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The Raid 2 (2014)
3 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
It does manage to deliver unequaled payoff in the form of repugnantly over-the-top, climactic showdown mayhem, which rivals the tremendous finale of the previous effort., 28 March 2014

Director Gareth Evans' desire to top his previous action extravaganza "The Raid: Redemption" is an understandable one. However, his methods for intensifying the action and heightening the adventure in "The Raid 2" tread dangerously near the "one step forward, two steps back" adage. The severity and bloodshed has been kicked up several notches for the sequel, which undoubtedly lends an air of ferocity and tension rarely witnessed in such films. But when every fight scene is heaped in gruesome dismemberments and gratuitous splatter, a general desensitization to violence occurs that suppresses any particular moment from standing above the rest. Numbing the audience to the carnage doesn't negate the ingenuity behind the kinetic camera movements and gloriously hyperactive combat choreography, but it does diminish some of the fun to be had from remarkable villains and their unusual accessories. "The Raid: Redemption" was a breath of fresh air in the martial arts genre and while this second part might leave the viewer barely able to catch their breath, the heavy influences from Western cinema and a lack of restraint in the brutality department prove counterproductive to newfound creativity.

After bringing down a notable Jakarta slum lord, rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) learns from anti-corruption task force leader Bunawar (Cok Simbara) that his only chance of protecting his family and evading more prominent members of Indonesian organized crime is to erase himself from the files and go undercover. Assuming a new identity as "Yuda," Rama inserts himself in prison where he befriends Uco (Arifin Putra), the only son of influential mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). Once released, Yuda begins work for the family doing menial strong-arm and collection tasks alongside Uco. But when the brash, impatient heir to the empire decides to wait no longer, he sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events that will pit Yuda against the most powerful rulers of Indonesia's criminal underworld – and the most dangerous assassins in their employ.

When everything is extreme, nothing is extreme. Gareth Evans and his team have concocted some of the most impressive action sequences in recent memory, but insist upon focusing on Cronenberg-like body horror levels of destructiveness - as if to comment on the fragility of human flesh. Ignoring advice from thrillers of yore, absolutely nothing is left to the imagination (including throat slicing, gunshot wounds, and burnt skin). It takes away from the amusement of the martial arts when unimaginably ruthless violence is used to fill up moments of exposition that have nothing to do with pulse-pounding choreography.

Ultimately, this intense sequel doesn't have the swift pacing and simple premise to transition from one fight to the next. Evans appears to have watched far too many American gangster films, borrowing heavily from "The Godfather," "Casino," "Eastern Promises," and "The Departed" to populate what should have been a moderate 90-minute running time. "The Raid 2" is a whopping 2 hours and 28 minutes.

Still, it's difficult not to be enticed by a film that features "Hammer Girl" and "Baseball Bat Man" in the top-billed cast. Taking a gimmick from James Bond flicks, a bevy of henchmen possess unique, easily identifiable weaponry and physical characteristics to set them apart from the primary fodder of factory workers and street thugs. While the plot mixes in these adversaries as a ladder of formidable foes the hero must conquer, it's the unexpectedly riveting car chase and camera-work that remain most memorable. And this is after the plot gets more complex, characters more numerous, and downtime lengthier. In fact, the only thing that decreases is the quantity of fight scenes.

Slapping a Fu Manchu getup on returning fight choreographer Yayan Ruhian (who unforgettably played "Mad Dog" in the first film), in a flimsy attempt to insert him back onto the screen, doesn't achieve the homage it hopes for. And the multiple layers of corruption and turf war complications merely slow down the speediness vital to an exploitation feature. Lacking re-watch value due to its lengthiness (and extremeness), "The Raid 2" does manage to deliver unequaled payoff in the form of repugnantly over-the-top, climactic showdown mayhem, which arguably rivals the tremendous finale of the previous effort. It just takes so long to get there.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

Sabotage (2014)
6 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
"Sabotage" is not only drastically against the grain for Schwarzenegger's style of movie, but also undeserving of his presence., 28 March 2014

No matter how intense the action sequences or how thrilling the hunt for answers in a game of espionage, it all becomes meaningless when the drama is played out over protagonists unworthy of attention. In "Sabotage," each hero's morals begins tainted and steadily spirals downward into utter reprehensibility. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor whose on screen personas are typically incapable of despising, manages to swiftly void the charm through dishonorable dealings and disingenuous trickery. The story does offer a reason for all the backstabbing and deceit, but it's not a good one. "Sabotage" often feels as if the creators viewed one too many buddy cop movies and set out to craft an anti-camaraderie film - one where a close-knit group falls apart through paranoid distrust and debilitating greed. But while alliances crumble and friendships diminish, so does the fun.

For years, a D.E.A. Special Operations Team led by John "Breacher" Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has infiltrated and impaired powerful drug organizations. But when the group plots to steal $10 million in cash from a Rio Garza cartel bust, and someone beats them to the loot, they face disgrace and disbandment. After months of dead ends and no trace of the vanished money, law enforcement drops the investigation and Breacher is allowed to rebuild his team. But when several of their crew are executed in mysterious ways, remaining members Monster (Sam Worthington), Grinder (Joseph Manganiello), Sugar (Terence Howard), and Lizzy (Mireille Enos) must fight to stay alive, while Breacher searches for clues to the killers' identities with the aid of homicide detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams).

There's nothing particularly wrong with Schwarzenegger's performance. His insertion into this film in the first place is arguably the primary problem, since "Sabotage" is not only drastically against the grain for his style of movie, but also undeserving of his presence. The role could have been played by just about anyone and the movie would still be nearly unwatchable, considering the abundance of clichés, lack of combat sequences, and wealth of disagreeable characters. Schwarzenegger, with his undiminishing, larger-than-life persona, is really best suited for over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, action-packed, shoot-'em-up projects - not this grim, dark, drug warfare material, heavily steeped in desperate attempts at realism. The attention to gruesome, unpleasant violence is not only unconvincing in the realm of DEA thrillers, but also a major factor that contrasts with what the Austrian bodybuilder's heyday of movie-making was all about.

"Sabotage" features a squad of harsh, grungy, ceaselessly cursing, constantly insulting, and generally unlikeable components. Every member is drained of the glamor and attractiveness regularly seen in Hollywood productions, replaced instead by tattoos, scars, griminess, strained militaristic jargon, and phony brotherhood that should win over only the most credulous. "We're not a team anymore… just a gang," confesses Monster, summing up a condition never rectified for audiences that are hoping a real hero will eventually emerge.

With all the bullying, infighting, clowning around, and drunkenness, they appear grandly incompetent - regardless of the expected jurisdictional hurdles, elusive culprits, and misdirection (or sabotage!). It certainly doesn't help with sympathy levels as the group starts getting eliminated. "Sabotage" is oddly reminiscent of a lesser-known Kurt Russell movie from 2002, "Dark Blue," which dumped its typically more jocundly sarcastic star into a world of corruption, revenge, graphic violence, and inner demons that just didn't quite match his usual venture. Not coincidentally, David Ayer, who wrote and directed "Sabotage," penned "Dark Blue." And this new release will likely suffer the same fate of cinematic obscurity.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

Divergent (2014)
33 out of 66 people found the following review useful:
Falling victim to the same problem of many science-fiction or fantasy epic startups, the story is 90% introduction., 20 March 2014

Studios are constantly in search of the next "Twilight," "The Hunger Games," or "Harry Potter" franchise, with best-selling books being the primary source of episodic additions. They've found just such a novel (an entire trilogy by Veronica Roth), containing the similarities and elements so highly coveted – but originality definitely isn't one of them. "Divergent" is once again a teen-oriented science-fiction adventure, full of action, romance, and adolescent consternations. Instead of focusing on a love triangle, survivalist thrills, or a great magical evil, this derivation is all about independence, corporatism, and the dramatic coup d'état of a corrupt government. The setting is still a postapocalyptic dystopian remnant, the small gathering of heroes is still vastly outmatched, and unconvincing love banter is carelessly tossed about.

Hundreds of years after a war devastated the planet, Chicago is reduced to a small community walled off from an unknown outside threat and hidden amongst dilapidated buildings. The founder of this surviving civilization has divided all inhabitants into five factions, each with different skills and jobs. At an undisclosed age (sixteen according to the book), each member must choose between the path of an intellect, a farmer, a public servant, a politician, or a soldier. Youths are expected to follow their heritage and are discouraged from selecting a role unaligned with their birthright. Nevertheless, an archaic choosing ceremony (involving the ridiculous ritualistic cutting of the hand and squeezing blood drops into a symbolic bowl) allows everyone to select publicly, after having taken a mental test that informs of personal skills and mindset.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) originates from the selfless "Abnegation" faction, but chooses to pursue a career with the brave "Dauntless" clan (a controversial move instigated by her rare multi-faction tendencies, dubbed "divergent"). She's separated from her family, seemingly permanently, for a 10-week training period that isn't as militaristic or educational as it is gladiatorial, anarchical, and naturally nurturing for bullies. Rules of combat and scoring points are made up along the way, with failure rewarded with a casting out to the homeless, filthy, starving "factionless" throng (its existence is obvious evidence that the intended peaceful societal system in place spawns inequality, greed, and dictatorial leaders). Beatrice becomes "Tris" as she sets about learning how to fight and quell her fears. She finds herself drawn toward instructor Four (Theo James) while learning about a plot by conspiring, power hungry politician Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) to violently overthrow a discordant sect.

This strange, totalistic world, full of peculiar traditions, is explained via bland voice-over narration, hindered further by rock beats, spontaneous running, and borderline parkour maneuvers conducted by the Dauntless pack (which serves as showy, daredevil guardians of the city). The premise, which has the unmistakable feel of "The Hunger Games," also borrows considerably from "Equilibrium," "1984," "City of Ember," and even "Bee Movie." The extended sequences of training, camaraderie, and simulated war games hints at "Starship Troopers," while a laughable introduction to coed showering facilities that is, of course, never alluded to or shown again, vaguely reminds of "Robocop" or "Aliens" – a desperation to compare with movies filled with mature characters that could actually cope with such an R-rated concept. There's absolutely nothing unique about "Divergent," though the action-packed finale desperately attempts to fix the staleness of lengthy exposition and unfamiliar environmental establishment.

Falling victim to the same problem of many science-fiction or fantasy epic startups, the story is 90% introduction. The majority of the movie is merely a first act. Resolutions aren't even attempted and many characters are clearly saved for subsequent chapters, which prevent the satisfaction of revenge or clarity for this mystifying society. "Let's just say they built the fence for a reason," insists Four. By the time the themes of free will, chemical brainwashing, and rebellion are put into action, it's too late. The plausibility of confronting an army, sneaking into a heavily defended command center, or conquering mind control drugs are at a low, especially when the lead hero is an unpersuasive, untoughened insurgent incapable of killing the villains that are in desperate need of dispatching.

- The Massie Twins

Enemy (2013)
7 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Whether or not viewers leave betrayed or enthralled, the film avoids the sense of pretentiousness and the contrived twists found in many such puzzlers., 20 March 2014

Perhaps more important than the conundrum at the heart of "Enemy" is the skillfully crafted feeling of perplexity. A palpable dread is brought to life through the skillful blend of visuals and music to steadily usher the viewer into an enigmatical spectrum of fear and paranoia. Despite the absence of bloody violence and cheap shocks typically employed by lesser psychological thrillers, "Enemy" maintains a constant foreboding atmosphere by providing just enough scattered clues to keep the audience captivated until the very end. Regardless of whether or not viewers leave betrayed or enthralled, director Denis Villeneuve's film avoids both the sense of pretentiousness found in many such puzzlers and the contrived twists that plague even more.

College history professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) trudges through his monotonous daily routine. Each morning he lectures on the same subject and then goes home to his tiny apartment and stagnant relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). At a random encounter with a colleague, Adam is recommended a movie to watch, and upon viewing it, he notices one of the extras bears a striking resemblance to him. Intrigued, the teacher tracks down actor Daniel Saint Claire only to discover that the two are identical in every way. Distraught and confused, Adam attempts to distance himself from his mysterious double, but soon finds their paths inextricably linked.

The film opens with the line "Chaos is order yet undeciphered." It's an amusing observation, which is then explored throughout the course of the swift running time via symbolism, displaced scenes, rhythmic editing, and a pulsing percussion soundtrack. The music is one of the most evident and effective elements of the production. The action begins with unsettling, aberrant sexual voyeurism (the camera frequently intrudes upon characters' intimate moments or peers around corners with hesitant distancing) to establish the tone, not entirely dissimilar from something out of Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." This is followed by jarring cuts between the normalcies of a schoolteacher to further sexual activities, done in the afterhours of a bedroom. A pattern is founded, contrasted by blindingly bright daytime shots in the break room and the dimness of carnality amidst bed sheets.

In the process of scrutinizing purpose and themes, details are canvassed, from the frightful movements of an out-of-place tarantula to the mundane locales of offices and apartments (emblematic architecture seems to slide into focus more often than not). In a particularly clever sequence, a movie within a movie is shown as both a flashback and a dream, with a different color palette and ominous noises drowning out the dialogue of what is supposed to be a comedy piece. Fortunately, the mystery is centralized, with the pacing never forgetting to instigate new suspense or curiosity, even when many items proceed unexplained. The theory that everything in history happens twice, by German philosopher Hegel, is mentioned, shedding greater light on the concepts of duality and doppelgangers and the repetition that plagues Adam's life - though it's clear that the screenplay here is purposely cryptic and overly confusing. Answers are hinted at but never surrendered outright.

It's engaging and bizarre, with merging realities, a seemingly unraveling mind, and brilliantly shifting points of view. Supporting characters interact in questionable manners, revealing that they know far more than the audience. And those observers will be motivated to raise eyebrows rather than solve riddles. "Enemy" is a steadily enticing blend of David Lynch's occasionally incomprehensible, hallucinogenic stories and his inquisitiveness with the weirdness that thrives just below the layers of averageness (as seen in "Blue Velvet), and the investigation of individualism, stress, and fractured personas from Bruce Robinson's biting "How to Get Ahead in Advertising." In addition, the misdirection of perspective borrows from John Cheever's "The Swimmer," while the inexplicable conclusion suggests the existential works of Charlie Kaufman (including "Synecdoche, New York" and "Being John Malkovich").

- The Massie Twins

6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
The template appears to be "Fast and the Furious" dumbed down even further, if that's even possible., 13 March 2014

Perhaps it's expected that the true stars of "Need for Speed" are the exotic luxury cars and the daredevil racing sequences, but when the spaces in between are stuffed with paper-thin characters, alarmingly awkward dialogue, and a story that wouldn't suffice an optional side mission in a "Grand Theft Auto" video game, the fun all but vanishes. If the uninspired foundation wasn't bad enough, many of the central characters' motivations are either contradicted or never explained, and the climactic final competition makes little impact and even less sense. Race organizer and sky-high partisan Monarch (overenthusiastically played by Michael Keaton) comments anxiously about "the race before the race." But with such a lack of originality and substance, that's one race too many.

When mechanic and madcap motorist Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is approached by his old rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) for a business proposition, he knows it's bad news. But faced with debt and the prospect of losing his shop, he unhesitatingly accepts. When Dino kills Tobey's protégé Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) in a contest gone wrong, Tobey takes the fall, resulting in a two-year prison sentence. Upon his release, the embittered driver determines to get revenge by besting Dino in the high-profile DeLeon, an exclusive street race sponsored by radio host Monarch, where the winner takes all – and the loser might not escape with his life.

Extremely unintelligent activities are ventured by exasperatingly idiotic personas - and this includes every single character. The heroes that viewers are supposed to root for, the villains they're intended to despise, and even the comic relief parts designed to be laughed at are not exempt. Amusing humor, the creation of sympathy, believable bonding, and merely relating to these roles are impossible concepts, attributable to the most disgustingly pathetic script. It seems that an indescribable amount of effort went into crafting a noticeably overlong plot and character development that is borderline unwatchable in its grating, cardboard blandness and uncreative stereotypes.

And then there's the dialogue. Young adults just don't converse like this and the blend of repartees is dreadful. The exchanges are so appallingly fake that they distract from every action sequence - to the point that viewers won't be able to enjoy the visual splendor of careening and exploding Lamborghinis, Bugattis, McLarens, Mustangs, Saleens, and Koenigseggs (which are all fascinatingly striking rides).

The template appears to be "Fast and the Furious" dumbed down even further (if that's possible) for more juvenile audiences itching to watch fast cars, incorrigible recklessness, and detonative stunts. Arguably, there exists the slightest modicum more focus on realism with the car chases. But with all of the jail time served and interference by police, the resulting product is more "Grand Theft Auto" than "Need for Speed." The plot hints at weak revenge through an embellished, high-stakes, illegal, super secret street race that laughably boasts a mere $7 million potential pot (the winner takes every competitor's vehicle), which dwindles by the minute as participant's wreck their multi-million-dollar entries. After risking life, limb, reputation, and legal consequences, the ultimate prize reveals absolutely no money to be had. Without a doubt, "Need for Speed" is one of the worst movies ever made.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

0 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
If Tarantino is the contemporary master of cinematic dialogue, Wes Anderson is a close second., 13 March 2014

No one crafts characters, worlds, and stories quite like Wes Anderson. In "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the director constructs each scene like a cityscape or portrait, filling his environments with lavish décor and hypnotic personas before incorporating in his sensationally rhetorical brand of dialogue. While the events that take place often seem random, nothing is arbitrary in the visuals. From the cycling aspect ratio and frequent camera pans to the careful positioning and quantity of people within the frame, everything is meticulously planned and organized. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" offers an even higher sum of participants than the director's already actor-heavy oeuvre, and includes cameos from a host of brilliant performers that complement the exceptional central turns by Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori. Though the works of author Stefan Zweig may inspire the momentous dupery, the film is unmistakably Wes Anderson.

While staying at the once-grand Budapest Hotel, a young writer (Jude Law) happens upon the elusive owner (F. Murray Abraham), who subsequently invites him to dinner to recount the captivating tale of how he came to acquire the establishment. Beginning as a humble lobby boy at the Budapest Hotel, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) becomes the protégé of liberally perfumed and widely revered concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). When Gustave is accused of murdering a wealthy heiress and is sent to prison, Zero aids in his escape, forcing the duo to attempt to clear the manager's name while outwitting both the policeman (Edward Norton) pursuing them and the ruthless killer (Willem Dafoe) tasked with silencing any who would reveal the truth.

If Tarantino is the contemporary master of cinematic dialogue, Wes Anderson is a close second - like a moderately cleaned-up version of Tarantino filtered through Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, and Sidney Buchman. A whimsical, consistently poetic vibe permeates every exchange, with heavy narration frequently drowning out the actual conversations of characters on screen. Anderson is an absolute master of infusing quirkiness and idiosyncrasies into borderline slapstick activities, where each scene or chapter is a fresh examination of a ceaseless introduction to additional characters. Like the films of Caro and Jeunet, many of the personalities feel as if they're being portrayed through a fisheye lens, skewed disproportionately into delightfully singular creations. Here, perhaps borrowing from Tarantino, the story is told out of order, with numerous stops through time, broken into chapters.

The story involves murder, an inheritance, tumultuous political climates, romance, a heist, a mystery, a prison break, and all manner of trekking across the picturesque countryside. But it's the technical elements that share (or overtake) the spotlight, with Anderson's careful framing an odd endeavor in nearly removing the three-dimensionality of motion picture, where actors move from side to side, converse face to face (with the camera cutting back and forth between speakers), and are centered in the middle of vast landscapes and environments, and where actions shift into frame in fixed positions. The structure of the story parallels the motif of frames and framing, with bookending raconteurs and narratives enclosing the retelling of the primary adventures.

Expressions communicate without speech, every movement is purposeful, background elements have specific meanings, and colors are vibrant and cartoonish. The attention to detail is simply phenomenal. From the first few seconds, it's evident that each aspect is also tinged with humor - some from outrageously unrealistic concepts, but most from the subtle ridiculousness of words, images, and character designs. Instead of movie frames, the film appears comprised of a series of paintings, each one crafted with wondrous minutia and a recognizable cast having as much fun as viewers. Not a second is wasted on presenting a nearly perfect blend of visual artistry with a funnily fanciful fabulist.

0 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
If Tarantino is the contemporary master of cinematic dialogue, Wes Anderson is a close second., 13 March 2014

No one crafts characters, worlds, and stories quite like Wes Anderson. In "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the director constructs each scene like a cityscape or portrait, filling his environments with lavish décor and hypnotic personas before incorporating in his sensationally rhetorical brand of dialogue. While the events that take place often seem random, nothing is arbitrary in the visuals. From the cycling aspect ratio and frequent camera pans to the careful positioning and quantity of people within the frame, everything is meticulously planned and organized. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" offers an even higher sum of participants than the director's already actor-heavy oeuvre, and includes cameos from a host of brilliant performers that complement the exceptional central turns by Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori. Though the works of author Stefan Zweig may inspire the momentous dupery, the film is unmistakably Wes Anderson.

While staying at the once-grand Budapest Hotel, a young writer (Jude Law) happens upon the elusive owner (F. Murray Abraham), who subsequently invites him to dinner to recount the captivating tale of how he came to acquire the establishment. Beginning as a humble lobby boy at the Budapest Hotel, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) becomes the protégé of liberally perfumed and widely revered concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). When Gustave is accused of murdering a wealthy heiress and is sent to prison, Zero aids in his escape, forcing the duo to attempt to clear the manager's name while outwitting both the policeman (Edward Norton) pursuing them and the ruthless killer (Willem Dafoe) tasked with silencing any who would reveal the truth.

If Tarantino is the contemporary master of cinematic dialogue, Wes Anderson is a close second - like a moderately cleaned-up version of Tarantino filtered through Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, and Sidney Buchman. A whimsical, consistently poetic vibe permeates every exchange, with heavy narration frequently drowning out the actual conversations of characters on screen. Anderson is an absolute master of infusing quirkiness and idiosyncrasies into borderline slapstick activities, where each scene or chapter is a fresh examination of a ceaseless introduction to additional characters. Like the films of Caro and Jeunet, many of the personalities feel as if they're being portrayed through a fisheye lens, skewed disproportionately into delightfully singular creations. Here, perhaps borrowing from Tarantino, the story is told out of order, with numerous stops through time, broken into chapters.

The story involves murder, an inheritance, tumultuous political climates, romance, a heist, a mystery, a prison break, and all manner of trekking across the picturesque countryside. But it's the technical elements that share (or overtake) the spotlight, with Anderson's careful framing an odd endeavor in nearly removing the three-dimensionality of motion picture, where actors move from side to side, converse face to face (with the camera cutting back and forth between speakers), and are centered in the middle of vast landscapes and environments, and where actions shift into frame in fixed positions. The structure of the story parallels the motif of frames and framing, with bookending raconteurs and narratives enclosing the retelling of the primary adventures.

Expressions communicate without speech, every movement is purposeful, background elements have specific meanings, and colors are vibrant and cartoonish. The attention to detail is simply phenomenal. From the first few seconds, it's evident that each aspect is also tinged with humor - some from outrageously unrealistic concepts, but most from the subtle ridiculousness of words, images, and character designs. Instead of movie frames, the film appears comprised of a series of paintings, each one crafted with wondrous minutia and a recognizable cast having as much fun as viewers. Not a second is wasted on presenting a nearly perfect blend of visual artistry with a funnily fanciful fabulist.

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A film of excesses., 6 March 2014

"300: Rise of an Empire" is a film of excesses. Perhaps it's understandable, given the nature of its predecessor and the notion that successors must eclipse them, but doubling the number of action sequences and bringing their slow-motion moments to an even more laborious crawl only dulls the impact. Ironically, the story drags at times while the decelerated camera pauses on everything from spraying blood and splashing mud to droplets of water and overdramatic battle posturing. The lack of restraint does prove entertaining, however, during the more creative episodes of violence and the memorably tempestuous scene of lust between the stalwart Athenian general and his female nemesis. "300: Rise of an Empire" offers unvaried thrills and little else to surpass the ingenuity of the original.

When the Persian King Darius is slain during his charge to conquer Greece, a far greater threat is born. Fueled by revenge and manipulated by his rancorous commander Artemisia (Eva Green), Darius' son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) transforms himself into the "god king" and rallies Persia's titanic army in a new campaign to destroy the city-states. Though vastly outnumbered, Athenian admiral Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) uses superior military strategies to triumph over the initial nautical onslaught from the Persians, but he soon realizes that without the aid of Sparta's elite warriors, all of Greece may fall.

If the first film accomplished the subtle recreation of individual panels of author Frank Miller's artwork into three-dimensional cinematic scenes, this follow-up harshly captures evident frames. Posing, sneering, acts of warfare, and carefully constructed, aggressive bladed-weapon exhibition seems to shape snapshots belonging inside intentional borders. The staging almost mocks the impressiveness of key moments from the precursory 2007 project. The cinematography isn't messy or fluid or natural, but precise and distinct. This style, clearly paralleling penning and inking, looks very much unchanged from before, but now lacks the freshness and originality. It's a sequel, which peculiarly takes place concurrently to the former plot line, with a plentitude of flashbacks to character origins, the events from "300," and even to moments earlier in this film. But it didn't have to be so repetitive.

The same level of detail and attention is awarded to sets, costumes, makeup, armory, and computer-augmented bloodletting, but it doesn't improve upon what was presented previously. It's more of the same, though certainly satiating for viewers interested in imbibing further in the dreamlike, altered reality of this hyper-stylized barbarian bloodbath. The constant, overly poetic speechmaking is decidedly less intoxicating. But Eva Green is perfectly cast as a savage, butcherly hellcat, who can't quite decide whether to be desirable or repulsive – while continually asserting that sexuality is akin to battle. Amusingly, this over-the-top, fantasy-infused, slow-motion-embellished, gore-soaked naval adventure is Frank Miller's version of a history lesson.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

Non-Stop (2014)
1 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Neeson may not be an intrinsically over-the-top action hero, but he's definitely a sensible, likable protagonist for adventurous psychological thrillers., 27 February 2014

Luckily for director Jaume Collet-Serra, the riskily titled "Non-Stop" does indeed deliver a nearly constant influx of thrills, thanks to a craftily written mystery reinforced by actor Liam Neeson's believable tough guy performance. Similar in set-up to 1996's "Executive Decision," the majority of the fun comes from the snaking plot that delivers red herrings and misdirection aplenty. Conspiracies, terrorists, drugs, extortion, murder, and more all weave throughout the story and its host of enigmatic characters as they spiral towards a mostly unpredictable conclusion. Clichés aren't absent, but enough suspense and adventure surround the escalating hunt for answers to quell the brunt of questions raised regarding plausibility and realism - until after the picture ends.

Despondent, alcoholic air marshal William Marks (Liam Neeson) just wants to get his latest assignment over with. But his routine mission aboard a transatlantic flight to London becomes a race against time when he begins receiving threatening text messages from an unknown source. Demanding $150 million in exchange for the lives of the 150 passengers, the cryptic assailant begins killing one commuter every twenty minutes until the money is transferred. As the seconds rapidly count down to the next execution, Marks must ally with a flight attendant (Michelle Dockery), a New York cop (Corey Stoll), and a secretive woman (Julianne Moore) in order to find the terrorist and save the passengers from certain death.

Liam Neeson has a way of convincing audiences of just about anything. Even in his early sixties he can still believably pull off martial arts in claustrophobic spaces, mastermind desperate attempts at gaining information for the harrowing situations his ex-military or ex-law enforcement characters inevitably become immersed in, calm hysterical and accidental participants, and can even get the girl. Here, Julianne Moore is a surprisingly age-appropriate romantic counterpart. Neeson may not have youth, but he has strong conviction, determination, and genuineness. He may not be an intrinsically over-the-top action hero, but he's definitely a sensible, likable protagonist for adventurous psychological thrillers.

Movies involving hijackings aren't new, but a terrorist situation in the air is undeniably topical and resonating. Here, the setup brilliantly ensures that everyone is a suspect, that every individual momentarily examined by the camera is a potential for danger (ranging from a racially profiled doctor, played by Omar Metwally, to a coquettish sexpot, played by Bar Paly). Unavoidable advertising and trailers have helped to synopsize the subject matter. This makes the educated viewer immediately begin studying passengers and bystanders with an interrogative eye, much like Neeson's Bill Marks, even before its revealed that he's a U.S. Federal Air Marshal.

Like "Speed," a small timeframe is given (a 6-hour flight) and an isolated environment is utilized (the British Aqualantic airliner); like "Ten Little Indians" or "And Then There Were None," players are eliminated one by one until the ringleader is exposed. And like countless other thrillers, the anticipation and suspense are built up so exhilaratingly, the final unveiling is given all the weight of the potential success or failure of the picture as a whole. The conclusion almost single-handedly determines whether or not "Non-Stop" will be adored or abhorred. Admittedly a touch oblivious to atmospheric pressure, thermodynamics and other physics, and extreme inertia, "Non-Stop" capably manages not to succumb to a disappointing finale.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

10 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
So much extraneous content and subplots pepper the film that it's regularly difficult to separate plot from pointless detail., 20 February 2014

"3 Days to Kill" begins with a botched CIA operation that results in chaos and disaster. Sadly, this muddled mess parallels the film in its entirety, from the clichéd characters and their vacuous dialogue to the inconsistent tone and mismatched antics. Protagonists and antagonists alike alternate between dead seriousness and awkward humor in both conversation and action, creating a further rift in mood, which is most notable in the bizarre pairings of abduction and torture with parental advice and cooking recipes. Violence is also overused and clumsily coupled with all manner of situation, expressing adventure, suspense, pathos, comedy relief, and more, essentially numbing the effectiveness of it all. Even Amber Heard's physical appeal is dulled by atrocious banter and banal character design.

After a failed mission to capture international terrorist "The Wolf" lands CIA agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) in the hospital, he discovers he has a mere few months to live due to terminal brain cancer, which has spread to his lungs. Determined to reconnect with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), Ethan retires and returns home to Paris. But it's not long before the CIA needs him back and top agent Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) offers him a deal he can't refuse. In exchange for an experimental drug that may prolong his life, Renner must locate The Wolf and eliminate him. When Christine leaves for three days on a business trip, Ethan must juggle the responsibilities of looking after a teenage girl with his volatile mission of assassination.

So much extraneous content and subplots pepper the film that it's regularly difficult to separate plot from pointless detail. Complications on digressions take place for the sake of fluffing up the production into a nearly two-hour event. Unlike 1978's "Foul Play," which satirically mocked the spy movie stereotypes, inherent weirdness of murder mysteries, and "wrong man" mix-ups, the humor in "3 Days to Kill" takes the form of unintentionally bizarre meetings, villains with monikers like "The Albino," "The Wolf," and the "Italian Accountant," and blackmail through trading empirical life-saving drugs for murders. In the end, resolutions aren't even given, refusing to deliver definitive statements on Vivi's involvement, Ethan's health, or his wife's intentions.

As can be expected from a Luc Besson screenplay (with the additive of direction by McG), the film chronicles a smorgasbord of seemingly random interactions of a "cleaner's" family members, acquaintances and their families, and even the families of enemies or targets, infused with crime drama and action. Car chases and deadly shootouts (with enormous amounts of henchman collateral damage) frequent scenes of a distanced father bonding with his displeased wife and reconnecting with his indifferent daughter, reinforcing the "Pulp Fiction" notion that even ruthless government hit men lead normal lives during off hours. And, like Besson's other recent works, the film is derivative, riddled with platitudes, and feels like a "Mission: Impossible" pitch (Costner's character even shares the name Ethan). It's certainly not enough to help viewers choose sides; strangely chummy relationships with the men Ethan tortures, a teenaged girl who shrugs off attempted rape at a party, and a cold-blooded CIA bellwether all pose unconvincing, confused emotional and moral divisions. Amber Heard is the most miscast role, presenting a woman with unexplained actions, no reactions, ludicrous overconfidence, constantly changing hairstyles and colors, and dominatrix-styled skintight costumes that couldn't be further from the covert spy operations she's supposed to be masterminding.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)


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