BBB EPISODE X: THE FORCE AWAKENS – AND OTHER THINGS STAR WARS

In this EPIC penultimate episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey Season 1, Ricardo Medina, Claude Lilford and myself discuss the previous 6 Star Wars movies (and the stuff in-between), as well as share our SPOILER-FREE and SPOILER-HEAVY (you’ve been warned) thoughts on the latest entry in the Star Wars series: “The Force Awakens”.

*Please check the description of this YouTube video for the different chapters of this podcast and their respective timecodes.*

 

–   Matthew

 

It’s a bird….It’s a plane….It’s….”Man of Steel” (2013)

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As I mentioned on my Facebook fanbase page earlier last week, I was planning to review all of the live-action Superman movies, including the recently-released “Man of Steel”.  Because of the mixed reception “Man of Steel” received so far, I saw it fit to address the public on my personal opinion of the movie. Therefore, instead of me going into lengthy detail on the previous Superman movies, I’ll simply talk about them in my intro to today’s post, and follow that up with my fair and balanced “Man of Steel” review.

 

With the exception of the feature-length animated films which were mostly, if not always, pretty decent in their own rights, the live-action Superman movies were always hit-and-miss, with more misses (3) than hits (2). 1978’s “Superman”, directed by Richard Donner, is still the definitive superhero origin story and is one of, if not the, greatest superhero movies ever conceived. It has a strong cast including Marlon (“The Godfather”) Brando (SIDE NOTE: I could never understand why the guy says “Kripten”. It’s “KRYPTON”, not Kripten. Sounds like the name of a fucking cereal! Jeez!), Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve (who was literally born to play Clark Kent/Superman), a great script written by Mario Puzo (author of “The Godfather”) and a timeless musical score by John Williams (the iconic “Superman March” theme song alone gives me goosebumps every time I hear it). Its follow-up, “Superman II”, found the character of Superman in a perilous situation where, after sacrificing his Kryptonian powers for the opportunity to live a human life with his love interest Lois Lane, he’s forced to battle three Kryptonian criminals (General Zod, Ursa and Non) bent on conquering Earth. Yes, there was a greater emphasis on action sequences (made apparent in a ridiculously over-the-top, but  VERY BAD-ASS, battle between Superman and the three Kryptonians),  and it wasn’t as emotionally moving as its predecessor, but “Superman II” was, and still remains, a solid entry in the Superman movie franchise.

 

“Superman III”, directed by Richard Lester, abandoned the emotional beats and cinematic magic that the previous films provided, and, in a controversial and altogether bitch move, supplied slapstick humour. Yes folks, before “Batman Forever”, “Batman & Robin” and “Spider-Man 3”, “Superman III” was the first superhero movie sequel to add cheesy, unneeded comedy into its story. The talents of the late, great comedian/actor Richard Pryor (the inspiration behind nearly every African-American comedian/comic actor out there) is wasted as he plays the bumbling co-star to Christopher Reeve (though they only get less than five minutes of screen time together). The plot, involving an evil businessman and his quest to create a supercomputer to rule the world financially, is poorly-written and poorly-executed. There was an unexpected turn of events when Superman turns “evil” thanks to some manufactured Kryptonite, and it results in the film’s best scene where the “evil” Superman fights the “good” Clark Kent (Metaphysically? I’m still not sure) in a junkyard. But everything else is either corny (like when Superman freezes a lake with his ice breath, LIFTS the motherfucker and drops it onto a chemical plant engulfed in flames), eye-rollingly boring (like the moments where Clark tries to rekindle a friendship/romance with high-school sweetheart Lana Lang – played by a pretty-looking Annette O’ Toole who played Clark’s mother in the recent Superman soap opera TV show “Smallville”) and facepalm-worthy (the most famous example being Pryor giving Superman a bro-shake! It’s in the trailer. You really don’t need to sit through 2 hours of this movie to see it).

 

In 1987, the Superman movie franchise fell with the force of a meteor the size of Texas (Yeeeeeah, that was an “Armageddon” reference. Don’t ask me how that got here!) and crash-landed into the nether regions of Earth, thanks to Sidney J. Furie’s (who?) infamous “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”.  Produced by Cannon Films (the company behind some of the 1980s’ most godawful action movies – a few of which starring Chuck Norris….hmmmmmm), “The Quest for Peace” takes Christopher Reeve’s seemingly interesting premise (yeah, he WROTE the story) of Superman acting as a world ambassador against the nuclear powers of America and Russia, and turns into a celluloid disaster where he fights a solar-powered Superman clone (made by a strand of Superman’s hair, which he DONATED to a museum, in case you give a shit) by the name of Nuclear Man. This movie, cinematic eye torture that it is, is insanely funny – unintentionally, that is. There are moments that defy logic, gravity and intelligence, like when Superman collects ALL the world’s nuclear missiles into a gigantic net and hurls it into the sun, the fake-looking sequences of Superman flying in the air (they use this particular image of Superman in flight about EIGHT times or so throughout the entire movie)….

 

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…. the fight scenes between Superman and Nuclear Man where bits of green-screen encapsulates each combatant, a sleep-and-you-miss-it moment where Nuclear Man’s female prisoner/damsel in distress BREATHES in outer space, and of course, Superman pushing the moon with his bare hands to create a solar eclipse. Wow. The end was indeed nigh for Superman.

 

In the 1990s, he found new life in the fairly decent (but not that memorable) TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”  and the EXCELLENT “Superman: The Animated Series”. In late 2001, the soap opera TV show “Smallville” , which focused on the teenage years of Clark Kent before he became Superman, came out. But it was 2006 that saw Supes’ triumphant return to the big screen with director Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns”. Starring Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and  Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, “Superman Returns” serves as a sequel after “Superman II”, completely ignoring “Superman III” and “Superman IV”. The movie touches on…well….Superman’s return to Earth after he left it for five years to search for distant remains of his home-world Krypton, which, as you should know, was destroyed in “Superman”. He tries to re-establish himself as a hero and saviour to the masses who’ve basically moved on with their lives following his “disappearance”. The problem with “Superman Returns” is that, like the “masses” in the movie, the world has moved on from the first two Superman films. The movie itself lacked the joy, humour and fun of the films that Bryan paid homage to, and tried desperately to keep itself afloat with pathetic attempts to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings (Superman in a coma at a HOSPITAL, guys? REALLY?!), a great abundance of peril as opposed to action (’cause it was 2006 – and audiences really wanted to see Superman kick ass, not see a bullet bounce off his fucking eyeball) and a continual “dumbing down” of Superman, making him come across like a mopey, depressed alien with a stalker complex (I swear: the scene where he gazes at Lois’ son while he’s sleeping is STRAIGHT-UP CREEPY, yo!).

 

In retrospect, “Superman Returns” wasn’t terrible, and I give credit to Bryan Singer for paying homage to the first two Superman films. I mean, he got Brandon Routh (who was aight as Superman) to look and act like Christopher Reeve. However, it was light years away from being the Superman film that modern audiences desired. Which leads us to director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated and admittedly over-hyped “Man of Steel”. Is it the Superman film to end all Superman films, or is it just another futile effort to make the Man of Steel relevant in this generation? Time to find out!

 

 

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“MAN OF STEEL” (2013) –  Not to be confused with country singer Hank Williams Jr.’s 1983 album of the same name, “Man of Steel” reboots the Superman movie franchise and re-visits the origin story presented in the first film. While Krypton faces imminent destruction,  scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) become the proud parents of a baby boy that they call Kal-El. When the vicious General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup d’état against the ruling council to acquire a genetic codex that will preserve the Kryptonian race, Jor-El and Lara place Kal-El in a spaceship bound for Earth. Though it’s not shown in the film, but is already part of Superman’s lore, the spaceship crash-lands near a farm in Smallville, Kansas. Kal-El is discovered by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and they adopt him as their own child. During his adult years, Clark Kent (Kal-El’s new name given by his Earth parents) becomes a drifter of sorts, helping individuals, if need be, with his superhuman abilities while keeping them at bay. In the Arctic region, Clark discovers a Kryptonian scout ship, and a hologram of Jor-El (think of it like the hologram image of 2Pac at last year’s Coachella event in Los Angeles) inside, which informs him of his Kryptonian heritage and reveals to him the Superman suit – which….duh…. he puts on. Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a newspaper journalist from the city of Metropolis sent to investigate the ship, later stumbles onto Clark and realizes that he’s the mysterious “superhuman saviour” she’s been obsessing over. Shit gets real when General Zod and his army arrive on Earth, looking for the genetic codex which they believe Clark Kent has in his possession. They will stop at nothing to get it back – even if it means wiping out Metropolis and its populace. Now the last son of Krypton must reveal himself to the world, and subsequently save it from the forces of the maniacal General Zod.

 

Like I mentioned earlier, “Man of Steel” received mixed reception upon its release. Some reviewers fell over themselves to praise this movie, while others were underwhelmed by what the kind folks at Warner Bros., DC Entertainment and Syncopy Inc. offered to them on a silver platter. Because of the reception it received, I was forced to lower my “hype” levels (which were off the Richter scale since the Nokia trailer came out a few weeks ago) and approach the movie with medium expectations. And for the most part, I appreciated “Man of Steel” for what it tried to do. The story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (who collaborated on the stories for Nolan’s critically-acclaimed Batman films i.e. “The Dark Knight Trilogy”) literally deconstructs that of the origin of Superman. The intention behind sending Kal-El to Earth is changed, General Zod has a goal now and doesn’t come across as a conqueror with delusions of grandeur like in “Superman II”, and the dual identity of Clark Kent and Superman is, at long last, presented in a plausible, non-cliched, manner. The special effects and visuals were SPECTACULAR, and the sound design was very impressive. On the subject of acting, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe, the two father figures of Superman, are the best performers in the movie, with everyone else (even Henry Cavill who was quite good as Superman) gunning for second and third place.

 

I must admit there are flaws in “Man of Steel”. Keep in mind: I don’t intend to be bitchy and nit-pick every wrong thing about the film. That’s not what this blog is about. Besides, every fucking movie has flaws. Fortunately, there aren’t that many flaws in this movie, but there are enough to challenge your overall enjoyment of the movie. Firstly, the main problem I had with the film was the way the story and how it was told. I appreciated the idea of foregoing the traditional linear narrative and relying on flashbacks to fill in the gaps between the fall of Krypton to present day. But I felt that the pacing was off in a number of instances, and the editing certainly didn’t improve the situation. Also, there were little moments where you got to really understand the characters, more particularly Superman himself, and their motivations. They seem to be propelled forward into this story because they’re expected to. Clark must become Superman, Superman must save Lois, Superman must fight Zod and so forth because they’re expected to – since this is a Superman movie and all that shit.  Second problem I had was the camerawork. I appreciated the idea of director Zack Snyder deviating from his visually stylized directorial style that he perfected in films like  “300”, “Watchmen” (still the best superhero team movie ever made. UP YOURS, FANS OF “The Avengers”!!) and quite recently “Sucker Punch” (*cough* BULLSHIT! *cough*) and instead, opting for a pseudo-realistic, hand-held-like approach to the film. However, the lack of stability in the camera in certain scenes looks sloppy and unprofessional, and the unnecessary quick zooms into objects in the middle of the frame look and feel like a rip-off of director Joss Whedon’s similar, but better-executed, camera technique that he popularized in his CLASSIC TV show “Firefly”, its spin-off movie “Serenity” and, of course, last year’s “The Avengers”. Third problem was the over-scoring. Composer Hans Zimmer creates yet another PHENOMENAL musical score in his career with “Man of Steel”. Problem is, his music is used to an annoying degree in like 90% of the film’s 143-minute running time. In the emotional moments, there’s music. In the fast-paced moments, there’s music. Even in the quiet moments, there’s fucking music! No wonder the soundtrack album is so goddamned long! Finally, I felt that the heart and emotion in the movie were severely lacking, as compared to the first two Superman films. Don’t get me wrong! There are emotional, heartfelt moments, especially in the flashback scenes (and quite a number of them in this movie, I might add) involving Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. But they come too far and few between thanks to a large number of intense action sequences. I will admit these scenes were jaw-droppingly BAD-ASS and fun to watch on the big screen. The climatic fight scene between Superman and Zod alone (cartoonishly over-the-top as it was at times) is worth the admission price, and it was the one thing that audiences expected to see in “Superman Returns”, but instead got a mopey, depressed alien with a stalker complex. Now when I say emotion, I don’t mean another Superman hospital scene.  What I’m referring to is emotional investment in the characters. For example, the action-packed section of the third act would’ve worked better (and stood out more) if the audience was aware of how Superman felt when he valiantly put his life on the line to save the citizens of Metropolis. Some may argue that it’s just a comic-book movie and you don’t need emotion in a comic-book movie. But even films like “Iron Man”, “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and “The Avengers” had characters that you connected with on an emotional level, and you were invested in their actions because of this connection. To me, I didn’t feel any emotional attachment to Superman and I couldn’t help but feel detached from his character as a whole.

 

Ultimately, “Man of Steel” is far from the best Superman movie ever made, but it’s also far from the worst. Apart from the over-abundance of action sequences and downplaying of emotion and actual substance, this movie does show promise of what the future of the Superman movie franchise holds. With a 2014 sequel and a possible “Justice League” live-action movie in the works, I expect to see more character development in this new Superman, and a greater emphasis on story rather than spectacle. Despite the flaws that I mentioned above, “Man of Steel” is still a worthy summer blockbuster/popcorn flick and will be one of the most talked-about and memorable films of the year. Personally, I have no problem watching this movie again. Maybe I’ll appreciate the movie a lot more after a second viewing. Who knows? I can safely say that “Man of Steel” won’t claim the Number 1 spot in my “Best Films of 2013” list – which is unfortunate since I was rooting for it to be the best movie of this year. However, I do think it will find a spot on my list  – but not in the Top 5. But then again, that’s my point of view. My criticisms of the film shouldn’t stop you from seeing it (again – if you’re like me) so please check it out as soon as you can. And feel free to drop a comment or two on your thoughts on “Man of Steel”.

 

MY RATING –  3  1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”).

– Matthew

 

(Kinda) Fast and (Sorta) Furious Reviews: “Fast Five” (2011); “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)

And now – the season finale of “(Kinda) Fast and (Sorta) Furious Reviews”.

 

Less than two months ago, director Justin Lin announced that “Fast & Furious 6” – the latest installment in the Fast & Furious anthology – will be his final contribution to the series. James Wan, director of 2004’s “Saw” (the first and best in the now-deceased … hopefully …. horror franchise), the 2003 short film that inspired it and 2011’s okay-ish “Insidious”, was announced as the director of the next sequel. Yes, ladies and gents, we’re getting a “Fast & Furious 7”. DEAL WITH IT ALREADY! But for now, I’m not worried about the franchise’s future, but I am curious as to how a guy who spent his career making nothing but horror movies will be able to handle a franchise about fast cars and high-speed chases. I guess that question will be answered by July 11th 2014 (the proposed date for the movie’s release (FFF fans, mark your calendars).

 

So were Justin’s final two Fast & Furious films worth it? Let’s find out!

 

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“FAST FIVE” (2011) – Previously in the Fast & Furious anthology, “Fast & Furious” (2009) sucked! And now we have “Fast Five”,  which begins exactly where the previous film left off. Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) is sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. While Dom’s being transported to the prison by bus, Brian O’ Conner (Paul Walker) (who had resigned from the F.B.I. at the end of “Fast & Furious”….oops, there goes a spoiler alert) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) stage a daring vehicular assault on the bus to save Dom. Fleeing the authorities, Dom, Brian and Mia head to Rio de Janeiro. Days later, the trio, along with their old comrade Vincent (Matt Schulze) (you know, from the first Fast & Furious movie) pull off a job in which three cars are stolen from a train occupied by D.E.A. agents.  One of these cars, a Ford GT40, is of extreme importance to a ruthless Brazilian drug lord named Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Meanwhile, a Diplomatic Security Service agent by the name of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) arrives in Rio de Janeiro with his team to arrest Dom, Brian and Mia for the murders of the DEA agents on the train – which, of course, they didn’t commit. Hobbs requests the assistance of Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), a Rio police officer, in his mission. Meanwhile, Dom and Brian discover a computer chip in the GT40, which contains details concerning Hernan’s drug money. Apparently, Hernan has US$100 million dollars stashed away, and Dom wants all of it.  But in order to get this money, Dom, party planner that he is, needs a crew. Looking through the casting lists from the previous three Fast & Furious movies (just kidding, folks),  Dom calls up Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) (both from “2 Fast 2 Furious”), Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang) (from “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Fast & Furious”), and Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot), Leo Tego (Tego Calderon) and Omar Santos (Don Omar) (also from “Fast & Furious”) to help him, Brian and Mia out. Dom informs his crew that this will be their “last job”. Once they take all of Reyes’ money, they can leave their thieving pasts behind and move on with their lives. Will they succeed or will Luke Hobbs beat (and I mean, literally beat the shit out of) them to the chase? Or will Hernan Reyes get to them first? And will it really be their “last” job?

 

To answer that final question – AWWW HELL NAW! If it was their last job, then there wouldn’t be a…….

 

 

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“FAST & FURIOUS 6” (2013) –  DURRRRRH!! Ahem…anyhoo, after successfully pulling off the heist in “Fast Five” (sooooo not a spoiler alert), Dom and his crew are officially retired from jacking electronics, cars and big-ass vaults. Brian and Mia are parents to a baby boy named Jack (Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!), Tej and Roman continually splurge in their earnings (Roman even has his own private jet – ain’t that some shit?), Gisele and Han (who hooked up in the previous film) moved to Hong Kong, Leo and Omar (though they’re practically non-existent in this movie for some weird reason) were last shown gambling in a Monaco casino, and Dom and Elena are a couple now (who’d have fucking thought?). While they live the good life, the hard-working DSS agent Luke Hobbs and his female partner Riley Hicks (played by former mixed martial artist Gina Carano)  investigate the destruction of a Russian convoy by ex-British Special Forces soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his crew. One of the members of the crew is Dom’s presumed-dead girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) who, as revealed in a pre-end credit scene in “Fast Five” (oopsie….another spoiler alert), is STILL ALIVE! DUM DUM DUMMMMMMM!!! Hobbs tracks down Dom (’cause tracking criminals is what Hobbs does best – cue Tigger laugh) and requests his help (and his crew’s) in bringing down Shaw. In return, they’ll get full amnesty for their past crimes, which will allow them to return to  U.S.  soil. Dom agrees, and calls up Brian, Tej, Roman, Gisele and Han for the mission. Will our heroes succeed this time in vanquishing evil? And how will they deal with Letty, now that she’s on the bad side? Do all roads really lead to this – as stated in the film’s poster? And what is “this” exactly? Is it tangible or intangible? And where the fuck are Leo and Omar? Did they have their phones off when Tej tried to call them? Or did they misplace them somewhere in that casino in Monaco? And who’s bigger – Vin Diesel or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? You can find out the answers to these and more burning questions in “Fast & Furious 6”!

 

MY THOUGHTS:   Director Justin Lin certainly learned from his mistakes from his previous films “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Fast & Furious”, and made up for it with “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6” which are, by far, the BEST (yeah, I said it!) and most entertaining entries in the Fast & Furious series thus far. “Fast Five” took specific elements of the previous films – be it major like the vehicle-assisted heist element of Part One and the over-the-topness of Part Four, or minor like the humour and dumb fun of Part Two and the “drifting” aspect of Part Three, and injects them into a major adrenaline rush of a movie. The acting is pretty decent (for a Fast & Furious movie), the characters are better-developed (also, for a Fast & Furious movie), and the story (which brilliantly fuses action, comedy and drama) is always fast-paced and engaging. The action is more insane and illogical than before (this is a Fast & Furious movie after all), especially in the climatic (and incredibly AWESOME) chase scene where a vault is dragged (by two cars) through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson ultimately steals  the show from Vin Diesel and proves that there can be more than one bad-ass in the proverbial ring. Speaking of “ring”, the two get the chance to duke it out in a brutal (even by PG-13 standards), WWE-like fight scene later on in the film. Why this fight failed to gain a fucking nomination for Best Fight at the 2011 MTV Movie Awards (“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” won it, in case you actually gave a shit) remains one of life’s greatest mysteries. Die-hard F&F fans may complain about “Fast Five’s” lack of pure racing sequences – although there is one short race scene with our heroes driving in police cars. But the movie succeeds in showing that there can be more to the Fast & Furious franchise than just generic street races. Two years ago, on the first Best of the Year list I made on this blog, I rated “Fast Five”  as the FIFTH best movie of 2011. Yeah, I know it’s cheesy putting a movie called “Fast Five” in the number five slot, but two years later, my views haven’t changed. It succeeds as a rejuvenation of a franchise that literally ran out of gas since the previous two films. “Fast Five” is sheer entertainment from start to finish, and guaranteed to satisfy fans and non-fans of the series.

 

“Fast & Furious 6” sticks with the winning formula of “Fast Five”, but like most sequels nowadays (*COUGH*“Star Trek Into Darkness”*COUGH), this movie is surprisingly dark. It’s almost as if Justin Lin took the dark tone of “Fast & Furious” and gave it a fresh coat of paint. The action is more intense, the stakes are way higher and the tone is more grim. Yes, the action set pieces are more over-the-top in this F&F entry (in two respective scenes, which have to be seen to be believed, our heroes face off against a TANK and bring down a PLANE), but with the exception of the tank sequence, the other major action sequences take place at night (which further adds to the movie’s dark tone). Fortunately, “Fast & Furious 6” maintains the humour and fun (which I stated was sorely lacking in “Fast & Furious”) that the previous film presented. The acting, like before, is still pretty decent – though I personally felt that Luke Evans  (who plays his role well enough) didn’t stand out that much as a villain. He was menacing, yes, and he orders his goons to do menacing things, yes, but he deserved more screen time and a bit more character development to make his Owen Shaw character more effective. Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who looks ridiculously bigger than Vin when they’re framed together) continue to kick ass – not at each other (since they’re buddies now) but to the bad guys. On the subject of kicking ass, Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano get the opportunity to beat the shit out of each other – and my goodness, is it entertaining to watch!  And for you hardcore F&F fans who yearned for an authentic street race in “Fast Five”, there IS one in this movie. Rejoice, my brothers and sisters, and again I say rejoice! Ultimately, “Fast & Furious 6”  is Justin Lin’s heartfelt tribute and farewell to the franchise.  He combines the seriousness of “Fast & Furious” with the anything-goes mentality of “Fast Five” and even ties the events of this film with that of “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” – and for the most part, it works. Due to a few editing and pacing issues in the film, however, I still prefer “Fast Five” over this one (only by a  tiny bit though) . But “Fast & Furious 6” does manage to top its predecessor in more ways than one, and I did enjoy the shit out of it, which is more than enough for me to recommend this movie.  Maybe by the end of this year, it’ll claim the number six slot in my upcoming Best Movies of 2013 list. But who can say? There’s a lot more great movies coming out this year – one of which involves a certain Man of Steel (which will be the basis of my next post, by the way). So….yeah, we’ll see.

 

In closing, I can envision the Fast & Furious series going further and farther than before. Whenever I look at the “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6” posters, I take notice of the expanse of sky in each frame. And I can’t help but think that someday, in the not-too-distant future, there’ll be a “Fast & Furious 10” where a middle-aged Dom Toretto and Brian O’ Conner (with his rebellious teenage son in check, of course) fly gigantic starships at top speed through the far reaches of space, with a cataract-suffering Luke Hobbs on their tails. Hey, Christopher Lloyd said it before in “Back to the Future”: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”.

 

MY RATINGS – 

“Fast Five” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“Fast & Furious 6” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

 

– Matthew

(Kinda) Fast and (Sorta) Furious Reviews: “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006); “Los Bandoleros” (2009); “Fast & Furious” (2009)

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Last season on “A Legally Black Blog”, I reviewed the first three (and a prelude between the first and second) films in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise. Today, I’ll continue this silly project of mine by reviewing the third and fourth entries in the series.

 

After handling production on the first two Fast & Furious films, Neal H. Moritz went on to produce the 2004 biker equivalent to “The Fast and the Furious”: “Torque”. Directed by Joseph Kahn (i.e. the guy who, even though he directed Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, Eminem’s “Love the Way you Lie” and Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas” music videos, you genuinely don’t give a shit about him) and starring Martin Henderson, Ice Cube and Jay Hernandez, “Torque” elevated itself from a campy, so-bad-it’s-good action movie to a logic-defying (in one scene, Martin rides a bike at top speed – assisted by NOS, of course – with NO fucking helmet on), so-bad-it’s-bad pile of horseshit in a matter of seconds. And yes, I was one of many who suffered through 84 pain-inducing minutes (end credits included) of that cinematic flop.  But I can imagine the Fast & Furious fans burning their “Torque” ticket stubs and offering them to the car gods as they prayed for yet another Fast & Furious movie. Universal Studios (in their infinite wisdom) green-lighted the next Fast & Furious film, aptly titled “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”. For this latest outing, Moritz hired Asian-American director Justin Lin (after being impressed by his 2002 film “Better Luck Tomorrow”) to handle directorial duties. Lin must have made some impression on Moritz, as they would collaborate together in the subsequent Fast & Furious movies: “Fast & Furious”, “Fast Five” and this year’s “Fast & Furious 6”.

 

Though not as memorable and positively-received (to a point) than “The Fast and the Furious” and “2 Fast 2 Furious”, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Fast & Furious” were both commercially successful in the box office. But how do they fare in 2013?

 

Not that well, I’m afraid.

 

 

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“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT” (2006) – The third entry in the series introduces a new character to the masses: 17-year old Sean Boswell (Lucas Black).  Now you’re probably thinking: “What the fuck”, right? What does this (presumably) young dude have to do with the epic, sprawling saga that is “The Fast and the Furious”? Well, he starts off the film as a student at a typical American high school. After a montage of random moments of high-school life (which was a really unorthodox way of opening a Fast & Furious movie), Sean tries to hit on a girl (*cough*slut*cough – I’m not kidding. She was) who just so happens to be the girlfriend of some douchebag . The douchebag challenges our hero to a race, where the winner gets the girl (*cough*slut*cough). The race itself , set to Kid Rock’s still-dope-as-fuck 1999 rap metal smash hit (ridiculous title aside) “Bawitdaba” (at this point, you may find yourself visually stimulated by this impressive racing sequence, or head-banging to the music, or both), doesn’t end well for Sean. His mother gets him off the hook, but due to his previous criminal activities, she sends him to live with her estranged husband in Tokyo. He goes to a new school and meets an American student nicknamed Twinkie (former child rap star turned Ciara’s ex turned “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” sticker supposed to make me buy your fucking album? Negro, please” mature rapper turned current co-host of B.E.T.’s “106 & Park” to pay the I.R.S. Bow Wow) who introduces him to Tokyo’s drift racing scene. Sean falls for an attractive Australian schoolgirl named Neela (Nathalie Kelley) who just so happens to be the girlfriend of Takashi (Brian Tee), nephew of Yakuza member Kamata (played by the original “Street Fighter” Sonny Chiba – who played Hanzo Hattori in the monumentally excellent “Kill Bill Vol. 1”) and self-proclaimed “Drift King”. Takashi or “DK” (not to be confused with Donkey Kong, folks) as people call him, challenges Sean to a race. See? Same shit, different country. Anyhoo, DK’s friend Han (Sung Kang – who’ll reprise his role in the next Fast & Furious movies, by the way) lends our hero a car for the race. DK uses his drifting skills with his car to win the race, and of course, Sean smashes the shit out of Han’s car. Sean is forced to work for Han as payment for his smashed-up ride. Fortunately, Han trains him in the ancient ways of drifting, and after a montage of drifting practice (which would’ve been more effective if the Sesame Street song “Practice, Practice” – you know, the one sung by “Bob” (remember that guy?) was playing throughout it), Sean becomes a drifting champion. And…..we have our movie.

 

If it’s one thing the Fast & Furious series taught me so far, it’s that if you’re a guy, and you really know how to drive a car, you’ll get the girl in the end. And while it’s obvious to anyone over the age of 12, that’s exactly what happens at the end of “Tokyo Drift”. I give Justin Lin credit for trying to add a different spin on the series at that point. The film is less flashy than its predecessors, and actually tries to emphasize more on story than fast-paced racing. Problem is, the film, with its combination of cliched scenarios (protagonist-learning-about-responsibility; fish-out-of-water; underdog-overcoming-the-odds) gets old and boring right after the opening race, and the lack of charisma in the cast (and bad acting by most) doesn’t help. Sure, it picks up after each racing sequence (the middle one being the best, and most pivotal, in the entire film) but then the movie gets dull again. The characters are uninteresting, with the exception of Han whose character was downplayed for some weird reason, and Kamata who exuded a much-needed sense of bad-assery in the film. Even Dominic “Dom” Torretto from the first Fast & Furious movie was interesting. And speaking of Vin Diesel, he appears in the last couple of minutes before the end credits (spoiler alert) where he hints that he knew Han (who he calls “family”) and challenges Sean to a race. Cutting to black (another cliche), and then displaying a fucking disclaimer about “not attempting any of the stunts shown in the movie – blah blah blah”, was a really shitty way of ending the movie though. On the plus side, the racing sequences were well-done, the Tokyo locale was a welcome change in scenery for the series so far, and the music was bearable enough (although Teriyaki Boyz’ “Tokyo Drift (Fast & Furious)”, hate it or love it, may find itself on auto-repeat in your head after you see this movie. Don’t say I didn’t warn you). “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”  isn’t the most memorable of the series (many Fast & Furious fans will agree with me on this) as it lacks the style that the first two films presented, but it’s far from terrible. Besides, if you’ve been on board with the series so far, you haven’t seen “terrible” yet. But first….

 

 

“LOS BANDOLEROS” (2009) –  While the title sounds like that of an Encore Westerns feature presentation, “Los Bandoleros” is actually the second short film in the Fast & Furious series and a prelude to “Fast & Furious”. Mind you, it’s not directed by Justin Lin. Instead, the director hat belongs to Vin Diesel – of all people. Anyway, this short focuses on Dom Torretto who (if you watched the first film) fled to Baja, Mexico, to escape the police. Five years later, he’s in the Dominican Republic, working as a mechanic in a small town. He’s offered a proposition by some politician named Elvis to hijack a fuel tanker to supply the townspeople with gas. Dom has his local crew ready: Tego “Teddy” (played by Puerto Rican reggaeton icon Tego Calderon), Omar Santos (another Puerto Rican reggaeton icon Don Omar) and Cara Mirtha (Mirtha Michelle). Han (who’s revealed to have met Dom in Mexico) flies down to assist Dom, and even Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) rears her scowling face. And she gets to be all intimate with Dom in the film’s last five minutes or so, since they’re in love and all that icky shit.  As a whole, “Los Bandoleros” is fucking awful.  There’s no action, no car races, no car chases and not much of a story. You do get an overall sense of the set-up for the first part of “Fast & Furious” (the tanker job) but it doesn’t even get you hyped for what happens next. Instead of a cliffhanger (of sorts), you get some boring-ass conclusion with Dom and Letty on the beach, making out. If the idea was to showcase their relationship before they…ahem… parted ways in “Fast & Furious”, then why wait until the last five minutes to show them together? Why spend a huge chunk of the story showing Dom interacting with the other members of his crew, when technically it’s supposed to be about Dom and Letty? I won’t go as far to say Vin Diesel is the reason why “Los Bandoleros” sucks, as he’s not that bad of a director. And perhaps this film was intended to present a more dramatic direction to the Fast & Furious series. But as a well-written short film and as a prelude meant to whet the viewer’s taste buds for “Fast & Furious”, “Los Bandoleros” fails on both levels. Skip this shit!

 

 

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“FAST & FURIOUS” (2009) –  Shit has apparently changed since the first Fast & Furious movie. While Dom and his crew are busy knocking over FOUR fuel tankers in the Dominican Republic, Brian O’Conner spends his time working for the FBI. One night, Mia calls Dom to inform him that Letty was murdered. Dom heads back to Los Angeles FAST AND FURIOUSLY, determined to find the killer. His search leads him to a Latino drug dealer called Arturo Braga (John Ortiz)  who employs street racers to traffic heroin between the Mexico-U.S. border. And wouldn’t you know it? Brian’s looking for the same guy also!  Dom’s and Brian’s paths cross, and tensions are raised since Brian literally lied to Dom and Mia about his non-allegiance with the police. Add some dramatic B.S. to go on top of the film’s already generic story and we have “Fast & Furious”. After opening with the spectacular and utterly ridiculous fuel tanker heist that was set up so sloppily in “Los Bandoleros”, “Fast & Furious” lays the groundwork for a totally new direction in the series: over-the-top action and over-seriousness. It is, by far, the darkest and most serious entry in the series as it’s devoid of the campiness of the first movie, the fun in the second and the sleekness of the third.  Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty character is “killed” and put in the back in the proverbial trunk. Tego Calderon’s and Don Omar’s characters are proverbially kicked out of the car after the prologue,  and picked back up nearing the end. And Sung Kang’s character is proverbially shipped off to Japan right after the opening action sequence. That’s some proverbs, I tell ya. But we are given a new character to ogle take interest in: Gisele Yashar (played by Israeli actess/model Gal Gadot), liaison to Arturo Braga. On the subject of Braga, John Ortiz does his best with his villainous character, but gets bogged down by the film’s lazily-written story. It was good to see the dynamic duo of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel reunite, but even that turns out to be uneventful due to their thinly-developed characterization. But the biggest sin of “Fast & Furious” is its lack of great racing sequences – which are one of, if not THE, main elements of a Fast & Furious movie. I’ll elaborate: there’s the fuel tanker scene at the beginning, a street race involving Dom and Brian at the end of the first act, a driving scene through some underground tunnels (don’t ask) and a chase sequence through the same tunnels (also don’t ask). In other words, there’s only ONE street race in the entire movie!  Fans of F&F deserve a lot more than ONE street race and some bullshit in a tunnel. Once again, I give Justin Lin credit for the series’ new approach, but by taking out the elements that makes a Fast & Furious movie….well, a Fast & Furious movie….it becomes a standard action movie – with vehicles involved. Even the chase sequence at the end of the movie feels like something out of a been-there-seen-that-in-a-better-movie.  Other than the “death” of Letty and the film’s outro (which makes up for the rest of the movie in more ways than one), there’s no real reason to sit through “Fast and Furious”. The mere title contradicts itself as it’s more “furious” than “fast”. If there was one thing I learned, it’s a statement made by a minor (and I do mean MINOR) character in the film: “Muscle (cars) beats import every time!”.

 

Lesson learnt, my friend.  Lesson learnt.

 

2 BE CONCLUDED…..

 

MY RATINGS – 

“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” – 2 1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to”)

“Los Bandoleros” – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

“Fast & Furious” – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

 

– Matthew

(Kinda) Fast and (Sorta) Furious Reviews: “The Fast and the Furious” (2001); “Turbo-Charged Prelude” (2003); “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)

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Back in 2001, a little film named “The Fast and the Furious” found its way out of the woodwork of Universal Studios. Car enthusiasts the world over lifted their arms to the sky and praised the car gods (rather than the hard-working staff at Universal Studios, mind you) for bestowing upon them a movie that captured (or at least tried to capture) the essence of the street racing subculture. Inspired by a Vibe Magazine article (“Racer X”) by Kenneth Li, the film stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and rap artiste Ja Rule. Although it received mixed critical reviews for its abundance in style and lack of substance, “The Fast and the Furious” was a box office hit  and eventually became a certified cult classic within the racing community.

 

So, what’s the big deal about “The Fast and the Furious”, you ask? Well, it spawned a franchise consisting of five (FIVE, GODDAMMIT!) sequels and two short films, several video games, video games inspired by the movies (“Need for Speed: Underground” is a major example, and a game I REALLY enjoyed playing the shit out of back in the days) and a renewed interest in almost everything car-related, from car modification to auto racing. And it’s this this Fast and Furious Franchise (or FFF for short) that I’ll focus on over the next few posts.  I’ will be reviewing all six “Fast and Furious” films (Yes, even that one showing in theaters right now) including the preludes/short films to “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Fast & Furious” respectively: “‘Turbo-Charged Prelude” and “Los Bandoleros”. As an added bonus, I’ll briefly touch on their respective soundtracks, as music plays an integral role in the enjoyment of any film with the words “Fast”, “and” and “Furious” in its title.

 

Oh, and by the way, you can expect some minor spoilers in this write-up, so please don’t say I didn’t warn you. Start your engines!

 

 

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“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” (2001) – Ah, the little film that could. And to think it came out twelve years ago. No fucking shit! Hell, in the next five to six years, this movie will be old enough to get a driver’s license! “The Fast and the Furious”, directed by Rob Cohen (who gave us such timeless “masterpieces” like “xXx”, “Stealth”, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” and last year’s travesty “Alex Cross”. I’m being ironic here, folks), kicks off the franchise into high gear. It features Vin Diesel in his kinda-iconic role as Dominic “Dom” Toretto, Paul Walker who plays Brian O’ Conner and a cast which includes Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Matt Schulze (Vincent) and Rick Yune (Johnny Tran). The story centers on Brian O’ Conner, a L.A.P.D. officer, who’s assigned by the FBI to bring down a gang of mobile hijackers led by Dom Toretto. In order to do that, however, he must go undercover into the fast-paced world of L.A. street racing, where Dom is a major figure. Brian befriends Dom, acknowledges the presence of his usually-scowling girlfriend Letty and starts a relationship with his sister Mia, which pisses off her unlikely suitor Vincent. Talk about the “Young and the Restless”….oops, I mean, “Fast and the Furious”. Later in the film, Brian and Dom run afoul of an Asian biker gang led by Dom’s rival Johnny Tran. This gets them deep into the dark side of the L.A. street racing scene, where danger occurs both on and off the road…..or in or outside the car or whatever.

 

If you know your 1990s movie history, then you may already have figured out that “The Fast and the Furious” is “Point Break” on wheels. Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze (RIP) are replaced with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, and surfboards are replaced with customized cars.  Even the ending of both films (which I won’t spoil) are similar. But whether you saw “Point Break” or not (which you REALLY should, if you haven’t yet), you’ve seen this whole cop-going-undercover-to-gain-friendship-with-supposed-bad-guy-just-so-he-could-arrest-his-ass formula done before in other action and crime movies. But then again, “The Fast and the Furious” is an action/crime movie (with customized cars), and a rather entertaining one at that. The acting by the film’s cast is passable, but it’s Vin Diesel with his monotone voice, scowling face (rivaled by the token ‘tough chick’ Michelle Rodriguez) and bad-ass demeanour, who stands tall among the crowd. The story and dialogue aren’t Oscar-worthy material but it works well, for the most part, with this film. But let’s face it – you don’t watch “The Fast and the Furious” for story and acting. You want to see car chases and car races, and trust me, you’ll get your money’s worth. The car races and chases are exciting and energetic as fuck, but it’s the final chase/race sequence that stands out as the most AWESOME section of the entire movie. The soundtrack,  mostly hip-hop and rapcore-based, is really good, and fits perfectly with the film’s tone. You can look out for Ludacris and Nate Dogg’s (RIP) club banger ‘Area Codes”, Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin'” (a.k.a. the song that literally every action movie trailer in the early 2000s played), Murder Inc (remember that shit?!) affiliate/weed carrier Cadillac Tah’s “POV City Anthem” (if you were a fan of B.E.T’s “Rap City Tha Basement” (a.k.a. the greatest fucking show in B.E.T. history), you may remember the video to this song. If not, you can check it out YouTube – if you give a shit) and the film’s theme song of sorts (“Furious”) rapped in the most annoying fashion by former Murder Inc. poster boy Ja Rule (RIP – to his career, that is), with current Bermuda Triangle-resident rapstress Vita who simply compliments the very same shit he’s rapping about (“It’s murda, murda, you know it’s murda murda! We live it, we breathe it, we screaming murda murda murda!“). Somebody shoot me. Groan!  And speaking of Ja Rule, his brief appearance, where he manages to drop the only F-bomb in the entire movie (“Fuck you then!”), officially marked the beginning of a popular trend where a rapper must appear in a Fast and Furious movie.

 

In the end, “The Fast and the Furious” is a high-octane, heart-pumping action/car-racing movie that still holds up surprisingly to this day. Many FFF fans (I wasn’t stuttering, folks.) still consider it the best entry in the overall series, as it contains the blueprint for the the other films to follow in the series (fast cars, hot chicks etc. etc.).  It isn’t a great action movie by a longshot – or an original one for that matter, but as far as car movies go, it’s a classic in its own right. And it will make you forget that a certain racing movie called “Driven” , which starred Sylvester Stallone and Burt (remember me from “Evening Shade“? Matter of fact, have you ever heard of “Evening Shade”?) Reynolds, came out approximately two months before “The Fast and the Furious”. Or existed for that matter.

 

 

“TURBO-CHARGED PRELUDE” (2003) –  This short film, found on the “2 Fast 2 Furious” DVD or Blu Ray or…. ahem….YouTube (gotta love YouTube!), serves as the…you guessed it….prelude to “2 Fast 2 Furious”. “Turbo-Charged Prelude” showcases, in six minutes, a series of events, centered on Brian O’ Conner. After letting Dom escape in the conclusion of “The Fast and the Furious”, Brian finds himself on the run from the law. He goes state-hopping from Los Angeles to Miami, evading the police and winning money in a series of street races. His journey ends in Miami, where he purchases, and customizes, a sweet-ass Skyline GT-R. Nice! This was actually a really interesting short film, and I appreciated the way it relied on visuals and sound, as opposed to dialogue, to tell its story. Had it been in black-and-white and included some piano music and 1920s-looking cue cards, I would’ve appreciated “Turbo-Charged Prelude” more as the ‘silent’ film it tries to be, but it’s good just the way it is. Honestly, it won’t hurt if you skip this prelude, as it doesn’t add anything beneficial to the story of “2 Fast 2 Furious”. But if you’re really curious as to what happened between the first and second films, you should give this one a look. Keep in mind however: the prelude’s closing text “2 be continued” – stupid as it is – should be treated as a fair warning of what to expect in…

 

 

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“2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” (2003) –  a.k.a. the sequel to the little film that could, directed this time by John Singleton who gave us great (I’m not being sarcastic) movies like “Boyz N The Hood” and “Baby Boy”, and a cinematic piece of dogshit called “Abduction”. Anyhoo, “2 Fast 2 Furious” starts off with the BANGING instrumental to David Banner and Lil Flip’s smash hit “Like a Pimp”. SIDE NOTE: When you start watching this movie, you should be nodding your head or ‘throwin’ bows’ at an imaginary crowd at this point in time . I’m just saying. Rapper/actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (who plays ex-street racer and racing organizer Tej Parker), assisted by his big-ass Afro, introduces Brian O’ Conner (Paul Walker, obviously) to the story. After a turbo-charged opening race, Brian is arrested by U.S. Customs Service agents. His former boss from the first film, Bilkins (Thom Barry), makes a proposition with him: if Brian assists the FBI and U.S. Customs in apprehending Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), an Argentinian drug lord who employs street racers to transport drug money through Miami, his criminal record will be wiped clean. Of course, Brian agrees – but he chooses a driver to assist him: ex-convict and childhood friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson – who starred in “Baby Boy” by the way). Along with undercover Customs agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), Brian and Roman set out to stop Carter.

 

If you haven’t noticed it, I didn’t mention the name ‘Dom Torreto’ in the previous paragraph. Well, if you must know, that’s simply because Vin Diesel is NOT in this movie. With the exception of Paul Walker and Thom Barry, no other major character from “The Fast and the Furious” appears in “2 Fast 2 Furious”. I could imagine this move by Universal Studios pissing the pants off many a fan of the first movie. But I guess that since Vin was busy at the time producing and starring in the forgettable action thriller “A Man Apart”, Universal had no choice but to place Mr. Surfer Boy as the lead actor. Paul Walker does a decent job of carrying the film on his shoulders without the help of Vin, but when you see him paired up with Tyrese Gibson (who’s not a bad actor at all – even if he does star in bad movies – *COUGH*The second and third Transformers movies *COUGH!) , you can’t help but long for the bad-assery of Vin Diesel to seep its way into “2 Fast 2 Furious”. And because of this lack of bad-assery, the movie doesn’t take itself that seriously. Yes, there are a few intense moments that warrant the film’s PG-13 rating, but compared to “The Fast and the Furious”, “2 Fast 2 Furious” is way more fun. The racing/chase sequences are flashier and more over-the-top than in the original – with the first race (ironically enough) topping the list of best sequence in the entire movie. SIDE NOTE: 2003 was a standout year for car chase sequences in movies. This  was the year which gave us the phenomenal chase scenes from “Bad Boys II”, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”, with each sequence literally pushing the boundaries of action and car chase filmmaking. The first car race in “2 Fast 2 Furious” is not as jaw-dropping or logically insane as the abovementioned car chase sequences,  but it is an enjoyable thrill ride nonetheless – regardless of the film’s notion that when you activate nitrous oxide (or NOS) in your car, everything outside the car turns into a vibrant, seemingly-drug-induced collage of colours. 

 

The story, while not taking itself too seriously as I already mentioned, is fucking weak. It tries too hard to combine the flashy vibe of the street racing culture presented in the first film with a bootleg “Miami Vice” – like story. This is evident in the third act which feels more like a TV show than a racing movie. Even the “Dukes of Hazzard”-esque climax and wrapped-neatly-in-a-bow conclusion to “2 Fast 2 Furious” has the markings of a TV show. The acting isn’t all that great either. Cole Hauser plays a really shitty villain, Eva Mendes isn’t given much to do except look smoking hot (I’m not being sexist here, folks) and Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson spend half of the time bickering like bitchy schoolboys: “I seen you checkin’ her out, man.” “No, I wasn’t. Shut up!”, “You shut up!”. “No, you shut up!”. Yeeeeeah, you get the idea. Tyrese has the charisma that one expects from a R&B artiste/actor but his annoying antics and facepalm-worthy dialogue (“It’s a ho-asis in here, brah!”, “Hey man, you got something to eat up in here? We HUNGRY!”) will test your patience. Ludacris, whose rap career skyrocketed during the early 2000s, is enjoyable as Tej Parker – and though he doesn’t appear that much in the movie, he still shows up in more scenes than Ja Rule did in the previous one. Also appearing in “2 Fast 2 Furious” is Jin Auyeung, a Chinese-American rapper who first shot to prominence by winning the B.E.T. 106 & Park Freestyle Friday rap battle in 2001. It’s a shame his rap career never blew up though. Shame indeed.

 

So the car chases were decent, but the story and performances weren’t. And Vin Diesel’s not in it. Why then should you sit through this movie? Well, believe it or not, the soundtrack fucking KNOCKS! Released by Def Jam Records and Ludacris’ own label Disturbing Tha Peace, the hip-hop and R&B-based soundtrack to “2 Fast 2 Furious” is, by the far, the BEST Fast and Furious soundtrack in like…..EVER! It’s guaranteed to make your head nod – even if your forehead is in pain from too much facepalming. Songs like the aforementioned “Like A Pimp”, “Pick up the Phone” (by Tyrese Gibson, R. Kelly & Ludacris – which I REALLY enjoyed back in 2003, by the way), “Pump it Up” (by rapper/unlikely VH1 reality show star Joe Budden) and Ludacris’ SMASH hit “Act a Fool” are sure to take you back to the glory days of early-2000s hip hop music. Ultimately, “2 Fast 2 Furious” left its brain somewhere between Miami and Los Angeles, but it still holds up as a stylish, upbeat take on the exact blueprint that the first film formulated (FFF…..get it?!). It’s certainly not an improvement over the first film, and retrospectively, it’s not director John Singleton’s crowning achievement. But if you’re looking for a mindless racing movie with fun, flash and fucking dope hip hop music, pop in the DVD or Blu-Ray (or download it if you’re like me), crank your volume to 11, and act a fool with “2 Fast 2 Furious”

 

And now for your enjoyment, the music video to Ludacris’ “Act a Fool”! ENJOY!

 

 

 

MY RATINGS – 

“The Fast and the Furious” – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”)

“Turbo-Charged Prelude” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)

“2 Fast 2 Furious” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)

 

– Matthew

Movies I should have watched before the world ended – “Resident Evil: Retribution”

The third and final post in my short-lived, apocalyptic-themed series of write-ups is dedicated to a film that actually deals with the post-apocalypse….or something like that. It’s the fifth installment in a video-game movie franchise that has infuriated critics, pissed off most, if not all, of the die-hard fans of the source material, and has become, ever since the previous entry in the series, the staple of mindless 3D entertainment. Of course, I’m referring to the “critically-acclaimed” Resident Evil: Retribution.

 

Classifying this film into a genre was a bit tricky, since the last two posts dealt with films which easily fell into their respective genres (with the exception of “Killer Joe” which is funny but in a REALLY TWISTED way). You see, “Resident Evil: Retribution” is not exactly a horror film. Actually, the franchise – which involves a gun-toting heroine named Alice (played by Milla Jovovich) battling zombies and various other genetically-created creatures  in the near-future – stopped being scary since the second installment: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. And I know that some people out there believe that the franchise stopped being scary since the first film – or wasn’t scary in the first place.  Now, I could agree with that, but I want to be totally fair when it comes to the scare factor (or lack thereof) in the series. In fact, the series was a mixture of both sci-fi and action genres, and as such, “Resident Evil: Retribution” is exactly that: a sci-fi action film.

 

Of course, you and I both know that this franchise hasn’t won any points for great storytelling….or great acting. And this latest entry is no different. From the first film back in 2002 (TEN YEARS of this shit?! Wow!), it’s been all about bullets, explosions, gore and the human-on-zombie violence one expects from a zombie-themed film. But is “Resident Evil: Retribution” the same ol’ same, or did it actually try to deliver something more?

 

Really? You’re asking ME that question?!

 

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“RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION” –  Our story continues where the last film – the terrible-as-fuck “Resident Evil: Afterlife” – left off. If you remember, or give a shit, Alice and her allies ended up on a freighter belonging to the Umbrella Corporation (a pharmaceutical company which is actually a front for a secret military operation that created the airborne T-virus that caused the zombie outbreak in the first film). A  fleet of airships, led by Alice’s ex-ally Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) who was brainwashed by Umbrella, attack the ship. “Retribution” starts off with a cool-looking shot of a silhouetted Alice sinking into the ocean (which instantly reminded me of the silhouetted image on the poster of James Cameron’s underrated sci-fi film “The Abyss”). What follows is a REWIND (I shit you not) of the attack on the freighter, which shows Alice being sucked out of the water and into the air, with exploding debris falling around her. And yes, it looked fucking RIDICULOUS! The opening rewind scene goes on for exactly three minutes (2 1/2 minutes too long, in my opinion). Which begs the obvious question: What is the point of all this?! I mean, the rewind thing sounds good on paper (and difficult to storyboard, I gather) and it would have made a great music video, but was it NECESSARY for this film? I don’t even think Paul W.S. Anderson, director of this film and husband of Milla Jovovich – I also shit you not) can answer that question.

 

After the intentionally bad intro concludes, Alice introduces herself in the same way she did in EVERY Resident Evil film: “My name is Alice”. NO SHIT, MILLA! From there, she gives us a much-needed recap of the major events in the past four films. THANKS, MILLA!  When the recap ends, the freighter attack is shown again, but in 1X speed – if you catch my drift. An explosion knocks out Alice, she ends up in the water, and then….. the next scene shows a fresh-looking Alice in a suburban home with a husband (Todd (Oded Fehr from the second and third films))) and a deaf daughter (Becky (Aryana Engineer). Oooookay. Things seem normal until suddenly… in Zack Synder’s “Dawn of the Dead” style, ZOMBIES enter the house! Alice and her daughter escape, and jump into a car owned by Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) – an ally from the first film and a character who also feels out of place in this scene – which of course, crashes. Rain is trapped inside, and Alice and her daughter escape. What do they do? They run into another house! If you’re escaping from zombies, and you know they’re physically capable of breaking into an ordinary house, why in George A. Romero’s name would you HIDE IN ANOTHER HOUSE?! If you just got out of a house escaping from zombies, DON’T run into another house! They can easily get themselves inside! That’s zombie movie 101! Jeez!

 

Afterwards, it’s revealed that this was actually a dream. Alice was captured by Jill and imprisoned in an Umbrella Corporation facility. Suddenly, a security interference takes place, and Alice finds her way outside. She realizes that she’s in Tokyo which if you remember, or give a shit, was where the third film – “Resident Evil: Extinction” ended and the fourth film began. Zombies attack her, she runs inside, kills them, blah blah blah. Then, she meets Ada Wong (played by Chinese actress Li Bingbing and laughably dubbed by Canadian actress Sally Cahill), an associate of Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), an affiliate of Umbrella and a sneaky, one-dimensional bastard. They tell Alice that the Tokyo location was actually a virtual simulation controlled by the Red Queen, an evil artificial intelligence (from the first film) controlling what’s left of Umbrella.  Then they reveal that the facility is actually underwater, and under a sheet of ice. The mission, should she choose to accept it, is to go through a number of  location simulations (*COUGH*VIDEO GAME LEVELS*COUGH), battle zombies and freaky-ass creatures (*COUGH*VIDEO GAME BOSSES*COUGH), get to the elevator and escape the facility. Oh, and Wesker also organized a team of highly-trained (and expendable) operatives to aid Alice and Ada in their quest. How thoughtful!

 

It’s funny how logic is thrown completely out of the window with this film.  For example, during a virtual simulation action sequence, Alice and Ada successfully kill a large, muscle-bound human-like, axe-wielding monster. In two sequences, Alice and her team of expendables allies wipe out a group of chainsaw-brandishing zombies (*FACEPALM*) and a squad of gun-toting zombies riding on motorbikes (I definitely shit you not!). Which begs the following questions (which I really shouldn’t ask for a film like this):  If it’s a simulation, and the creatures are logically simulations as well, how can simulations KILL people? And how can Alice kill the simulations? I don’t know and I don’t give a fuck because the film refuses to make me give one. I didn’t care for the characters and I can’t say that I enjoyed the story (if there was one at all). The film itself feels like a string of video game levels, with only a few minutes of dialogue spaced between the action sequences that make up most of the film’s running time.  Even the encounters with the creatures feel like something out of a video game. Take one scene, where a gigantic creature captures Becky (in the fashion of a little sci-fi movie from James Cameron called “Aliens”). Alice tracks the beast, shoots a grappling hook into the air, slides upwards, shoots the beast in his large exposed brain and pulls off a “bad-ass” pose when she lands on the ground. And the creature dies. Just like that. The fuck?!!

 

And on the subject of action sequences, they’re a lot more cartoonish and over-the-top than in previous Resident Evil films. The fight sequences, like the main confrontation between Alice and Jill, are ridiculous and sloppily-choreographed.  The human characters are lame, the non-human characters are lame and the story and script are badly written. And the music, by “tomandandy” (don’t even ask me who or what that is), is GARBAGE – literally! The film, however, earns its points by resurrecting old characters from the previous films. I was surprised to see Michelle Rodriguez, even though her character, if memory serves me right, was killed in the first Resident Evil film. Once again – logic finds its way out of the window. Also, there was a rather interesting twist concerning dual versions of two key characters in the film. But by the time the twist is revealed and utilized, you won’t give a zombie’s rotting ass. I sure didn’t!

 

In the end, “Resident Evil: Retribution” comes off as a tired, half-hearted and half-assed attempt to prevent the Resident Evil movie franchise from fading from human memory. Slapping the term “3D” on the title was a great way to get people to watch this film in theaters, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the film is utter bullshit and a total waste of time. If you at least appreciated the first three Resident Evil films, and disliked the fourth (like I did), then you will hate the living hell out of this film. If proper storytelling and character development doesn’t mean shit to you, and you like your films with a lot of mindless action and brainless characters, then you might be the only one who’ll enjoy this movie. In conclusion, if the world was really meant to end on Friday December 21st 2012, make sure that you do not spend your final hours watching “Resident Evil: Retribution”. The spirits of the Mayans will thank you.

 

MY RATING:

“RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION” – 1 out of 5 stars (“Of course it sucked!”)

 

– Matthew

Movies I should have watched before the world ended – “Alex Cross” & “Argo”

Slight change of plans, lady and gent.  In my last post, I promised that I would review three films under the same genre – and I did exactly that with “Ted”, “The Watch” and “Killer Joe”. But then I figured: why burden myself trying to watch and review SIX films by this Thursday when I could simply review THREE? Why three, you ask? Well, first and foremost, three reviews between now and Thursday is a helluva lot easier to accomplish than six. With that being said, the idea now is to write about two films (in the same genre, of course) in one post, and one film in the next post – thus lightening my mental load. And it gives me more time to prepare for the “end of the world” on Friday. Matter of fact, when you really look at it, it’s almost as if I’m doing a mini-countdown with these posts (THREE reviews, then TWO, then ONE. Get it? Three, two, one – happy…..apocalypse! Ha ha ha. Hmmm).

 

But you get my point. I hope. Moving along….

 

The genre for today’s post is thriller (not to be confused with the timeless Michael Jackson album of the same name). The first film stars everyone’s favourite loud-mouth, gun-toting grandmother trying to be a detective, and the second film stars one of the victims of “Gigli” (one of the worst films ever conceived) fully establishing himself as a Hollywood director.

 

As before, there’ll be no long-winded intro, so let’s begin!

 

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“ALEX CROSS” – Like some of you did when you first saw the trailer to this film, I  rolled my eyes at the idea of Tyler Perry (known to millions as the man behind the facade of the now-annoying-as-fuck female character of stage and screen, Madea) playing the protagonist of a series of novels by James Patterson whom, I guess, you shouldn’t cross (hence the film’s tagline: “DON’T EVER CROSS ALEX CROSS” – Seriously?!). Now, I do respect the man for stepping out of the high heels or knitted slippers or whatever the hell Madea wears and broadening his acting range. He accomplished this with his brief, unexpected and unwanted appearance in “Star Trek” (2009) and his starring role in his 2012 romantic drama “Good Deeds”. However, starring in a film marketed as a serious action thriller and, in the process, filling the shoes of Morgan (God) Freeman who starred in the previous Alex Cross films “Kiss the Girls” (1997) and “Along Came a Spider” (2001) would obviously prove challenging for Mr. Perry. And considering the fact that he replaced Idris Elba (who was attached to star in the film since 2010) of all people, his performance at least should be of a higher caliber than usual, right?  Not exactly….

 

Dr. Alex Cross is a Detroit police lieutenant and psychologist. One night, he and his partner Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) are called to a crime scene. Using his Sherlock Holmes-like intuition (which is less amazing than it sounds), he figures out the motive behind the brutal murder of a businesswoman at her house. The perpetrator is called Picasso (Matthew Fox), a sadistic killer with a talent for torture and a fascination for pain. Things get personal when Picasso “crosses” Cross, and as Picasso sets his sights at Cross’s friends and family (the Crosses), Cross gets very crossed – which leads to our hero crossing the line, crossing the street and crossing his T’s, just so he can find our villain and give him a right cross to the face, proving once and for all, that you should never, EVER cross with Alex Cross!! ALEX CROSS, BITCHES!!

 

As you may have gathered, that was an exaggerated take on the events of the film.  And I must say, I’ve seen these events before – in other films! Nearly all the events in “Alex Cross” feel familiar – from the “tense” phone conversations between Alex and Picasso and “emotional” moments with Alex and his family, to the “gripping” final showdown between the two and the “shocking” twist at the end. I put those words in inverted commas because that’ s what these scenes tried desperately to be. Anyhoo, there are no actual thrills or surprises or twists to expect in this film because you will see them coming a mile away – unless your eyes are stuck from constant rolling. The story isn’t even sure what it wants to be. It starts off as a generic “police on the hunt of a serial killer” story, then morphs into a generic “police on the hunt of a dangerous assassin” story and ends as a generic “policeman exacting revenge on bad guy” story. Which brings me to the characters, which are just as confused as the story they’re based in. Picasso is established in the first act as a serial killer, then all of a sudden, he’s revealed to be an assassin. Alex Cross is established as a reasonable individual, even in the line of duty, then all of a sudden, after someone near and dear to him is killed, he starts acting like some tough-as-nails cop – violently interrogating suspects and calling them “maggots”, scowling and grimacing at everything and everyone, and trying to exhibit a shotgun-toting, pseudo-bad ass attitude. The performances in the film aren’t bad, but both Tyler Perry and Matthew Fox take their roles way too seriously. Fox plays his psychotic character like someone who’s watched one too many episodes of the serial killer-themed  TV show “Dexter” (he even has the crazy eyes to support his character) and Tyler tries his best with his character, but winds up acting like a carbon copy of other cop characters of the past. Had the writers of the film, and its director Rob Cohen (the man behind The Fast and the Furious, xXx and Stealth – which pretty much explains why the film is the way it is) focused their talents on creating an actual, cliche-free story instead of relying on been-there, seen-that action sequences,  two-dimensional characterization and arguably the WORST use of shaky cam in a 2012 movie, “Alex Cross”, for what it’s worth, would have been a better film. But unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it’s nothing short of a disappointment. Make sure to cross this one out of your favourite movies of 2012 list, if it was there to begin with.

 

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“ARGO” – Speaking of favourite movies of 2012, here’s a film that found its way into many “BEST OF 2012” lists so far. From the moment I saw its trailer, I was intrigued with “Argo”. I became aware of the insanely huge positive feedback and Oscar buzz the film has received upon its release more than two months ago. What it’s about, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.  “Argo” is based on the true story of the “Canadian Caper”, a joint covert rescue by the CIA and the Canadian government of six American diplomats who managed to escape capture during an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, in 1979. Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA specialist who’s told by the US State Department of the situation in Iran. He comes up with an ingenious plan to extract the diplomats out of Iran: set up a fake production studio in Hollywood, publicize the production of a sci-fi film named “Argo” that’ll never get made, go to Iran with the excuse of “scouting for exotic locations”, find the diplomats, have them pretend to be the crew members of the film, then get them out before they get caught.

 

SMART, HUH?!!  The elaborate process in getting these diplomats out of danger makes up the plot of this film. “Argo” masterfully tells its story in the visual and thematic style of the classic thriller films of the 1970s, where there was always a greater emphasis on story, characters and mood than on visceral action-packed sequences (which is more than I can say about some of today’s thriller films *COUGH*ALEX CROSS, BITCHES!*COUGH). Clips of actual news footage are interwoven into the film, both to create an underlying tension in the story, and to make aware to the viewer the chaos surrounding Iran’s reaction to the sheltering of the recently deposed Shah (Mohammed Reza Pahlavi). The performances are solid throughout. Ben plays his role rather well, Bryan Cranston (star of “Breaking Bad”, one of the best shows on TV) who plays Tony’s supervisor Jack O’Donnell is great as always, and John Goodman as Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers provides some of the film’s much-needed humour. Alan Arkin delivers the film’s stand-out performance as film producer Lester Siegel which, in all fairness, deserves an Academy Award nomination. The story is well-written, well-paced and well-balanced in terms of history, humour and tension. The characters involved in the “Canadian Caper” are given enough emotional depth for you to care about them, and to root for them along every step of this intricate plot to get back to America. And yes, the direction by Ben Affleck himself is BRILLIANT. Like his previous films “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” (one of 2010’s best films, in my opinion), Ben has proven to himself and to Hollywood that there’s more to him than making bad career choices (“Gigli” and “Daredevil” come to mind). He truly has a knack for filmmaking, and it shows in “Argo”. I hope for his sake that he keeps up the great work. Long story short, “Argo” is undoubtedly, and obviously, one of 2012’s best films. Check it out as soon as you can, or at least after it wins a shit-ton of awards, including a couple of Academy Awards (Best Director, anyone?)

 

MY RATING:

“ALEX CROSS” – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

“ARGO” –  4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

 

– Matthew

Movies I should have watched before the world ended – “Ted”, “The Watch” & “Killer Joe”

As I promised both of you on Tuesday, I’ll be reviewing the “movies I should have watched before the world ended” (i.e. December 21st 2012, if you really believe in that shit). TRANSLATION: for the next few days until December 20th, and before I get into any Christmas-spirited movie-watching, I will watch and review some of the movies that I should have seen months ago, but didn’t get a chance because I was pre-occupied with other things (*cough*waiting for DVD-rips and BR-rips of these movies to show up at my favourite torrent site*cough). Also on Tuesday, I stated that I’ll be reviewing three films under the same genre. And today’s genre is: (drumroll please)…..

 

COMEDY! Yaaaaaaaaay. But mind you, they’re not your ordinary comedies…

 

The first involves a talking teddy bear, the second deals with an alien invasion and the third is so incredibly fucked-up that you wouldn’t look at KFC chicken the same way again. Or eat it for that matter. Oh, and one more thing before I begin. As this is a special review, and as an early Christmas gift from me to you, I’ll forego a long-winded intro, and get straight into the meat of the matter. Capisce? Good. Finger-licking good!

 

God, again with the chicken references! SHIT! Anyways, let’s waste no time.

 


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“TED” –  Now if you look at the top of the poster, you’ll see the following words: “the first motion picture from the creator of Family Guy”. If you look underneath, you’ll see the names Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis (who plays Meg Griffin in “Family Guy” – and unlike Meg, is a HOTTIE in real life!), and Seth MacFarlane. He’s the creator of “Family Guy”, you know. Now, if you look underneath his name, you’ll see the name “TED”. As you’ve realized, the name is in green. Do you know why? ‘Cause a teddy bear smokes weed in this film. And we’re walking…..we’re walking….

 

I’m sorry. That was just me trying to imitate an American tour guide. But all jokes aside, “Ted” focuses on John Bennett, a lonely kid in Boston who gets a teddy bear for Christmas in 1985. After wishing on the proverbial “lucky star” that his teddy bear (which he calls “Ted” of course) can talk, it actually happens on the next day. Cut to 2012 and John (Mark Wahlberg) is working at a rental car service, enjoying his relationship with Lori Collins (Mila Kunis), his girlfriend of four years, and is still best friends with Ted. Matter of fact, the three of them regularly hang out with each other. Yes, ladies and gents, in the world of “Ted”, everyone acknowledges the fact that a teddy bear can walk and talk. And the film presents this aspect rather well. With the number of interactions Ted has with the human characters in the film (and they’re quite hilarious), you begin to see him more as an individual and not just a CG-created character. But anyway, without revealing any spoilers, problems arise when Lori continually reminds John that he’s an irresponsible 30-plus year old who’s still attached to a teddy bear – even though they regularly smoke weed, watch TV, and talk a LOT of shit! And throughout the film, John wrestles with the decision of letting go of Ted for the sake of spending the rest of his life with Lori.  The acting in “Ted” is well-done, especially from Mark Wahlberg who proves that even though he’s been playing bad-asses on film for the last five years or so (which helps in forgetting his Marky Mark days), he can still be funny. Seth MacFarlane, of course, steals the show as the foul-mouthed, sex-minded Ted. At times, Seth does sound like Peter Griffin from “Family Guy” and it threw me out of the film quite a bit. Also, similar to “Family Guy”, the film’s script both cites and takes shots at celebrities, TV shows and movies. They even do the “segment” thing from “Family Guy” where a character says something about a past event, and then you see the event for yourself. Oh, and Mila Kunis is given a considerable amount of dialogue – which is funny, because I couldn’t help but remember Peter Griffin delivering his famous line to his daughter Meg: “Shut up, Meg!” And yeah, at times, Mila does sound like Meg. The script itself is fresh and well-written, though it is admittedly inconsistent in its pacing. But thankfully, this is a minor setback due to the huge amounts of laughs in the film, and a strong chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and Ted that’s always fun to watch. In the end, “Ted” is, honestly, one of the funniest films of 2012! If you’re a fan of “Family Guy”, then you should have a blast with this film. If you’re not a Family Guy fan however, and you’re looking for a film to put a smile on your face, then give this one a look. It’s raunchy and vaingloriously R-rated, but it has its heart (or battery) in the right place.

 

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“THE WATCH” –  The first time I saw the trailer to “The Watch” (which was originally titled “Neighborhood Watch” but got changed after the shooting of 17-year old Trayvon Martin in Florida by a neighbourhood-watch member), I could have sworn it was a standard comedy. The use of the Dr. Dre-produced banger “Still D.R.E.” in the trailer whetted my appetite for the film.  But when I read in an online review that it was a sci-fi comedy, I was like “BITCH PLEASE” (that’s another song produced by Dr. Dre, in case you were wondering). And when all the bad reviews started rolling in, I avoided seeing the film on the big screen. But still, I was curious. Was it that bad? Actually, it’s more disappointing than bad. Set in Glenview, Ohio, Ben Stiller plays Evan, an active participant in the community and owner of a wholesale store. After the security guard working at the store is savagely murdered, Evan decides to organize a Neighbourhood Watch to find the perpetrator and stop him from killing anyone else in the town. Only three persons show interest: a construction worker named Bob (Vince Vaughn), a high school dropout trying desperately to be a cop even though he failed all the exams named Franklin (Jonah Hill) and a kooky Brit named Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade).

 

While investigating the security guard’s murder, they discover a device of alien origin. When they realize it’s a weapon, they use it to blow shit up (including a poor cow – WTF?!!)  in a montage set to N.W.A.’s timeless “Straight Outta Compton”. And this is one of the problems with “The Watch”. Now I must admit – the soundtrack KNOCKS! And you will be nodding your head and throwing your hands in the air and waving them like you just don’t care (by yourself) to these songs. But most of these songs feel out of place, like the use of “Straight Outta Compton” in the aforementioned scene. There’s even a scene where a kid is thrown into the police department by the four Neighbourhood Watch members – and “The Next Episode” is playing in the soundtrack. So the geniuses behind “The Watch” are really going to use a song sung and produced by two rappers (Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg) who have expressed their hate for the police during their careers in a scene where a kid is sent to the police?! REALLY?!  And the script? It’s blatantly unfocused, lazily-written and unevenly paced. The film is supposed to be about the Neighbourhood Watch trying to stop an alien invasion, but instead the alien aspect of the story is overshadowed by unnecessarily long moments involving the four main characters. One scene involves Vince Vaughn pissing in a beer can. Another scene has Vince stalking the Facebook profile of his teenage daughter Chelsea (in an eye-rolling sub-plot involving Bob failing to comprehend his daughter’s independence). And another scene has Vince and Ben Stiller talking about testicular disease. Funny? Not to me. Necessary to the story? I’m still fucking wondering. And don’t get me wrong. Ben, Vince, Jonah and Richard are gifted comic actors, and they work well together. But their talents are wasted in a totally unfunny script. I did chuckle a few times, but really, I didn’t even laugh once while watching this film. Ultimately, “The Watch” ends up being a “Men in Black”-knock off (with vulgar dialogue and graphic violence thrown in for the sake of its R-rating) than anything else. The presence of Ben, Vince, Jonah and Richard, and the soundtrack of the film, are enough for you to sit through this film once. But believe me, you will forget about it hours after you’ve seen it. Long story short, “The Watch” is light years away from perfect.

 

Here’s the “Neighborhood Watch” trailer I was talking about – which is WAY better than the actual movie!

 

 

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“KILLER JOE” –  And now the moment both of you were waiting for:  my long-awaited review of the dark comedy “Killer Joe”.  Now, due to its limited release in the U.S., I was unaware of the existence of this film until a good friend of mine tagged me on its trailer via Facebook (gotta love the social-stalking network of Facebook!). Since then, I was intrigued by the film, and I couldn’t wait to see it. Months later, and a few hours ago, I finally watched “Killer Joe” and it’s been stuck in my head so far (even while I write). And I fear it’ll be there until New Year’s Day – which is a compliment on the film’s part. The film opens with Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch), a Texan drug dealer who’s in a shitload of debt. He goes to his deadbeat loser of a father Ansel Smith (Thomas Haden Church) to get some money. Ansel lives with his new wife Sharla Smith (Gina Gershon) and Chris’ younger, nubile and naive sister Dottie (Juno Temple).  Chris and Ansel hatch up the perfect scheme to pay the debt – kill Ansel’s ex-wife (i.e. Chris’ and Dottie’s biological mother) and collect the life insurance. But they don’t want to get their hands dirty. So they decide to hire “Killer Joe” Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a police officer and part-time contract killer. Chris agrees to split the money among himself, Ansel, Sharla and Killer Joe, but Killer Joe isn’t quite convinced that he’ll get all of the money owed to him. A proposition is made: once the insurance comes through, Killer Joe can take Dottie as a retainer.

 

Upon the film’s release, “Killer Joe” was slapped a NC-17 rating for graphic depictions of sex and violence. But because of William Friedkin’s (the director of the Oscar-winning action film “The French Connection” and the ‘scariest horror film of all time’ “The Exorcist” – two controversial films in their own right) battle to keep the film’s objectionable content intact, the film was released in both its original version and a R-rated cut (with four minutes omitted from the unrated version). Luckily for me, I saw the NC-17 cut! And I must say, without revealing much, that  the four-minute sequence is one of the most fucked-up things I’ve seen in a Hollywood film this year! As I mentioned earlier, you WILL NOT look at KFC chicken the same way again after you see this film. There’s a reason why a piece of meat is on the film’s poster with blood hovering over it. I’ll leave it at that. But thanks to William Friedkin’s sharp direction, the superb performances throughout, and the overall dark tone of the film, this scene comes off as shocking, and watchable, and funny (but in a truly messed-up way). And this is where “Killer Joe” shines. The film goes beyond its story of murder and easy money and offers a fascinating, albeit disturbing, look into the dark side of the trailer-trash characters presented on-screen. Accepting that Chris (along with Ansel and to a lesser extent, Dottie) shows nothing but contempt for his mother (who’s revealed to be abusive to him in the past) is one thing, but having a grown-ass man lusting over a young woman like Dottie is something else entirely. And speaking of grown-ass man, Matthew McConaughey delivers the BEST performance in his career so far as the title character. He is terrifying, creepy, deviant, and quite funny (but in a truly messed-up way). His performance in the film alone deserves an Oscar nomination, but I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen due to the NC-17 rating. In any case,  “Killer Joe” is arguably one of the most provocative and entertainingly twisted films I’ve seen in 2012. Be forewarned: this film is definitely not for the faint of heart. But if you have the nerve, the stomach and the will to laugh and be amazed at the insanity of it all, then you will be rewarded with an unforgettable movie experience in”Killer Joe”. Brought to you by KFC!

 

MY RATING:

“TED” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“THE WATCH” – 1 1/2 out of 5 stars (“That shit cray!”)

“KILLER JOE” –  4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

 

– Matthew

Movies that go BUMP in the Night or…. My top 10 favourite scary movies

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again. Thanksgiving? Nope. Christmas? Most certainly not. Halloween?

 

The answer is: “What is Halloween?” Remember, according to Alex Trebek (the host of everyone’s favourite game show “Jeopardy”), your answer must be in the form of a question.

 

Anyhoo, Halloween 2012 is upon us. While many individuals are currently preparing themselves for this year’s festivities by purchasing expensive outfits and accessories just so they can go to expensive-ass Halloween parties, get fucking WASTED and do the gangnam style dance for the world to see, tweet, instagram and/or post on YouTube and/or Facebook, others will ignore Halloween all together and resume their humdrum lives. And then there’s a certain few who’d much rather spend a considerable amount of time watching horror movies than spend an inconsiderable amount of money on a Thor costume with matching hammer. Fortunately, I am one of these few.  So I dedicate this post to the few and proud who enjoy being scared.

 

This is…..Oops, I meant…. WHAT IS “Movies that go BUMP in the Night or….My top 10 favourite scary movies”? 

 

DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind that this list is in no particular order. Also, “The Exorcist” will NOT appear on this list. No, I haven’t seen it. And hell fucking no, I will not watch it! So there! Moving along….

 

10. JAWS (1975)

And we begin today’s proceedings with Steven Spielberg’s first masterpiece, and arguably one of the greatest films ever made – “Jaws”.  Starring Roy Scheider as police chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper, Robert Shaw as the scene-stealing shark hunter Quint and Bruce the Mechanical Shark (oops….spoiler alert) as “Jaws”,  this film is as superb and deeply frightening as it was when it was released almost 40 years ago. Admittedly, it is at times laughably dated, and it isn’t as gory as a movie about a man-eating shark should be, but with solid acting throughout (Bruce delivers an Oscar-worthy performance …. just kidding, guys… as the carnivorous Great White shark), a well-written and well-paced story, memorable dialogue (“I think we need a bigger boat”), and an iconic musical score by fellow Spielberg collaborator John Williams, “Jaws” is still a very entertaining popcorn flick that you’re bound to enjoy – even with the lights on.

 

9. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978/ 2004)

Yes, ladies and gents, horror movie legend George A. Romero’s magnum opus, and its modern-day remake by Zack Synder (director of “300” and “Watchmen”) both share the No. 9 spots. While Romero’s first film “Night of the Living Dead” remains the first zombie movie (in creepy black-and-white) to include gore and graphic violence, its sequel “Dawn of the Dead” took it to a higher level with more zombies, more blood and more consumption of human flesh. But it’s the film’s seamless meandering through spine-tingling terror, unexpected moments of humour, and sharp satire  (the idea of a small group of human survivors in a shopping mall fighting ravenous, aimless zombies is still a very clever commentary on consumerism) that made it the “zombie masterpiece” that it’s widely regarded as.  Zack Synder’s version, though it lacks the humour and satire of the original, stands on its own as a grim, terrifying and action-packed horror movie. But the major change is the replacement of the slow-moving undead from Romero’s film with zombies who RUN! There’s a scene where an overweight female zombie charges towards her prey that will make you say “HOLY SHIT!”. Trust me! In short, both “Dawn of the Dead(s)” are great horror films in their own right, and are definitely worth checking out. And they’re best enjoyed with the lights off. Trust me!

 

8. THE EVIL DEAD/ EVIL DEAD II (1981/1987)

Before Sam Raimi directed the Spider-Man trilogy, he began his film career with a groundbreaking horror film called “The Evil Dead”. Rightfully labelled as “the ultimate experience in grueling terror”, “The Evil Dead” involves five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the woods. After they discover an ancient text called the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead) and an audiotape containing incantations from the text, demonic forces are unleashed. From that point on, the film becomes a fearsome roller-coaster ride of  blood, guts, demonic possession and dismemberment.  “The Evil Dead” became an instant cult classic, despite the controversy surrounding the film’s graphic violence and terror. It also marked the first appearance in a feature film by Bruce Campbell (a.k.a. Sam Axe from the USA Network action TV series “Burn Notice”). But it was Bruce’s amazingly animated performance in “Evil Dead 2” (one of my all-time favourite movies, in case you were wondering) that made him into a cult movie icon. This sequel maintains the over-the-top violence and terror of its predecessor, but adds a surprisingly effective element of Marx Brothers-inspired slapstick humour. The end result: Bruce’s transition from hapless victim of demonic attack to a shotgun-blasting, chainsaw-wielding BAD-ASS!  The third and final film in the series (1992’s “Army of Darkness”) ditches shock-value horror for medieval fantasy/adventure and deadpan humour, but it’s still a worthy conclusion to an excellent movie trilogy. But for Halloween purposes, stick with the first two Evil Dead films. They come highly recommended by yours truly!

 

7. DEAD ALIVE (BRAINDEAD) (1992)

For years, I’ve always read reviews about this film being one of the goriest films ever made. And after seeing it for myself, I totally agree. “Dead Alive” (alternate title: “Braindead”), directed by Peter Jackson (Yes, I said it…. Peter “Lord of the Rings Trilogy” Jackson) is one of the most ridiculously bloody films I’ve ever seen in my years of existence. And when I say bloody, I mean GALLONS of fake blood on screen! But just like the Evil Dead films (which Peter drew inspiration from), this film is enjoyable as hell! In a nutshell, “Dead Alive” tells the story of one man’s effort to save his hometown from his domineering mother who, after being a rare Sumatran rat-monkey, is now a zombie. Yes, its premise is fucked-up,  but the film itself is fast-paced, absurd, unique, hilarious and entertaining from start to finish. If you’re a die-hard gore-hound, or you love horror flicks with a sense of humour, or if you’re curious about the early film career of Peter Jackson (and to think a guy whose first few films were designed to make you puke would make the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), then look no forward than “Dead Alive” – provided, of course, that you have a strong stomach.

 

6.  A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

This film needs no introduction. Everyone and their great grandmothers must have heard the name Freddy Krueger at some point in time in their lives. Directed by Wes Craven, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is the slasher film that helped put the New Line Cinema corporation on the Hollywood map. And it created one of film history’s greatest villains – Freddy (played by Robert Englund) a disfigured child murderer with the supernatural ability to kill his victims in their dreams. Even creepier than Freddy’s M.O. is his signature weapon (a razor-fingered glove) and his badly-disfigured face. Like most horror films of the 1980s, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” spawned a franchise consisting of sequels (each one crappier than the other), a TV series, an unnecessary crossover with the Friday the 13th franchise (“Freddy vs. Jason” – remember that shit?!and an equally unnecessary remake – produced by Michael Bay of all people! But the original remains the best of the franchise, and it’s still widely regarded as a classic in the horror genre.

 

5. THE THING (1982)

And now, let’s add some science fiction to this list. “The Thing”, directed by the legendary John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell and Wilford (“If you have diabetes….”) Brimley, is a remake of the 1951 sci-fi film “The Thing from Another World”. Both films share the same story: researchers at an Antarctic station being attacked one by one by a shape-shifting alien. But what makes “The Thing” a horror classic is not its moments of heart-pounding tension and paranoia, or its creepy minimalist score by the great Ennio Morricone, but the extraordinary creature effects of the title character itself.  The alien doesn’t have a true form, so it traps its victim and assume its body characteristics. There’s a scene in which the Thing takes the form of a dog with a monstrous body, disfigured head and tentacles sticking out of its sides that’s still one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in a movie. “The Thing” is one of the few films that manages to frighten me every time I see it.  And for an 1982 film  devoid of any sort of CGI, it still holds up to this day. Though I have yet to view the 2011 prequel (also named “The Thing”), I can safely say that this one is still, undoubtedly, John Carpenter’s masterpiece.

 

4. BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992)

From Francis Ford Coppola, director of three of the greatest films of all time (“The Godfather”, “The Godfather Part II” and “Apocalypse Now”) comes No. 4 in my countdown – “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Still the best Dracula movie in like…EVER, Coppola’s film re-tells the famous story of the vampire count (played brilliantly by Gary Oldman) and his centuries-long search for true love. From the opening shot to the closing credits, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is a pure example of grandiose filmmaking. From its lavish sets and Oscar-winning costume design to its sound design and utilization of both old and new techniques of visual effects, this film is a visual and sonic tour de force. The performances are good, though it can be argued that Keanu Reeves (yep, Neo’s in this movie also) sounds too much like a surfer (he did star in “Point Break” which came out one year earlier) than an English gentleman. But Gary Oldman delivers an exceptional performance as the blood-lusting Count Dracula that is yet to be outdone. Bloody, gothic, beautiful and dare I say, sexy, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is the perfect romantic horror film.  No offense,  fans of “The Twilight Saga”!

 

3. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Sure, there’s no demons, aliens, zombies or spirits in “The Silence of the Lambs”. But what this film demonstrates is that you don’t need supernatural elements to tell a genuinely terrifying story. Winner of 5 Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Picture (making it the first horror/thriller film to win in that category), this film stars Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as the former psychiatrist/incarcerated serial killer with cannibalistic tendencies, Hannibal Lecter. With a serial killer (dubbed “Buffalo Bill” for the way he skins his victims’ corpses) on the loose, Clarice is requested by her superiors to interview Hannibal, whose foresight into the mentally disturbed may prove useful in capturing Bill. The direction by Jonathan Demme is top-notch, the story (adapted from a novel by Thomas Harris) is well-written, and the performances are excellent. Anthony Hopkins steals the show with his razor-sharp dialogue and creepy demeanour and proves a match to Jodie Foster’s stern character. Also delivering a great performance is Ted Levine as the twisted, sexually-confused Buffalo Bill. “The Silence of the Lambs” is a psychologically unsettling and emotionally powerful film that helped lay the groundwork of the slasher film for the 90s and beyond.

 

2. PSYCHO (1960)

If “Jaws” scared people so much that they were afraid to go to the beach, then “Psycho” was the film that made people (women in particular) look over their shoulder when they took a shower. Vera Miles’ shower death scene remains one of the greatest, and one of the most parodied, scenes in film history. And with the assistance of Bernard Hermann’s timeless score, it’s still effective up to this day. Similar to “The Silence of the Lambs”, the villain of “Psycho”….a psycho (DUHHH!). Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates, the proprietor of a shady motel (the Bates Motel) recently owned by his deceased mother.  Even though she’s “dead”, the mother psychologically torments Norman to the point that he commits murder to please her. Directed by the late, great Alfred Hitchcock, “Psycho” is a textbook example of how to make a fucking brilliant thriller. The performances are awesome (especially Anthony’s performance as the mother-fixated Norman), the pacing is tight and the incredible black-and-white cinematography adds to the film’s dark, ironic tone. This is a definite must-see for anyone who calls themselves “horror films” and those who appreciate and enjoy classic cinema. Oh, and ignore the 1998 remake directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates (VINCE FUCKING VAUGHN?!!). It never existed. I’m just saying.

 

1. THE SHINING (1980)

And here we have my top favourite horror film of all time: “The Shining” – which just so happens to be directed by my top favourite director of all time: the late, great, wished-I-got-an-autographed-copy-of-“A Clockwork Orange”-from-him-before-he-passed-away Stanley Kubrick.  Adapted from the best-selling Stephen King novel, “The Shining” details the account of a writer (Jack Torrance – played by Jack Nicholson) assigned as the off-season caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel and his slow descent into madness.  His wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) observes Jack’s mental deterioration while their son Danny (Danny Lloyd), who possesses psychic abilities (nicknamed “shining” ) sees disturbing images from the past and future. Apparently, a LOT of fucked-up shit occurred at the Overlook, including the  slaughter (by axe) of the mother and twin daughters of the former caretaker.  And it’s this former caretaker who influences Jack Torrance to attempt to do the same. Without revealing too much, the film features outstanding direction by Stanley Kubrick, a darkly humourous performance by Jack Nicholson in one of his best roles, creepy-ass music, a haunting, atmospheric look and feel, and arguably some of the most iconic scenes in horror movie history. The poster above is a major example, including the iconic line that Jack delivers: “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”. I could spend all day talking about how fucking brilliant this film is, but luckily for you, I won’t. Whether you’ve seen it before, or never gotten the opportunity, I strongly suggest you see this movie. It’s a landmark horror film that will stay with you for days, months and even years after you’ve seen it.  Recommended like doing the Gangnam Style dance totally shit-faced!

 

– Matthew

“Expendable” Movies – “The Expendables” (2010) / “The Expendables 2” (2012)

 

And now, we’ve come to the end of my bone-breaking groundbreaking, critical condition critically-acclaimed “Expendables” project. Though it was intended to conclude on August 17th (i.e. the release date of “The Expendables 2”), the project was held back by a number of priorities that I was forced to handle during the past week (bills to pay, kids to feed, wife to spend time with – all of which I did in “The Sims 3”). Just kidding, guys!  Anyways, without further ado, here’s the long-awaited finale of ‘”Expendable” Movies’.

 

According to film critic Michael Jeck, “Seven Samurai” (1954) (arguably the greatest Japanese film ever made, in case you were wondering) was the first movie in which a team was assembled to carry out a mission. After Akira Kurosawa’s magnum opus was remade by Hollywood into the brilliant 1960 western “The Magnificent Seven”, numerous action, war and heist films were fashioned around the revolutionary concept of a team of main characters. Come to think of it, every decade gave birth to at least one movie ensemble. The 1960s had “The Dirty Dozen” (a war film that your dad is guaranteed to know about); the 1970s, “The Wild Geese” (a war film that your dad may have heard of), the 1980s, the Marines from “Aliens”, the 1990s, the ill-fated bank robbers from “Reservoir Dogs”; the 2000s, the star-studded cast of “Ocean’s Eleven” (and its were-they-really-needed sequels “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen”). The list goes on and on.

 

And now in this decade, this age-old trend continues with “The Expendables” and “The Expendables 2”, two films dedicated to the glory days of early 1980s to mid-90s action films (before they got all “twisty” and “turny” like “Mission: Impossible”, “tear-jerky” like “Saving Private Ryan” and “brainy” like “The Matrix”) , where muscular action stars (primarily American) used brawn, blades and bullets instead of brains to kill defeat their enemies (primarily rich, military-oriented and/or non-American), always making sure to say at least one memorable one-liner before or after they do so (“You’re a disease, and I’m the cure”; “SCREW YOUUUUUU!!”; “Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?”), and of course, leaving a path of property damage, dead bodies and single-parent households (“My daddy got shot by Steven Seagal. He’s dead now.”) in their wake.

 

What? You weren’t expecting something more profound in a review about “The Expendables”, now were you?

 

“THE EXPENDABLES” (2010)

In 2010, when men around the world were being dragged by their girlfriends to watch “Sex and the City 2” on the big screen, they prayed earnestly to the heavens for one movie:- one movie that will answer their burning questions: “Why am I here? Why am I still alive? Why am I watching ‘Sex and the City 2’ when I could be looking at Friday Night Smackdown instead? Wrestling’s not really fake, is it?”.  When “The Expendables” finally hit theaters, those questions weren’t answered, but the male-oriented dream of seeing the best action superstars together in one film finally became a reality. And at long last, those same men were able to drag their girlfriends to see a movie they wanted to see. Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it? Anyhoo, “The Expendables”, directed and co-written by Sylvester Stallone, focuses on a team of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) led by Stallone (“Barney Ross”). When they’re not blowing shit up and killing nameless extras, they ride their motorbikes through the streets of New Orleans and hang out at a tattoo parlour owned by the mission coordinator of the Expendables: Tool (Mickey Rourke). One day, a CIA agent called Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) hires Barney and a rival mercenary leader named Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger) for a mission: go to the island of Vilena and overthrow the dictator General Garza (David Zayas). It’s later revealed that Garza is financially supported by James Munroe (Eric Roberts), an ex-CIA agent who uses Garza’s army to protect his drug-running operation. After a brief (and quite funny) scene of shit-talking between the three action movie legends, Barney is given the job. With the assistance of Garza’s daughter Sandra (Gisele Itie), Barney and his rag-tag team of ex-soldiers proceed to blow shit up and kill nameless extras, all for the cause of saving the people of Vilena from the corrupt men controlling their island home.

 

From the film’s opening action sequence, you’re given a taste of what to expect with “The Expendables” – over-the-top violence done in cartoonish gleefulness, dialogue laced with machismo, and ever-increasing levels of testosterone. The action set pieces in the film are viscerally exciting and fucking AWESOME – especially the final shootout which, judging by the amount of firepower, explosions and crumbling buildings shown onscreen, must have cost half the film’s budget to execute. The performances are good by action-movie standards – which actually works for a film like this. Eric Roberts plays a mean S.O.B. of a villain who comes equipped with a batch of witty comeback lines. Ex-WWE wrestler Steve Austin and kickboxing action star Gary Daniels (who play the henchmen of Eric’s character) play their roles well enough (all they do is look tough, say a couple of threatening lines and beat people up- that’s it). Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham (who plays knife expert Lee Christmas  – side note for those wishing to write an action film: when coming up with main characters, think of names that are easy to remember: Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, Tool – who can forget a name like Tool?) get the most screen-time as they play the unofficial “buddy-team” in “The Expendables”. They laugh, bicker, shoot and stab their way out of a number of scenarios throughout the film. Mickey Rourke (“Tool”) delivers the most profound performance in the film, as his conversation with Stallone in the second act brings a sense of unexpected depth to the film’s admittedly thin plot.  Though he appears only a few times, he stands tall as the best actor in the whole movie. The other Expendables get their moments to shine. Jet Li (“Yin Yang”) proves once again why he’s one of the best Asian action stars in the movie business and Dolph Lundgren (“Gunnar Jensen”) plays the same hulking, remorseless character from “Rocky IV”, except with guns and bad dialogue (in one scene, he tells Jet Li: “What do you wear, size 3? Bring it, Happy Feet”). WTF?! Randy Couture was aight as the “intelligent” Toll Road, who’s always shown reading a book in his spare time (when was the last time you saw the star of an action movie READ A BOOK?!), but try as he did, he just wasn’t that memorable. But the stand-out character, believe it or not, is Terry Crews (GASP!). His character of Hale Caesar is as cocky as you’d expect from a guy named HALE CAESAR, but it’s his appearance in the final shootout where he walks in with an AA-12 combat shotgun, BLASTING THE SHIT out of anyone getting within a 2-mile radius of him, that has already cemented him in the annals of action movie history. The ear-splitting sound of the rounds going off will make your jaw hit the floor instantly! Ultimately, though the film takes itself a little too seriously at times, “The Expendables” is everything it sets out to be – mindless, wholesome action entertainment- and nothing more. Recommended like subtitles for Sylvester Stallone’s dialogue.

 

“THE EXPENDABLES 2” (2012)

In 2012, when men around the world were satisfied that they lived long enough to see a movie like “The Expendables”…. and “The Avengers”and “The Dark Knight Rises” as a matter of fact, they prayed earnestly to the heavens for one movie:- one movie that will answer one burning question: “When is “Expendables 2″ coming out?”.  Last Friday, that question was answered, and those same men ran to the nearest movie theater to see “The Expendables 2”. Their girlfriends, having suffered through “The Expendables”, chose to stay home and watch a 24-hour “Sex and the City” marathon on E!  That was not a true story. And I swear, this will be the last time I mention “Sex and the City” in this post. Pinkie swear.  Directed by Simon West, director of “masterpieces” like “Con Air” (“Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?”), “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and “The Mechanic”, and co-written once again by Sylvester Stallone, “The Expendables 2” follows the continuing exploits of everyone’s favourite team of mercenaries. Much has changed during the past two years. Barney Ross’ amphibious seaplane has a built-in cannon, Gunnar Jensen is revealed to be knowledgeable in chemical engineering (a slight nod to Dolph Lundgren’s actual master’s degree in the same course), and there’s a new member in the team – former military sniper “Billy the Kid” (Liam Hemsworth). As before, Barney is hired by Mr. Church to do a job – in this case, the retrieval of an item from a safe located in a downed airplane in Albania. Assisting the Expendables is a Chinese technical expert named Maggie (Yu Nan). But the relatively simple retrieval job turns difficult when the vicious Jean Vilian (where the fuck do they come up with these names?) – played by Jean-Claude Van Damme – steps into the scene. With the assistance of his mercenary group (the Sangs), Vilian escapes with the item. Maggie confesses that the item is actually a computer which contains a blueprint of the location of five tons of abandoned plutonium. The Expendables must now prevent this plutonium from getting into the wrong hands, and they’ll do whatever it takes to stop Vilian – provided, of course, that they don’t run out of ammunition.

 

Similar to the previous film, “The Expendables 2” opens with a fast-paced, gorily violent and mindless action sequence that literally prepares you for the rest of the film. The story is better written than the original and the performances, yet again, are good by action-movie standards. Even though it’s still a bit cheesy (which is okay, since the film is a tribute to 80s action movies), the dialogue has been improved greatly from the first film. This is evident with Dolph Lundgren (GASP!) who’s actually given (GASSSSPP!) pretty good dialogue. Matter of fact, he delivers some of the film’s funniest lines. And this is where “The Expendables 2” excels. Simon West acknowledges the fact that the film was never meant to be taken seriously, and as a result, he’s added moments of laugh-out-loud moments that lighten the film’s grim tone.  There’s no Oscar-worthy performances here, as Mickey Rourke is virtually non-existent, but we do get a couple of brief “character depth” moments – the main one involving Stallone and Liam Hemsworth. Speaking of which, Liam pulled off an okay performance, but with the amount of 40-plus year old actors getting in his way, it’s obvious that he’s only there to please the 18-35 female demographic. Randy Couture stands out a little more here, but is still overshadowed by Terry Crews and his AA-12 combat shotgun (spoiler alert – he gives away the gun to someone -who that someone is, I won’t say – but I will say, he deserved it!). Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in “The Expendables 2”, and along with Bruce Willis, he finally gets the chance to return to his native action movie roots, complete with distinguishable one-liners (“I’m back!”) and heavy artillery. Jean-Claude Van Damme delivers a great (ASTONISHING!) performance as the main villain with his sunglasses, big knife, trademark roundhouse kicks and overall bad-guy swagger. But the stand-out performer here is….you guessed it…. CHUCK NORRIS! When he appears for the first time in the film, you’ll either be cheering in praise that the mythical Chuck Norris has resurrected resurfaced into the world of Hollywood, or laughing at the fact that a 72-year old man is walking in cliched slow motion – or both. Playing a retired military operative (and “lone wolf”) named Booker, Chuck has the penchant of appearing when the Expendables need him the most. His appearances, his dialogue….fuck it, his PRESENCE is reason enough to go see this film! If you don’t go apeshit when he shows up, then the patrons sitting in front of you certainly will! In the end, “The Expendables 2” is a high-octane shoot-em-up/stab-em-up/blow-em-up that’s just as entertaining as the original but a lot more fun. Recommended like a 24-hour marathon of “Sex and”….oops, I mean “Walker, Texas Ranger”.

 

“THE EXPENDABLES” & “THE EXPENDABLES 2” – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (both are “worth a look”, and both are DEFINITELY worth seeing back-to-back)

 

– Matthew