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Khyber Patrol (1954)
B Movie Propaganda Theme Dull
While making a movie that has the Soviets as the bad guys, this time subbing in Imperial Russians since it was set in the 1800s, is not bad in itself. The Communists were as awful as their worst critics said they were. But propaganda themed flicks tend to suck in general, even if the foe was a worthy one.
Robert Egan really irritated me. His permanent sneer was a real turn off. He played the typical brash American masquerading as the brash Canadian colonial officer in the stuffy British army. His foolish behavior was supposed to be endearing but it was so poorly done that it reminded me of the archetype 50s rebellious teenager more than an army officer.
The action scenes were simply cowboy and Indians subbed in with lancers and Afghan guerrillas exchanging lever action for bolt action rifles. The outdoor sets looked like the same ones they used in many westerns. It was a tired flick that lacked any charisma or hook. I saw it on Netflix and it took four sessions to get it all in.
It wasn't all terrible. It had a part where he got "disgraced" in order to go "rebel" and deceive the native officer he thought was a friend, Raymond Burr as an Indian Muslim and infiltrate their underground. The conclusion could be figured out from a scene in the middle where a "new" weapon was shown to the Brit officers.
It wasn't horrid but don't go out of your way to watch it
The United States of Leland (2003)
OMG, what are these Evil Teens Up To
Though this is supposed to be an "indie", the producers must have been very well connected to get such A list talent to work on a C list movie. It is one of those movies based on a trope that the public loves: teens doing horrific stuff. Are they evil, is our society to blame for making such nice boys into monsters? It just draws us in, along with the alleged narcissism of the title, which was plain stupid.
Leland kills a retarded kid, the brother of his erstwhile junkie girl friend and her phony "picture perfect" white suburban family. He is a smart, seemingly pleasant guy full of all sorts of insights that his rude self centered neglectful novelist Kevin Spacey dad gave him. The writer mucks out of the moral angle of this by conveniently having the titular character mentally "black out" at the time of the murder, even though he wasn't a druggie.
I compare this to the River's Edge. While that movie was clumsy and had some hammy acting and bad plot elements, it connected with me and many of my time because it showed the dark side of drugs, out of control teens etc in suburbia. Nor did they try to sugar coat the killer, he was a pig. But he was "saved" by an older, hipper killer. But the old one leg biker killer was morally superior to his younger protégé because he at least loved his girlfriend that he shot dead for no real reason. US of L was superior to that movie on a technical and acting level but it was kind of cheap and exploitative. Ryan Gosling is a good actor but his puppy dog man-boy act involved spouting all sorts of random insights about the human condition. His character just didn't connect too well.
There was no resolution, no real catharsis. The ending was all pat and cheap. For instance: wasn't Pearl, the wise caring black guy stock character, responsible because he neglected his duties?
The Mystery of Spoon River (2000)
Not Bad But It Had Tons of Faults
This is a low budget indie movie so I will cut it some slack. But its heart was in the right place though most of the writing & acting was just lame.
It involved some town that was haunted by ghosts of the Civil War, the KKK & others so it could be classified as a supernatural thriller with some social commentary. But there were just too many jarring elements to it. First off, it starts out promising with a couple of good old boys going raccoon hunting at night. The next day a woman driving a harvester finds scoops up a dead game warden, who we can't even tell he was a black man at first. So the local TV crew comes, some vain phony newscaster woman who when the sheriff says the game warden was killed by some coon, as in the animal, hunters, she spins it as a racially motivated murder. Then all hell breaks lose, but we never even see any of the local cops saying, "Wait a minute, we never said there was anything racial" That part could have been developed more as a sensationalist media angle. Then a big city female lawyer comes, because one of the hunters who has been charged with murder, was her old boyfriend. Even though their guns didn't match the bullet they pulled out of the dead man, and there were no witnesses, that doesn't seem to be enough to get him off the hook, especially when his hunting buddy spazes out on the lawyer and FBI agents.
Okay, it went on like this for a while, spirits exacting revenge on live Klansmen and others as our intrepid female lawyer lead finds out the town's dark secrets, while getting lambasted herself for being some soul-less big city lawyer sell out.
It could have been so much better if they just polished the script up a bit and focused on the core story. It was adapted from a book of the same name so they must have just thrown as much as they could in. But when one of the major plot elements revolved around some guy accidentally shooting himself dead with some 140 year old black powder Civil War revolver he found laying in the woods, yeah, think it out better!
Jack Reacher (2012)
Soul-less Throwaway Seen This a 100 Times Before
Well, of course any A list movie with such a cast and director will have all the basics down pat, except it's a soul-less, unoriginal product that doesn't elevate the audience, at least the thinking ones who appreciate something more than a macho violence fest. It is designed to appeal to the action movie crowd, you know the skinhead tattooed types at the gym or on loud motorcycles who haven't read a book since school stamped their parchment.
We have Cruise being Mr. Badass Bullet Chewing Ex Army West Point MP lifer Jack Reacher, who resigned from the Army and lives off the grid with just the clothes on his back. You'd think a lifer like him would at least have a duffel bag with a change of clothes and a toilet kit, but he shows up in Pittsburgh empty handed on a bus. At first he's there to help convict some Army killer he pursued in the past for some mass shooting that happened in Iraq. His character is such macho bs, and so worn out, but that doesn't matter to the audience who apparently need a really smart guy, who can figure all the angles everyone else missed and who can also kill 10 armed men barehanded. It is like Cruise got into character in some BS pseudo-artsy Jap gore fest like "The Last Samurai" and never got back to reality. Since Mr Perfect is also the producer of this as well as the man who turned Mission Impossible into another generic ultra violent chase scene thriller, I think Cruise really imagines himself as a Reacher clone
So of course, we know the shooter, or the guy we thought was the shooter, wasn't the bad guy. And we knew that one of the stuffed shirts we met in the beginning was prolly in the pay of the bad guys. And we knew that there was going to be tons of sophisticated weapons and fancy shooting, along with a chase scene involving every bad ass guy's wet dream, a 1968 Chevy Malibu SS 396 4 speed, driven by the master at everything who is, I guess, a good driver in reality. The common iconic 60s muscle car is a stand in for the lameness and unoriginality of the character and the rest of the plot.
There is a really bad guy, a Russian, natch, called the Zek, played by a German, Werner Herzog. He is really bad, like he chewed his fingers off to save himself in a Soviet gulag. Then I find out that the real target of this mass shooting, and the subsequent mayhem and expense to cover it up. was someone these ultra evil, ultra well financed guys could have dealt with in their sleep. It reminds me of using a shotgun to kill a fly.
I mean these evil guys are so bad, that when they paid some local not-so-evil hood to drive Reacher off by stomping him, which failed of course, the really evil people not only killed their local contact guy, but the five hapless petty criminals their local guy hired for a $100/piece. Heck, once they killed their local contact, there would have been no way for Terminator Reacher to trace it back. But the plots of movies like this are there mainly to provide the set up for the next set of homicides.
Then the movie had this old Marine - "young" Army guy bonding scene at a shooting range. The old guy was Duvall, wdf. Natch, once we got over his crustiness, you knew they would bond so well that after one meeting the old man would drive 200 miles to help the Terminator shoot all the bad guys dead in some night quarry construction site shoot out scene.
I hate using the term fascist, because it is so overworked and misused, as well as the two big heroes in the end were operating alone, not part of some storm battalion. But it was fascist, in that it espoused these ultra conservative, ultra macho military trained militaristic guys are the key to help us clean up society. For sure, we do need these types sometime, but in movies & TV today it seems the message we get is that this is the way to deal with all the bad parts of life. IT is all some Manichean struggle where soul-less, rootless good guys can waste all sorts of ultra heinous, well equipped and almost as competent bad guys then walk away for a good breakfast as Dennys. I know, this is just supposed to be escapist fare, but maybe we should ask ourselves if trash like this from A listers is causing so many people to be alienated and go over the edge. Yeah, yeah, 99.99% of the people who watched this won't do anything sadistic or insane, but what about that .01%?
PS: I just made the connection between this movie and some similar stinker set in Pittsburgh, "Striking Distance". That cheesy Bruce Willis, over the top macho action flick got more than its share of razzies from the fans & critics. If you take that movie as parody of its genre which it is, it is more palatable than this macho militaristic cowboy sadistic nonsense.
Derivative and Crummy Characters, Glitzy Nonsense
First off are the three leads, Sisto, Roach and Hutton. They are all okay actors but they are best off playing more cerebral types. But here they have Sisto cast as some empathetic, caring, but psychopathic, blood thirsty but genius sort of freelance super heavy detective who specializes in helping out kidnap victims & their rich families for a large fee, payable only on success. He did a good job playing crazy, with a touch of menace, & weird on Six Feet Under, but I can't take him seriously as a cross between Woody Allen, Monk and Dirty Harry. The plot is so far fetched and is full of mindless action and violence. Obviously they were inspired by 24, but that show at least had national security and mass destruction as a plot element, not scum trying to leach or rip off a rich NYC guy.
The country and globe hopping aspect of it didn't help at all either, it gave it no extra class or variety. Even Timothy Hutton, who plays the patriarch Kane of the kidnapped kid went rogue when he went from being hard pressed rich guy dad to some scion of an Irish mobster from Queens. Then he gets all medieval himself. That is so out of character. Delroy Lindo reminds me of some extinct dinosaur or dodo bird as the head FBI guy who psycho Sisto locks horns and then cooperates with in in the classic film noir love hate relation meme between the private dick and the city gumshoes. There is nothing new here, just a lot of the same old. Even lame old Ray Donovan had more character and moxie than this NBC network stinker.
Here are some examples of all around lameness in plot and writing. Sisto does the usual macho BS shtick of walking into the home bar of the aforementioned Irish gang and starts twisting the arm of one of the members for information, but no one helps the guy out. Maybe Bruce Willis or Chuck Norris can get away with that in one of their macho actioneers, but not here. Or this super sophisticated, well financed group of mystery kidnappers stashes the kidnapped kid in some tenement neighborhood in some crummy Mexican village, where everyone there seems to see how out of place the group & kid are. You'd think they would have found some walled-in isolated villa in the country side to stash their victim, not some place where he keeps almost escaping and even the local constable knows about them.
I was so glad they pulled the plug on this load of lameness before one season was up. It is just too bad they didn't smother it at birth.
The Stone Killer (1973)
I Love 79s Cop Stuff Lke this
But this is just lame. Director Winner and Bronson worked together a lot. They made "Death Wish" which was so much better. They were trying to capture the Dirty Harry zeitgeist but the plot was just too convoluted and ridiculous. A complicated revenge murder plot where old Mafia types wait forty years and use Vietnam vets to kill new Mafia types is just pulp. Stuart Margolin, how usually plays flaky side guys, is the head commando, & Martin Balsam is the head mafia dude, sheesh. It wasn't a horrible flick, But don't spend any money or go out of your way to watch it. It is on Crackle as of 04/06/2014 so you can watch it for free. Even the ending was so pointlessly ambiguous with Bronson and his crusty boss Fell sitting in an unmarked police car with Bronson telling some pointless joke concerning Romans, Christians and lions in the coliseum while head mafia dude Balsam walks out of confession in a NYC church 2500 miles away from LA. WDF??
Well Made Junk, It's a Mindless Hollywood Action "Spy" Movie
This movie has about as much relation to spy craft as watching a Star Trek TV program would help you understand the Apollo space program, but without even the occasional social moral theme that Trek throws in . Nothing in in made any sense. Spies aren't killer cyborgs who can burst into a building and disable trained guards and agents with bare hands or improvise Rube Goldberg devices then deactivate complicated electro-mechanical systems as if they designed and built them themselves. She made Rambo look like a drunk college baseball player fighting in a local college bar on Friday night. She seemed to have the same mythical warrior invincibility as Alice the Enhanced One has in all those Resident Evil movies & video games. I realize that James Bond commando kung fu trained warriors are the norm in movies these days, but at least James Bond used to be novel and humorous, unlike our Terminatrix here.
The climax involved a couple of Russian deep plant agents taking over the Whitehouse and president so they can launch nuclear weapons, natch. "Whitehouse Down" and "Olympus Has Fallen" had similar plot lines but there at least there was a whole bunch of bad guys, and lots of them were killed fighting the various security forces stationed there. But here one of the agents runs interference for our female cyborg by detonating a suicide bomb vest all of 10' from her, in an underground corridor. But our female terminator was barely fazed by the enormous blast. Or in an earlier scene, she stages this elaborate kill operation on the president of Russia in a cathedral in NYC where she sets up all sorts of stunts and booby traps in a place she was utterly unfamiliar with & had all of five minutes to set up the stunts that worked perfectly. Then she takes out 3 NYC cops in an SUV while in cuffs. Not just that but she used a stun gun to get the driver to shift gears, apply the gas or steer the wheel as if she tapped right into to his neural pathways with the zapper. That was so silly it even one upped the rest of the stunts; and it was pretty sadistic thing to do to some schmoe cop who was just doing his job.
I watched it because the highway scene was filmed nearby and I borrowed the DVD gratis. If you like a lot of action but don't care about plot or even a glimmer of reality to the script, then you might like it.
That being said, Jolie did well with her limited female kill-bot role. The black CIA Guy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, did well too. The rest of the cast, including wooden Liev Schreiber, were adequate at best. There is nothing I took out of this movie worth remembering save some well done but a load of "impossible in real life" stunts. Even the paper thin veneer of humanity and ambiguity most of the fawning reviews spoke of are flat. We knew she was some fancy Russian Manchurian double agent type, something about being conditioned in Russia when she was young by the same guy who ratted her out later. That had been established early in the movie. It was easy to predict that she was a good bad guy character who in the end wouldn't do anything very heinous, She'll just kill lots of bad bad guys but only seriously disable the good ones.
Killer Joe (2011)
While it was well made and had a clever screenplay and dialog, it was a sick movie. It was utterly amoral and degenerate. Not one character seemed to have any decency and the plot was plain wicked. I am sure someone would complain that it makes fun of poor whites in Texas, which is par for Hollywood. But no matter where it was set & the class/race of the characters, it is a movie that shouldn't be made. It is a totally depressing movie that would bring you down unless you are a morbid type. I was plain let down by it and was so happy when it ended. Of course, I am guilty of moralizing but I want to warn people that it is a plain wicked movie without one iota of redeeming social value.
Matrix meets Rambo, 1984 and Brave New World, Derivative & Weak
First off, it had really good production values & sfx, and a good roster of actors. So it was competently made, But not only was the concept derivative, not a crime for sure, but it was just plain weak. It was like some movie guys got all coked and said, "What if Winston Smith & Julia in 1984 had a ton of firepower & they went out and blasted the Ministry of Love & O'Brien instead of becoming another victim?" Well they had this concept called Gunkata, which takes the old concept that the good guys can walk though a storm of lead, not even get nicked then take the bad guys out with single pistol shots acting all calm as a cucumber to the ultimate silly extreme.
Okay this was supposed to be a totalitarian updated version of 1984. Yet the rebels had access to all sorts of guns, books etc. The good citizens were all supposed to be drugged against emotion, hence the name Equilibrium, the main drug. The good guy, Bale, is one of the chief enforcers, a cleric. But do these totalitarian bad guys bother to check up on their enforcers, no. They don't even have a simple way to check if someone stopped taking the required calming drugs, which should be easy since their whole system was based on the drug being used by all. Then there is this one scene with all these dogs the dead rebels owned. Our hero sneaks one of those cute beagles out so he can bond with it, OMG, I overdosed on saccharine at this point.
Then the finale, where one massive fight consisting of The One vs the center bunch of baddies, which results in the whole system being crashed in one hour. The Matrix had a lot of overkill and over-firepower, but it was utterly original in its theme, style and special effects and Nero didn't crash the whole Matrix in an afternoon of shooting it out with the cops and the Agent Smiths. It took two pallid sequels to right the world after the first Matrix big hit. This one fixes the earth in one hour.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
It is not a bad movie, but it sucks anyways
Star Trek spawned many feature films starring the crews from the original series, Kirk, Spock, etc and Next Generation, Picard, Worf, etc TV series & one with a mix of the two. Honestly, most of those movies were schlock, far worse than this one many levels. But they were the real ST deal, since they had the real actors and Roddenberry's guidance behind them.
The three following TV series, while having their faults, continued the ST tradition. Even the retro last one, Enterprise, did okay until it degenerated into mindless alien fights like the one with time traveling alien baddies where they all went back to alt reality Earth 1944 to fight Nazis & aliens. Any sci fi that needs a Nazi plot should pack it up!
This movie, while very competently made, is a fake. Abrahms is good at characters, but the characters from the Original Series have been etched into our collective consciousness for decades so imitating them is no big deal, I am sorry. They did a good job of trying, but it just flopped. Pine is not Shatner, and lacked the level of genial pomposity and arrogance that Shatner used to make Kirk. Not can Quinto hold a candle to Nimoy. And bringing Nimoy on board as Old Spock, a double Spock trick, via time travel was really grasping at plot straws. The Khan character substitute just sucked & redoing an old TV show then movie plot line reeked of desperation. Star Trek is supposed to explore new planets, new civilizations, new life forms. Okay, some of that was corny like the Chicago Roaring 20s gangster world, but even that was fun. But all Abrahm's two reboots did was recycle the same old characters, planets & species. For instance the opening scene where they saved the stone age inhabitants of the red planet while visusally arresting, missed the mark. Kirk & McCoy were obviously observing, possibly interacting with the aliens before it started with them being chased. But did Abrahms "bore" us with the previous interactions with the primitives or why were the duo walking on the surface near them to begin with? Nope, they were just there to be chased then the two jump off a cliff into the water, yadda yadda
It is an epoch failure since it missed the whole ethos of Star Trek in favor of Bondian Star Wars action and slapstick