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Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)
Lucy Liu is tough, if nothing else
For the past several years I have watched Lucy Liu as a low-key, intelligent partner to the brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes. While this is not the type of movie I would enjoy, I did like seeing Liu in a very different role as a capable martial arts fighter who also used serious weapons.
Sever could beat up a big burly man who hit on her, or pretty much anyone else, or blow up everything in sight, or shoot at anyone around her with firepower I doubt most soldiers would have, and show no emotion whatsoever. And never a hair out of place. And great looking clothes, just like Dr. Watson.
And yet in scenes with the kidnapped boy, she almost seemed compassionate. At least she seemed somewhat caring. Not the monster who all the cops wanted to take down.
Also worth mentioning is the overly confident billionaire bad guy from "Scandal". Here, Gregg Henry played a character who was merely rich, but didn't quite achieve that character you love to hate (except I only hated the man in "Scandal"). Later in the movie, he showed signs of what he could do.
I thought Antonio Banderas was considered a quality performer, and he certainly showed his talent as Puss in Boots last night on "Jeopardy" (assuming that was him). Here, he seemed bored and tired.
So is there anything about this worth seeing? Well, I didn't pay for it, beyond what I pay each month to get a dependable signal and the ability to record. If there's anything good in it at all, it wasn't a total waste of time.
Increasingly bizarre toward the end
Tim and Nick are neighbors who work at a company which makes sandpaper. It's not clear what they do but they wear suits and have offices, and they carpool together each day. Both men have a wife and kids. Nick is so annoying with all his ideas for inventions, and while they are usually ridiculous, one day he gets an idea that actually works. A spray can that eliminates what dogs do! There is a scientist (I assume he works at Nick's company) who actually comes up with the magic formula. The one question that is never answered in the movie is: where does it go when it disappears? On broadcast TV, the question may have been slightly different than the one in the original version. And I just know the original must have used one word far more than what I heard.
Tim did not choose to invest in this ridiculous idea. That's okay. he and Nick are such good friends that he shares the wealth, as much as Tim tries to stop his family from being spoiled.
Tim is quite envious of Nick, who built a huge mansion right across the street and has the best of everything. And yet he resists letting Nick share the wealth as much as he can, and the white horse Tim's kids love is a particularly serious problem as it does what Nick's invention can cure, only Tim won't use it. Or shouldn't have.
Eventually everything falls apart for Tim, and that's when the movie really gets crazy. Tim has a big secret and the wacky J-Man to help him with a scheme to keep this secret from ruining his life even further--for a price. And you just know that whatever Tim tries to do, he will ruin his life even more and more, with hilarious results for the audience.
Meanwhile, Nick's wife wants to run for State Senate.
The big question we all want to know the answer to: Surely everything will fall apart for Nick too, right? And how will Tim get out of his mess? How far will J-Man go to bring Tim down? How far down can Tim go?
Ben Stiller and Jack Black are both considered talented actors. Just not here. Neither man shows why they are so popular.
Christopher Walken, on the other hand, stood out. J-Man is quite a character. At least for this type of movie. Let's just say he is superior to Captain Hook in that NBC live production. The weirder this movie gets, the weirder he gets.
Amy Poehler does nothing for me but annoy under normal circumstances. She does even less here.
But if all you want to do is laugh at something bizarre, and just escape from your own troubles, this just might work.
Tim regretted not investing in what he considered a dumb idea. Someone probably should have had Tim's intelligence not to invest in another dumb idea, but I'm glad someone did.
History teacher and guidance counselor Miss Ruiz speaks to a high school gym class made up mostly of Latino kids. She's hoping some of them will listen because few Latino kids in the Los Angeles schools go on to college, their best bet at improving their status in life.
In history class, Jordin makes it clear he's not interested in what Miss Ruiz has to say, and he uses a word that I'm not sure was even allowed when the version I saw was being cleaned up for TV (though this word is often used on broadcast TV). Miss Ruiz kicks him out of class.
Felipa, a nerdy but somewhat attractive girl from New York City who moved in with her beautiful cousin Kika and her parents when her mom couldn't handle the responsibility of a child or anything else, is interested in a scholarship. Jordin sees her when he is waiting to be chastised by the school principal, but he doesn't think too much about her. Or does he?
Jordin lost his mother when he was too young to know her. In fact, the truth is that giving birth to Jordin was very risky and some wrong decisions were made. His father, who sells cars along with Jordin's dropout brother, expects Jordin not to send up like his brother, and he is very demanding and borderline abusive. Yet we do see he really cares for his sons.
Jordin has a reputation. He acts very macho in front of his friends and wants to impress them by flirting with as many hot girls as possible, including Kika. And eventually getting some of them in bed with him.
And yet when Kika and Felipa are together, somehow Jordin wants to hang out with Felipa. Just as a friend. I'm not entirely clear on what happened, but it might have been a bet that he could resist the hot girl and go for the ugly one instead.
But Jordin really does seem to fall for Felipa. He just won't admit it to anyone else. And he goes after Kika to show he's still got it. Kika, who is somewhat shallow and not particularly brainy, is actually jealous of her cousin, when one would expect things to be the other way around.
Meanwhile, Jordin makes the discovery that his biological father is a college professor. In the process of going to find out more about the man and about the mother he never knew, he just might be inspired to go to college.
So will things turn out well for Jordin? What about his romance with Felipa?
This is a very good movie. Although there are some stereotypical images, this movie does make an attempt to show positive images of Latinos as well. Veronica Diaz-Carranza and E.J. Bonilla both do very good jobs, and so do many of the leading actors.
Jennifer Esposito, in addition to being hot for her age, gives a strong performance. She's tough. She can handle whatever Jordin throws at her, and still care about him enough to help him in life.
This is a worthy effort.
Kiwi Flyer (2012)
Enjoyable and funny family film
The movie begins with an explanation of the origins of soapbox (called trolley) derby in New Zealand. Well, sort of. A man going off to war has an unfortunate incident even before he leaves home. It looks like fun, and the kids want to play too. Years later, relatives of that first man are competing in trolley derby, which has become a major event in the town of Nelson.
And one of those competitors is Ben's father, who is legendary for never winning. Ben wants to compete now, and his father is building his trolley. But he doesn't live to see his son race. Ben's mom, who takes over the father's business of washing boats, doesn't want her son to race.
So Ben has to be sneaky. He enlists the help of his mechanically talented friend Jeff, who wants Ben to help him get a date with pretty Amanda. Ben messes this up, in a manner that recalls Miles Standish and John Alden, though he doesn't mean to. This could become a problem later.
One of Ben's obstacles is the neighborhood bullies Shane and Shannon. Their father Wayne has a user car dealership and is a major sponsor of the race. His team has won four years in a row, and to Wayne, if you are not a winner, you are a loser. And there's nothing wrong with cheating, in his view, as long as you don't get caught--or you have the influence to make officials look the other way. This year, Shannon takes over from Shane as driver.
Ben also needs money to build a proper trolley. Mr. Lumsden, a nerdy teacher who wants to date the boys' mom, provides expertise, but getting the money will require dealing with a loan shark. Stewie is one of the kids at school, and he has an official looking office in what appears to be the boys' room. He's quite mature and professional, but if you don't come through when he wants to be paid back, he has an enforcer named Slug. And if you want to see what happens when you don't pay on time, there is Elliot. Nothing really bad happens to Elliot, but it's just not pleasant being him.
Ben and Jeff figure out how to make their trolley the best. But Shannon and Shane want to make sure their trolley beats Ben's, at any cost.
Will Ben and Jeff succeed? If Shannon and Shane hurt their chances, can Ben and Jeff recover? What happens when Jeff finds out the truth about Amanda?
This is a good family film. It's a little on the naughty side, with a word or two getting bleeped out and some violence of the school bully variety, and some great toilet humor. There is chicken manure and two great gags with porta-potties. And lots and lots of slapstick violence.
There are moral dilemmas to deal with, but solutions are found to these that one might not expect. Good sportsmanship is an important lesson here. And hard work, research, and determination are highlighted.
No, it's not a masterpiece, but it's an enjoyable experience.
Deep Dark Canyon (2013)
Exciting, occasionally funny
For his 17th birthday, Skylar gets to go hunting deer with his brother Nate. We can't see what they are shooting at, and they don't seem to be entirely sure either.
Dick Cavanaugh, mayor of the small town of Guerneville, California, is dead.
The boys do the right thing. As it turns out, their father Bloom is the police chief, so maybe Skylar won't get in too much trouble. It was, after all, an accident.
Lloyd is one of the town's cops and, although he is a Barney Fife type when it comes to enforcing the law, he seems to be on the boys' side.
The problem is that the Cavanaugh family seems to run the town. Every business seems to have the Cavanaugh name on it. Accident or not, Skylar will be tried as an adult. For one thing, there is motive. Deputies come to take him to Santa Rosa.
But they won't make it, if Nate has anything to say about it. This puts the boys in deeper trouble.
Survivalist Uncle Mike gets involved. He is still upset that Sarah is dead. Who is Sarah? We'll find out later but for now things are even worse for the boys.
Nate and Skylar are on the run, but for now things aren't too bad. Tony and Joel are among those hunting for them (yes, I do mean hunting in that sense of the word; these are people who love their guns and believe justice involves bullets rather than a jury). These two are morons and for the first time, we have comic relief.
But not everyone is so incompetent. Randy is in charge of the search and he is a no-nonsense, capable cop, who comes across like a drill sergeant. Fortunately for the boys, Eric and Ronnie are even bigger morons than Tony and Joel, and we really get to laugh. Finally, Guthrie is the biggest idiot of the bunch, and with the boys' father searching for them and hoping to help them out of their predicament, this turns out to be a positive development. For all of us.
A couple of other cast members deserve mention. Jamie is the girl Nate likes, and she may be able to help. And Roberta is nearly topless and very frightened.
So will the boys succeed in their efforts? Nate wants to go to Canada because he believes they will never see freedom if they stay around here. That's if they survive.
There is a lot of excitement here as the chase continues. Especially toward the end. The final scenes put me on the edge of my seat. Regardless of the outcome you are looking for, I think the ending can make you happy.
Moral dilemmas are a big part of this movie. The fact is that the boys only have a chance at a positive outcome during the first few minutes. After that, the only question is how many laws one is willing to break to rescue them. Morally right at this point becomes a relative concept.
This is not a family film. Numerous words were bleeped and sometimes I had trouble understanding what was going on in scenes where fewer words could be heard than were not heard. And ever since the Janet Jackson incident (or for whatever reason) reading lips is also out of the question.
I know Ted Levine best as a tough, capable detective in a suit who has to deal with a quirky but brilliant P.I., while here he is blue-collar in appearance and manner and quite convincing. But capable? As an actor he certainly is, but the character may not be any good at his job, and he is somewhat flawed as he makes the boys his priority. He even makes us laugh a couple of times.
Michael Bowen doesn't have a lot of lines as what appears to be a sheriff but he commands respect and you'd better listen to him.
Spencer Clark does a capable job leading his brother down a dark path, while Nick Eversman has the challenge of deciding to sacrifice himself for what is right.
Martin Starr is kind of a weak link in an otherwise talented cast. I don't think Lloyd reached his full potential. He was mostly just there.
Let's also give credit to radio host Cool Breeze (I think I got his name right, but didn't see him on IMDb). Every town needs a folksy DJ who knows the people and what is meaningful to them. For example, he says our thoughts should be with the Cavanaughs after their loss.
There is lots of beautiful scenery and plenty of great looking bridges. We also get to see a nice modern bridge which just doesn't have the character of the others.
And the guitar music is great. I consider rock music to be evil, but this isn't rock music. Not exactly. It isn't quite country either. Maybe folk. A good example is a song I heard at least once, and maybe twice. With the closing credits, I heard the words "birds of prey". "Birds of Prey" is in fact the name of a song in the credits, performed by Wyoming. It is quite appropriate for the setting and both the guitar and the vocalist sound great. Other music in the movie sounds similar.
It's a worthy effort.
Women in Trouble (2009)
Well done, sometimes funny
Elektra and Holly are in jail about to be hanged for a crime they didn't commit. Their solution to the problem involves taking off most of their clothes.
Actually, Elektra is a porn star and Holly is an actress and a hooker And when Holly goes to her other job working with Bambi, something undesirable almost happens that cannot be mentioned on broadcast TV, though some of the words left in explain the situation clearly enough.
Elektra has a doctor's appointment in a tall building. There, she finds out she is pregnant, and Nick is the likely father. We'll learn about him later. Also in the same building is Doris, who is on the phone with her troubled sister Addy.
Addy and her adorable daughter Charlotte are in therapy. Today it is Charlotte's turn to visit Maxine. Maxine's husband Travis has a terrible secret which will turn Maxine's life upside down, but for now let's worry about Charlotte, who believes she sees ghosts.
Doris and Elektra get stuck in the elevator together. At first they hate each other, but with a serious wildfire problem, the fire department's first priority is not them. So they have to adapt to the situation, take off most of their clothes because of the heat, and learn about each other in well-written, deep and disturbing discussions.
Cora is the flight attendant who flirts with rock star Nick, while Maggie is her level-headed partner. Something terrible happens on the flight and they have to figure out what to do.
Holly and Bambi take Maxine to a bar to deal with their problems by drinking. Maxine makes it home all right, though she is quite drunk, and she must eventually confront Travis, who gets her undressed.
Holly, who is upset no one remembered her birthday, ends up spending the night at the apartment of the bartender (I don't remember her name) and the bartender's lesbian masseuse roomie Darby. Darby really helps Holly feel better about her problems (no, that's NOT what I mean, though Holly does take her clothes off).
Some of the women solve their problems, and some of them are worse off. But it's an enjoyable process watching them work things out.
There are lots of great performances here, and good writing, and lots of laughs even though some scenes are quite serious.
Connie Britton shows us here why she is one of the few actresses on broadcast TV who can get nominated for an Emmy. Plus she still looks so beautiful; Rayna James in 2015 is starting to show her age.
Adrianne Palicki, who worked with Britton on "Friday Night Lights" (but doesn't have any scenes with her here), shows how talented she is when Holly, who is normally a "dumb blonde" with very clever writing, turns out to be smart about some things. But one of those scenes apparently showing Holly to be smart is actually showing showing how clueless she is. The writing there is great.
Carla Gugino as Elektra and Emmanuelle Chriqui as Bambi both do well in their roles.
I can't remember the bartender's name but the actress does a good job. She's very helpful.
Sarah Clarke makes a very good therapist but may soon end up needing therapy herself.
Cameron Richardson as the pleasant and friendly masseuse also stands out.
I don't recall the name for this technique, but several characters experience seeing numerous images in only a few seconds. The slow-motion button on TiVo is your friend.
Do NOT leave during the closing credits. I wondered why I didn't remember Joseph Gordon-Levitt when I saw his name. Bert Rodriguez interviews our two porn stars AFTER the credits, and that's a must-see!
This whole movie is really worth seeing.
Not great, but it has its moments
Stan returns home and his co-worker and roommate Christian wants to know why Stan changed his shirt. We later learn the shirt was blue. Something blue was in the trash at that gas station and the camera spent a lot of time showing us that trash container.
Stan's friend Billy has broken up with Alice, who is still in college in Ohio, and returns home to this parents outside D.C.
Stan and Billy spend a lot of time together and it's not clear half the time what they are talking about since half the words had to be bleeped for broadcast TV. But there is a pretty and sarcastic girl who insulted them in the bar where they were drinking. Not a good idea! Billy talks to Alice a lot but she's not really there.
Stan had his own bad breakup, with pretty Ashley, who he dated for five years. Ashley is missing and it's a big news story.
It takes a while, but it's finally clear to me. It's Stan who is going off the deep end, not Billy. Some of the scenes have audio that sounds like it's coming from inside a trash can, and other visual or sound techniques that make it clear Stan is not in his right mind.
One day neither Stan nor Christian show up at the automotive sound equipment store where Stan is a manager ...
This is a hard movie to watch, but ultimately rewarding. My favorite scenes involved Robert Forster as Billy's father, Patricia Kalember as his mother and Sammi Hanratty as his adorable little sister Barbie.
But Stan's creepy behavior is worth seeing too, I suppose. Toward the end we finally get a payoff, along with a mystery that never quite gets resolved.
One of the better performances comes from an actress with a brief scene at the college Alice attends in Ohio.
Is it any good? I suppose. It's not really my kind of movie.
Inspiring, often funny, teaches us about Sikh culture
The Toronto Maple Leafs have just won the big game against the Detroit Red Wings! And the star of the game is greeted by beautiful girls as he exits the arena and ...
wakes up in a truck at this Uncle Sammy's Toronto company Speedy Singh Transport, as his devoutly Sikh father Darvesh expresses his disappointment in his lazy son, who was supposed to someday take over the company.
Rajveer wants to play hockey, not drive a truck or run a company. But his father refuses to listen to his son, who gave up wearing the turban years ago, unlike his family and most of his friends. Rajveer's younger brother Gurveer continues to please his parents and appears willing to join the family business when he gets old enough, though his enthusiasm in the face of ridicule is beginning to fall apart.
Uncle Sammy's cousin Reena is a TV news reporter for SIN, and she is getting married. Her fiancé is professional-looking and polite and appears willing to move up in the company. He is sarcastic toward Rajveer, happy to feel superior to this lazy bum but not really mean.
Rajveer and his friends, all named Singh, play pickup hockey at the rink run by Dan. However, the Hammerheads, a Hyundai cup winning team, also use the rink and they want these "snake charmers" and "turbanators" to leave. Rajveer asks to try out for the team and the coach lets him, but of course the coach is unwilling to let Rajveer join the team.
That's okay, though. Rajveer and his friends can form their own team and compete for the Hyundai cup. Dan, a former pro hockey player who didn't do too well, can be their coach.
Meanwhile, Rajveer meets Dan's pretty sister Melissa, a law student who cares about protecting people who are unfairly treated, who is waiting outside to give Dan a ride. It is clear from the time they meet that she and Rajveer will become a couple. And their first date (or is it a date?) at Mr. Patel's restaurant has predictable results.
The Punjabi hockey team is a big hit with people who trace their heritage to India, and there are many of them in the Toronto area. They're not that good at first, but support is outstanding. Uncle Sammy figures out what is going on and is happy to sponsor the team now called Speedy Singhs, provided enough money can be raised from other sources. But Rajveer's father cannot find out his son is actually playing.
And there's one big obstacle. Helmets are usually required in order to play hockey, but most of Rajveer's team wear Sikh turbans and they refuse to compromise.
So will this team succeed? Especially against their arch enemies, the Hammerheads?
This is a good movie, just for the hockey story. But we are treated to a close look at the Sikh culture, including a traditional wedding with the music, dancing and colorful costumes. There is the usual conflict found in movies such as this between tradition and modern life.
Most of the leading actors do a good job. There are several actors I won't name who seem to be reading their lines about half the time, but both of them are good enough in other scenes and it's merely a distraction when they aren't.
There's plenty of humor here, particularly from people whose family came from India.
I really like Rajveer and Melissa together. They have the expected ups and downs but work really well as a couple.
Rob Lowe does a good job as the coach. At first he doesn't seem to stand out much, but as time goes on he really shows that he is one of the leading actors in the business.
Anupham Kher does an outstanding job as a father who goes from disappointed to proud to ... well, I won't say what happens. Just know he does an amazing job.
Mr. Patel is another standout character.
One of the best scenes involves an old man telling a young boy about the Sikh culture. This scene proves crucial to the success of the hockey team.
It's a worthy effort.
Henry's Crime (2010)
Henry has a boring job in the Buffalo area as a toll collector. We never see exactly what road he is on, but it appears there is lots more traffic in the background than there is on his road.
One morning he comes home and gets to spend some time with wife Debbie, a nurse. Their marriage seems okay. Then Henry's friends, including Eddie, come over and say they need him to play in an important softball game.
But they need to make a stop at the Buffalo Savings Bank first. All four men are wearing uniforms, but Henry has to stay in the van. The other three put on masks and rob the bank. Only Henry is caught, and since he won't rat on his friends, he gets sent up the river.
Fortunately, Henry's cellmate is a really nice man named Max. Max is a lifer who likes prison and has no desire to get out. Henry doesn't seem to despise prison, but he would like to leave. And his time is over pretty quickly. His wife has left him, and he needs to figure out what to do with his life.
Henry finds out about a tunnel built between the bank and what is now Orpheum Theater, used for a speakeasy during Prohibition. He did the time, so why not rob the bank anyway? In the process of investigating Henry meets Julie, an actress best known for lottery commercials who is acting in a Chekhov play at the theater, but wants to be a real actress. As a cover, Henry decides to join the play, and he's actually pretty good. And he and Julie seem to like each other. He later gets more help when Max gets out on parole and continues his previous life as a "confidence man" (he hates the term "con man"). And the cop who caught Henry wants to help too, because he's not appreciated.
One possible problem: Eddie and his friends want in on the action.
Can Henry get away with it? This is the type of movie where we want him to succeed, like in "Ocean's Eleven".
In a better movie, James Caan would have been nominated for an Oscar for his excellent portrayal of Max. He is the standout performer here.
Vera Farmiga is quite good as Julie, who is better than this sorry role. And yet she gives it her all. What she does on stage and in rehearsals is worthy of being seen on the Tonys.
Keanu Reeves is okay. Not bad. Not great. He's better in the Chekhov play.
Fisher Stevens does a very good job. I'm used to seeing him as a basically nice guy who is sleazy, but here is is just bad. Not bad in that sense. He's very good at being bad.
There's no clear ending. I will say that much. So I'm not quite sure what happens. But the climactic scene is pretty amazing.
It's really worth seeing.
Pretty good at times
Ben works in Belgium for a subsidiary of Halgate Group, a U.S. company. He used to work for the U.S. State Department. Actually, that is what he tells people. And his employer is not who he thinks, either. He and a co-worker start getting suspicious when they find that patents for security products do not belong to their employer.
Ben's daughter Amy used to live with her mother, but she lives with him now. It is suggested but never confirmed that Amy's mother is deceased. Amy is not happy about being taken away from her friends to live in Belgium, but she is trying to make friends there. Overall, she has the attitude expected of a typical teenager. And she is somewhat rebellious but not too far from "normal".
But "normal" is not what Ben and Amy will be experiencing. Ben comes to work to find everything is missing and there is no evidence anyone was ever there. When he visits the Halgate offices, he finds out he never worked for them and it is almost like he never existed.
Now Ben and Amy are on the run. People want to kill them both. And have killed others who know too much.
There is nothing special about this movie. There is an exciting mystery which doesn't really meet its full potential. The actors playing Ben and Amy do a pretty good job and having her around makes the movie more enjoyable. Amy shows some intelligence in helping her father solve the big mystery, but she isn't used as much as she could be. Ben is quite intelligent and adds a lot. There just isn't anything special here beyond him and his daughter.
The only other actor showing real talent is Garrick Hagon as the CEO of Halgate. He happens to be in Belgium because of a ship accident that killed a number of people.
I won't say this movie is excessively violent, but in a few scenes a lot of people get killed, including the first scene. Many more are killed behind the scenes and we only hear about it. You start to wonder if anyone we know will be left alive.
It's an okay mystery.