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There is a scene early in Silent Night that I thought was indicative of
a profoundly cheesy war film that was to follow. A couple American
soldiers are passing through a snowy wood when they come across a young
German boy. One soldier calls the kid "my friend," and the kid mutters
a well-rehearsed line about how they are not friends and never will be,
at which point the American soldier gives him a heartwarming speech
about how the radio has been deceiving them, and that they are not his
enemy, Hitler is. This is a level of preposterous cheesiness that
almost reaches propaganda, but even though a German country woman talks
some American and German soldiers into disarming and spending some
quality time together, it turns out to be a lot better than I expected.
Linda Hamilton plays Elisabeth Vincken, a German widow who lost one son and probably her husband (he's only a cook but has been missing for months), and is now living in a small cabin in the woods with her 12-year-old son Fritz, who she is protecting from compulsory military service. Two American and two German soldiers have a confrontation just outside her cabin, and she demands that they leave their weapons outside if they want to take shelter in her home.
My initial reaction was that I was not going to be able to tolerate Linda Hamilton speaking German (followed by her German accent, after they switched to English), but the movie deals with many of the difficult realities of war, despite a feeling of being unrealistic. My understanding, however, is that it's based on a true story (which has already been brought to the screen multiple times), but either way, it deals with the fact that wars are fought by guys on both sides that just want to survive and go home safely to their families.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie shows the soldiers on both sides compiling all the food they have on them in preparation for their first meal together. It's a perfect way to humanize a bunch of guys with guns, especially when one of the German soldiers has a small package of cookies that his wife made him. A doting wife baking cookies is not exactly the kind of image that Hollywood has taught us to associate with the soldiers of Nazi Germany, but it is undeniably true.
Essentially the movie is the story of a small group of "enemies" in World War II who decided to make a temporary truce with each other in honor of Christmas Day. This is a premise fraught with potential pitfalls, but by staying away from confectionery clichés it manages to come across as a disarming analysis of the politicians that create wars and the young men that fight them.
I will readily admit that I expected something completely different
from what I got when I watched Naked Weapon. It has all the
ingredients, including the title, of your standard t&a action flick, a
curious subgenre that I am not completely averse to, although my
girlfriend picked out the movie so I thought I was about to enjoy a
guilt-free 90 minutes or so of relentlessly gratuitous nudity. Nope!
Surprisingly enough, the movie has almost no nudity at all and makes an
honest effort to pass on an honest and moving story.
That second part is an almost total failure, of course, but I give them points for effort. It's one of those rare movies where the tagline tells you almost everything you need to know about the movie they seduce you before they kill you!
Yeah, whatever. That's just a promise for the endless nudity and sex scenes that aren't in the movie, and it actually does the movie a disservice by promising nothing but empty t&a while the movie itself is really trying to tell a good story. Whether or not the story is any good is up to you to decide, but I'm here to warn you that it's essentially a ripoff of Battle Royale, except it's not good.
A cold-blooded woman named Madame M kidnaps 40 preteen girls and takes them to an island at an undisclosed location in the middle of the ocean. They are offered a polite invitation to leave if they're unhappy upon their arrival, with the small detail that they are machine-gunned down on their way back to the helicopter. Those that remain spend the next 6 years of their lives going through a brutal boot-camp designed to turn them into deadly, hottie assassins.
You see, I can say hottie about a lot of 12-year-old girls here because by the time any of them are hot they're at least 6 years older than 12 and have killed all of the rest of the girls, usually with their bare hands, and really, what's hotter than chicks killing each other?
Well, your answer to that question will basically predict your opinion of the movie. If you would have no problem watching a bunch of puberty-bound girls being trained how to be sexy and how to be deadly at the same time, then this thing is for you. Personally I didn't mind it too much. I really wish they would have toned down the catastrophically bad acting and sporadic avalanches of cheese, but for a movie that attempts to give us such a belligerently outlandish premise as this and maintain a straight face, you have to give it at least some recognition. Good luck keeping a straight face yourself, though
Pretty interesting documentary about a film that, despite being beautifully photographed, is intolerably slow and plodding and ultimately profoundly uninteresting. I have never really been moved to call myself a fan of Barry Sonnenfeld's work, although his skill as a cinematographer certainly show through in his films and this short documentary gives him a great opportunity to make some interesting points about why he uses certain cameras and lenses and the different effects that they have. He gives us some good details about his involvement with the Coen brothers at the outset of their career and about his collaboration with them on their first three films. You can skip the last two minutes or so of this little documentary, however, which is the obligatory "working with these guys was the greatest thing that has ever happened to any human being in the history of mankind" nonsense, but otherwise an interesting look into the style of Barry Sonnenfeld.
Poor Robert has the worst luck in this show. Makes for some great comedic moments, but in watching this episode right now I was stuck wondering how he ever got married to such a horrendous woman in the first place. Granted, it is probably just a result of his own insecurities but if she is so constantly disgruntled by him why would she marry him? Nevertheless this was a pretty entertaining show, even though they overshot on Joanne's bitchiness by about 20 miles. Of course they have to introduce her and get us to hate her within a matter of minutes, but doesn't it also call negative attention to Robert for putting up with her crap in the first place? I did, however, especially love Marie's tantrum at the end, I love it when tempers flare up at the right times, although I think they missed out on some opportunities for some funny moments at the meeting at the end of the show, although they did end the season on a pretty good note that will keep us interested for the next season...
Granted, I've read some reviews from epic Bruce fans who praise My Name
is Bruce like it's another Army of Darkness, but sadly it's just not.
By now he has pulled out all the stops in making fun of himself, but
when an infamous B-movie actor ultimately ends up making a career out
of his career not really going anywhere, it gets tougher and tougher to
laugh with him. I should admit that I'm a huge Bruce fan myself. I'm
almost 30 years old and still a die hard fan of the Evil Dead films and
there are all kinds of unflattering words for guys like me, but here
the cheese level is just a little too thick for me.
Bruce plays himself, as you know. A group of idiot high school kids are hanging out at a graveyard kicking over wooden grave markers when ahead of them there shined a shiny demon, as Jack and Kyle would say, who lopped off their heads and began terrorizing the entire town of, get this, Gold Lick, Oregon, population 333 in the 19th century, population 339 today. It's a booming metropolis if I've ever heard of one!
Their isolation from modern society, however, serves as a great excuse for why the entire town managed to believe that Bruce's character Ash from the Evil Dead films was who he really is. Combine that with a kidnapping by the one surviving high school kid from the beginning of the movie and Bruce expecting a surprise birthday present from his agent and you have the set-up for a town of hicks thinking they have a hero in their midst, and Bruce thinking the demon is all just an act.
This plot was fresh and hilarious in The Three Musketeers, it was rehashed in the still hilarious Tropic Thunder, but by now there's nothing new or original about it, although Bruce's cult star power is still enough to make a good Friday night comedy from it. Unfortunately the movie is full of stupid jokes and bad performances that will probably play as more of an inside joke to the people who made it. Actors who acted in the original Evil Dead and Army of Darkness movies show up but have to mention who they are and what movie they were in for anyone to notice.
But as far as a movie where Bruce makes fun of himself, I would argue that it's something of a success. My problem may be that I've read his books "If Chins Could Kill" and "Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way," both of which were funnier than this movie. It has its moments for super-fans, although I would argue that the making-of documentary that accompanies the movie on the DVD (which is almost as long as the movie itself) might even prove to be more entertaining than the actual film. It's more than an hour of the cast and crew joking around and poking fun at each other, except it doesn't have to bother to pretend it's a real movie. The documentary should have been featured and the finished film included as an afterthought, if at all!
So about a year ago I set out on a fallacy-ridden quest to watch every
movie that Seagal has ever made, and while this has not exactly made
for much high-quality entertainment, it has definitely given me a
unique perspective on the evolution of Seagal's storied career.
Although one of the first of Seagal's new generation of films that I
watched was Urban Justice, which showed an aging and widening Seagal
lurking around Los Angeles seeking a two- dimensional revenge for his
son's murder, and Driven to Kill, as indicated by the title, is pretty
much about exactly the same thing. Except this time the son is a
daughter. Oh and he's a NOVELIST. Did I mention that? Did Stephen King
write this thing?
My initial response to learning that Seagal plays a successful novelist was shock that they actually took my advice and tried to top Against the Dark for stupid story ideas, but it actually turned out to be one of the best things in the movie. The funniest things, anyway. Don't get me wrong, I have much more respect for Seagal than most people do. I have always been a fan of his films ever since I was a kid and he was making hardened action movies and I even still enjoy them now that they are growing less and less distinguishable from each other. But seeing Seagal's considerable mass parked in front of a computer while his meaty hands prance across the keys was quite a spectacle indeed. I would venture to guess that Seagal has never sat in front of a keyboard in his life!
Sure this is a digression, but it calls into question his logical thinking in the movie's opening scene. He is sitting with his daughter, to whom he is still the greatest man on earth, and she asks him to explain how he does that old trick with the three upside down paper cups, one of which has a metal spike in it. She moves the cups around with all possible slowness, challenging him to lose track of it, and then he slams his hand down on one of the cups, which smashes harmlessly. "How do you do it?" she asks incredulously. "The trick," he says, "is to just not give a f#%k."
Or, more likely, the trick is to not understand that one false move and your writing career will be in grave danger because your sluggish typing will now have to be done with one hand.
The plot from Hard to Kill is recycled into this one. Seagal plays a former Russian mobster named Ruslan, and when an attack leaves his daughter barely clinging to life, he insists that her attackers can't know she's dead in order to aid his revenge plot, which takes up the rest of the movie. Complicating matters is the fact that her daughter is set to marry the son of Ruslan's former gangster arch-enemy, who may have been behind the attack in the first place. Ruslan is torn from a charming life of living in his sun-drenched beach-house and meandering his fingers across his keyboard and back into a life of crime.
Seagal's performance is uninspired at best, but he has made a career out of uninspired performances. Or at least his career has fizzled out into one uninspired performances. Van Damme has done the same thing, but he changed everything in the outstanding 2008 film JCVD. This is what Seagal needs to do now to win back his respect as an actor, make something real and quit pumping out the lumpy, direct-to-DVD cheeseballs.
The rest of the actors are beside the point, they run distant second billing to an actor who passed his prime nearly 15 years ago (it happened in 1996, in case you're wondering), and so don't really merit being mentioned here. But a bigger problem is that the movie does that maddening thing where there are foreign characters, Russian, in this case, who switch back and forth at random between speaking Russian and speaking bad English. If you're going to make a movie with foreign characters, just start it out in their language and then casually switch to English for the rest of the movie, like in The Hunt For Red October, or just have them speak their own language for the entire movie and subtitle it. Switching back and forth just calls attention to it.
More importantly, the action is badly screwed up. There is nothing quite so boring as these stupid shoot-outs where a lot of guys take turns spraying machine gun fire at each other, taking turns pumping all their bullets into the walls and then hiding so the other guy can shoot his gun equally harmlessly. It's like a road where every single car is blowing it's horn. No one really pays attention anymore, it just becomes noise.
But if nothing else, you gotta watch the movie for the scene in a strip club. Seagal and the bad guy's son go to a strip club and go to a private room together with a stripper, and you should see how uncomfortable Seagal looks it is HILARIOUS!
I remember being unimpressed with Unbreakable when it was first
released, I think mostly because they had the bizarre idea of casting
Samuel L. Jackson, the Badass Motherf#%ker himself, as a man whose
bones break so easily that he can hardly leave the house. The Sixth
Sense is a hell of a debut film to follow up, but in retrospect I would
argue that M. Night Shyamalan did a great job of it with Unbreakable.
The movie has received mixed responses from critics and the public
alike, but it is inarguably an interesting experience as an example of
a young writer and director carving a spot for himself in the
film-making world while running with the big dogs.
Comic book aficionados are likely to find a lot of fascinating material to chew on in Unbreakable, although I also enjoyed the film immensely despite a total lack of interest in comic books. Shyamalan takes a certain aspect of the potential historical meaning and significance of comic book mythology and crafts it into a superhero thriller that is entirely his own, which is no small achievement.
Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis play Elijah Price and David Dunn, respectively. We meet David soon after a spectacular train crash that leaves every single passenger dead and himself without a scratch, and we meet Elijah minutes after his birth, the trauma of which broke both of his delicate arms and legs. Elijah grows up to be high-class salesman of rare and priceless comic book art, the results of a childhood limited to the safety of his room and his comic collection, while David grows up to be a security guard at a sports stadium.
Elijah discovers David as a result of his surviving the train crash, and he becomes convinced that David's strength is the exact antithesis of his own weakness, and that this "power" connects them. The movie explores Elijah's efforts to convince David of his theory and David's gradual understanding of what exactly that theory means. Given the supernatural nature of it, he becomes less and less impressed with Elijah's persistence.
The movie is a fascinating ride and tells a compelling story despite being peppered with the same kind of plot holes that plagued The Sixth Sense, although here I seemed less willing to accept them. David never noticed, for example, the fact that he has never been sick or even mildly injured in all of his life until Elijah pointed it out to him. For someone with a career in high school football that ended as a result of an injury that he was forced to fake, this seems like more than a little bit of a stretch.
Shyamalan comes through on the public expectation of a good twist at the end of his movies, and while the twist in this one isn't as brilliant as that in The Sixth Sense, it's still unexpected and leaps and bounds beyond the laughable twist at the end of The Village. The moody tone and photography is characteristic of Shyamalan's work, as is Willis' subdued performance. There are times when the film's score picks up with nothing really carrying it, but the movie has a solid story and sure-handed direction that ensures that even the most judicious of us can let go and enjoy the ride. It's not his best work (that's probably still The Sixth Sense), but clearly Shyamalan's first three films were his best work so far, and after three increasingly disappointing films in a row, I hope he goes back to the kinds of stories that he tells best before he ends up going straight to DVD. After Lady in the Water and The Happening, he's not far off
Before I say anything about Die Hard 4, I just want to remind everyone
that anything that has anything to do with computers in the movie
serves no purpose other than to drive the plot and to provide for some
surprisingly effective comic relief. There is tons and tons of nonsense
about hacking into this and hacking into that and how only 9 guys in
the world could do such and such with a laptop and blah blah blah blah.
Don't take the time to try to figure out exactly what they're talking
about, even if you're a computer expert (actually, ESPECIALLY if you're
a computer expert), because it's just going to distract you from the
rest of the movie, which is a pretty powerful argument that there is
still a place for an old-school NYPD officer in the 21st century.
Let's review, shall we? Die Hard is still among the dwindling list of movie franchises where the original movie is still the best one. Part 2 was a cartoonish mess, and part 3, despite essentially plagiarizing the first Dirty Harry movie, was not the same thriller as the original but was still a great action movie. There have been many complains about casting Justin Long alongside Bruce Willis as his sidekick in this movie, because he's so well-known as the guy from the Apple Computer commercials. Maybe I watch too many movies and not enough TV, but to me he will always be known as the phenomenally idiotic Darry Jenner from Jeepers Creepers. Good God I hated that movie.
McClane has moved up in the world from reckless, irresponsible New York Cop to reckless, irresponsible absentee father who has little to do with his teenage daughter's life until some jerk drives her home and gets a little too pushy with her. John saves her from getting groped by some meathead, but she's still pretty unappreciative. Their relationship hasn't been so great over the years. Soon John is called to duty to pick up some kid named Matt Ferrell, who is on a short list of computer super-nerds wanted by the U.S. government due to a recent glitch in the national security computer systems.
John thinks nothing of the assignment until a high-tech assassination attempt is made on the kid, and he discovers that he's not the only person trying to track him down. It seems that everyone else on that short list has been executed by some shady organization, and John has to keep his cool trying to figure out who and why while they're trying to kill him and while, in the meantime, they manage to kidnap his daughter.
There is tons of great action in the movie, although detractors can easily call attention to the fact that the plot-line is clearly designed to set the stage for the next action pieces. Personally, I thought the action pieces were awesome, so I could really care less if there isn't exactly an Oscar-worthy script underneath it all. There is also the issue of the epic over- the-topness of some of the action pieces, such as the pilot of the fighter jet who can't seem to hit a lumbering SEMI truck, but can pilot his machine around under freeway overpasses, dodging bridges and whatnot.
But again, I feel like the over-the-topness, while not a huge part of the original movie, was introduced in part 2, explored a bit in part 3, and now has developed to a point where it is one of the most appealing parts of the movie. Put it this way there is a scene in the movie where McClane takes down a helicopter, and if you are unimpressed with how he does it (and his reaction, which I would argue is one of the funniest parts of the whole movie), then you're either in the wrong frame of mind or this is just not your kind of movie.
Justin Long didn't have much to do in the film except crack jokes and pop out his handy roll- up keyboard and hack into anything that needed hacking within a few seconds, although he didn't detract from the movie as much as you would expect, given his iconography. Kevin Smith is purely hilarious as Long's super-geek buddy, and later the two teamed up again with Zack and Miri Make A Porno, in which Long was the star of one of the movie's funniest scenes. Timothy Olyphant is perfect as the movie's main villain, Thomas Gabriel. He's a little too clean-cut and flawlessly dressed and groomed, but he looks like a cross between Christian Slater and a young Jack Nicholson, and that's not a bad place to be if you're a Die Hard villain. It's just too bad that he's saddled with ancient action clichés like "You have no idea who I am and what I'm capable of "
But the biggest problem with the casting is Maggie Q as Mai, Gabriel's crazy hot assistant. She's not only a super-genius computer hacker who can bring down national communication mainframes with a few strokes of the keyboard, but she's also a martial arts expert who, if Jason Statham and Jet Li were in this movie alongside Bruce Willis, she could hold them all off for a while, too. Hell, she might even have the pure, unadulterated ass-kicking know-how to make Steven Seagal bleed his own blood. Can you imagine?
The villain's main plot also falls apart pretty thoroughly (his plan to download the country's financial data from a "backup" location is feared to throw the nation into irreversible chaos what does "backup" mean again, exactly?), but this is a nearly perfect summer action blockbuster.
It is perfectly fitting that the new X-Men movie should include
"Wolverine" in the title, since none of the three previous movies
explained the history of his mutation, although slightly less fitting
that "X-Men" should be in the title, because it is more like a spin off
for Wolverine, the franchise's most popular character, than it is
another X-Men movie. Granted, the histories of some of the other X-Men
that we know are mentioned, such as Sabertooth, who is the result of
Wolverine's brother Victor evolving along darker lines, and Cyclops
also shows up, but for the most part we get Wolverine growing to
understand his mutation as he is put into a team with a whole new group
Not that that's a bad thing, of course. Die hard fans may not be so pleased to see that so little of the new movie has to do with the mutants that we know so far, and while my own knowledge of the comic books is absolute zero, I'm going to go ahead and suggest that the new movie is enjoyable even though it almost certainly doesn't live up to the expectations of the comic-thumping crowd.
The movie opens in northwestern Canada in 1840. Wolverine (now just Jimmy) and his brother Victor witness the brutal killing of their father which is almost exactly the same as the killing of young Rory Devaney's father in The Devil's Own, except for one crucial difference. You'll know it when you see it. It's a moment that comes dangerously close to an homage joke, but the recovery is thankfully quick. Their Canadian citizenship makes for a great scene late in the film that will have Canadian movie theaters erupting with cheers, although it doesn't explain why Jimmy and Victor fight side by side in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam which, unless I'm sorely mistaken, are mostly all more American wars than Canadian. Nevertheless, it's one of the movie's many great sequences.
Anyway, in Vietnam things get a little crazy. Victor loses his cool and has a confrontation with a senior officer that results in the death of one of them, and when a firing squad fails to kill them, they are offered a position on board a super-secret black Ops team so they can REALLY serve their country.
Well, they can serve their neighbors to the south, anyway.
What follows is Jimmy's journey to find a place in the world for himself, and all along the way he has to avoid being used for powers that he has but doesn't even fully understand yet, and he discovers a major project headed by William Stryker (Danny Huston), who is secretly planning to capture all of the mutants' powers and create a single super-mutant with the powers of all of them and, presumably, none of their weaknesses.
A lot of action tension falls away as it becomes more and more apparent that the relevant mutants, particularly Wolverine, are immune not only to death but to injury, but the entertainment level is high and the effects and photography are generally pretty good. There is some pretty disappointing blue-screen work late in the film in it's ambitious climactic scene, although to be completely honest, I was forced to watch a pirated DVD that I bought last week here in China that had 13 other movies on it. The picture quality is of course reduced, but more importantly, somehow someone got their hands on a copy of the movie where a lot of the visual effects weren't even finished, like external shots of planes flying and mostly the entire final scene. There was actually one point where Victor puts his hand on a window and a text label pops up saying "claws grow." I'm assuming that in the final version, his claws grew menacingly.
For those of you with access to American theaters, I hope you appreciate the sheer picture quality that you are able to experience, you don't know what you're not missing! X-Men: Origins is not the best X-Men movie (I would argue that X2 was the best so far) and it's a strange choice for director Gavin Hood, whose directing efforts include the hugely impressive 2005 film Tsotsi and 2007's Rendition. He has definitely hit the big time with this movie (like Alfonso Cuaron did when he was asked to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), although it seems like fans of his directing will be unimpressed with his latest choice, but those of us who remember him acting in bad action and horror films like The Curse III and American Ninja 5 will be thrilled at how far he's come!
But even though a lot of fans and critics may not be as impressed with the latest X-Men film than past entries in the series (Roger Ebert was pretty much a dick about the whole thing), X-Men: Origins is definitely a strong film considering that it's the third sequel. If they can keep them at least this good, they could easily squeeze out a couple more.
Lock Up is a pretty good movie for Stallone fans, although it could
easily have been much better had he not been basically a saint behind
bars. Stallone plays Frank Leone, who faces multiple prison terms
total, beginning with an 18-month sentence he was given for avenging
the vicious beating of an old man who took him off the streets when he
was a teenager. So back then he wasn't allowed to leave the prison to
see his dying father (when we meet him, he is on a weekend leave from a
minimum security prison, a weekend that he spends playing ball with his
kids while his charming wife looks on approvingly), so he breaks out to
go to the funeral.
So his minor prison sentence turns into a big one, although one that he spends at a comfortable minimum security joint with all kinds of perks, including weekends and conjugals and even friendships with the guards. His release is approaching when suddenly he is awakened in the middle of the night and taken to a brutal, maximum-security prison where he is to spend the rest of his sentence. It's called a "routine transfer," although he has done nothing to deserve such an upgrade in security status and even his wife is not informed of what happened to him.
Ultimately he learns that he is being transferred to the prison of Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland at his creepy best), who was in charge of the prison that Leone escaped from, which in turn made it into the papers and ruined Drumgoole's career. Now he has his chance for revenge, and he plans to arrange for Leone to spend the rest of his life in this prison.
The movie carelessly glosses over the ease with which Drumgoole plucks Leone out of his own prison with no explanation to those in charge there, and the conflict immediately switches to Leone trying to survive in this violent prison and stay out of trouble so he doesn't screw up his chances of getting released on time so he can go back to his family.
Drumgoole pulls out all the stops in violating the law that his institution is designed to uphold so that he can keep this one guy down, and Leone faces all manner of challenges ranging from shank-laden inmates to one of his inmate buddies who steals the Mustang they've all restored together and tears all over the prison yard doing doughnuts.
The movie is definitely entertaining although there are times when the cheese factor is through the roof, such as the spray paint fight and the downright school-girlish friendship that Leone forms with a small group of other inmates. On the other hand, it also has a much wider target audience than your average prison movie, and it manages to generally avoid most of the gaping pitfalls that prison movies are in danger of falling into when they shoot for a wide audience. There's nothing realistic about it, but for good Stallone entertainment, this is not a bad way to follow up the massive success of the Rambo and Rocky films.
Also keep your eye out for a young Tom Sizemore, but be advised that the movie features violence, unnecessary cheesiness and may leave you with an overwhelming desire to go out and get some doughnuts
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