80 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Get to the Point
8 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Prepare to get serious, very, very serious. Viggo Mortensen plays an average guy with an average family... Well they're fantastic looking but nothing's extraordinary about their personal lives: residing in a small town dream house and running a local diner, life's as easy as it's simple. Until two vicious thugs rob the place and Viggo displays too much tactical know-how in taking them out single handed, becoming a media hero and bringing attention to… well there's the plot of this searing, melodramatic tale of a man who might not be what he appears.

Maria Bello, as his beautiful wife, remains in a blissful, dazed denial about her husband's true identity, until bigger fish Ed Harris and his formidable goons move in to take Viggo out since he was once, in their opinion, a successful hit man. After all, how could an average Joe be that good with a gun? While EASTERN PROMISES director David Cronenberg sets a nice platform of slowburn suspense, reminiscent of exterior, woodsy Film Noirs like HIGH SIERRA, the good stuff i.e. our hero becoming an antihero takes too long to get happen and once it does… with the 11th hour introduction of a mob boss played by a completely miscast William Hurt… it's too little, too late. Although Viggo Mortensen, displaying an old school tough guy countenance (think early 70's Charles Bronson) does play the part well – there's simply not enough for his true self to fight for, or against.

Based on a graphic novel, this needed to be more... enjoyably violent. But the main problem is the script, so full of ponderous clichés and drawn-out, uninteresting bouts of dialog with brooding characters talking and talking about things almost happening, or just about to happen, yet nothing really ever does.

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Chronicle (2012)
A Bit Too Much, but Pretty Decent
6 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Three teenage boys, after discovering a mysterious hole in the ground, acquire telekinetic powers. The main character, Andrew, the nerdiest of the group with a dying mother and abusive dad, is determined – even before the transformation – to film everything on his home video camera.

The best scenes involve the trio first discovering their skills by lifting smaller objects around, performing miraculous tricks at the school's talent show, and eventually maneuvering vehicles: think if Sissy Spacek's CARRIE directed JACKASS.

The reactions of the wizardly teens, playing God with the unaware dolts around them, is infectious – you'll wonder what they'll think of next. But when things kick up a few notches, and they begin flying around like teenage superheroes, it resembles a computerized mainstream motion picture, losing the spontaneous edge of the "chronicling camera" device.

Here's where the characters get lost in the mix: especially after Andrew becomes a formidable villain that can't be stopped, resulting in an air battle you'd see in a video game. But as entertainment goes, this does entertain. It's too bad the film, like the characters therein, eventually takes its powers, and itself, way too far and far too seriously.

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Unscary Potter
5 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
In the spirit of the HAMMER FILMS of yesteryear, here's an old-school horror with a familiar premise: a handsome young lawyer's sent to a dark town that harbors secrets and winds up being stalked by an ominous presence. Using the implied method of building suspense, and never clearly showing the antagonist, does have its merits: except when there's more work than payoff.

Daniel Radcliffe embodies the right amount of clean-slate expressions for the story's gloomy pawn, narrowly searching through the main setting – a haunted house where the ghost of a shrouded woman resides. But save for loud music erupting whenever the titular wraith peaks her head around a corner, or sulks through the mist-laden exterior, his curiosity... the basis of any horror tale... seems in vain.

So by the time he attempts resolution for the menacing ghost, learning the motivations of her vengeful purpose to remain an active trickster in the doomed little villa, the audience is hoping for all those cheap, fun, and most important, scary thrills that are never realized.

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Double Impact (1991)
Enter the Van Dammes
2 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
If one Jean-Claude Van Damme was never enough, here's the movie for you: a decent action melodrama beginning with two infants separated during a bloody shootout in Hong Kong… Their father did a favor for a mobster who didn't need his services any longer. Thanks to Geoffrey Lewis as a bodyguard turned "uncle" who saves one of the brothers, winding up a pretty boy karate instructor to rich women in Los Angeles.

But he's drawn back to cutthroat Hong Kong where he meets his shady twin, an arms dealer who couldn't be more different. Together, along with Geoffrey Lewis and of course a beautiful love interest, they take on the mob boss who killed their parents, and even with two Dammes, it won't be easy.

The best scenes involve the milquetoast brother getting tougher through various fights, especially with the iconic ENTER THE DRAGON bulky tough guy Bolo Yeung (fitfully scarred-up from the opening scene, making him even more intimidating). But the crooked brother, who had so much promise as a rogue maverick in the beginning, becomes but a jealous whiner as his put-upon lady starts preferring Abel to Cain.

It's a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, and there's an abundance of insert/close-ups that lead one to believe the budget wasn't too high. But the characters are interesting enough to care about and it's the fights that matter, occurring enough to appease hardcore karate buffs.

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Cliffhanger (1993)
A Nice Climb
2 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The opening scene, as intrepid rescue worker Sylvester Stallone attempts saving a woman hanging onto a cable connected from a really high mountaintop to a helicopter, sets a nice stage to one of the better (or perhaps the only decent) Sly action flicks during the 1990s.

Cut to a group of T-MEN embarking on a plane trip to move three suitcases of money, and wouldn't you know: they just happen to crash on the same mountain where Stallone had worked before quitting and, eight months later, returning for his woman. But she's content with the same job as a rescuer who, along with Michael Rooker, Ralph Waite and a reluctant Stallone, is thrust into "saving" the plane-wrecked villains led by a really nasty John Lithgow, who really wants the money residing in various locations throughout the storm-ridden mountaintops. And it's up to Stallone and Rooker to recover it, or else.

Stallone makes for a worthy action hero, which is no surprise, but since you can tell he's doing most of his own stunts in genuinely dangerous settings, his physicality, along with Renny Harlin's weaving camera, makes for a star-director collaboration that, although loaded with corny dialog, is a fun ride. With every scene there's another goon to thwart (including Rex Linn in a great performance) and a new peak to climb.

Janine Turner is more than eye-candy as Stallone's independently daring girlfriend, while John Lithgow not only chews the scenery but blows bubbles with it. And that's okay – because even the silly stuff works.

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Skateboard (1978)
Roll, Roll, Roll
31 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
For a mainstream 1970's flick, SKATEBOARD sticks firmly to the exploitation style of spontaneous direction, freestyle dialog, and capricious plot line. And although billed as a Leif Garret vehicle, the bulk belongs to character-actor Allen Garfield as a tubby, struggling talent agent who owes big bucks to a dangerous bookie so, after discovering a group of wayward teenage skateboarders, Manny starts a hopeful team that travels in a decapitated bus doing borderline minstrel shows disguised as freestyle competitions.

While Garrett meanders in the background as one of the younger skaters, too shy to really take chances, the true hotshots are real life rollers Richard Van der Wyk, Tony Alva and Ellen O'Neal. And while the trio skate better than act, there's something genuine in the deadpan deliveries: after all, it's their territory more than Garfield who, with a constantly frantic bicker, seems more part of a low-rent gangster flick than skateboarding propaganda: which this needed more action shots of.

But Manny's a likable antihero, especially after Kathleen Lloyd joins the ranks as the chaperon/nurse. Although scenes where Manny attempts talking ingénue Pam Kenneally from sleeping with Van der Wyk seem a bit creepy, he eventually becomes the endearing sloppy uncle as the team climbs to the final competition where – after the star skater drops out – it's up to underdog Garrett to win a do-or-die downhill race, providing more suspense in the buildup than the real thing.

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Albert Nobbs (2011)
Dressed Down
29 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Glenn Close, resembling an aged/stiff Peter Pan mixed with Levon Helm (Sissy Spacek's father) in COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, has some good scenes: especially when reflecting on a childhood experience which led to… for means of employment but, as we eventually realize, deeper reasons… becoming a man who works in a 19th century England Hotel.

But most of the time she's got the countenance of a frightened deer, and seems too old for the part. And Mia Wasikowska as Helen, the gorgeous hotel maid that Albert loves, is too young – making the age difference feel odd to not only the audience, but Helen as well.

Perhaps this is intentional: Albert's yearning to find her, or rather, his place in the world – and dreams of owning a Tobacco Store – seem as far-fetched as landing Helen as a future wife, who's in love with a brash young drifter displaying all the negative aspects of the male species: including charm!

But the best character, and the glue to the entire picture, is Janet McTeer as "Mr. Moore," a confident freelance painter whose secret mirrors Albert's. The scenes where both discover their true identity (to each other) are more surprising to the characters than the audience, since they really don't look like men: but the acting, especially one hilarious scene as both go for an awkward stroll dressed like elegant women, makes it all seem genuine.

And the biggest achievement is turning one contained setting – the posh Hotel – into a world of its own: giving each player their own importance therein.

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The Grey (2011)
Dire Wolf
28 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Never has a cast of characters so deserved to suffer – they're just begging for it. That being a rowdy group of oil drilling roughnecks in Alaska, and one man, played by a brooding Liam Neeson, hired to keep wolves off the premises who, after a plane crash, are all left vulnerable to a surrounding pack: yellow eyes glowing in the dark like a cartoon and growls more befitting the MGM lion.

The camera shakes around so much the fanged antagonists are practically unseen, and thus, not very frightening. It's basically a wraithlike feeding frenzy of shouting, screaming, and kicking to stay alive. But something happens when the count dwindles to four survivors – a few of the performances stand out beyond Neeson's maverick: especially Frank Grillo as an existential badass who can't admit he's scared to death.

But even the well-acted campfire scenes, as the men expose their soft side in the face of doom, drag so long you'll forget what the movie's about. Till the growling sustains and the group ventures further towards… where exactly? Since no one had much of a life to begin with, it's hard to imagine, or care about, anyone surviving.

But the main problem is the nerve-wracking direction that, with the jangly, documentary style camera-work, does successfully put you into the situation – only it's not a place you'll want to be for very long. (For a much better film with practically the same premise, rent THE EDGE, where the characters go through hell, not the audience.)

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Haywire (2011)
Simple, Effective, Good
21 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
A year after Steven Soderbergh directed a searing drama about people dropping dead from a horrible virus, someone must have told him to take a vacation – and here it is: a bombastic "paid holiday" for rogue government agent Mallory, both the hunted and the hunter while various co-agents, including Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum, attempt punching her lights out.

Nice try, fellas.

In the lead role, Gina Carano, delivering lines in a constant monotone and not always adding the right amount of glib charm essential for endearing action/espionage stars, does kick ass with genuine style and velocity.

A retro soundtrack, as if Quentin Tarantino wound up directing a James Bond film, keeps the pace steady and lean. And while Soderbuergh rolls the camera a bit too long during scenes where Mallory ambles from one dangerous setting to the next, it's somewhat reminiscent of flicks like BULLITT where downtime serves a necessary platform for each action sequence: which are plentiful.

And on the peripheral... Bill Paxton as her novelist father, Antonio Banderas as a cautious connection, and Michael Douglas as the Washington D.C. insider provide essential yet filler cameos, but it's Ewan McGregor's slick operative who really matters – till our wraith-like antiheroine, a character deserving of more adventures, moves in.

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Beginners (2010)
Art-house Abundance
20 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
If Gus Van Sant directed Cameron Crowe's SINGLES, you'd have BEGINNERS, or pieces of it: like whenever Ewan McGregor, as a brooding thirty-eight year old single artist whose dying father comes out of the closet, contemplates life: making up most of the screen time with an intoxicating art-house rhythm and a bouquet of devises (other than narration) to tell what the main character's feeling… using photographs, graffiti, or a Jack Russell Terrier's subtitles… but the ponderous navel-gazing gets tiresome.

And while Christopher Plummer turns in a good performance as the dying man embracing his new lifestyle, and Ewan McGregor maintains a dependable subtlety taking on a new life of his own… consisting of a relationship with an artsy French girl more troubled than he is… they're not interesting enough characters to make up for a nonexistent plot, which, being so obviously intentional, makes sense in its own unique fashion. Although the characters are too ponderously dressed up to be genuinely fleshed out, making for a visual pleasing yet ultimately vacant experience. But as vacant experiences go...

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