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Direct Contact: 6 out of 10: This is one of the most action packed
movies I have ever seen. Keep in mind the action is not always good and
the script certainly writes checks that the budget cannot cash. In
addition, Dolph Lundgren gives the best performance in the film…
However, one cannot deny that compare to those bloated (in more than
one-way mind you) Segal films like Driven to Kill; this is a fit, fast
and fun ride.
Dolph starts the film in an eastern European prison but is released to rescue an American girl from a concentration camp located just east of a World War 2 film. (Direct Contact takes place in modern times but both the camp commander, and the camp victims, would not be out of place in Schindler's List as done by Full Moon Productions.) Bashar Rahal plays camp commandant General Drago with such a silly vigor, that when he shoots children in the head you just cannot help but laugh. Not to mention the fact that any character with the name General Drago belongs in a film with either Lightsabers or Dragons, not Fiddler on the Roof extras being mowed down by machine guns.
Gina May plays the American girl, whom is much easier on the eyes than she is the ears. Her acting could have been improved with more nudity and less dialogue: much less dialogue. The rest of the cast is Michael Pare, random Bulgarians or James Chalke who gives the kind of horrible performance that makes one wonder if he financed the entire film.
Now back to the reason to watch the film: the action. Dolph is in good shape and makes a surprisingly agile action star. Moreover, even though Bulgaria has no native word for continuity, it is a country that, for a couple of bucks, you can drive tanks through buildings downtown like some sort of Goldeneye road show.
Overall, I enjoyed the film more than I should have. Lord knows it could have been better. However, as the good lord above also knows, it could have been a lot worse. Direct Contact may commit countless cinematic sins but it is never less than entertaining.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Devil’s Tomb: 4 out of 10: Not since “Killer Flood: The Day the Dam
Broke” has a movie’s title rendered about eighty percent of the plot
development mute. Dumbass spoiler alert… Hey, the mysterious
underground archaeological site turns out to be a tomb. Whose tomb you
ask? (IN MY BEST CHURCH LADY VOICE) “Could it be Satan???”.
Okay so it is a remake of Prince of Darkness, but with the Space Marines from Aliens after a tragic mass lobotomization. Look, I realize that not every American soldier is a fully-fledged genius; but how any of these thunderheads managed to make it through basic, without throwing the pin, is anyone’s guess. (When you pull a pin on a grenade, you theoretically have a choice to throw one of two things. Most people choose the grenade part.) The script is to blame. Since the soldiers simply are not believable, the rest of the film falls apart; (Not that the script improves all that much when the mumbo-jumbo starts.) This is a shame because the acting is game. Now when you have Cuba Gooding Jr., Ray Winstone, Ron Perlman and even Taryn Manning (who really surprised me with a fun performance.); you are going to have decent acting. Throw in a fun Henry Rollins as a priest bit and an over the top performance by Bill Moseley and you have one of the best-acted B movies this year. Only Franky G drops the ball, in an horribly written role, as the dumb muscle.
The direction is by Jason Connery, best known* as Bennington in the TV Series "Mary-Kate and Ashley in Action!”. The direction is serviceable, though he really needed a military adviser on set; or, at the very least, someone who has played paintball. The actors did not seem to know what to do with their rifles and kept pointing them at each other. In addition, if you are firing a kill shot you want to line it up AWAY from the hostage.
Special effects and other items are okay. Heck there is even a lesbian subplot that threatens to make the movie interesting (Though the script drops the ball on that as well.) If you can get through the first twenty minutes without your eyes rolling out of your head, The Devil’s Tomb turns into a collection of interesting performances looking for a purpose. And figuring out who is buried in the Devil’s tomb will not keep most people entertained. (And no it isn’t Ulysses S Grant).
*He is the son of Scottish actor Sean Connery who played the old Spaniard in the Highlander movies during the Eighties.
Defiance: 4 out of 10: I have a soft spot for director Edward Zwick. I
have a real soft spot for his Blood Diamond flick despite its
pedestrian script and subconscious racism. In addition, The Last
Samurai is another film of his that I loved despite its historical
inaccuracies and bizarre lead casting. Defiance shares many of the same
endemic faults that plagued those two films. I was not able to brush
the faults off this time; I found them even more discordant as the film
Problem number one is Daniel Craig. He does not look like an Eastern Polish Jew. He looks like he misplaced his Oberstleutnant uniform at the Wehrmacht’s cleaners. Even if you were able to accept Daniel Craig as some sort of Paul Newman style Jew who parachuted into Eastern Europe, only Helen Keller would buy him as Lev Schreiber’s brother. A mutant dancing Australian is a more believable brother for Schreiber than Craig is.
In fact, Craig and Schreiber seem to be in two different films and Schreiber is in the much better one. Schreiber seems to be in the here and now with a strong subtle performance that is the best thing in the film. Daniel Craig’s performance is as shaky as his accent. He, of course, is forced to do things like give Braveheart speeches from the back of a white horse, so the fault is hardly his alone. And saying platitudes such as “Our vengeance is to live" and "Every day of freedom is like an act of faith" while gazing at the camera with those, just give me an Oscar and I will go back to entertaining you, baby blues doesn't help his cause either.
Problem number Two is best summarized by one of my favorite ladies I don't think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It is like, how many have there been, you know. We get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I am doing it because I have noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust you are guaranteed an Oscar ... That is why I am doing it. Schindler's bloody List. The Pianist. Oscars coming out of their arse.
— Kate Winslet (Winner of the 2008 Best Actress Oscar for Holocaust drama The Reader) in Extras, 2005
Defiance is clearly Oscar bait. In one scene Daniel “Moses” Craig leads his people through the reeds and swamps and away from the forest (and inexplicably away from decent cover and fortifications) until a Rabbi collapses, sputters out "I almost lost my faith but you were sent by God to save us” and then promptly dies... oy vey. It really is not that easy to make a mainstream Holocaust film, release it in December, and get no nominations* for Golden Globes or Oscars. Defiance is clearly trying too hard.
The third problem is that a third rate cast of Fiddler on the Roof somehow showed up lost in the woods. Somebody call the Jewish stereotype prison, cause there has been a mass escape. Everyone is here. The nebbish intellectual who cannot hammer a nail, the passive Jews who are unwilling to fight, the greedy Jew more interested in money than his fellow man. Good lord, it is as if Leni Reisenthal’s travelling troop of stereotypes showed up. Thank goodness, Daniel Craig is here to straighten them all out and lead them to the Promised Land. Yup blond blue eyed Daniel Craig…. Yeah the movie has issues.
*No nominations except, inexplicably, for its score; which at two hours of crying violins will test any ones nerves.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nicotina: 5 out of 10: Nicotina represents a black comedy tradition
that has been alive and well in Mexico for over fifty years. Death is
around every corner and it is a punch line to boot. All the men are
womanizers and many of the women are no better. Director Hugo Rodríguez
and Writer Martín Salinas took this beloved tradition and married it to
its distant cousin, the Quentin Tarantino crime film.
It is a decent fit. The basic plot is that a Mexican criminal gang is switching computer bank codes with a Russian gangster for diamonds. I do not think I am spoiling anything by pointing out that not everything goes as planned. The two criminal gangs end up involving the computer geek that downloaded the data. His next door neighbor, a sexy and promiscuous cellist, played by Marta Belaustegui; Her conductor, a possible future sugar daddy: a plant toting upstairs neighbor: a pharmacist couple, with a beautiful saintly wife played admirably by Carmen Madrid: and a beauty shop couple, with an evil harridan wife played chillingly by Rosa María Bianchi: plus the occasional police officer and a scary dog.
Some of the camera tricks can be fancy without any underling purpose, and I have not seen this much pastel neon on buildings since that Don Johnson episode of True Hollywood Stories. Overall, the film is nice. It is a pleasant, good time. It is not particularly scary, thrilling, funny, sexy, or clever and that is it’s only real fault. There is nothing terrible memorable in the ninety odd minutes of movie. Oh and do not watch if you are trying to quit smoking. I have never seen a movie so relentless in its promotion of tobacco. It is like watching Eat Drink Man Woman while trying to diet,
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The International: 6 out of 10: The International has great timing. Not
since The China Syndrome opened up 12 days before the Three Mile Island
Accident, has a movie seemed so prescient (Or in The international’s
case ripped from the headlines.) A therein lies one of The
International’s two main problems. It is ripped from the headlines. The
problem is the headlines in question are from 1989. The movie is about
The BCCI collapse. Unfortunately the script mimics the actual late
eighties scandal a little to accurately for its own good.
There are clues that the script had been collecting dust for some time before the new bank crisis prompted it back in the mix. For example, one of the more famous BCCI clients was Samuel Doe, who was president of Liberia in the early eighties. Not exactly ripped from the headlines stuff, but the International doggedly creates a General Charles Motomba, played gamily by Lucian Msamati, who takes over Liberia with the banks help. Something that makes little sense in a year that starts with a two.
In another, what decade is this again moment, the hit man uses a payphone after receiving what appears to be a beeper message. For those under 35, and not 30 Rock fans, let me explain what a beeper was. A beeper was a cell phone that did not make calls. It only receives phone numbers. Then you, the recipient of a “beep”, would have to find a payphone and call the number to talk to someone.
Now a payphone was a phone that the public would use instead of their own separate cell phones. They were metal and had many germs. If you visit a public transport hub, you can sometimes still find “banks” of phones.
If it seems I am nitpicking, keep in mind the film itself lives in some uncanny valley between Michael Clayton and The Bourne Identity. Not nearly realistic enough for Clayton fans; and for the Bourne fans? Well there are about as many action set pieces as there are hours the film runs. (Read two) It is a surprisingly talky affair.
Speaking of talking, “Sometimes a man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” Can someone explain that quote to me. Our rumpled protagonist says it at least twice and it makes no bloody sense either time.
In addition, speaking of not making sense… late in the film in Istanbul (not Constantinople) one bad guy says to the other let me show you a something few man have seen and proceeds to take him to the Basilica Cistern. You know that underground canal features In From Russia with Love and maybe the second Indiana Jones film and is one of Turkey’s biggest tourist attractions. This makes about as much sense if he said it about the Statue of Liberty. (There is this statue; in the harbor, few men have seen my friend) Overall, the acting, direction and cinematography are decent. However the story is dated and the film is simply too stupid to be an intellectual thriller, and too slow for an action movie. It certainly is a passable if mediocre timewaster overall.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Demonlover: 4 out of 10: Wow what an overlong train wreck of a movie.
Before I begin to scratch the surface of the ineptitude of this film
let me explain the few things Demonlover does right.
Demonlover does some things very well. It has individual scenes that work on their own either as erotic vignettes; (Chloe Sevigny playing videogames in the nude , an Asian girl seducing a French man at a club after his lover leaves.) or plot actions (dosing a bottled water with Halcion) before the film ventures down the rabbit hole twenty odd minutes in.
The general plot of Demonlover is a French conglomerate is looking to buy an adult anime company. Because of this, a rival Adult anime distributor has sent a corporate spy to put a kibosh on the proceedings. That is the story, there is some silliness about a for-pay torture and bondage site but ther story in a nutshell is an Anime buyout scheme.
So how can a thriller dealing with bondage and Hentai and starring Chloë Sevigny, Gina Gershon, and the hot redhead from Devil’s Advocate, Connie Nielsen, possibly go wrong? Well for one thing, there are cloistered nuns that know more about marketing animated porn online than writer/director Olivier Assayas does. I often complain about movies where the writers and director have clearly never worked in an office (13 Going on 30 for example) but this is over the top. The French, as an example, are worried about a secret website that makes lots of money. If the website makes lots of money… wait for it… it probably is not a secret. Moreover, I am sure that cornering the online Hentai traffic is an unattainable goal. After all, how hard is it to draw new tentacle porn? In addition, I doubt many corporate spies scale the sides of buildings or poison colleagues. Moreover, with the silliest script this side of The Core you cannot depend on the ever confusing and contrived plot.
I know I praised the sex scenes above but with this cast, I was expecting more, a lot more. Also I often did not know where the movie was taking place. (are they in Tokyo or France is a popular game you can play.) Then there is the car chase, at the end, that looks like an outtake from Vanishing Point. (As Tom Servo would have said “Meanwhile in another decade”)The film is overlong, very confusing, somewhat boring and the characters IQ’s seem to drop every scene. After the fifteenth fade to black transition, I actually screamed “end already” at the screen.
In reality, this seems to be a badly done remake of Videodrome. Olivier Assayas is clearly no David Cronenberg. He cannot even tell a simple story in a believable and entertaining manner. Or take advantage of three of the hottest actresses in the business.
Thrilla in Manila: 8 out of 10: This is what great documentaries are
all about, changing ones perception by teaching something new. Thrilla
in Manila also has that British tradition of targeting the preconceived
notion without remorse. The sacred cow in target this time is that
American icon Muhammad Ali. The film uses Ali’s only real nemesis Joe
Frazier as its tool.
Thrilla opens up in North Philadelphia in a dilapidated gym in the midst of a ghetto where Joe Frazier lives and works. My first thought was what happened? My second thought; so this where Sly Stallone cribbed his last six Rocky movies; I loved the last Rocky Balboa film but thought Stallone’s characters borderline poverty lifestyle unrealistic… I clearly stand corrected.
The film does an excellent job finding relevant interviews with everyone from Imelda Marcos to Ali’s fight doctor. In addition the movie integrates the fight footage in a way few documentaries have (You can feel the heat of Manila in the ring).
This film asks a simple question. Why is Muhammad Ali rich, famous, and beloved? While Joe Frazier toils in poverty? The film then paints Ali in a most unflattering light. Claiming he is a racist and a member of a cult. All of this is very well documented, with Ali discussing his own participation in Ku Klux Klan meetings a real revelation. Ali is shown attacking Joe for being too black and strangely enough an Uncle Tom of all things. In addition, Ali is shown calling Joe ignorant, ugly and a gorilla.
Ali is clearly the villain in this piece and Frazier is the victim. Yet a strange thing happens over the hour and a half. The more Frazier brags on how his punches caused Ali’s current mental and physical state one cannot help but wonder that Ali’s blows caused as much permanent damage to Frasier in the form of bitterness and self-destruction.
Here is a film giving Frazier a chance to display his own self in a good light and pull himself and his family out of poverty. Instead, he comments, while watching Ali light the Olympic torch that he wished Muhammad would fall in and burn to death. Ali’s doctor got one thing right; Joe Frazier is a stupid man.
Revolutionary Road: 9 out of 10: The strangest complaint about this movie is that it is painful to watch and too realistic. For example one critic exclaims “It's unbecoming -- and it should be worked out in private, not in a movie theater." another claims.“This is a movie about two people in pain; the last thing they need is for Mendes to turn his cool camera on them." This is a serious depiction the disintegration of a marriage. Why should we be expecting musical numbers? Are we so used to “everything will work out” American movies with big name stars that we now demand successful conclusions? If you have, you ever sat through a Holocaust film or a movie involving a dog named Yeller you know the eternal truth .This is not going to end well. Kate Winslet gives an outstanding performance; this should surprise no one. (The fact she actually keeps her top on, for once, may raise a few eyebrows however among a disappointed throng.) Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is her equal in every way; and there is no denying in those 15 odd years after Titanic that these two stars have even more chemistry than before. The rest of the cast is also beyond top notch with Kathy Bates as a venomous realtor, a particular stand out. Sam Mendes’ direction also shines. He keeps the camera pointed at both the actors and seemingly their characters souls. In addition nobody uses focus and character placement better than Mendes. Each frame seems its own work of art The plot is simple. Winslet and DiCapiro are married with two kids. He works in a dead end job in Manhattan, while she takes care of the kids and lives in quiet desperation in suburbia. If there is a problem with the set-up, it is that women in the audience may be noticeably envious of Winslet’s lifestyle while the men may hanker for a do nothing, three martinis, fling with the secretary, job. Life in the fifties, at least for the white, upper middle class, does not seem very bad on the surface. That said the yearning and the subsequent disastrous consequences seem all too true. Winslet and DiCapiro fight like real couples do. Starting small and quickly hitting at each other’s hot buttons. Winslet has the emotion heft in the arguments, and comes across as the stronger person; wounded by life. DiCapiro, ironically, only has the fact he is right to keep him afloat. (Moving to Paris would solve nothing, he is as trapped as she is, and neither of them is special.) I do have a couple of nitpicks with Revolutionary Road. The conveniently disappearing children are a problem. Director Mendes trots them out for a few scenes in the middle of the film but honestly, they are never underfoot, and as real children is when marriages disintegrate. In addition, that fact that Winslet’s Stepford wife routine does not raise DiCaprio’s eyebrows towards the end of the film raised my eyebrows. He seemed a little more clued enduring the proceeding to let that pass by unnoticed. I did recognize the arguments that couples have, as well as the quandary of following your dreams rather than being happy with whom you are. (Following your bliss can lead to much misery in real life; both for yourself and those that love you.) Then again, we have only one life, so how should we spend it. I do not see this argument between flights of fantasy and a practical life being solved anytime soon. However, as short as our time on Earth is, I cannot help but recommend spending two hours of it in the company of Winslet and DiCapiro. Revolutionary Road is simply one of the best films of 2008.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood: 4 out of 10: Anaconda 4 has some
surprisingly effect scenes in its 88 minutes.
There is a car chase towards the end of the film; first the snake is chasing a car, all the while a gun fight has erupted among the passengers and an intruder. There is also a silhouetted chase on a sunset drenched hill between three groups of characters that had no prior knowledge of each other with the snake in the mix. Heck there is even some tender moments between an older gun toting woman and a blond man child lost in the woods as a snake watches them.
Much like a previous incarnation, (Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Red Orchid) this movie comes awfully close not needing the snake at all. In fact it, dare I say it, a removal of the anaconda may have made Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood a slightly better film.
The non-snake stuff is fairly simple. John Rhys-Davies, in full pick up a paycheck mode, is a bad guy with bone cancer who has financed a cure which involves genetically altering snakes. He hires a hit man (whom brings along six friends who cannot shoot straight and twirl their mustaches) to inexplicably kill the lead scientist (who has disappeared, read been eaten.) The assassin is also asked to kill a blond chick played by Crystal Allen. She acts like an old west gunslinger but is apparently a herpetologist. The blond chick meanwhile is setting explosives in an orchid bed located in one of those ridiculously well lit caves with light bulbs every foot burning 24/7. She runs into what appears to be a fifteen year old boy whom immediately becomes her love interest in a weird Private Lessons kind of twist. He is looking for the base camp where some other unrelated (non-giant snake creating) scientists are digging up a frozen body out of a UFO or something.
Like I said the snakes are almost crowded out of their own movie. It is probably for the best. While the CGI is better than many other killer snake movies this is damning with faint praise indeed. The snakes in question don’t look like anacondas or even snakes at all. Replacing shark fins with bear claws does not make the shark scarier. And giving anacondas silly rows of over-sized teeth and the ability to regenerate like the T-1000 (Terminator 2 Judgment Day) does not make them any scarier.
Oh and while I picked on the first movie for having anacondas in a jungle, they are after all swamp and marsh dwellers; and picked on the second movie for having them in Borneo, which is in Asia last I checked; I don’t have words to begin to describe the draw dropping silliness of Anacondas in Romania. The Carpathians in fall do not create the proper snake attack vibe unless it is a 60 foot cottonmouth. Also a note to the Sci-fi Channel: If I see “Bear-Shark Claws of Death” on your channel anytime soon I’m coming after you guys. I’m just giving a friendly warning here.
The Lost Treasure of the Grand Canyon: 1 out of 10: Well I was two minutes into the film and my girlfriend jinxed us. “Hey you know this movie isn’t that bad”. I turned pale… real pale. You don’t tempt the Gods like that. Not with a made for Sci-fi Channel movie. Not when one where the lead is Shannen Doherty. The words barely left her mouth and a CGI puppet began sliming a Frat Boy in a diaper. The Horror…. The Horror. If I am going to start somewhere I have to start with the Frat Boys in diapers. The movie claims these are Aztecs still hidden in the Grand Canyon at the end of the 19th century. (I know I know) Apparently they have been hiding from the white man for many years. Not to mention the Havasupai and the Painte and the Pai and the tourists at the Upper Canyon Ranch and perhaps the boys in blue down at Ft. Mohave. Anyway this lost tribe of Aztecs, like some Japanese WW2 sniper still hiding in a palm tree in 1971, is hidden in the Grand Canyon. What seems stranger is that they consist almost entirely of a hereto thou undiscovered group of Aztecs whom look like white college football players wearing diapers (well more of a mawashi) and war paint. I am all in favor of multicultural casting but I can’t believe that it isn’t a little insensitive to portray Native Americans as well extras in a Fire Island movie. Hold on a second Fire Island Movie????… The men are all buff and practically naked. The two woman are wearing pants and done up in to look twice their age. The monster spews slime on the buff boys for no good reason. Oh God no it’s Jeepers Creepers 2 all over again. The homoerotic horror film strikes again. Now I’m not sure that the over the top homoeroticism is directors Farhad Mann’s doing (or even intentional), but Mann is responsible for both Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace as well as Return to Two Moon Junction so with a track record like I am prepared to blame him for a Swine Flu outbreak let alone this film. So what else went wrong? Well the Quetzalcoatl design is all wrong (he looks like a puppet) and his CGI is bad by even the very low Sci-fi Channel standards. The sets look like Kirk and Spock are going to beam down at any moment. Half the explorers are grossly overweight; an unlikely condition in the far west wilderness that far from a Wal-Mart. As noted above Shannen Doherty who isn’t even forty looks forty-five and Heather Doerksen who isn’t even thirty looks fifty. And they have a five minute flashback at the end that repeats the entire film. But let’s face it buff white frat boys in diapers getting slimed from off camera and pretending to be Indians. Yeah that is just all sorts of wrong.
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