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Probably in the top-ten superhero movies
After the decent Thor, the disastrous Green Lantern and the under-performing X-Men, the Summer of the Superhero looked in danger of becoming its box office last stand instead. While Captain America may not break any records, and it likely won't surge much past 200 million domestic, it is still one of the best SH movies to come from the glut of the past decade.
It's first and last half hours are the most compelling. The former a rousing build up that actually has you caring about a character, and the latter a non-stop parade of action sequences, reminiscent of old time serials. Not quite in a league with 1978's Superman (still my benchmark for the genre) or The Dark Knight, but easily as good as any X-Men movie, and possibly better than Iron Man, Cap arrives just in time to give the bloated, sagging genre a shot in the arm. Time will tell if word of mouth will make it a smash, but it bookends Marvel's summer on an up note and should ramp up anticipation for "The Avengers" next summer.
Saving Private Rambo
I'll admit, when I first heard about another Rambo in the works, I shook my head and laughed, while at the same time my inner 15 year-old did a back-flip. I knew I'd be there opening weekend. How could I not be? Either it was going to be mindless fun (parts I & II) or a horrid train wreck (Rambo III). Either one should be entertaining.
Thankfully, its the former. Rambo was one of the best times I've had at the movies in awhile. It helped that the sold-out crowd was TOTALLY into it - cheering and clapping every time John J. went into action. It was more than just mass euphoria for the good old days of Sly's straightforward shoot'em ups though. I always thought Stallone was a by-the-numbers director, but here he proves that he really knows what works on a visceral level. This movie has some serious action scenes that deliver the goods with a punched-up, in your face intensity. Call it Saving Private Rambo.
The film wastes no time setting up the scenario of well-meaning missionaries in danger, and then follows the rescue/chase pattern of most other Rambo films - once the action starts, it gradually escalates to a bloody crescendo. I don't know what was louder, the 50 caliber that Sly blasts away with for a good ten minutes, or the cheers of the crowd watching him do it.
Some may call it dumb, but dumb really doesn't do a film that works this well justice. Simple is a better description, but who ever said K.I.S.S. was a bad thing? Sign me up for your next campaign Sly, I'll be there.
Massacred my brain...
Loud, annoying, headache inducing mess of a sequel. It's a very different film than the first - some defenders of it think that you have to judge it on its own terms. Okay, I am, and it's awful. I like good horror movies. I even like bad ones that are fun to watch. This is just painful. It's not scary, it's not even that gory, and it ain't funny either. It's all screams and blaring chainsaws...not my idea of fun. Dull, plot less and pointless.
Does it make me feel like I'm losing my mind watching it? Yes. Does that make it good? Hell no. Avoid at all costs. Seriously, this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.
Masters of Horror: Pro-Life (2006)
John, John, John!
What happened to you Johnny-boy? John Carpenter never used to rely on special effects (and bad ones at that) to make things entertaining. He used them judiciously to add to the story, but not to fall back on because there is nothing else in the script. The effects in this are terrible, ranging from lame CGI (added in at the last minute to "pump-up" some of the gore) to a cheesy guy-in-a-rubber-suit demon. Gah.
Remember Prince of Darkness, John? The huge black hand - the only part that we see of the Anti-Christ - that was scarier than anything in Pro-Life. Much. much more frightening than a rubber monster. I realize that if you just had a big, shadowy figure roaming the halls in Pro-Life, many viewers would think it was a cop-out, but your fans wouldn't. Instead, most of us probably think that showing us everything was the cop-out.
Whatever your next budget is, cut it in half so you make a good movie.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Another Carpenter flick that's grown on me
I used to think there were two types of John Carpenter movies: Ones that I love (most of his movies) and ones that I hate (Escape from LA, Village of the Damned) The latter category is dwindling as I re-watch some of his films that I wrote off the first time around. BTILC is one that is starting to grow on me. Yeah, it's a broad, simplistic, chaotic mess - but it is definitely entertaining. Russell plays a great buffoon, the action and effects are pretty solid, and the idea as a whole predates Hollywoods eventual embrace of Kung Fu films by fifteen years or so.
I only hope that all of JC's movies end up respected in certain circles. The guy is one of the most consistent performers in all of Hollywood. His movies hit a chord at the start and maintain it through to the end. Few directors have such an instantly noticeable style. Now get back to work Johnny.
Escape from L.A. (1996)
Not quite the train wreck I originally thought.
I knew this movie was in trouble when I watched Kurt Russell appear on a talk show months before it opened. The host asked him why he was growing his hair out. Kurt smiled at the audience and said "getting ready to play Snake!" He was expecting cheers and applause. He was met with the air conditioning clicking on.
Then the week it opened, he was promoting EFLA on Jay Leno. They went to the surfing scene, and Kurt looked like an uncomfortable salesman demonstrating a product he knows nobody wants. When the scene was over, the audience reacted with polite, strained applause.
Not that this really bothered me. Escape from New York was one of those movies that I loved and most people hadn't heard of. I liked it that way. I did, however, want to see the sequel succeed and maybe launch a franchise.
A movie I had been waiting for most of my childhood/teenage years finally arrived and landed like a big, wet turd on the sidewalk. Critics hated it, nobody went to see it, and I couldn't blame them one bit. I wanted to like the movie. i really did. But I couldn't. I found the effects awful, the acting lame, the action scenes totally lifeless (not to mention ridiculous and stupid), and the whole movie a flatly shot, lazy retread of the first . I left the theater seething and hating John Carpenter.
I still can't say that I like the movie. I still think all the things above. But I have come to appreciate some other aspects of EFLA. The current state of politics probably has a lot to do with it. I've always loved John Carpenter's movies, but is the guy psychic too? Islam illegal, all moral undesirables outlawed, etc...Patriot Act in ten more years? A religious nut for a president...Robertson even looks like Bush. A Police controlled population...we're on our way. As I watched this again (I finally forked over $5 for the DVD - the only Carpenter film I didn't own) I began to see some of the brilliance in this movie. I'll bet the screenplay read a lot better than this movie was executed.
I still don't get the cheesiness of it - the original was serious as a heart attack and so much more subtle. This is a clunky, over the top satire that to me sits uncomfortably next to EFNY.
I do love that ending though. American Spirit baby.
The Sentinel (1977)
Alternately dull and weird
I have to admit that I watched the first thirty minutes and was so bored that I sped through the next hour, stopping when it looked interesting.
There are two very creepy scenes. One where a girl's dead father shambles after her in a dark room, and another where a literal parade of "freaks" tries to get the same girl to kill herself. Weird and unsettling in the extreme.
Most other scenes are nonsensical (FF notwithstanding), and could easily be removed from the movie without affecting anything. The film has no momentum and characters come and go with no real purpose.
Beverly D'Angelo's masturbation scene, however, would have gone down in folklore history if more people had seen this boring mess.
The rest is laughable. Chris Saradon's acting at the end is too google-eyed to be taken seriously, and Burgess Meredith is about as scary as Grandpa Simpson. If this was some studio's answer to the Exorcist, I'm amazed they're still in business.
King Kong (2005)
The Best Version of the King
Aside from a few brief scenes that shall remain nameless, I though this movie was excellent. The CGI is superb but for a couple quick shots. Anyone who says otherwise just wants to hate this film.
The buildup to Skull Island is the weakest part of the film, but completely necessary. This is one of those three hour films that goes by like ten minutes. The emotions were right on, and the climax was truly heartbreaking. In my opinion, this is the best version of this film. It tops the original in realism, character motivation and emotional impact.
Nice job, Pete.
Batman Begins (2005)
Good movie, bad action.
I'm only going to focus on the bad because everything else in the movie works. This came so close to hitting the bullseye...but there is something seriously wrong with a superhero movie that has lame action scenes. I don't think you ever even see Batman land a punch. Chris Nolan must have watched The Bourne Supremacy for inspiration. It's all quick movements, blurry cuts and sound effects...very frustrating. Was it that there wasn't time to train Bale or was it just laziness? The first action scene is forgivable because there is the big reveal of the mask and costume, but every other scene is the same way. It's like every explosion has to be cut halfway through and every punch has to be a head and shoulders shot. Next time pull the damn camera back. Look at First Blood, The Terminator, Die Hard... that's how you shoot and edit action.
The only other thing that hurt the film was Bale's delivery a couple of times, especially the last line. If he had just toned it down a little bit...otherwise he was great.
Year of the Dragon (1985)
An Interesting Mess
Somewhere in this stylish, violent, great-looking, meandering mess is a good movie, but it's not so easy to find. This is basically a character study of a disenchanted Vietnam vet turned cop who's trying to win a personal war, which happens to be directed at the Chinese mafia. Mickey Rourke's solid acting and Michael Cimino's direction and visual flare are the biggest assets. Oliver Stone's screenplay is muddled and too preachy at times, and the performance by "Ariana" as the reporter is amateurish at best.
Overall this is a movie you can sink your teeth into and really get lost in another world, but the world isn't that much fun to visit. Too many scenes just seemed contrived, and the idea that this is supposed to be an important "event" movie is hammered home. Lastly, the music score is really bad, and the final, awkward scene is just plain stupid.
Still, worth a look.