, Ronny Cox brilliantly played a corporate executive clearly aware of his white collar evil. Unfortunately, Cox's character does not appear in the remake, having been replaced by paramilitary robotics engineer, extremely well played by Jackie Earle Haley. While Haley is great, his character is a poor substitute for the character played by Ronny Cox.

Likewise, Kurtwood Smith's hilariously evil assassin in "Robocop" (1987) has been replaced by a bland assassin blandly played by Patrick Garrow.

Thankfully, Garry Oldman and Abbie Cornish, who play characters who either did not exist or were peripheral to the plot in "Robocop" (1987) perform brilliantly. Cornish, a world class actress, is, quite simply, amazing in a nothing role. I shudder to think how this "Robocop" would play without her.

Finally, one of the brilliantly prophetic elements of the original "Robocop" was the trivialization of news and entertainment, clearly suggesting a "dumbed-down" society totally unconscious of the decay and chaos surrounding them. However, in this "Robocop," we get a poor parody of Fox News and "The O'Reilly Factor" and an overused Samuel L. Jackson instead of either a Bill O'Reilly lookalike or Alec Baldwin (who would have been perfect). In addition, Detroit in this "Robocop" looks like a prosperous city, not a "war zone".

The producers would have been better served by simply re-shooting the original story with updated special effects, as the stop motion animation in the original "Robocop" was the worst thing about the movie.

I give "Robocop" (2014) a weak "6" based ENTIRELY on Abbie Cornish.
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Extant (2014–2015)
10/10
Gripping, character-based science fiction.
14 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"Extant" is the type of science fiction I truly love. Gripping and character-based, with multiple mysteries and obstacles challenging the main character(s). This is what distinguished the original "Star Trek" from all the successors. Halle Berry is perfect as Molly, with her beautiful expressive eyes capturing empathy from the first frame. Flashback is used as it should be, to enable suspense to build slowly; as suspense is dependent upon empathy with a character or characters. Those who consider it implausible that Molly would spend 13 months alone in space know little about the logistics of space exploration. I do, because I worked logistics on the International Space Station in the 1990s, which includes cost estimating. The single biggest expense of maintaining a manned space station is the cost of life support. Thus, intelligent robots and continuous communication with the earth would be used to substitute for human contact. As following allowing the ship's "commander" to delete security camera footage, the "commander" has overall authority of what is recorded in the ship's log, especially within the interior of the ship, where privacy issues are concerned. Most US astronauts would not set foot in a vehicle unless they could do this.

"Extant" is handsomely mounted, sophisticated adult entertainment. Those expecting the exciting, but juvenile excitement of "Star Wars" should look elsewhere.

I give the "Extant" pilot a "10" and hope the series can keep up its excellence. I will admit, however, the plotting of this series seems limited. So, I would be surprised if it survives more than one or two seasons.
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2 Guns (2013)
5/10
It takes good chemistry.
8 June 2014
Once upon a time, a couple of writer/producers were hanging out, enjoying their favorite recreational drugs, when one of them said, "I'm tired of making the same old franchise crap." "Whatdoyouwannado?" asks another. "Lets make something different...but not TOO different?" "KnowwhatI'dliketosee?" chimes in another...a buddy movie with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington." "YES!" replied the first. "Mark Wahlberg worked GREAT with a Teddy Bear. He can certainly work with Denzel." Gazing around the room, the first writer/producer spots his favorite reading material, a comic book (Well, EXCUSE ME! A graphic novel). "PERFECT!" he shouts.

Well, by this time these three writer/producers must have been as fully loaded as Mark's and Denzel's weapons. What else, besides a lack of talent, would explain HOW they created such an incoherent mess as "2 Guns"? And, they must have been writing in sequence and coming down HARD by the time they finished, because this is EXACTLY how "2 Guns" plays; a humorous, promising start that turns convoluted and unsavory, barely redeemed by its finish, which must have written at another "hangout". Two guns has two fine "A list" stars; two distinguished character actors in Edward James Olmos and Bill Paxton; lots of firepower, explosions and great one liners. Fine ingredients and great chemistry. Well, it takes great chemistry to make a stink bomb, too.

I give "2 Guns" a 5; but only because I gave "Man of Steel" a 4; and I want "Man of Steel" to remain my worst "A" list movie of the year.
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Pacific Rim (2013)
7/10
Third rate screenplay, first rate production
5 June 2014
When I first saw the trailer for "Pacific Rim," I said to myself "Rock'em, Sock'em Robots". I mean, the idiot-level concept that the gigantic monsters would not be stopped by torpedoes, missiles or guns at sea or a submarine net rigged with explosives or electricity just seemed to stupid to endure. However, two things made me change my mind: 1) my wife wanted to see it and 2) the movie had a really beautiful "look" (thanks to topnotch production values and use of a RED camera (the same camera used for "Step-up Revolution). Minutes into the movie, my other suspicions were confirmed: 1) this movie is marketed to an international cast, as the the three main characters are all of different races and nationalities; and 2) the storyline would be one cliché after another.

Nonetheless, I rate "Pacific Rim" highly for the acting, direction, music and those aforementioned production values. Even the cliché plot lines seem fresh and original due to the fine acting; especially Idris Elba, who could impress reading a soup can. Also, always welcome, is Ron Perlman, who somehow always manages to class up the most ridiculous projects.

With a cast of real actors, not stars, the most modest of romances and lots of violent action, this movie screams "International (particularly Asian) project". I certainly expected to see more Asian names among the technical credits. However, when one figures three-fourths of this movies grosses came from outside the US, it is clear Guillermo del Toro intended to make an international film, and he certainly made a handsome one. I give "Pacific Rim" a "7".
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Man of Steel (2013)
4/10
Hollywood remakes "First Knight"?
23 May 2014
The Superman character was only 20 years old when I first began reading the DC comics. Superman and Green Lantern were my favorite DC characters, as Green Arrow and Batman had too similar origins and partners, Speedy and Robin, respectively. Marvel Comics were not even carried on any of the news stands I frequented. While I later became more found of characters who relied on their skills rather than super powers, I certainly read more Superman, as he appeared in both the Superman and Detective Story comic books. I had never been really satisfied with the movie versions of Superman; it always seemed to me they chose the wrong actresses to play Lois Lane. Both Noel Nell ("Adventures of Superman") and Terri Hatcher ("Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman") resembled the comic book Lois Lane, both in appearance and class. However, until "Man of Steel," I had never seen a such a hash of the Superman legend. Even as a kid, I understood that Kal-El embodied BOTH Clark Kent AND Superman; and that Lois, while a fearless, crusading reporter, was so vain and self deceptive that she could not recognize that Clark and Superman were one in the same; as she was unable to accept both sides of Kal-El. Kal-El loved Lois, despite this tragic character trait. The widely-despised "Superman III" actually makes a point of this; in that Lana Lang loved Clark Kent and could not care less that he was Superman. However, in "Man of Steel," Lois is ONLY non-family member who knows Clark Kent is Superman. The entire theme of "the inner man" has been tragically shelved.

Henry Cavill does a fine job of playing Kal-El, even if he less resembles the comic book Superman than Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain or George Reeves. Clearly Cavill has a great future in Hollywood.

Amy Adams, an otherwise superb actress ("American Hustle") is totally wrong for Lois Lane. Not meaning to be unkind, I asked myself, "Just how does one actually go about kissing a woman with such a LONG nose". As written, NONE of Lois' trademark characteristics are visible in Adams' role.

Russell Crowe seems to have as much screen time as Cavill. Whose movie is this, Jor-El's or Kal-El's? In the original comics, the Kents were an ELDERLY couple. Here, they appear to be in their mid to late 40s.

While the effects and production design are handsomely mounted, there is nothing new here to rave about. Worse, the movie is numbingly long. Superman does not even appear in costume until nearly two hours into the movie. Say what you want about any of the Christopher Reeve efforts; they were never boring or ponderous. "Man of Steel is both.

"First Knight" was rightfully savaged in 1995 when it created a travesty of the King Arthur legend. "Man of Steel" gets kudos. Has our cultured declined THAT much in the last 20 years?

I give "Man of Steel" a "4".
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6/10
Remarkable story, unremarkable movie
16 May 2014
The story of two remarkable men whose deeply flawed world views were irrevocably changed for the better makes for an very interesting theme. To set this theme against the backdrop of both the War of Secession ("War Between the States") AND the Mexican Revolution makes "The Undefeated" all the more promising. Furthermore, parallels to Vietnam make "The Undefeated" a downright profound story. Sadly, Andrew V. McLaglen tepid direction and bland casting of the female characters makes "The Undefeated" an unfulfilled promise and so-so effort.

To understand the profundity of "The Undefeated" requires a crash course in the War of Secession. Though slavery was a major issue, it was NOT the primary cause of hostilities. Revolutionary War debt was coming due and many states that remained with the union had not paid their debts. However, states that joined the Confederacy HAD paid their debt and resented draconian tariffs on goods entering and leaving their harbors. Secession was recognized and accepted, as it is a basic part of the Declaration of Independence and of the Congressional Record at the time of the enactment of the US Constitution. Even Lincoln, as a member of Congress, recognized the right of secession. For those who still insist the war was about slavery, keep in mind four slave states remained in the union.

It is time now to discuss the flawed world views of both union Colonel John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) and confederate Colonel James Langdon (Rock Hudson). Thomas is a decent, kind hearted man, but his world view is quite callous. Thomas thinks nothing of taking his loyal men into strife-torn Mexico, even though he knows they may be killed and that none of them has seen home for four years. Langdon is also decent and kind hearted, but his vanity leads him to destroy his property and take his family into Mexico to fight alongside General Maximilian, who is doing to the citizens of Mexico what the Union did to the Confederacy. BOTH men receive a deserved comeuppance from Juarista General Rojas (Tony Aguilar). I am sure this would be lost on most American audiences even today even in the hands of a more skilled western director, such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Fred Zinnemann or even Henry Hathaway.

The finest performances in "The Undefeated" come from Rock Hudson and Roman Gabriel. Unfortunately, their same-sex antics drew publicity which clearly eclipsed the movie. Other fine performances include the aforementioned Tony Aguilar (whose reluctance and relief at a key moment is the best scene of the film), Merlin Olsen (as a wise man who prefers the company of children to adults), Royal Dano (who reveals the true theme of "The Undefeated") and Big John Hamilton (who proves one does not have to fight a war or appear unafraid to be a hero).

Hugo Montenegro, who had a top 40 hit channeling Ennio Morricone with "The Theme From 'The Good, The Bad & The Ugly') here channels Elmer Bernstein with his music. While not "great Bernstein," Montenegro's score is at least "good Bernstein".

I give "The Undefeated" a "6".
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8/10
Incredibly fast paced and entertaining
2 May 2014
I remember seeing a few minutes of the anime of "Space Battleship Yamato" on TV in the 70s. I took one look at the ridiculous-looking flying battleship and turned it off. However, a few days ago, I was watching an Asian martial arts movie and the trailer to "Space Battleship Yamato" came on. The movie is visually gorgeous, the battle scenes fast paced and plentiful and, best of all, the chemistry among the cast is genuinely heartfelt. I found myself misty-eyed in many sequences, something I cannot say has happened to me in a space movie since "Wrath of Khan". While some of the CGI is less than stellar, the cheesy shots pass so quickly they do not intrude. Besides, this movie was shot for less than a fifteenth of the modern Hollywood blockbuster and looks as good or better than most of them. It also never drags, which I cannot say about even the best of the "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" movies.

The Japanese made some good to terrific science fiction films in the 1950s, including "Godzilla" ("Gojira"), "Rodan," "The H Man" and "Battle in Outer Space". "Space Battleship Yamato" has elements of "Star Wars," "Star Trek" and, particularly, "Battlestar Galactica". Given the origins of this live action movie, all of the clichés and cribbing can be forgiven, except one. All I can say is that it occurs at the climax of "Space Battleship Yamato" and shamelessly cribs from the last scene of "Return of the Jedi". Clumsy as this scene is, "Space Battleship Yamato" is still the most fun I've experienced watching a movie in years. I give "Space Battleship Yamato" an "8".
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Long nga (2008)
5/10
Good martial arts, great song, extraordinary Celina Jade, horrible everything else
16 April 2014
I rented "Legendary Assassin" because I liked Celina Jade on "Arrow," and because I was looking for a special actress to appear in my movie. Celina, who is Amerasian, has great international appeal. A friend of mine was absolutely convinced she was Latin. However, as much as I liked Celina as "Shado" on "Arrow," her role was pretty one-dimensional. However, in "Legendary Assassin," Celina is extraordinary, managing to be beautiful, cute, funny, sexy and sad in a single role. Not to mention, Celina has a singing voice that rivals Christina Aguilera, which is no small feat, and her "Legendary Assassin love theme" is a bravura performance. You should watch the music video, because the song, which plays over the end credits (and is featured on the radio, in one sequence) is never performed in its entirety. Lead actor Jacky Wu (Wu Jing) is a skilled martial artist. Unfortunately, his opponents are not and the fight scenes are just so-so. Far worse is the story, dialog, and the acting of almost all of the supporting players. Kara Hui, who is not too bad, is still totally unconvincing as a menacing villain. Jacky Wu may be a good actor, but his character is so wooden, one would never know. Almost everyone else has been encouraged to overact, typical of terrible direction. Almost every scene, except the first, is listlessly shot and edited. Even the opening credits are inept. However, Celina brightens every scene she is in. She will make a wonderful leading lady in my movie and will, hopefully, become the international star she deserves to be. Oh, one other positive note. In the movie, Celina has a beautiful Persian cat.

I rate "Legendary Assassin a "5".
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