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The Marine 2 (2009)
Not as bad as it should be
As much as I like Die-Hard-style action movies, I never go into them expecting a masterpiece. They're usually cheesy, endlessly similar and useful only as an entertaining escapist diversion. This one doesn't break the mold.
That said, it's not bad. There's some really quite accomplished cinematography on display, and obviously some highly skilled people working on the production. Some of the gun battles are shot in an exciting and dynamic way. The acting varies a little, but nobody lets the side down.
The fights are good and Ted DiBiase Jr acquits himself well. His role is not colourfully written, he's a run-of-the-mill, vanilla flavoured action hero. In fact, this entire movie is about as unimaginative as they get, presumably having been plotted by a computer that generates the storyline by choosing generic plot points, locations and characters at random.
So despite the linear nature of the plotting, and the fact that it went a bit wonky in the last 30 minutes, it's worth a bash. Especially if you like to see terrorists get shot, stabbed, punched, impaled, blown up and otherwise molested.
You'll need to overlook the usual (comparatively) low-budget action movie silliness, and some slightly jarring video effects during one section, but on the whole this is a fairly well made example of the genre. All it needed was a bit of a creative spark at the scripting level to elevate it to seven stars or better.
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
Flawed but entertaining
It might not change the world of cinema forever, but this movie is a solid thriller/actioner. It's a little formulaic and predictable, but who cares? You've got Denzel Vs. Travolta, so you can switch your brain off and put it in a bucket of ice water for a couple of hours.
The acting is, of course, of a very high standard. Denzel Washington is rarely anything other than sublime, and Travolta gives a decent performance as a determined death-wish lunatic.
The worst problems stem from the absurd camera-work and pitiful video effects. There are a number of scenes where the picture becomes very jerky - which looks like a mistake, very much like a movie running on a computer that isn't powerful enough to sustain the framerate. This is ugly and unpleasant to watch; it belongs in a 1980s pop video, not in a modern Hollywood movie.
Arguably worse is a minor scene involving the mayor, in which the camera swings very rapidly around the actors in a continual 360 degree arc. The effect is nothing short of nauseating. There's no reason for it except to make you physically ill.
There's also some dubious bluescreen work going on, but that's not unusual. Griping aside, the film is fairly well written and well acted. There's also a really impressive shoot-out scene, which is short but almost worth the price of admission.
Worth watching, but I'd wait until you can rent the DVD.
In the Loop (2009)
Funny, but cynical and rather heartless
I had a rough idea of what to expect from In The Loop, and unfortunately it really didn't do anything to surprise me.
The film implies - well, directly suggests - that everyone associated with government in the UK or US is either a sociopath or a bumbling idiot. The characters depicted are cynical, cold and selfish , incapable of any emotion other than anger. There wasn't really a single sympathetic character to be found.
Whilst I'm sure this depiction pleases a certain section of the movie-going public, it surely does not represent any kind of reality. As cynical as I am about government, I think there are probably prisons in small eastern European countries that are less depressing than the working environments depicted here.
There was plenty of inventive swearing and terms of abuse - of which I entirely approve - but without a heart, somebody to associate with, it just feels depressing. I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing for a comedy.
On the plus side, the acting was largely superb, and the script had plenty of good lines. It just didn't gel for me.
You won't catch Brüno with his pants down
Sacha Baron Cohen must be one of the bravest men in comedy today. To openly taunt terrorists, violent homophobes and right-wing religious zealots must require a pretty solid backbone. Despite the danger he seemed to put himself in quite regularly, he didn't visibly flinch or hold back once.
I was a little wary of the film at first, in case it turned out to be cruel - but it wasn't as uncomfortable as I'd imagined it would be - really, most of the people who get savaged by Brüno are either thoroughly deserving, or handle themselves well. Much of the comedy results from the astonished/horrified reactions of his 'victims'.
Some scenes are clearly staged - including a notable scene with a 'swinger' and her belt - but this is made pretty obvious, and I see no reason to believe that any of the important set-pieces were anything other than genuine.
Brüno is hilarious, and if, like me, you are a doubter, then I can only suggest you try it for yourself. You are unlikely to be disappointed.
Transmorphers: Fall of Man (2009)
Such a waste
I know what to expect from Asylum - dreadful nonsense that trades off current cinematic trends. But with this one, I almost dared to hope that they might have put some effort in.
The first 30 minutes or so are almost acceptable - the build-up is slow and disjointed, but most of the over-acting is kept to a minimum, and some of the effects actually look as though somebody actually tried to produce something worthy. Some effects sequences are actually fairly effective - though many others are awful.
Unfortunately, whatever small amount of promise may have existed early on, it all falls apart after 30 minutes, with really poor dialogue, laughable acting, lame plotting, and some terrible visual effects.
It does have some unintentional comedy value, as you might expect - much of the dialogue is staggeringly bad. At one point, a woman tells our heroes that she investigates "unexplained events of the terrestrial nature". That is a direct quote.
One minor character asks her how aliens differ from extraterrestrials - quite why anybody would ask such a stupid question is unexplained, but her answer is absolutely mind-boggling. She explains that extraterrestrials attack like a friend, whereas aliens attack like enemies. I challenge anyone to find a more stupid piece of dialogue in any science fiction movie of the past ten years. It's hard to imagine anything more utterly devoid of meaning or sense.
It's a shame, because if this film shows anything, it's that Asylum probably have the resources to produce some decent films if they wanted to. But first, they would need to employ someone who has good ideas, and is capable of translating them into a movie that follows the long-established conventions of storytelling. This film throws out the rulebook in favour of cobbling together events and characters in seemingly random order. They also need talented script writers, or at least skilled script editors.
In summary, I could live with the constraints of a poor budget, if it told a good story. Many great sci-fi stories have been told on a very limited budget - but this really is useless, and I suspect the reason is that very few people at Asylum could care less what anybody thinks, as long as they make a few dollars profit on each tiresome knock-off.
One plus point - it's better than the first Transmorphers film.
The Onion Movie (2008)
Patchy and disappointing
Given the excellent reputation of the Onion website, this comedy can only really disappoint. It plays like a tame rip-off of the British news spoof Brass Eye - with everything funny and intelligent taken out.
For the most part the comedy is obvious and very broad - the kind of thing I'd expect to see with a laughter track. I somehow imagined that the comedy would be a little more subtle.
Admittedly Steven Seagal is excellent as Cock Puncher (in fact he's exactly the same as he is in all of his 'proper' films), but on the whole, I wasn't that impressed with the majority of the material. It might be worth renting if you're bored, but don't get your hopes up.
If you want to see how a news parody should be done, get Brass Eye on DVD.
Live for nothing... or die for something
I have no doubt that many of the criticisms levelled at this film are valid. The plot is wafer thin, and some of the characters are a little flimsy. But to criticise the film on this basis is to miss the point. Rambo isn't meant to be a deep character-driven drama. It's a stupendous action film with a decent-enough message behind it.
So far as the action goes - and there is quite a lot of it - it's hard to imagine any film being more impressive. Although some of it is slightly exaggerated, much of it does feel quite authentic, and it's certainly the most violent film I've ever seen.
The message of the film is fairly simple, and is best summed up by Rambo himself when he offers other characters the choice between living for nothing, or dying for something. It's almost like a feel-good movie. With massacres.
All in all, this is a hugely successful achievement. Stallone is exceptionally good, and it's hard not to cheer at several moments when Rambo comes out on top. I'd recommend it to anybody with a strong stomach.
I Am Legend (2007)
A missed opportunity
Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way - Will Smith is excellent, as usual. The scenes of an abandoned New York are amazing, in much the same way as the shots of a deserted London in 28 Days Later.
Now on to the disappointing stuff - the CGI work throughout the film is terrible. 14 years after Jurassic Park, and this is seriously the best they could do? I could live with the CGI animals, but the CGI 'infected' are just beyond belief. They all look the same, they all behave in ways that are clearly opposed to the laws of physics, and they all look as though they've stepped out of a cartoon or a computer game.
It's hard to overstate just how unconvincing the CGI work is; about half-way through the film stops being 'real' and turns into an absurd mix of the real world and sub-par animation. It's more 'Mary Poppins' than '28 Days Later'.
Real people with prosthetics would have made a much greater impact, and may have added some genuine thrills into what is otherwise a fairly dull film.
The ending - and I won't use any spoilers - is very weak. Ultimately, 'I Am Legend' is a wasted opportunity; worth watching, but only just.