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JACK REACHER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Crime Films, Fast Cars, Hit Men, Martial Arts, Revenge!, Rogue Cops, Tom Cruise Movies with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JACK REACHER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

jack-reacher(THE SCENE: A Shooting range. Strangely no one is there shooting.  All is silent.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Today’s movie, JACK REACHER, has as its villain a sniper who shoots some innocent people in a rather jarring opening scene.

L.L. SOARES:  In light of the recent horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re just not in the mood to joke about this stuff.

MA:  That being said, our somber mood doesn’t in any way detract from our feelings towards this movie, one way or the other.

LS:  Nor do we believe such movies cause people to commit violent acts.

MA:  We both have seen our share of ridiculously violent movies, and we, like you, readers, take them for what they are: fiction, not reality.

LS:  Anyway, moving right along, hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s Cinema Knife Fight review. This time around we’re reviewing the new movie JACK REACHER, starring Tom Cruise.

MA: I’m not a Tom Cruise fan, so I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.

LS: You mean a new Tom Cruise movie isn’t a big event in the Arruda household?

MA:  Nope.

LS: So, does that mean you hated JACK REACHER?

MA:  You know me better than that.  You know I have an open mind.

LS:  You have a mind?

MA:  I have a mind to throw a cream pie in your face!

LS:  Yummy!

MA:  Anyway, why don’t you tell everyone what this movie is about first?

LS: Sure.

JACK REACHER is a character who has appeared in numerous novels by writer Lee Child (real name Jim Grant). This particular movie is based on Child’s novel ONE SHOT.

As the movie opens, we see a man in a multi-level parking garage aiming a sniper rifle. He looks around at various people in a park before he starts firing on them, killing five people. The police are able to track down a suspect and arrest James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who is back home after a stint in the Army in Afghanistan. When he is being interrogated by the police, he writes down “Get Jack Reacher,” but the police cannot find this man, since he lives off the grid and does not have a permanent address, or anything else that leads back to him. Reacher (Tom Cruise) sees Barr’s face on the news, however, and goes to the police station to investigate. The police, who have been unable to find Reacher, are surprised when he shows up on his own.

Reacher is a former military policeman, and at first, it’s not clear why Barr asked for him. Everyone assumes that Reacher is his friend, but Jack denies this. He discusses the case with the arresting officer, Emerson (David Oyelowo) and the District Attorney, Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins, who we recently saw previously this year in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and KILLING THEM SOFTLY), who is prosecuting Barr, but when they are not willing to involve Reacher in their investigation (they only give him a limited number of facts), he says he is leaving town. What stops him is Rodin’s daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) who is also a lawyer like her father, but she is defending Barr.

Reacher reveals that, in the Army, he tracked some murders down to Barr, but Barr was able to avoid being imprisoned. However, Barr is afraid of Reacher and swore to the man at the time of his arrest back then that he would never do anything like that again. It turns out that Barr asked for Reacher’s involvement because things may not be as they seem in this particular case. And if anyone can uncover the truth, it’s an investigative pit bull like Reacher. Jack works with Helen Rodin to find the truth, both for Reacher’s peace of mind, and for Helen to be able to defend Barr in court.

The more Reacher snoops around, the more it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want him sticking his nose in the investigation. Things are done to get Reacher to drop the case, but he isn’t so easy to get rid of. The storyline eventually involves a long, high-speed car chase, and a bloody showdown at a construction site.

Just what is Barr’s involvement in this case? Who is trying to eliminate Reacher? And who can he trust? These are just some of the questions that pop up during the course of JACK REACHER.

 jack_reacher,4

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. Based on the trailers, I thought it was a movie where Cruise would be playing an unstoppable killing machine, like he did in the movie COLLATERAL (2004), where he played a merciless hit man. But JACK REACHER was different than the way the trailers made him look.

MA:  Yes, the movie did play out differently from what was hinted at in the trailers, which for me, was a good thing. I expected a DIRTY HARRY clone, a glossy and superficial storyline with Cruise smart-assing his way through the script, but that’s not what JACK REACHER is at all.  Fortunately, it’s better than that.

LS:  Instead of playing an over-the-top vigilante, Cruise is rather low-key as Reacher, keeping things intense throughout. You’re never exactly sure what Reacher’s limits are, and if he is willing to cross certain moral and legal lines to achieve his goals. While reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character, Reacher is more complex, and it’s interesting to see Cruise bring the character to life.

In the books, Reacher is six foot five and about 250 pounds. He’s an intimidating character. Obviously, Tom Cruise does not share the same dimensions, and yet, he’s able to make it work. You believe he is a driven, formidable individual who is not to be messed with.

MA:  And that’s the best part of Cruise’s performance for me.  I believed him in this role, and I bought that he could do the things he does in this movie.  While watching the film, I believed I was watching a guy named Jack Reacher, not golden boy actor Tom Cruise doing his shtick.

So, I have to admit, I enjoyed Cruise a lot in this movie.  He did a good job bringing Jack Reacher to life, especially since he’s not a huge hulking figure like the character in the book.  The other thing that worked for me is that while Cruise still looks great for his age (he’s 50) he’s looking a little older here, a bit more weathered and rougher around the edges, and it added to the believability of his character.

Cruise seemed natural in the role, and he never came off as arrogant, which I liked.  All in all, he makes for a very compelling Jack Reacher.

LS: The rest of the cast is pretty good, too. Especially Rosamund Pike as Helen.

MA:  Really?  I wasn’t as crazy about Pike.  I thought she ran hot and cold.  While I believed Helen was a smart attorney, she too often took a back seat to Jack Reacher and his unconventional methods. She spends most of the movie reacting to things he’s done, rather than doing things on her own.  Now, I realize this is a movie about Jack Reacher, but this is what I’m talking about in terms of Pike’s performance:  she didn’t flesh out Helen as much as I wish she had. Ultimately she’s there just to be rescued, and for a dedicated attorney who really wanted to keep her client off death row, I never really felt this passion.

I enjoyed her more, going back a ways, in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond flick DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002), in which she had a small but memorable role.

LS: I thought Pike’s character in JACK REACHER was believable as a woman who is not totally confident in what she is doing; who wonders if taking on this case was a mistake at one point. She is willing to let Reacher take over, because he is much more determined and not easily swayed when people try to put him off the scent. She’s not a particularly self-assured character, and I liked that. The fact that she does become sort of a damsel in distress toward the movie’s end was a little distressing, but it fit the storyline and didn’t strain believability The fact is, not everyone’s brave all the time, or indestructible.

Richard Jenkins as D.A. Alex Rodin, and German director Werner Herzog, as a mysterious man called The Zec, are also very good. I am a big fan of Herzog, as a director. He has made some cinema classics, like AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) and FITZCARRALDO (1982), both of which starred the great Klaus Kinski, and he has recently been making some documentaries as well, some of which have been quite popular, like GRIZZLY MAN (2005).  He has done some acting before, mostly in independent films like Harmony Korine’s movies JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999) and MISTER LONELY (2007), and he’s quite good here.

MA:  Jenkins delivers another excellent performance in what is becoming a regular occurrence, and Werner Herzog is very creepy as the villain The Zec.  The only problem I had with the character is when all is said and done, his villainous plans don’t seem anywhere near as dastardly as you would expect from a guy as scary as he is.  While Herzog creates a disturbing heavy in The Zec, the guy’s not exactly the most ambitious villain you’ll see in a movie.

LS: I agree. Herzog goes to all this trouble to make The Zec creepy as hell, and you think this is going to lead to some truly intense confrontation between him and Reacher at the end, and what happens is a bit of a disappointment. Although, what happens is believable behavior for both of their characters.

Even Robert Duvall shows up late in the film, as a former Marine named Cash who runs a shooting range, and who becomes Reacher’s unlikely ally.

MA: I thought Duvall was great.

And I also really liked Alexia Fast as Sandy, a young woman who crosses paths with Reacher when her not-so-smart friends are hired to rough up Reacher, and she’s used as bait.  Things don’t turn out too well for them.  But Fast makes Sandy both sexy and vulnerable, and you really feel for her, as does Reacher, in an almost paternal way.  For a small role, I thought Fast stood out as Sandy

LS: I agree, I liked Fast a lot as Sandy. I thought she would have a bigger role in the movie as it developed, but she’s in it just as long as she needs to be. She’s a stand-out here, and I want to see more of her. She really shines.

I also really liked Jai Courtney in the role of Charlie, who turns out to be the main villain here. Courtney previously played Varro in the Showtime series SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE (2010), and I think he is just as intense as Reacher by the end of this movie. Early on, you think he’s going to be a pushover, but he’s not at all, and there’s a great fight scene toward the end between him and Reacher.

MA:  Yes, that is a great fight scene, and I liked Courtney a lot too.

LS:  Aside from the acting, I also found the storyline pretty riveting.

MA:  Ditto.

LS:  The screenplay is by Christopher McQuarrie, who also gave us the scripts for the excellent THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), and another Tom Cruise movie, VALKYRIE (2008). McQuarrie also directed JACK REACHER, and this is his second time in the director’s chair (the first was THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000) starring Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro, which I also liked). The script and the direction here are quite good.

MA:  I agree.  JACK REACHER is a riveting movie, and one of the reasons why is the direction by Christopher McQuarrie.  There’s some pretty cool fight scenes in this one, and one helluva car chase sequence that was as good as anything we saw in DRIVE (2011) and reminded me of one of the all-time best car chases on film, the Steve McQueen movie BULLITT (1968) directed by Peter Yates.

LS: There are also some great scenes of dark humor, like whenever Reacher goes up against the local thugs. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times.

MA:   You’re right.  There were some genuine funny lines.

And while I enjoyed the script, in that Reacher has a lot of memorable lines, and the dialogue rings true throughout, I thought the plot grew more contrived as it went along.  The whole conspiracy aspect gets old, and then it plays the “someone you trust is really working for the bad guys” card.  While the character of Jack Reacher remains compelling throughout the movie, I can’t say the same for the plot.  I thought it grew predictable towards the end.

LS: The last 15 minutes or so are the weakest part of the movie in my opinion, and things tie up a little too easily after the complexity of the rest of the movie. But it’s not enough to ruin what came before it.

MA: While I liked the pacing for the most part, I thought at two hours and ten minutes that it ran a little long.  I could have used about 15 minutes shaved off this one.

LS: I’m always complaining about how movies seem to be longer than they need to be. It’s quantity over quality, with directors and studios thinking movies have to be long to seem worth the price of a movie ticket, often to the detriment of the movie itself. But, in this case, I thought JACK REACHER was fine at its length. There never was one part that I felt went on longer than it needed to. And I thought the pacing was good.

Except for some issues I had with the ending, JACK REACHER works, and it’s a good vehicle for Cruise, who clearly would like to turn this into a franchise (there are about 18 books so far in the series, so there’s a lot of possible material there).

MA:  And that would take him into his 70s, where he’d still be sporting dark brown hair and kicking bad guys’ butts.  Will Cruise ever show some gray hair?

LS:  One word of warning, however. Some audience members may have an issue with the overwhelming use of guns throughout the movie.

MA:  Guns in a movie?  Oh my!  It’s guns in real life they ought to be worried about.

LS: I agree, and I hesitate to bring this up. But in the beginning of the film, especially, where the sniper kills his victims, it may be too much for some viewers after the recent real-life tragedy in Connecticut. This will not be true of everyone, but I wanted to put it out there. As time goes on, and people see this movie later on DVD or Netflix, they’ll wonder what all the hubbub was about. It’s all about timing.

MA: Yeah, in that way, the timing for the release of this movie couldn’t have been worse.  In fact, it was supposed to open in some markets last week, but the producers delayed its premiere.

And yes, the opening scene is very jarring because of what just happened in Connecticut.  I found it painful to watch, as I’m sure a lot of other people will as well.

But moving away from real life for a moment, another reason this scene is so riveting is the way it’s shot by director McQuarrie.  It’s shot through the eye of the shooter, and as such it’s a very uncomfortable scene to watch, and yet, it’s not tasteless in terms of graphic violence.  I’m not even sure we actually see someone shot.  I think the shots occur off camera in quick clever cut-ways just at the dreaded moment.

LS: Yet it’s intense, and it works.

MA: This scene would have been tasteless if the movie were glorifying sniper shooting, but it’s not doing that at all.  Sure, there’s a lot of killing in this movie, but none of it is glorified.

For a PG-13 movie, I thought JACK REACHER did a good job cranking up the intensity.  In addition to this opening scene, there’s also a disturbing scene involving someone chewing his own fingers off.  Now, nothing is shown here, but it still works.  It’s compelling storytelling.

LS: That scene involves The Zec, and again, I was disappointed they built him up to be such a scary character and then pretty much don’t do anything with him.

I was surprised it was PG-13, because it didn’t seem to be sanitized or dumbed down, like a lot of movies are to reach a wider audience.  JACK REACHER has teeth. It’s a solid thriller, and a better movie than I expected.  I give it three knives.

MA:  I give it three knives as well.   I also liked it more than I thought I would. Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well.  And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.

Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well.  And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.

In addition to being a solid action movie, JACK REACHER is also a decent detective film, as it’s fun seeing how Reacher goes about piecing together clues and figuring out the answers to many of the movie’s questions.  The evidence against his friend is overwhelming, yet Reacher sees a something right away at the crime scene which raises a red flag for him, and what he sees, as he explains it, makes perfect sense to us the audience.

LS: As Reacher says several times in the movie, Barr is not his friend.

MA: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher probably does more sleuthing than Robert Downey Jr. in the recent SHERLOCK HOLMES movies.

While I found the plot somewhat more contrived towards the end, the concluding segment to JACK REACHER, where Reacher has to come to the rescue of Helen, I found very satisfying.  It’s an exciting sequence.

That being said, things do get wrapped up neat and tidy by the end of the movie, probably too much for my tastes, although I didn’t have a major problem with this since it sort of  fits in with Jack Reacher’s style.  He’s a slick professional who never leaves traces of himself behind.  When he finishes a job, he makes a clean exit, disappearing into the night once more.

JACK REACHER is a very good movie, solid and compelling throughout, well worth a trip to the movies.

And on that note, we leave you.

LS:  Until next time.

(MA & LS exit in silence, as 26 candles illuminate the field behind them.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives JACK REACHER ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives JACK REACHER ~three knives.

SKYFALL (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Bond Girls, Cinema Knife Fights, Espionage, Fast Cars, Femme Fatales, Gimmicks, James Bond, Michael Arruda Reviews, Nick Cato Reviews, Secrets, Spy Films with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SKYFALL (2012)
By Michael Arruda & Nick Cato

(The Scene: On top of a moving train, MICHAEL ARRUDA is fighting with a thug.  On a hill in the distance, NICK CATO aims a high powered rifle at them.)

NICK CATO (speaking into a headset):  I don’t have a clear shot.

L.L. SOARES’ voice on other end of the headset:  Take the shot.

NC:  But I might hit Michael!

LS:  So???

MICHAEL ARRUDA (hearing conversation on his headset):  So??? Gee, thanks a lot!  You want a clear shot?  Here, you’ve got one!  (MA stops fighting, pastes a large bull’s-eye on the thug’s chest and steps away from him.)  There you go.  He’s all yours.

(Thug drops to his stomach.)

MA:  What the—?

(Train enters tunnel, and a standing MA hits the top of the tunnel, which knocks him off train into the water below.)

NC:  Oops!  That’s not good.

LS:  What happened?  Did you shoot anyone?

NC:  Nope.

LS:  Any blood and gore involved?

NC:  Nope.

LS:  Then it’s all too tame for me.  I’m leaving.  Catch you guys later.

(NC takes off his headset, just as MA appears in dry clothing.)

NC:  Weren’t you just in the water?

MA:  It’s amazing how quickly one dries off in Cinema Knife Fight land.  It’s like being in a movie with bad continuity.  Ready to review today’s movie?

NC:  Sure. And I apologize for shooting you, but I was just following L.L.’s orders.

MA: No problem.  Today we’re reviewing SKYFALL (2012) the latest James Bond movie and the third one featuring Daniel Craig as Agent 007.

SKYFALL opens with James Bond (Daniel Craig) chasing a bad guy who has in his possession a computer drive of extreme value.  They end up fighting on top of a train, while another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), tries to shoot the villain, but hesitates because she doesn’t have a clear shot and worries she might hit Bond.  M (Judi Dench) orders her to take the shot, and she does, hitting Bond in the process, and he plunges into the water below, presumed dead.

NC: At first I thought a train-top fight was a bit cliché to open a Bond film with, but director Mendes really made this one work.

MA: Yeah, it’s a pretty intense scene.

Anyway, since this is a James Bond movie, he’s not dead, and after lying low for a while, he returns to MI6 to help his boss deal with the latest threat to national security.  The stolen computer drive contained the names of agents working in some very dangerous places, and so now their identities have been compromised.  It’s Bond’s job to locate the computer drive and also find out who’s responsible for stealing it.

It turns out the villain is a man named Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent of M’s who wants nothing more than to get back at her, because he feels her ruthlessness left him for dead, similar to what we saw happen with Bond in the movie’s opening segment.  So, Silva releases the names of several of the agents to the public, and promises to continue to do this on a regular basis, putting them in harm’s way, all in an effort to humiliate M.

Silva also plans an elaborate scheme to kill M, and of course, it’s up to James Bond to stop him.

NC: I thought Bardem did a fine job as Silva, and his homoerotic taunting of 007 gave him a dimension we haven’t seen in a Bond film before.

MA:  Yep, that was an excellent scene!  Some people squirmed, others laughed out loud.  Very effective.

NC:  But, at the same time, I think early reviews painting him as one of the best Bond villains ever is a bit of a stretch.

MA:  That’s definitely a stretch.

NC:  Silva’s on a personal vendetta against, M, not so much on a mission to destroy the globe like a classic Bond enemy. (That said, the sequence of MI6 headquarters being blown up was quite intense). He’s off his rocker, that’s for sure, but to me he wasn’t half as threatening as most of the goons Bond has gone up against over the years.

MA:  Agreed.

SKYFALL is being touted in some circles as “the best Bond movie ever,” and while I liked this movie, it’s certainly not the best Bond ever.  I wouldn’t even call it my favorite Daniel Craig Bond film.  While I liked it, I also had some problems with it.

NC: I can’t stand early reviews that label things the “best ever.” Regardless, I still went in with an open mind and was surprised at just how much of the film I found myself…bored with.

MA: One thing I’ve always liked about the Daniel Craig Bond movies is the way they’ve reinvented the franchise. Since Daniel Craig has come on board, the films have showcased a darker, more realistic Bond, and the results have been similar to what Christopher Nolan did for Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy.

Speaking of which, I was reminded a few times of THE DARK KNIGHT while watching SKYFALL.  We learn more about Bond’s past, how he’s an orphan and how he lost his parents at a young age, a la Bruce Wayne, and when he returns home he even finds a faithful servant Kincade (Albert Finney) still living there.  Can anyone say “Alfred”?

NC: I have a love/hate relationship with what little we’ve learned about Bond this time, from his parents’ early death to his alcoholism. They’ve made Bond a more “real” character since Craig has taken the lead, and while it has been refreshing at times, I still find myself yearning for that suave, in-control, “man-up” Bond of yesteryear.

MA: Also, at times, the villain Silva reminded me of the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT as it seemed to be his plan to cause utter chaos, and in fact, one of his ploys, to get captured on purpose, comes right out of the Joker’s playbook.  But Silva’s nowhere near as interesting as the Joker, and I have to say, SKYFALL, as good as it is, is no DARK KNIGHT.

The cast is solid, and on paper, it’s an excellent cast.  Daniel Craig is a natural as James Bond, and I liked him immediately in the role in CASINO ROYALE (2006).  That being said, he seems to have aged here, which is part of the plot, I guess.   CASINO ROYALE opens with him making his first professional kills, hence beginning his 00 status, meaning he now has a license to kill.  Here, in SKYFALL, he’s close to retirement, and his abilities constantly come into question.  Again, there were shadows of THE DARK KNIGHT series here, which went on to feature an older, beat up Batman.  With that in mind, I found Craig’s performance less satisfying here.  It seemed to be lacking that efficient edge he held the first two times around, when he came off like a killing machine.  Here, he’s like a killing machine in need of an oil change.  He seems to be missing a step.

NC: Agreed. And while I’m a big fan of M as played by Judi Dench (who, by the way, is absolutely fantastic here), Bond seems to be a bit too close to her this time, following her around like a lost puppy. Of course, her life is in danger and Bond gives his all to protect her (especially during the way too long finale), but that little bit of rebellion 007 always had going on is lost in the shuffle here. He comes off as just another agent within MI6’s arsenal, but if the ending is any indication, things look like he may be getting back to business in the next film.

MA: Yes, once again, Judi Dench is great as M, and she seems to have more screen time in each successive Bond movie.  She first played M back in GOLDENEYE (1995), Pierce Brosnan’s first foray into the series.  Her M is certainly more integral to the plots of these movies than the original M, Bernard Lee, who simply showed up to give Sean Connery and Roger Moore their assignments.  That being said, if you go back to those original Connery Bonds, you’ll see some very memorable scenes between Connery’s Bond and Lee’s M where M was continually frustrated with how much Bond seemed to know about every subject on the planet.  It was a running gag in that series.

NC: And part of my problem with the Craig series is M doesn’t seem to see that in Bond. Perhaps they want us to understand that 007 is only human (hence the “realism” of the latest films)? Either way it’s little nuances like this that seem to be making Bond less of a super spy and more of a typical agent. Some are enjoying it. I’m still on the fence and hoping we’ll again see the fine balance that was displayed in CASINO ROYALE (2006).

Bond gets his Aston Martin back in SKYFALL.

MA: Javier Bardem as Silva makes for a very colorful villain, but he’s nowhere near as memorable as he was in his Oscar winning performance as the hit man in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).  And while I liked Silva as a villain, he seems a little out of place here.  Again, these Daniel Craig Bond films are a gritty, realistic lot, and the villains in the first two movies were also dark and realistic.  Silva is two steps shy of the Joker, missing only some facial make-up.  Not exactly the most realistic fellow for Bond to lock horns with.

NC: Silva’s mission to destroy MI6 and M herself is surely a different thing for Bond to deal with. But when Bond villains aim their sights low, the films lose their epic feel. Look at 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL, where Bond (played for the second and last time by Timothy Dalton) goes after drug kingpin Sanchez (Robert Davi) after he kills two of his personal friends. While the film wasn’t as bad as many claim, Davi wasn’t after anything other than making money with a new way to transport cocaine, hence making him one of the more forgettable Bond villains. I feel Silva’s personal mission to wipe out MI6 (in years to come) won’t be as memorable as many are giving it credit for. As goofy as Hugo Drax (from 1979’s MOONRAKER) appeared, his hell-bent goal to attack the world’s cities with chemical bombs from space isn’t something one easily forgets. Silva has a creepy laugh (and a nifty, hidden facial disfiguration), but he left me quite underwhelmed.

MA (cringing):  Not Hugo Drax!  But you’re right, at least he had an ambitious goal, worthy of a supervillain.

NC: Muhahahahahahahaha!

MA: Naomie Harris is okay as the latest Bond girl Eve, and I really enjoyed Ben Whishaw (most recently in CLOUD ATLAS) as a new young Q.  Rory Kinnear also reprises his role as Tanner, M’s assistant from the last movie, and does a nice job.  Kinnear is the son of late actor Roy Kinnear, who appeared in so many British movies over the years before his untimely death on the set of THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989) in 1988.

Ralph Fiennes is also on hand as Gareth Mallory, the man who’s put in the position of telling M her days on job are numbered and she should retire, and he makes the most of his scenes.  Rounding out the cast is veteran Albert Finney who does a nice job as Alfred—er, Kincade.

NC: I enjoyed Bérénice Lim Marlohe as Severine, who gives the film that classic touch of Bond-girl mystique and sophistication. She’s a real treat for the eyes, although her screen time here is a bit limited.  I thought Ben Whishaw was good as the new Q, too, but I’m hoping future films will contain more classic “gadget” segments. Q tells Bond (after handing him a gun and a small radio), “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t do that anymore.” I hope the kid was just joking.

(Q appears and approaches them.)

Q:  I never joke about my work.

NC:  Bring back the cool gadgets!

Q:  You’ll have to talk to the screenwriters about that one.  (Exits).

NC:  As a tease, when Bond manages to get M away from danger, he takes her to a hidden MI6 garage and pulls out in the classic Aston Martin DB5, first seen in GOLDFINGER (1964), which caused 007 geeks like myself to squeal aloud in super-nerd glee.

MA: SKYFALL was directed by Sam Mendes.  This one looks great with some very impressive foreign locales, but I thought it was short on action.  I liked the film’s opening pre-credit chase scene, which culminates on the top of the moving train, as I thought it was amazing and intense, but other than this, the actions scenes were few and far between.

NC: Most Bond films are sprinkled with sections of non-action, but usually they’re interesting. After SKYFALL’s spectacular opening train fight, the film goes to sleep for far too long, and the ending shoot-out (that reminded me of a typical Western, only with better firepower) became way too tedious.

MA: I did like the chase in the subway, and the attack on M in London was very suspenseful, but like you, I thought the finale, the armed assault on Bond’s family home, was anticlimactic.

The screenplay was written by Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.  This is the fifth Bond film they’ve written, the first being the Pierce Brosnan film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999).  They’ve written every one since.  The third writer in the credits is John Logan, who has written a wide variety of movies, including HUGO (2011).

I was hot and cold on the script.  The story itself—a crazed former agent out to kill M— I thought was just OK.  At times it works, but more often than not it wasn’t all that exciting.  I wanted more of a threat to the world, not just M.

NC: Exactly.

MA: One scene I did like was M’s speech, where she talks about the changing threats the world faces today, how today’s threats aren’t on a map.  They’re in the shadows, and you don’t always know who your enemies are.  Too bad in this one they knew exactly who their enemy was.

NC: M’s speech reminded me a bit of President Bush’s speech shortly after 9/11, which I guess the screenwriters figured would give the series modern relevance.

MA: Thomas Newman’s music score was very effective.  I thought I would miss the music of David Arnold, who’s been doing a phenomenal job scoring these films since TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997), but I didn’t.

NC: It was great to hear the classic Bond theme when the Aston Martin came into play, though. And while I’m not a fan of the title song, I have to admit Adele nails that classic 60s-style Bond feel with her opening track.

MA:  Yes, that opening track, which I also heard from folks as the best James Bond theme song ever!  What is up with all this “best of” stuff?  I think fans were really in need of their James Bond fix this time around!  For the record, I wasn’t that impressed with the song.

There were also some good uses of humor, such as one scene involving Bond, M, and the ejector seat.

In general, I like how the Daniel Craig films are more modern, fit in better with current times, and are nowhere near as unbelievable as the Pierce Brosnan films ultimately became.

NC: Hey! The Brosnan films did get a bit silly, but man was GOLDENEYE (1995) great!

MA: But somehow, SKYFALL has less of an edge than the previous two Daniel Craig Bond movies. The plot’s not as good or as tight, and the majority of the scenes simply aren’t as intense.  I definitely wanted the villain Silva to do more.  I mean, all this planning—years of planning, they say in the movie— just to get back at M?  Why not just shoot her and be done with it?  If you’re going to concoct this elaborate scheme, why not come up with something more ambitious?

NC: And this is exactly what Mike Myers made fun of in his AUSTIN POWERS films: if you’re going to make the series more “modern,” knock it off with the bad guys’ intricate planning and just get down to business.

(AUSTIN POWERS zips by in a motor boat.)

AUSTIN POWERS:  Oh, be-have, baby!  Be-have!

MA: And this ultimately is what SKYFALL is missing:  something grand and ambitious.  Silva should have been planning the ultimate terrorist attack, and it should have been up to 007 to thwart him.

NC: Silva reminded me a bit of Jonathan Price’s far more threatening cyber terrorist Elliot Carver, from 1997’s TOMORROW NEVER DIES, only working on a much smaller scale.

MA: I liked SKYFALL, but it’s not the best Bond ever, not by a long shot.  I give it three knives.

NC: SKYFALL has its moments, but overall I was disappointed. The scenery (especially during a silhouetted fight on the top floor of a Shanghai tower) is often excellent, and much of the cinematography is very well done (such as the aforementioned train-attack scene). Regardless, I found this to be the slowest moving Bond caper since 1985’s A VIEW TO A KILL and far from the best film in the series. CASINO ROYALE (2006) is still easily Craig’s best turn as 007.

I give it two knives.

MA:  Well, I guess you were more disappointed with it than I was.  In spite of its shortcomings, I still enjoyed seeing Daniel Craig as James Bond on the big screen.  It’s just that after all the hype, I expected it to be even better.

Well, that about wraps things up here.  Want a ride back to town?

NC:  Sure.

(MA & NC approach a parked Aston Martin.  MA tosses NC the keys.)

MA:  Why don’t you drive?

NC:  Cool.

(They drive away in the Aston Martin as James Bond theme plays.)

NC:  Hey, what’s this button?

MA:  That’s the— (screams)  Ejector seat!!!  (flies into the sky.)

NC:  Sorry.

(MA lands back in the water.)

NC:  There’s something symmetrical about all this.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and Nick Cato

Michael Arruda gives SKYFALL ~ three knives!

Nick Cato gives SKYFALL ~two knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Drive-in Movies, Fast Cars, Gangsters!, Hit Men, International Cast, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

Ah, the 1970s.  Not only was it a great time for gritty independent film-making, it was also a happy time for international productions.  You could have a film made in France, with a Spanish director, costumes by a British woman, stars from America and Poland and Germany and Thailand, produced by Italians, and with music by some Paraguayan rock star with a sitar and a hookah pipe.  When the movie was completed, it would be instantly dubbed into every language in the world, given an exploitive advertising campaign, and plopped into drive-ins and grindhouse theaters everywhere.  Italian horror movies did this for years, touting American actors in the lead roles but with a rainbow coalition of production credits that always made you go ‘hmmmm.’  Most of the time, we were duped into yet another six day wonder about women in bikinis and zombies in a Nazi-patrolled oasis (and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that!)  Every once in a while, a real treat would emerge from this United Nations of Sleazy Filmmaking—movies like THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972) a great gangster action movie with an A-list cast and a crazy diverse group of people behind the camera.

Look out! The OUTSIDE MAN is coming!

Directed by Frenchman Jacques Desrayaud, who also created THE SWIMMING POOL (1969) and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (2001), and written by Jean-Claude Carriere (who wrote such high class films as BELLE DE JOUR, 1967, THE TIN DRUM, 1979, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, 1988, SOMMERSBY, 1990, CYRANO de BERGERAC, 1990 and THE HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF, 1995), and we have a highly respected couple of filmmakers who had worked with the likes of Luis Bunuel, Wayne Wang, Hector Babenco, Peter Brook, Louis Malle, and, well, Jess Franco (I guess everyone hits rock bottom at some time or another).  Very impressive credits to their names and some major connections.  Also behind the scenes we have music by Michel Legrand (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, 1964 and YENTL, 1983), cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti (GREAT SILENCE, 1968, SALON KITTY, 1976 and CALIGULA, 1979), and produced by Jacques Bar (LET SLEEPING COPS LIE, 1988, and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, 1998).  This is some pedigree, with some of the greatest Europeans working in the 1960s and 1970s.  But there’s a bit of a CHINATOWN feeling to it all . . . “It’s an art film; it’s exploitation.  It’s an art film; it’s exploitation.”

But it’s the story and the cast that make THE OUTSIDE MAN so much damn fun!  This is one back-stabbing, sleazy, nasty picture . . . and it was rated PG back in the day!

We start in Los Angeles, amidst music that sounds like leftovers from STARSKY AND HUTCH (“You got no trouble with Jesus, You got no trouble with me!”) and it’s sung by Joe Morton, future star of BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984), SPEED (1994), and the TV show LAW AND ORDER!  That astonishing cast flashes across the screen, but more on them as they appear.

Jean-Louis Trintignant (LES BICHES, 1968, MY NIGHT AT MAUDE’S, 1969 and RED, 1994) stars as Lucien, a hit man with the heaviest French accent ever.  The handsome Frenchman is delivered a suitcase full of money and orders from a Los Angeles crime family to assassinate another mob boss.  When he arrives at the target’s house, he finds a mansion with a fleet of cool cars out front, a fountain, and Victor Kovaks, played by Ted de Corsia (THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, 1947 and THE KILLING, 1956) and his beautiful, much younger wife Jackie, played by POLICE WOMAN herself, Angie Dickenson (also in RIO BRAVO, 1959 and DRESSED TO KILL,  1980).  She sports a great bikini and a pool-boy.  Lucien kills Victor and calmly walks away from the scene of the crime.  When he gets back to his hotel, he finds that someone claiming to be his secretary has already checked him out and taken everything from his room, including his wallet and passport.  Suddenly, someone is shooting at him wherever he goes.  Turns out, the assassin after him is ice-cold Roy Scheider (JAWS, 1975, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, 1971 and BLUE THUNDER, 1983).

Sexy redhead Ann-Margret goes blonde for THE OUTSIDE MAN.

After escaping, Lucien hitches a ride with housewife Mrs. Barnes, played by Georgia Engel (Georgette on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and Esmeralda on the soap opera PASSIONS).  Her kid is played by Jackie Earle Haley (BAD NEWS BEARS, 1976, WATCHMEN, 2009, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, 2010 and SHUTTER ISLAND, 2010).  The boy says, “What are you, a foreigner?”  They watch STAR TREK on television, as well as Friskies commercials.  Our favorite killer calls Paris on her phone (“Who’s gonna pay for this?”) while Jackie Earle listens in.  Lucien smacks the crap out of the kid (according to reports, the slaps were real and brutal), then he leaves them, getting into an elevator with. . . NO!  Roy Scheider!  Luckily, two women get in and all Scheider gets to do is light Lucien’s cigarette.  Then, the shooting and chasing starts again.

Lucien, obeying orders, goes downtown following a group of bikers and a Jesus-freak hitchhiker who tries to convert the assassin.  Scheider accidentally kills the hitchhiker, so Lucien is driving around with a religious nut with long blond hair and a bloody hole in his head and a giant golden cross around his neck!  More chasing and shoot-outs ensue.

Lucien hears a description of himself on the news, but the wife and pool-boy of his victim have given incredibly erroneous descriptions of him, which makes him start to wonder if it was all a set-up.  He’s told to seek out the ex-moll of his boss, a stripper in a club named Nancy, played by Ann Margret (BYE BYE BIRDIE, 1963, TOMMY, 1975 and GRUMPY OLD MEN, 1993) in a very low-cut, revealing white outfit and a blonde Marilyn Monroe wig.  “I tend bar with my tits hanging out,” she says.  “Victor made sure that was the only job I could get.”  According to her, Victor’s brother, Alex, will run the mob better.  Alex, aka the pool-boy, is played by Umberto Orsini from THE ANTICHRIST (1974) and EMMANUELLE 3 (1977).  Nancy takes him to her friend Karl’s place where he can lie low for a while.  Karl’s a hippie played by Carlo de Mejo, who was in THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD/THE GATES OF HELL (1980), and MANHATTAN BABY (1982.)  Who knew a Lucio Fulci regular would be in the same movie as Ann Margret?

Meanwhile, Scheider has tracked down Georgette and followed the trail to Nancy who leads him to Lucien.  Cue exciting chase involving hit-men, Nancy, and the police!  Eventually, the French mob, led by Antoine (Michel Constantin of LE TROU, 1960 and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, 1978) gets to America and decides to join forces with Lucien.

Who is trying to kill Lucien?  Who hired the assassin in the first place?  Can Karl and Nancy be trusted?  What about the wife of the target and his brother, the pool-boy?  Will Lucien make it back to Paris, or will he be trapped in the States and hunted like a dog?  Where can I get one of those fabulous suits Scheider and Trintignant wear throughout the movie?

The pacing, as in most European films of the period, is a little slow for today’s ADD tastes, but it works beautifully in the context of the movie, which stresses cool and hip over action-packed thrills.  There are car chases, foot chases, shoot-outs and more, but this is more FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) than DIE HARD (1988).  If you can groove on that kind of atmosphere, you’ll dig this one.

A shootout and a car chase during a funeral? Must be THE OUTSIDE MAN.

The music is groovy and funky, the women are smoking hot, the men are cool as can be, the cars are yacht-sized and beautiful, and the plot twists and turns like crazy.  This is the kind of cool every stupid OCEANS 11 movie wants to be, but falls short.  This is the kind of cool that cults are built around, and the movie throbs with it.  There are gorgeous hookers, loads of neon, drugs, strippers covered in glitter, pink Cadillacs, drive-in theaters, a Talia Shire cameo, roller derby scenes, scary layouts at funerals, an Alex Rocco cameo and more.    But that cast!  Where else will you see Police Woman making out with a star of EMMANUELLE 3 while being followed by Ann Margret, one of the sexiest women ever, who is rooming with the psychiatrist from the GATES OF HELL (1980) and pursued by Sheriff Brody, while Ted Baxter’s girlfriend mothers the guy who would one day play Freddy Krueger?  Plus, a small part by John Hillerman who played Higgins on MAGNUM P.I.!  This is the ultimate six degrees of separation matrix!  You can use this movie to connect anyone to anyone!

MGM has put out a beautifully restored copy available on CD-R through Amazon.

I give THE OUTSIDE MAN three and a half European hit-men out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

“MY BOTTOM FIVE” BEST OF 2011 By L.L. Soares

Posted in 2011, Best Of Lists, Dark Comedies, Fantasy, Fast Cars, LL Soares Reviews, Nicolas Cage Movies, Sharks with tags , , , , , , , on January 2, 2012 by knifefighter

As I have done in previous years, I wrote up a Top 10 List of the Best Movies of the Year, but we only touched on the first five in our big end of the year CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT BEST OF THE YEAR column. So Here are the rest of the movies that filled out my Top 10.

To recap, here are my Top 5 films as mentioned in the regular column:

L.L. Soares’s BEST OF 2011

  1. THE WOMAN (directed by Lucky McKee)
  2. HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) (directed by Tom Six)
  3. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (directed by Pedro Almodovar)
  4. MELONCHOLIA (directed by Lars von Trier) and DRIVE (directed by Nicolas Winding Refn) (TIE)
  5. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (directed by David Fincher)

And now on to the Bottom Five of my Top 10 List:

My Number 6 choice for best movie of 2011 is TROLL HUNTER, a little horror/fantasy flick from Norway about a guy who goes around killing giant trolls for a living. Light hurts them and can turn them to stone, but the guy starts to question just why he’s doing this, and he considers retiring from the job when he’s harassed a little too much by superiors. Filmed in a fake documentary style, it features reporters traveling around with the troll hunter, as he reveals his secrets to a nation that had no idea that trolls were real, and that someone was keeping them in check. (Directed by Andre Ovredal)

My Number 7 choice is a  tie between two superhero blockbuster films. First off, in a summer full of supherheroes on the big screen, THOR stood out from the pack. Not only is THOR a great character to begin with, but the story takes us from Asgard, the world of the Norse gods, to Earth, as a banished Thor has to earn his way back to Viking Heaven. With Chris Hemsworth in a star-making performance as the god of thunder.  (Directed by Kenneth Branagh)

Close on its heels, was X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, where it’s explained how rival mutant leaders Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) first met, first assembled their mutant teams, and how all this ties in with the Cuban Missile Crisis. I wasn’t expecting much with this one, especially since the last X-Men movie, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, was a big disappointment for me, but I was pleasantly surprised by FIRST CLASS. It was an above-average superhero origin story and easily as good, in its own way, as THOR. (Directed by Matthew Vaughn).

My Number 8 choice is Jason Reitman’s YOUNG ADULT, a movie that I didn’t review for this site. It was reviewed here not too long ago by staff member Kelly Laymon, who didn’t mince words about how much she hated it. While I liked Kelly’s review, I had the complete opposite reaction to this one. Not only is it the best script Diablo Cody has written so far (she’s best know for writing JUNO, in 2007), but I think it took  real balls for her and director Jason Reitman to make a movie where the lead character is such an unlikable, delusional, destructive personality as is Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary. But, this being Theron, she barrels through the movie like a guided missile, and it’s just fascinating to see her attempt to destroy the lives of everyone around her. In the end,  I thought it was a brave performance, and a satisfying one. Patton Oswalt also turns in a terrific performance as the disabled guy who’s had a crush on her since high school, and who finally gets to hang out with the most popular girl in school (even if she is now completely bonkers!). (Directed by Jason Reitman)

My Number 9 choice is RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which was another surprise. After Tim Burton pretty much single-handedly killed off the APES franchise with his 2001 remake of PLANET OF THE APES, I figured the series was not going to continue, but luckily I was wrong. Pretending as if the Burton remake never happened, RISE goes back to the origins of the talking, thinking apes who would later become the dominant species on Earth. The origin story is clever, revolving around an anti-Alzheimer’s drug gone wrong, and while the movie goes really heavy on the CGI effects (there are tons of CGI apes and chimps in this one), and I normally hate CGI, this time it actually worked for me. Not only was RISE an unexpected treat, but it hopefully resuscitated the entire series. This isn’t the best APES movie ever – it has its flaws, too – but it’s definitely a big step in the right direction. (Directed by Rupert Wyatt).

And my Number 10 choice is another tie. SEASON OF THE WITCH and DRIVE ANGRY 3DTwo really fun movies starring Nicolas Cage. I enjoyed both of them for different reasons, but the one common factor is that Cage, even when he is in less than Oscar-worthy films, is just very entertaining to watch. In WITCH, he plays a knight who agrees to accompany a suspected witch to her trial in Medieval times (along with his war-hardened buddy, Ron Perlman). In DRIVE ANGRY, Cage is an escapee from Hell driving a fast car and trying to save his baby grandson from devil-worshippers. Both movies are entertaining as hell and deserve a look see. (SEASON OF THE WITCH was directed by Dominic Sena/DRIVE ANGRY was directed by Patrick Lussier).

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

While the Korean film, I SAW THE DEVIL, technically came out in 2010, most people here didn’t see it until 2011, so I’ll include it here. It easily could have made my top 5, though. An amazing movie about a violent killer of women (Min-sik Choi, probably best known as the star of 2003’s OLDBOY) who murders the pregnant wife of a police detective (Byung-hun Lee). The detective then makes it his mission to track the killer down and administer a vicious and prolonged vengeance.  By doing this, the man of law becomes as insane and sadistic as his quarry. Not for the squeamish. A terrific, satisfying movie by director Jee-woon Kim, who also gave us 2003’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and 2008’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD. I can’t praise this one enough. (Directed by Jee-woon Kim)

13 ASSASSINS – Takashi Miike is one of the most fascinating directors around today, mostly because he’s so unpredictable. He makes a lot of movies, but they’re all so different. He’s done everything from horror, to surrealism, to children’s movies, to yakuza (gangster) films. His 2011 offering was an amazing samurai flick that started out a bit slow, but by mid-way evolved into a breath-taking bloodbath. The sword-fighting lasts a long time, but it rarely gets boring.  And some parts are downright beautiful. (Directed by Takashi Miike)

LIMITLESS – Bradley Cooper showed us that does indeed have a future as a leading man apart from the HANGOVER films, in this story about a man down on his luck, who takes the ultimate smart drug, and becomes a genius. His life changes completely, and he even draws the attention of a business giant played by Robert DeNiro, and everything is great, until the pills start to run out. A solid little film that could have been a throwaway, but stays with you.

TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL – a wickedly funny indie gem, where two rednecks are mistaken forhomicidal hillbillies by a group of traveling college kids. In reality, Tucker and Dale are the good guys, and the kids are the ones doing all the violence, with often slapstick-funny results. (Directed by Eli Craig)

SHARK NIGHT 3D – Another movie where I went into it with zero expectations. A PG-13, CGI-heavy killer shark movie in 3D? I wasn’t expecting the second coming of JAWS here. However, as it unfolded, I found myself being very entertained by the various characters and their revelations. Not a great movie by any stretch, but a lot of fun. (Directed by David R. Ellis)

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 – The latest installment in the franchise that won’t die (now that Lions Gate has retired the SAW movies) is just as good as the first two, and continues with the fake survelliance video footage storyline – a formula that continues to work for some reason. Sure, some of it is just cheap scares, but it works, and I enjoyed how the ending of this one played out. (Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)

KABOOM – I’ve been a fan of director Greg Araki since I first saw THE LIVING END back in 1992. He has a style all his own, and I can see how a lot of people would hate his movies, but I personally love them and look forward to each new release. Involving dopplegangers, menacing men in animal masks and the end of the world, KABOOM is a wild and often funny ride through Araki’s demented brain. (Directed by Greg Araki)

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Woody Allen’s latest film, a breezy light comedy starring Owen Wilson as a modern-day writer in Paris, magically transported each night at midnight to Paris in the 1920s, where he gets to hang out withe luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, is not exactly the kind of movie we normally review here at Cinema Knife Fight, but I enjoyed it so much, I really wanted to mention it here. It is a fantasy film, after all. And possibly Woody’s best movie in a decade or two. (Directed by Woody Allen).

HUGO – Martin Scorcese’s new film is a visual smorgasbord of imagery, and the first movie since AVATAR to do justice to 3D effects, HUGO would have scored higher for me if not for Sasha Baron Cohen’s complete caricature of a Station Inspector in a big Parisian train station (everyone else in the movie is so well developed, he seems out of step here), but, even more so, because this movie, despite being a beautiful love letter to the pioneers of silent cinema, just failed to really connect with me fully on an emotional level. It was great to look at, and any movie where early filmmaker Georges Melies is a main character is bound to capture my imagination. But I never really felt that it grabbed me on a most basic level. I really wished I liked this movie more, but it was still a technical achievement, and one of my favorite Scorcese movies in a long time. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen. (Directed by Martin Scorcese)

I guess this all means that 2011 was a pretty good year for going to the movies. Here’s hoping that 2012 is even better!

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares


FAST FIVE

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Cars!, Fast Cars, John Harvey Reviews, Sequels with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by knifefighter

FAST FIVE Is Good for Cheap Thrills and Not Much Else
Movie Review by John Harvey


When I told people that I was going to review the fifth installment in the THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, FAST FIVE, a friend emailed me a video clip from The Onion website titled “Today Now! Interviews The 5-Year-Old Screenwriter Of FAST FIVE.’”

If you’re not in the mood to read this review, then watch that 2.5 minute clip (link at the bottom of this review). Though satirical, it’s also 100% spot-on regarding the level of film craft in FAST FIVE.

Starting in 2001, this franchise never aspired to be anything more than eye-candy for teenage boys (hence the PG-13 rating). It is utterly without art, but perfectly crafted for its target demographic. Every installment (including FAST FIVE) focuses almost entirely on car chases, over-the-top fights, and girls in tight clothes. All this tenuously held together by the most fragile gossamer wisps of something that only resembles storytelling if you drink half a bottle of whiskey and squint really hard.

Directed by Justin Lin, FAST FIVE kicks off with former FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) rescuing Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) from a prison bus in a three-car, one-bus action sequence that is entirely devoid of common sense and respect for basic physics, and also sets the tone for all of the action that will follow. They split up and meet in Rio de Janeiro, where they quickly take a job stealing three DEA-confiscated cars from a moving train. Predictably, the job goes horribly wrong, DEA agents die, and our heroes find themselves on the #$%& list of drug dealer and corrupt businessman Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). How could this possibly get worse?  Well, the DEA is none too happy about their dead agents, so they send hulking DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his team of uber spec-ops soldiers to apprehend Dom and O’Connor.

So, the most logical and sensible thing for Dom and O’Connor to do is get the hell out of Brazil while the getting is good. Oh wait, this is FAST FIVE. Hence, what they actually do is invite all of their friends from the previous four films to Rio to carry out a wildly elaborate heist and steal $100 million of Reyes’s drug money from a massive vault housed in a police station. Wackiness ensues …

I’ll admit that some of the chase and fight scenes had fun elements. And it was a kick watching Diesel and Johnson face off as a bald immovable force versus a bald unstoppable object. Also, to be perfectly honest … I’ve got nothing against hot women in tight clothes. But the plot holes in this film are large enough to accommodate a fleet of 1970 Dodge Chargers. Even worse, whenever our heroes are in “trouble,” the filmmaker resorts to cheap tricks and shell games to accomplish miraculous escapes that are really just lazy cheats. And the acting? Cardboard and undercooked all around. Though, I will point out that you can hand Dwayne Johnson the most corny, clunky line of dialogue and he’ll at least make its delivery entertaining. But these are predictable flaws that I knew would be present just by watching FAST FIVE‘s film trailer.

Ultimately, the thing that made this film essentially unpleasant for me was its complete lack of morality. FAST FIVE is set in a video-game world where both the good guys and the bad guys fire automatic weapons in densely packed neighborhoods, drive cars through throngs of pedestrians, and wipe out dozens of everyday drivers in the course of wild car chases. You ultimately realize that EVERYONE in this film is self-centered to the core and a slave to naked greed and brute force. Despite the occasional ham-handed soliloquy by Dom about family and freedom, the truth about this film is that it contains no actual heroes or “good guys.”

Yeah, I get it. It’s a visceral action flick and not a David Mamet drama. But I have the same problem with FAST FIVE as I do with several horror franchises where violence is framed as the only protagonist worth rooting for. It’s shoddy, lazy, and distasteful film craft.

All that said, once you get to the end of FAST FIVE, the average audience member will assume that this is Dom and O’Connor’s last caper and we will never be bothered again by another effortlessly vapid attempt at filmmaking (at least in this series).

Depressingly, there’s a post-credits scene that indicates that this franchise is far from dead. For me, this was the unhappiest of endings.

FAST FIVE
Directed By: Justin Lin
Written By: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, and Dwayne Johnson
Run Time: 130 minutes
Rating: PG-13

The Onion’s “Today Now! Interviews The 5-Year-Old Screenwriter Of ‘Fast Five:”  http://www.theonion.com/video/today-now-interviews-the-5yearold-screenwriter-of,20188/

– END –

© Copyright 2011 by John D. Harvey

DRIVE ANGRY 3D!

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Campy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Demons, Fast Cars, Nicolas Cage Movies, Satanists, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2011 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight: DRIVE ANGRY 3D
By L.L. Soares (and Michael Arruda)

FADE IN

(The scene: A long stretch of highway. LL SOARES is driving a Dodge Charger as fast as it can go, miles of desert on either side of him. Motorhead’s song “Ace of Spades” plays loud over the car stereo)

LS (shouting): Oh there you are. I’m here driving solo, reviewing the new movie DRIVE ANGRY that just came out in theaters. My sidekick is bowing out on this one…

(The music stops and MICHAEL ARRUDA’s voice comes on the radio)

MA: Hello? You there?

LS: Hey! I was enjoying that song!

MA: Yeah, well, I just want to set the record straight. I didn’t bow out on this one on purpose. I’m stuck at my house buried under several feet of snow; snow, it seems, that has been falling since January!  I mean, the snow banks around here have gotten so big they’re going to start lending money.

LS (turns off radio):  Like anybody cares. I was enjoying that song. Hopefully, he’s gone now. (Turns on radio. “Ace of Spades” is playing again.)  That’s more like it. So, where was I?  Yeah, DRIVE ANGRY.

(MA’s voice returns on the radio.)

MA:  What do you mean?  Nobody cares?  I have readers who would care if I’m stuck in the snow someplace.

(Flash to a little old lady seated in front of a computer, tapping impatiently at the screen rather than the keyboard.)

LITTLE OLD LADY:  Where’s that Michael Arruda?  I haven’t seen his reviews in a while. He writes such sweet things about these movies.

(Scene returns to LS driving in car.)

LS:  Hey, how did you know what I said if I shut the radio off first?

MA:  Actually, you dissed me as you were turning the radio off.

LS (grimaces at camera):  Yeah, I’ll buy that. Sure.

MA: So what did you think of DRIVE ANGRY?

LS: Actually, the full title is DRIVE ANGRY 3D, I guess. Although I’m sure some theaters somewhere were showing it in 2D.

DRIVE ANGRY gives us Nicolas Cage as John Milton (get it?)—.

MA:  —That would be a reference to that classic of literature, PARADISE LOST by John Milton.

LS:  Thank you, Professor. But this John Milton is a long-haired, intense guy who just escaped from hell in a souped-up car.

Turns out Hell is just a giant prison, and he’s a breakout artist. The reason he’s come back is to save his baby granddaughter, who has been abducted by Satanists. The baby’s mother – John’s daughter – was part of a cult, but got second thoughts, so the leader, the charismatic Jonah King (Billy Burke), killed her and took her baby, and is planning to use the infant to make a blood sacrifice to Satan. The plan being to open a portal and bring Hell to earth.

Meanwhile, a demonic lawman, called only The Accountant (William Fichtner) is hot on Milton’s trail, intent to bringing him back to the land of fire and brimstone. (Most people probably know Fichtner as the crooked federal agent from the TV series PRISON BREAK.)

Along the way, Milton picks up feisty blonde firecracker Piper (Amber Heard), at first for her car, and then later the two bond and she agrees to help him get his granddaughter back.

So Jonah King and his men are out to kill Milton. So is The Accountant. And Milton is intent on avoiding The Accountant and killing King and his minions, and saving the baby. Got it so far?

MA: Yep.

(We go back to the LITTLE OLD LADY, who is now getting into a souped-up 1957 Chevy and is gunning the engine)

LITTLE OLD LADY: I’ll teach them to give me a Cinema Knife Fight review without sweet little Michael Arruda! GOSH DARN IT!

(She peels out in a screech of tires)

(Back to LS)

LS: This movie creates its mood right from the get go, letting us know this is going to be an all-out, over-the-top, balls-to-the-wall, live-action loony tune from the very first scene. Nick Cage does his usual hammy overacting (he gives an enjoyable performance here, but it’s getting harder and harder to believe this guy once won an Oscar) as Milton, and Fichtner is damn near perfect as the demonic Accountant (who looks exactly like the FBI man he keeps telling everyone he is – his suit doesn’t get rumpled even once). Hell, the acting is good all around here, including Burke (the dad from the TWILIGHT movies – I knew he looked familiar) as the very charismatic Jonah King (you can believe this guy leads a cult) and the hot, tough, and fun-to-watch Heard as Piper. Other good supporting players include David Morse as Milton’s long-time friend, Webster, and Tom Atkins as the chief of police trying to chase everyone else down.

From the trailers, I thought this was just going to be a straight story of a normal guy chasing down the cultists who stole his daughter (is Nick Cage really old enough to play grandfathers now? I guess he is). I didn’t find out about the supernatural elements until a few days before the movie opened, and I didn’t know what to expect from that. All this talk of Hell and demons and vengeance smacks a lot of a previous Cage outing, GHOST RIDER (2007), which was flawed at best. But for some reason, it all works better here. John Milton is a man on a mission and Cage gives us enough intensity and his just plain patented goofiness throughout to keep the fans wanting more.

(Cherry red ’57 Chevy roars up behind him and drives up beside him)

LITTLE OLD LADY: Where is Michael Arruda this week, you mean man!

LS: Huh? What are you talking about? I’m trying to do a movie review here, lady.

LITTLE OLD LADY: Damn, smartass kids!

(She pulls out a shotgun and aims it at LS)

LITTLE OLD LADY: I represent “Old Timers For Arruda” and we are not going to tolerate reviews that leave him out.

LS: Lady, he’s stuck in the snow. It’s not my fault.

LITTLE OLD LADY: Not good enough, sonny!

(Before she can shoot, LS rams her car with his, and she goes over the railing, spinning down the hills, bursting into a giant ball of flame)

LS: So long, sucker! (cackles in glee)

Where was I?

MA (voice on the radio): You were wrapping up your review, I think. I have to admit, I’m sad you killed that old lady. She sounded very smart.

LS: Yeah, it is kind of sad to think I might have killed off your only fan.

MA: Get to the review!

LS: The dialogue gets a little absurd at times, but the silliest lines are the ones coming out of Cage’s mouth, and he says them as if they were diamonds. No one makes bad dialogue sound good and funny like Nicolas Cage.

For the most part, the script is pretty good, the acting top-notch, and the direction by Patrick Lussier – whose remake of MY BLOODY VALENTINE (also in 3D) in 2009 was one of the better horror flicks since the new 3D renaissance – keeps things moving at a nice speed throughout. Sure, there are plenty of goofy aspects to the proceedings, but they’re all part of the ride—speaking of which, there are also some very cool cars in this flick, too.

Is the 3D worth it? Well, there are stretches where you kind of don’t notice (as is the case with a lot of 3D movies), and then, suddenly, a bullet will come your way, or part of someone’s skull will hurtle towards you. This movie earns its R rating with plenty of blood and dismemberment, as well plenty of nude girls, so what’s not to love? That said, I’m still not a big fan of the whole 3D thing, and didn’t think it added that much to the movie. I still think the entire 3D craze is a sham created to raise ticket prices and sell new televisions. But when a movie is an entertaining as this one – and most 3D movies aren’t – I’m willing to let it slide. But I bet it would have been just as fun in regular 2D.

MA:  I’m with you on this point. The majority of the new 3D movies haven’t been worth the extra ticket prices.

LS:  So is this movie worth seeing? Hell yeah. After the showing I went to, there were surveys so I filled one out. One question asked “Why did you want to see this movie?” and I checked off “Nicolas Cage” with a giant X next to his name, and smaller x’s for William Fichtner and the fact that it was “Directed by the guy who made MY BLOODY VALENTINE.”

DRIVE ANGRY is a hoot and a holler and a drag race out of hell and back. I give it three and a half knives.

MA:  Sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m sorry I missed it.

(LITTLE OLD LADY’s voice come on the radio)

LITTLE OLD LADY: You better be part of the next review, Michael! I am boiling mad!

(LS turns off the radio. The vast desert on either side of him turns into walls of flame as he takes a right turn into Hell)

LS: Well, I’m home. So long folks! See you next time.

FADE OUT

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares (with some input from Michael Arruda)

LL SOARES gives DRIVE ANGRY 3Dthree and a half knives

Meanwhile, MICHAEL ARRUDA is stuck in the snow