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The Expendables 3 (2014)
A letter to Sly
You are a terrific writer. You have made and written some of the best screenplays of my youth and of my adult life. You wrote Rocky, did the screenplays for First Blood, Rambo, Cliffhanger, The Expendables and Homefront. All fantastic films.
When you made The Expendables, you thought to bring some of the best action guys around, and put them in one film. You called on your friends and because of this you were able to get Dolph, Mickey, Eric and of course Bruce and Arnold. But more than that, you had an ideal. You let each actor do his thing. Jet and Dolph had terrific battle and then you had Jet and Jason fight it out in an epic battle against Gary Daniels. Then you had Randy fight it out with Austin, after you had one awesome go with him. Then, in perhaps one of the most unselfish moves in the film, you got Terry to toss the bomb when you couldn't. The whole point to this is you let everyone shine. The first film was bad ass because of this.
The second film got away from this. You still let Statham do his thing but your battle with Van Damme was poorly executed. And in my opinion, the last battle should not have been with you and him, it should have been with Dolph and Van Damme, for obvious reasons ( I know you know this but to spell it out for you...they were in Universal Soldier together and both are world class martial artists).
Then comes the third. You get a dream cast. All your friends are in it and you even manage to get Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes and Mel Gibson. It's never been done before and it certainly got me interested in the film. But once again, you messed it up. You forgot what made the first so special. It wasn't because all these guys could fire guns, it was because they could kick some serious ass. Dolph and Jet are world class martial artists, Statham and Gibson have played ones in films. You have MMA guys and of course Snipes who is also a real life ass kicker. Then you get Banderas to come in, talk the whole film about how good a killer he is, and then what do you do with all these guys? NOTHING. They just come along for the ride, shoot a few guns and then you fight Gibson for about 15 seconds. WTF! The story line with the young kids was interesting but again, you did nothing with it. Why not let Roussey show her stuff? Why not let Lutz fight someone? And how about killing a few people? You did none of this, you just had a bunch of actors fire guns.
You have so many story lines here. You even set it up by saying that you were all getting too old for this stuff. But you just let it go. You should have done what you did in the first. Here is how the end of the third film should have went.
The bomb is defused. You find Stonebanks. You guys start to fight. But just like Grammar told you, you can't win this thing. Stonebanks is too good. As you are holding your own, but clearly losing, out of the smoke, in a slow motion shot, comes Jet Li, who as we all know was in Lethal Weapon 4 with Mel. The two of you stop fighting. Mel looks at Jet, makes some kind of comment about how short he is. Jet stops, takes his jacket and weapons off. He squares off to fight Gibson and the two of them put on on a martial arts display while you stand aside. Jet eventually destroys him, because, you know, he's a true life bad ass. With Gibson dead, Jet picks you up and helps you to the chopper. As he does, he tells you that now you should pay him more money. The two of you laugh and then you live happily ever after.
The Expendables was never all about you. It was about a team. But with the sequels, you took the focus away from the team and made it all about you. Shame on you, Sly. You let me down, big time.
And you let your fans down.
Heaven Is for Real (2014)
A very moving film and an impassioned journey
Looking at the credits, this is not an ABC after school special. This is a film with a good cast and a very good writer/director. Randall Wallace is the Oscar nominated and WGA winner for Braveheart. So he has credentials. Then you have a solid cast with Greg Kinnear, Eden Lake's Kelly Reilly and Thomas Haden Church. They put some money into this production and it pays off handsomely.
I'm not an atheist, I'm not agnostic and I'm not a believer. That leaves me in a very precarious place. I frankly don't know what I believe so my enjoyment of this film has nothing to do with fanaticism or devout belief. This is coming strictly from a film point of view. And this one moved me more than any film I can think of in recent memory.
You know the story so I won't give you all the mundane details but a quick recap is that during surgery, young Colton Burpo claims he went to heaven and met Jesus. He claims that he met a grandfather who died before he was born, that he got hugged from his miscarried sister and that angels sang to him. His father, Todd, played beautifully by Greg Kinnear, is the local pastor and strangely enough when people start to hear of this story, he and his family are ridiculed and made fun of. And this struck me as odd. You have a town full of Christians who go to church every day and believe in Jesus and his word but as soon as someone, a four year-old no less, says that he has met Jesus and spoke to him, they tell him that he's lying and that it's not possible. This, to me, is the very definition of hypocrisy.
The end of the story has Pastor Todd giving a sermon that left a lot of theater sniffling, blowing their nose and claiming they had something in their eye, including me. It's a powerful film about belief and conviction and love. And in my opinion, it doesn't matter if you believe in the Bible and all that it stands for, it only matters if you believe that you can make a difference in someone's life just by being kind and then having that kindness reciprocated. This was the central theme in the film. People were sometimes alone and afraid but the values of the Burpo family dictated that they come to the need of friends and strangers. There's an incredibly moving scene where Colton goes into the room of a very young boy with cancer. It's implied that the young boy will probably die soon. Colton puts his hand on the boy's hand and says, "No one is ever going to hurt you." In that moment the boy knew he wasn't alone and perhaps this would give him strength to get through his final days.
The entire film is sprinkled with moments of passionate, spiritual sentiment. These are good people in the Burpo family and they are going through a rough time. There is nothing in the film that suggests that there was any kind of agenda. I didn't feel like I walked out with a headache from getting bashed over the head with a message. I just felt very moved and very satisfied with the story.
I did find it funny that Sony produced this and in the film, Colton has a very real affinity for Spider-man. He holds a figuring of Spidey and his walls were littered with Spider-man memorabilia. Even Thomas Haden Church has a Spider-man connection. So I got the little nudges the film had towards it's big picture coming out this summer.
Overall a very satisfying film and one that you should give a chance to.
Hold Your Breath (2012)
If you are watching this kind of movie, why are you shocked that it's not great to begin with?
Asylum produces some nice films that are low budget and almost spoof like in a way. When I rent a movie by them, I pretty much know what I'm getting. When I come here and read the reviews by people who didn't like it, it makes me wonder why they even rented it in the first place. Titanic and Gone With the Wind this is not. You have a micro- budgeted horror film about a spirit that possesses you if you don't hold your breath while driving by a graveyard. Shouldn't that be a hint for you?
Hold Your Breath is one of the better straight to video horror films I've seen. It doesn't do everything right but it does a lot more right than wrong. To start off, the rapport between the actors playing the college kids is really nicely done. The cast and the set up reminded me a bit of Friday the 13th Part 3 or 4. You had the dating couple, the stoner, the hot single chick and a couple of others tossed in. The script, written by Geoff Meed (who is more known as a B actor) sets it all up nicely to begin. These young adults are off to a weekend getaway and the guy who organized insists on no cell phones for the weekend. Just a cool weekend of camping and being at one with nature.
Back in the 50's a mass murderer/rapist/religious loonie was put to death in an electric chair. His spirit lives on as it is too malicious to even be accepted in Hell. The spirit can pass into different people as it chooses to and those people become possessed by the killer.
Yes, the story has been done before and it has kind of been done better in some movies. But what this one has going for it is some great old school Tom Savini/Rick Baker like makeup effects and the set design is fantastic. Night time is lit ominously by the moon, graveyards have fog drifting by the tombstones and the sanitarium where the execution took place is creepy and vast and claustrophobic all at the same time. There are some great effects as well highlighted by a girl being tied to a tree and getting cut in two by barbed wire. I like effects like this, they remind of the older films like The Howling and Friday the 13th. The Saw films are good and the gore is well done but you can see where the CGI takes over. Sometimes good old fashioned prosthetics and make-up is just better.
Katrina Bowden and Randy Wayne are the two best characters and they do quite well here. The rest of the cast is fine as well. Bowden is almost too gorgeous and they have her running around in Daisy Dukes and a flimsy shirt all throughout the film, which of course is apropos for a horror film.
I would have given the film even higher marks if it weren't for some silly and unnecessary plot pieces, like two characters running away scared from another when she is but a 110 pound woman. That just seemed strange. And I didn't care for the ending. But all in all, it was a good effort.
Nothing Left to Fear (2013)
The kind of film that pays of in the end
As some of the other reviewers in here have mentioned, this isn't the kind of horror film that has a kill every ten minutes or rivers of blood coming from the walls. Instead, it takes time to build characters and because you get to know the characters, the story starts to unfold as well. This is a well done film from a first time director who was lucky enough to secure a good veteran cast and some good younger talent.
Clancy Brown plays a small town retiring pastor who is helping the new pastor and his family get acclimated to his new job and surroundings. His motives at first seem to be genuine but this wouldn't be a horror movie if the local town pastor didn't have some kind of devious Machiavellian machinations to tend to.
Without spoiling it, the film has elements of Wicker Man, Rosemary's Baby and about half a dozen other low budget horror films. It's well written, well acted and the production design is the films strength. The small town is photographed to look like something you'd see out of Children of the Corn or Cujo. Everyone smiles to your face while planning your demise. Rebekah Brandes and Ethan Peck are the eye candy of the film but they too play their roles well. Brandes has some strange lines to utter but she makes them sound natural.
Horror films come in all shapes and sizes. This one has the slow burn and buildup of films like The Shining. The end is a nice payoff. If you have ADD then this film probably won't interest you. But if you like to see characters and situations build so that the end can kind of horrify you, then you have found the right film.
Where's the Delorean?
One of the worst horror films I've seen, in fact, one of the worst films I've ever seen. This might be a film that is a spin off of Paranormal Activity but it certainly goes to enough lengths to remind you that this is a Paranormal film. There are tapes of Kristy and Katie in a basement and then Ali, from Paranormal Activity 2 shows up to explain what is happening. I won't even give away the ending here as it is one of the most preposterous and stupid things I've seen in any film. It's like they brainstormed ideas and then threw out all the good ways to end it and settled on the one that's in the movie.
PATMO literally has nothing happen in it for about 85% of the movie. The first real plot point comes when one of the guys gets bit and then develops Spider-man powers. From there, nothing more really happens until after they meet up with Ali. From there, they go to a local gangster for help in hunting down the witches that ostensibly killed his brother and has possessed one of the main characters.
This film is a mess. It tries to expand on the coven story but instead of shedding more light on the plot, it just gets it muddied even more than it was in the last film. In short, nothing more is expanded or explained in this film and the ending of it just makes it even more ridiculous than the first 90 minutes already are.
I understand these films are licenses to print money for Paramount, but it's time to wrap it up. We need closure. If you look at the evolution of the series, the first did huge business and the second dropped slightly, like many sequels do, but the third increased on the strength of the second being so good. But the third introduced new folklore to the story and the fourth dropped dramatically because of it. With what looks to be a sub 20 mill opening, this film should finish with about 35 million. Now they have a 6 slated to open around Halloween this year. People aren't stupid, so unless they tell us that it all ends this October or that they are at least going to start it to the road of closure then it seems like this series has jumped the shark. You thought the refrigerator nuke scene was bad in Crystal Skull? That's poetry compared to the way they end this film.
Only giving it half a point for having close to a sex scene.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Scorcese's best film
This is not just the best film of the year, it is unquestionably one of the best films I've ever seen. Every scene, every shot, every performance is about as good as it gets. Standing out of course are DiCaprio and Hill. Hill transforms himself in this film but DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career. He jumped head first into the role and there isn't one moment that you are watching this where you feel like you are watching Leonardo DiCaprio. What you are seeing on screen is Jordan Belfort. He is brave, brilliant and fearless. Snort coke off a hookers breasts? No problem. Blow coke into a hookers ass? He does that. Give rousing speeches that compel me, the viewer, want to work for him? It's in here. Dance, get naked, party, crawl around like a baby, cry, show vulnerability, it's all in here. It is one of, if not the best performance in a film I have ever seen. DiCaprio is good in everything I have seen him in, but he has taken the extra step here. He knows Jordan Belfort. There is a scene where he crawls around on the floor for 10 minutes in a drug induced paralysis and it will go down as not only the scene of the year (along with the ejaculation discussion in This is the End) but one of the most messed up but brilliant scenes in film history.
When DiCaprio first came on the scene, his talent was easily seen. Then he did Titanic and became a heart-throb to teenage girls. But he's never just let loose like this. Scorcese did it with Pesci and Liotta in Goodfellas and he has done in Wolf with DiCaprio. He holds nothing back and just goes for it all. DiCaprio worked on getting this made for 6 years. It has paid off handsomely for him. You can tell he dove into this role and just let whatever inhibitions he had, check themselves at the door. Once the cameras rolled and he had to do all the crazy stuff that was required of him, he just did it. The film is memorable for many reasons but none more than his fearless performance. In my opinion, this is one of the best performances in any film.
This is the Goodfellas of the 2000's. It's created from the same palette that made Goodfellas. It's long but never boring and it's so entertaining and funny and exhilarating that I hope the 4 hour cut we have heard about does find it's way to the DVD. I'm not sure yet if this is better than Scorcese's opus, Goodfellas, but it is certainly on par with it. I don't know if the academy is going to be progressive enough to reward this film with what it deserves, but in time, regardless of the awards, it will be remembered as one of the great films in the annals of film history.
It has to be said that the movie makes you kind of envious of the lifestyle these guys lead. Their life is a party. They make 22 million dollars in three hours and then spend the next 12 hours snorting coke, swallowing quaaludes, banging the hottest strippers and hookers around, flying in private jets and spending 2 million dollars on bachelor parties. Their life is a fairy tale and it makes you a little sad that after you leave the theatre you have to go back to your 9-5 existence. This world is full of excess and debauchery but damn it looks like fun.
IMO, this is the best film of the year and it has the best performance of the year and it's not even close. I understand this will not be a film for everyone's liking but it is undeniably hilarious, expertly directed, crisply edited and beautifully acted. And Margot Robbie is insanely sexy, insanely sexy.
Evil Dead (2013)
Gory, grotesque and will leave you exhausted. The ballsiest horror film in quite some time
Evil Dead is perhaps the riskiest, ballsiest, most gory horror film I've seen since the 80's. Once the book is opened and the demon stuff begins, it's an exercise is the grotesque. For the 60 minutes or so that this takes place, it left me exhausted watching it. One character in here, the one who stupidly reads the book after he knows he is not supposed to, goes through more pain than any horror movie character I have ever seen with the exception of perhaps some of the rapists in the new version of I Spit On Your Grave. But that's debatable. Anything and everything that can happen to this guy, does. In short, he gets messed up real bad.
The movie is not perfect as it is hampered by some really bad acting in some parts and by some really annoying characters in others. But horror movies are known for this so if you can get past really egregious performances in some spots, then you'll be fine. It's a small complaint really, but it does take away from the overall rating. Another point I have to bring up that bothered me a bit is that the Ash character ends up being a woman and maybe because to me ASH is ASH, he is a man, then I would have liked it better if David would have lost his arm and becomes the hero. That was one of the cool things about the original is that it didn't follow conventional rules. Women are always the hero in horror films. But in Evil Dead, Ash was. I wasn't comfortable with the change in this one.
And finally, even with a bigger budget, the tree rape scene in this one wasn't nearly as good as the original.
But those complaints aside, the movie was everything they said it would be. It made the audience jump a few times and the humour was also there like in the original.
The good in the film is everything else. Shotguns, hammers, nail guns, knives, glass, syringes and fire is all used to mess people up. I remember reading that in the original the cleanup on the set every night was a nightmare because of all of the goop they used for the blood. I can't imagine being a cleanup member on this set. There was gallons of blood used here and sometimes it looked more like molasses mixed with chocolate syrup mixed with red dye. It was pretty disgusting at times. I also enjoyed how duct tape was the answer to everything in the film. If you have a hole in you the size of China, just use duct, it'll fix you right up.
As mentioned, once the book is open, the pace the film plays at leaves you exhausted. It doesn't slow down in the least and every other scene someone is cutting their own arm off or getting attacked with a nail gun or getting violated by nature. It's a truly terrifying film.
To sum it up, I enjoyed it but not on the same level as the original. And there's nothing wrong with that as the original is one of the all time great horror films. But if you are in the mood for a bloodbath where blood literally spews on screen, this is the film for you. It does not disappoint.
Perry knows how to write relationships
Tyler Perry is like the John Hughes of relationship movies. He has an ear for dialogue and he allows you to become immersed into the world you are watching. Temptation is a pretty simple movie. It's really about a woman who is unhappy with her marriage and then gets seduced by a rich man and his lifestyle. That's the pitch. Now if you or I pitched this to some studio, they'd throw us out and maybe even have us beaten up badly by security for wasting their time. But because it's Perry and he pretty much owns the studio that makes it (Lionsgate distributed) then he is free to make what he wants.
Seduction is somewhat over the top. I have read the reviews on IMDb from all the people who hate it and the problem they have with it is that the character arc seems to extreme. I disagree. Judith and Brice have known each other since they were kids. They married and they are the only people they have been with. Brice isn't a bad guy but he is just starting out in life. He is pragmatic (to a fault) as he feels that they won't be ready to take any financial risks until they are in their forties. Judith has a degree in something, forget what it is, and she wants to open a marriage counselling business. But all she can get right now is work at an on line dating company. Here she creates questionnaires for her potential clients. This on line dating site is for the rich and more rich and soon, there is a potential investor who comes into the picture. His name is Harley and he catches Judith's interest right away. After many times turning him down, she finally gives into seduction and the rest is a path to hell.
The thing about the characters, at least Brice and Judith, is that they are not bad people. You hate what happens to them, but you can understand how it happens. It's human nature to want more, maybe not everyone, but most people want more than they have. And it's as old as the Adam and Eve story. You have plenty but there is that temptation. The shiny red apple. In this case that shiny red apple is Harley. Tall, impossibly good looking, loaded, perfect body and charming as hell. The temptation is there and Judith has two choices. One, stay where she is at or two take the plunge and go for the home run. But once you swing for the fences, you enter into a world you know nothing about.
Besides the script being well written, the performances by our three leads is what carries the film. Tyler Perry seems to find beautiful black people and plucks them from obscurity and into his films. Jurnee Smolett Bell is beautiful and she is fantastic in here. She goes from sweet and innocent to a vixen and a cold hearted diva. Robbie Jones plays Harley and he has the task of being charming and evil all in one film and he pulls it off beautifully. But my fave performance was that of Lance Gross, who played Brice. Strong, insecure, hurt and damaged. His arc in the film is the best of the three. I have never seen him in anything before but my buddy (who has seen a lot more "urban" films than me) has and said he is good in everything. I think you could see a lot more from Lance Gross in the future. He has leading man good looks and he has leading man range.
I love Tyler Perry movies. That's no secret. Maybe it's why I seem to like this a lot more than many others. This was a great movie and one that surprised me.
The Call (2013)
Intense from beginning to end. Look for Anderson in the future
One of the most intense movies I have ever seen. And I am not kidding. This is expertly directed and amazingly acted by both leads. Abigail Breslin and Halle Berry should get Oscar nominations for this. I realize the chance of that happening is slim to pretty much none, but without them, this film wouldn't have some of the power it does.
Berry of course is Jordan Turner, a veteran 9/11 operator. She is a little quicker on her feet than many of the other operators. She gets as much information as she can from the 9/11 callers and even though it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, any and every detail is important. Is it a red car, an older car, is the man black, white, Asian or Hispanic? Does he wear glasses and so on. She calmly asks these questions and not only does it help her do her job, it helps calm the victim.
Breslin plays Casey Welson, the young girl who gets abducted. She has the role of the terrified victim who relies on Jordan to get her out of this mess. Breslin shot to fame in Little Miss Sunshine, but this might be her best role. To make the film work, you need to feel what Jordan and Casey feel. Both actors are at the top of their game. They made me feel hopeless, sad and terrified for both of them.
Also good as the supporting players. Morris Chestnut is the calm and collected police officer on the hunt for Casey and he brings that demeanour to the role. He is dedicated and not irrational. David Otunga, of WWE (a producer on the film) fame plays his partner and with the exception of his Adonis like physique, you'd never know he was a wrestler. He fits perfectly.
Michael Eklund plays the bad guy and he is a blend of Norman Bates and the "Put the puppy in the basket" bad guy from Silence of the Lambs. He plays the character beautifully and makes you feel for the victims. Also excellent is Roma Maffia, of Nip and Tuck fame.
The director is Brad Anderson, who I first heard of him when he did a small and unnoticed horror film called Session 9, starring David Caruso. The film was decent enough but it was intense. That is what Anderson brings to this film. Intensity. It really never lets up. This can be attributed to the actors of course, but without a director to set the tone and pace of the film, it might not have been as good. From scenes in the trunk of a car to a dungeon to the "HIVE", he manages to keep us riveted throughout. I will be eagerly anticipating his next film.
The ending is one of my favourite parts. If you don't want to know how it ends, stop reading.
9/10 OK, you're here.
Too many times, the killer does heinous things and then he gets arrested. This time, Jordan and Casey turn into John Doe from Seven. After escaping from his clutches, after he has killed a young girl, stabbed a man to death with a screwdriver, burned another alive and was in the middle of taking Casey's scalp, the two woman end up stabbing him with scissors, giving him a concussion and then chaining him to a chair in his own dungeon. There is no escape for him unless he is Houdini. They leave him there to die, which will take weeks. This, IMO, is the right ending. A man like this doesn't deserve mercy or clemency or a trial.
One of my favourites of the year so far.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Thugs in perpetuity
Pat is a man who has just been released from a mental institution after serving 8 months on a plea bargain. He was committed because after he came home early from work one day, heard his wedding song playing and found his wife banging the history teacher in the shower. In a momentary lapse of judgement and an obvious crime of passion, Pat nearly beat the guy to death. Upon getting out of the institution, his main goal is to rebuild his relationship with his wife, who now has a restraining order on him.
Enter in Tiffany, who is a recent widow. Her husband got hit by a car after going to Victoria's Secret to buy lingerie for his wife in hopes of spicing up their sex life, which Tiffany had turned off after 3 years of marriage.
Then you have Pat Sr. and Dolores, Pat's parents. Pat Sr. has lost his pension because of the financial crash and now runs a bookie business and his wife supports him for doing so. Pat feels that his son is a good luck charm and wants him to stay close during Eagles games as his presence helps the Eagles win.
Then you have Pat's friend who has made big money because of the financial crash by flipping houses. But with the this new found wealth he feels stressed, restricted and ready to bash things at any given moment.
There are other bit characters in the film as well and when you throw all this into the blender and you have one of the best films of the year.
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro give outstanding performances and I believe all three will get Oscar nominations this year. All three of them simply own these roles. But more than just the incredible acting, this is an incredibly emotionally engaging story. In here you have two very damaged people who find ways to help each other. And even though Pat might seem to be a loose cannon, if you look at the people around him, they are no different. I have always believed that humans walk a fine line between sanity and insanity. There's a Tragically Hip song called Thugs that says, "Everyone's got their breaking point, for me it's spiders, for you it's me." Profound in that I believe this to be true. We do all have our breaking points. For Pat, walking in on his wife and seeing another man performing with his mouth on her private parts in the shower, while his wedding song was playing, was enough to push him over the edge. And if that is what it takes to send you over that precipice, how do you recover? This movie explores that journey, and it's not an easy one. Pat doesn't get better over night, or after 8 months or even after spending a few months with Tiffany. It's hard work, but eventually, the human spirit will find ways to mend itself.
I have a friend who gained 150 pounds in a matter of about 18 months. He used to be model good looking. And then something or rather several things tested his mettle. And he lost. For 8 years he kept the 325 pounds on, he drank, he smoked and he was lazy. And then one day he just woke up and decided he'd had enough and he lost the 150 pounds and stopped smoking and drinking and now he's back to his old self. It's like Pat in this film. He has to work at it. The human psyche is fragile and sometimes it needs to reboot. This film is that journey to reboot.
In a way, this film reminds me of Perks of Being a Wallflower....but for a different age group. Both are in my top three of the year. One is about discovering who you are at a young age and the journey that ensues. The other is discovering who you are at an older age, and the journey that ensues to make yourself better. Both are brilliant and poignant and brought a lump to my throat.
Silver Linings also brought a tear to my eye. It's truly a remarkable film.
One final note. There is some criticism from a vocal minority who say it goes typically predictable or cliché at the end and I disagree with this completely. It is the opposite of cliché. This is a film about a journey and to have them not end up together would be a travesty. Their courtship and ultimate pairing was part of the journey to make them whole again. That is not cliché, that is just brilliant writing.