Category: Action/Adventure

equalizer-filmAfter watching this film, I had two questions buzzing around my mind. First question – if it wasn’t for the brand name of the 80s action-drama show, Denzel Washington , the bad guy intro of Marton Csokas and being directed by one of my favorite directors (Antoine Faqua)… could this movie be easily forgettable? SecondWhat’s the difference between Denzel Washinton and Steven Seagal? The answer to the latter is that Washington is a better actor – but you’d hardly know it from this mess. Ol’ Sensei Steven could have shown up as McCall and—hey don’t gimmie those grumpy looks. Here’s a checklist for you:

In the movie, McCall is a former black ops agent who faked his own death but now comes out of retirement to play vigilante justice.

  • McCall is three steps ahead of the bad guys. Always. Check.
  • McCall knows the moves the bad guys make before they make them. Check.
  • McCall can set explosions and walk away without so much as a breeze on his back.Check.
  • McCall gets very zen. Check.
  • McCall fights Russian Mobbers who are into dope and prostitution and/or sex trafficking. Check.
  • McCall fights dirty cops. Check and mate.

Oh yes, the dirty cops. Not one, not two but three of them. Two of the three are running some sort of protection racket on local store and restaurant owners. One such store is owned by a mother of a co-worker of McCall’s at the local Home Depot-like place. The co-worker is hoping to make security guard rank at the store, but the bad cops set a kitchen fire and it sets him back. McCall – who has taken the store job while having a low profile- helps his friend and turns the tables on the two bad cops. Later we find out they were on the payroll of the Russian Mob that is hunting McCall for an unrelated but more noticable iffense – taking out a room full of guys Seagal style. It’s contrived, cliched and a big yawn. Also, do you wonder if said friend will pass his Security test and play such a part in the final shootout? Of course not.

If Denzel isn’t channeling Seagal, then he’s channeling any or all of the following: Jack Reacher, The Punisher, Clarence from True Romance and possibly Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Never once is McCall a stand out character. It’s also a slight reinvention of the TV show character so you won’t get any callbacks to the series until the last frame of the movie where the Equalizer Want Ad is updated. Yeah, we “Need Help” alright. Stylistically, the film isn’t bad. It’s just below average.

Faqua helmed the better of the two abysmal White House themed action pictures last year (the one with Gerald Butler, if that helps- it don’t, awww shucks) but he also directed better pictures. I’ll still have a guilty pleasure in King Arthur, Tears Of The Sun and Brookyn’s Finest. Training Day was and still is outstanding. Nobody’s forgotten that. But in an answer to my first question, if if wasn’t for the TV series this is loosely based on and the talent, you’d forget this film in a week. By the way, halfway in the picture, Chloë Grace Moretz  is forgotten about.

I don’t mind at all if it wasn’t like the TV series – it should be noted Edward Woodward’s McCall was a former spy and if he wasn’t outsmarting mobbers and thugs, he’d team up with old spy friends and take down mad Euro-terrorists. That show wasn’t campy either. It had some great episodes and bright spots. But a new film at least has to be the essence of that character, and it seems to have missed by a country mile. It’s all routine. Alright but nothing special.

Would I be more forgiving if it was a Steven Seagal film? No. But this happens to star Denzel Washington, and he reteams with Faqua. I expect more.

I give The Equalizer a 2 1/2 out of 10.

Kick the tires and lite up the fires!

Kick the tires and lite up the fires!

A lot of people seemed surprised that the third Expendables movie underperformed at the box office. After watching the film, I wasn’t among them. Sure, I liked some of the action – that opening scene with Wesley Snipes was great, new cast members Antonio Bandaras and Ronda Rousey shine during the film and how can you NOT dig the Desperado-like shootout and the ju-jistu team up at the end? Mel Gibson also has some nice lines here, and overall, the film isn’t bad. Yet, the film didn’t strike a nerve with audiences, Some point to the lack of an R rating, others the leaked HD copy and some the marketing. Which to believe?

I’ll telkl you what I believe. Not one of them – except a little bit with marketing, but not much. Jet Li’s role was shortened in the previous film. This time around, it’s a cameo shooting off a machine gun from a gunship. No wushu moves, no scene like Expendables 2 even. So what’s that got to do with Marketing? Everything. Jet Li got his character poster. Yet, even character actor Robert Davi has more screen time than Jet Li. In fact, let’s call it like it is – there is that great (re)introduction of Wesley Snipes at the start of the film. “The Doctor” When the team runs into a former teammate Stonebanks (played by Gibson) who is now a gun smuggler, Terry Crews’ character Caesar is severely wounded. The team is disgraced enough where Stallone’s Ross decides to disassemble the team and look for younger, fresh recruits along with Bonaparte, an ex- mercenary played by Kelsey Grammar.

And there’s your problem where the movie failed, right there. Were you looking at your watch? The film’s momentum becomes a turtle race. It just dies as we are ‘introduced’ to the new team members. Only two are memorable – Bandaras does a Zorro-like move with hypoer energy and makes a punchline. Rousey’s into is cliched (“look!the bouncer is a girl”) but charmingly good. and Yes, Grammar’s character would have been better played by Fred Willamson or Burt Reynolds, but that’s not the problem here.

Here’s a hint: remember those character posters? Remember that kick-ass opening scene? Guess who’s not around for a good hour of the movie? Let me guess- could it be half the characters the audience has grown to like and gotten used to for two films in now? Are we concerned about the well being of Hale Caesar? Aside from Rousey and Bandaras, was there anything memorable about the other recruit scenes? Dead weight scenes, all of them, and to add insult to injury. all the new young team is captured by Stonebanks.
By the way, what exactly is the underlying premise of The Expendables idea again? A film composed of older action stars for the most part, right? Right! So when the actors/characters an audience has come to see has been sidelined at Jet Li gets only a minute firing a gun? Mel Gibson had great lines, but the previous film’s Jean Cluade Van Damme was more of an exciting fight at the end. Stonebanks dies rather dumb for such an intelligent foe and with less fanfare. The team fights endless masked thugs, it’s hard to track who is doing what….yes, this isn’t a bad film but the gas is out of the tank.

You can check the brain at the door if you want to, but who and what did you want to see? Other than that, Sly went up against a talking gun toting raccoon and a ninja turtle so it may have just been bad luck. Or was it?

While it pales in comparison to the original, that does not mean Jaws 2 is a terrible film.

As much as I love the original Jaws (1975) I think that it’s sequel, Jaws 2 gets a bad rap. Sure, we don’t really get any memorable characters like Hooper or Quint, but we do have returning characters/actors and a handful of the production team of the first film. It must count for something. But there are three main reasons why I love Jaws 2, and several minor reasons.

Part of the magic of the first film is that, due to production challenges, there was a choice not to show too much of the killer shark. It gave us a unique lesson in film in that sometimes less is more. It also suggested that it is not always wise to always show your monster right away, but tease the viewer with glimpses. Granted, this is not an absolute. There have been effective thrillers and horror pictures where the threat is in the open and in front of you. But that’s usually reserved for “individual” monsters and killers, be it Chucky from ‘Child’s Play’, Freddy from ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ or the demonic car of ‘Chistine’. The ‘Jaws’ formula of not showing the ‘monster’ too much is more like Greg McLean’s ‘Rogue’, about a killer crocodile.

The success of the ‘Jaws’ structure did not follow up in the sequel; the shark is seen early and often. But one of the added bonuses of the film is that when Brody (Roy Scheider) has reason to believe that a new shark is picking up where the previous one left off. While additional safety measures have been added in between both films – most notably a shark tower- Brody has become the new Quint in a matter of speaking. He is obsessed with finding his foe once again. When Amity’s polititians fire Brody, it is with good reason. It isn’t that Brody may or may not be right. It is the mere fact that he himself caused a (well meaning) panic, drew his gun and fired in the water. We know there’s a new shark out there, He knows there’s a new shark out there. Maybe the city council is in denial. But they also know Brody is a paranoid loose cannon. The taking away of his job as Sheriff is a nice character blow. Added to that, we know he’s right, and so are his superiors.

Hello and GOODBYE!

Yes, the family and character moments in Jaws 2 do have some depth to them, and when Brody pretty much goes it alone, he’s got almost no support aside from his wife and his deputy (now called ‘Jeff’ instead of ‘Leonard’ for some reason) who are left behind when the third act kicks in. The events leading up to that third act is what makes this film. It’s a given, isn’t it? Gimmie a sequel and I’ll give you more shark. But what a bonus! See folks, it’s really simple here. We have got, in disgise, a Dead Teenager Movie. The teens rebel, sneak out, must pay the price for lust, and will sacrifice themselves for friends or a young kid. The death toll is a bit higher, and we got four memorable demises. One is really stupid where, after Mr. Shark snaps away a water-skier he goes after the person in the boat. That person, for some oddball reason, pours gasoline all over herself (although in a panic) and indirectly causes the boat to explode. Luckily, she also scars up the shark a bit as well. Later we find that woman’s burned up body as Brody faces (again) his fear of water. Another is Eddie, but only because of the aftermath when his girlfriend Tina is severely traumatized. This makes us have some feeling for the poor kid. The next best “death” is that of Marge, who dies heroically. (Even if,in the days of my youth and HBO at my friend’s house, this was actually a stupid way to go, although not as dumb as gas can woman) But there is THE HIGHLIGHT of Jaws 2, where in the few years after viewing on cable, me and my friends actually thought the shark lept out of the water and clamped down on the heliocopter. Yes it did chomp down, but it didn’t shoot up like a dancing dolphin either. By today’s standards, this event is not as interesting as, say, what would have the attack on the Killer Whale might have been. It also was a lame way to go overall (a deleted DVD scene shows the pilot becoming the sandwich) but back then in the late 70s/early 80s? On the box? Golden moment, folks.

The teens pray to God, and vow never to sail near dangerous underwater power lines again.

But there’s something more for me than all this and just the classic tagline (“Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water”) and that is those days of geek youth. Sure, we loved Star Wars, Rocky, got into Conan a little bit . But then there was Jaws, and specifically, Jaws 2. I still recall my best buddy Shawn, in front of the TV and the HBO box, proclaiming with every shark snack…

Bye, Bye, Bab-eeeeee

and it was tough not to get a smile. And yes, we all thought the death of the shark by electric cable was nothing short of badass. In passing years, I love the first Jaws more and more, as I think it has aged better than Jaws 2. But while not every filmmaker will follow the ‘less is more’ guideline, there is one thing I would love to see filmmakers take from Jaws 2. A Dead Teenager film that has dead teenagers we not only care about – but having the main protagonist be someone who faces problems and who knows a little more than the kids do. That’s not a bad thing folks, if that character has thier best intrests at heart.

Blood, guts and glory: Neil Marshall's 'Centurion' hits Video On Demand before an official theatrical US release.

There are a three pet peeves of mine in regards to Hollywood studios. One is messing around with a film’s release date to the point where no filmgoer could find it and/or could care less about the film when newer, better hyped films come out. That’s also around the time folks say the famous five words (“I will wait for video”). Two is not screening theatrical films for mainstream film critics- nine times out of ten, the practice is done to show a studio’s lack of confidence in that film (we think it’s junk/know it’s junk we’ll give you this junk and hope you won’t care)…and then there’s Magnolia Pictures and their genre arm Magnet Releasing.

What does this film company do? Well, if you are not familiar with the young studio, this is it in a nutshell, from thier own website:

Magnolia Pictures ( is the theatrical and home entertainment distribution arm of the Wagner/Cuban Companies, a vertically integrated group of media properties co-owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban that also include the Landmark Theatres chain, the production company 2929 Productions, and high definition cable networks HDNet and HDNet Movies.

So what does this mean? Well, if the film is distributed by other studios (such as the terrific James Gray film We Own The Night) nothing too unusual – the studio sets a wide or limited theatrical run just like any other film. If, however, the film, produced or picked up by Magnolia and/or it’s genre arm Magnet releasing (such as Gray’s equally compelling Two Lovers or Let The Right One In, Ong Bak 1 and 2, Splinter and the upcoming Centurion…? Then, a week or less before the film goes to a North American theatrical release, it “premieres” on Video On Demand and/or HDNetMovies. The problem with this is that the majority of theatre chains (with the exception of Landmark) know this- and will not have these pictures screened in their theatres. The theatrical release, therefore is limited.
So let’s say you saw the trailer for Neil Marshall’s film Centurion or even the ‘red band’ trailer (red bands usually contain extra shots of R rated material, a practice which I still don’t get-there have been many R rated films in the past which never needed Red Band trailers. Did A Clockwork Orange or GoodFellas ever need one?) Now, some films like Centurion have been picked up for distribution by Magnolia/Magnet; they have already played theatrically overseas.
Centurion has also appeared in a number of US film festivals as well. There are a number of people out there who are familiar with director Marshall’s work- I’m a big fan of his first film, Dog Soldiers and many others are huge fans of probably the best horror film of the previous decade, Descent. His third film, Doomsday, had some nice touches, and there was nice apocalyptic action in there, with homages to other sci-fi action films, but the film was uneven overall. In some genre geek circles, his name is a name to watch,
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Predators (2010)

Over Here!

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. I did not care much for the Alien vs Predator movies. The last one I hated with a vengeance in fact. I don’t know how the Aliens will cope, but there is one clear truth. The new Predator film gets off on the right foot during development and wipes the slate clean of the AvP films, which is a celebration in of itself because those two foul things are no longer canon. But for those who wanted to see another creature feature battle, Predators battle not only human prey, but other creatures and even their own that get out of line. (Well, it’s a bit more than that, but I won’t want to spoil the specific details of it.) The film also loosely ignores the events from Predator 2 (1990) although, according to interviews with Nimrod Avatal (Vacancy), the events from that film are not all discarded- only the AvP films. That’s good enough for me, that’s all I want to know. There were some spoilers that the internet gave out, such as what’s up with Topher Grace’s doctor character Edwin, and other details- but I have to admit that the demise of some characters packs some surprises, as you don’t know how they go out or in which order. There are also a few who don’t like Grace’s role and/or the actor. His lines and mannerisms come off as more small attempts at comic relief, be it obnoxious or playing the straight man. In a way, his character works. What is more interesting is that all of the characters work in this film. Continue reading

A guilty pleasure from my teen movie viewing years, Delta Force stills holds up well -kind of.

Last night I was flipping through cable channels when I caught a glimpse of a movie which I have not seen in ages. It isn’t in my DVD library, although a few other Chuck Norris movies are –Forced Vengeance, Lone Wolf McQuade, The Octagon and Code Of Silence But here it is, The Delta Force. I have occasionally noticed the DVD for sale in that absurd, annoying new DVD bottomless round pit at Wal-Mart (anyone ever seen this and went digging? you have my sympathies) and I probably won’t muster up the courage to buy it. Not unless they remaster the thing in the 1:85 aspect ratio and a few extra goodies on it. In any case, I say to myself I’ll change the channel. I don’t.

I simply had forgotten that even though the action of the film is standard B-movie fare and nothing spectacular, it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t as good as other 80s actioners Chuck Norris was in, but at least The Delta Force is watchable. On top of that, there is one element that makes the picture stand out- and hold up- to this day. Continue reading

Revenge pictures are kinds of movies that Hollywood makes every now and then, because, in the pitch of some of these ideas is a thought provoking issue. If some unfair, tragic event happened to you, how far would you go to seek justice? What would be possible consequences of taking the law into your own hands? In addition, since movies are an escape, they provide an outlet for such fantasy. The bad guys in these films are rarely equipped to handle an average person who snaps. Or even a person who was in some part connected to law enforcement.

But this is a limited appeal. Revenge pictures don’t work. There are few exceptions, although even I wasn’t a huge fan of Quentin Tarintino’s Kill Bill films, although I will always enjoy his other pictures. I will concede that Kill Bill had a number of elements in its favor. The pop-culture references, the send up of the Shaw brothers kung fu pictures, and the mere fact that the fight between the Crazy 88’s and The Bride is a thrill. The reason why Kill Bill as well as The Crow have a following is because they booth added more than just a revenge picture. The Crow had not only a surpernatual element and a surreal worldscape, but also the accidental death of its star, Brandon Lee. In that film, the actor gives dialog like “I’m dead and I move”. It wasn’t meant to be literal, but since that film’s release, it is. When the sequels to The Crow happened, the morbid, if not entertaining appeal was gone. The unintended subtext was no longer there. The Crow, like most other characters that are based around revenge motives, have little going for them other than that. They exist for no other purpose. In general, revenge pictures don’t work. There’s usually nothing at stake for the protagonist but simply just to get even. The antagonist’s goals are only to be the foil for the retaliation. It becomes an action picture without action, just reaction. Continue reading

It’s easy to see why some people (specifically mainstream movie critics) would have a problem with the 1998 film The Man In The Iron Mask. It shares more in common with the 1939 film directed by James Whale, and, like the 1939 film, less to do with Alexandre Dumas’ last half of The Vicomte de Bragelonne. There’s also a flair for bits and pieces of melodrama throughout Randall Wallace’s version, which can be welcomed for simplicity, but frowned on because it’s too heavy handed. Like the scene with the angry, starving mob at the gates. Someone throws a rotten fruit at D’Artagnan- and the crowd does gasp! Will the Musketeer army fire upon the crowd? Instead, D’Artagnan agrees that the food is rotten, and brings the issue up before young, brash King Louis XIV, who is bankrupting France with his unpopular wars. King Louis XIV is played by Leonardo DiCaprio as a cold hearted tyrant with the mental state of a spoiled child abusing the power granted him. In this version, it is revealed that D’Artagnan had an affair with Queen Anne, and that he believes the King to be his son. The young King knows nothing about the affair, but what he does know is that he has a twin brother, Phillipe (also played by DiCaprio) who, because of his bloodline, has been locked up and has his face hidden by an iron mask.

It is DiCaprio’s contrasting performance which won me over in this film, not to mention the enjoyment levels raised by supporting veteran actors Gérard Depardieu, Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich, but, dare I say it, the relationship levels of all:

Leonardo DiCaprio against Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Man In The Iron Mask'- brothers or symbolic duality?

The father-son dynamic.
D’Artagnan cannot directly tell the young King that he is his father, but he has hopes that Louis will cease at his indifference and become to grow into being a good King. Upon the discovery of Phillipe, D’Artagnan is shocked to know what Louis has done to his brother (and a son he never knew) and becomes torn on which is the son he would rather have. The King also sets up Athos’ only son Raoul to be killed in battle in order for Louis to have Raoul’s love, Christine, for himself, and has made an enemy of Athos because of it. Which also plays into:

The value and test of friendship
While D’Artagnan has assumed responsibilities as captain of the Musketeer army, Aramis, Porthos and Athos have grown tired of the King and choose to free Phillipe in order to ‘replace’ the King. Aramis seeks to redeem himself of a horrible mistake he made in putting Phillipe in the prison and mask, also, he sides with the people who are on edge of revolt due to the Kings policies. Porthos has also lost respect for Louis XIV. D’Artagnan has his loyalties divided again when asked to go to kill his old friends; they did not involve him in the plot because they suspected he would not go along with the plans.

Forbidden love

D’Artagnan also is reminded of his relationship with the Queen, and they both still have strong feelings for each other, but cannot have the past come out into the open, for fears of scandal. Also, Raoul is rather shy in asking Christine’s hand in marriage, when he has finally decided, he finds out that the King (who has many women in and out of his bed) has chosen Christine for his next conquest. Christine had expected the proposal from Raoul to come soon, but the tempting words of King Louis have an element of truth. What was Raoul waiting for? Raoul also gives up when he sees that he would have to challenge the King. But the King must pull a David-Bathsheba act in order to stop Christine from going back to Raoul.

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Daredevil (2003) is a film, which I didn’t really care about although after the smoke cleared, I had rented it on DVD a year later, and I wound up liking it a bit more. I eventually wound up buying the SE two disc set, which had a ton of nice supportive features, specifically the enhanced viewing mode which allows the viewer to see behind the scenes stunts, effects and things like that. Boring stuff to average casual viewers, gold to film geeks. It does not really matter how good the quality of a film might be; if the video release has behind the scenes non- fluff pieces, I’m there. Daredevil is no different. When a number of viewings have been taken in, I realize that it wasn’t a horrible film. There was a lot to like, in fact. A touching love story between Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) and Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner, who would later marry Affleck); future Iron Man director Jon Faverau as Foggy Nelson, the over the insane Bullseye, played by Colin Farrell, the Kevin Smith cameo, scenes that come right out of the comics and the music, including the Graeme Revell. score. Also, narrative wise, the “turned corner” doesn’t happen until an hour and a half into the film. It is that moment, and what happens after it, that single handedly uproots what had come before it. It answers one question that many consider to be a plot hole (how the hero can keep fighting after being seriously wounded) but unwittingly creates another question and then a much bigger plot hole. Then another. Then the entire film falls like a domino effect. One scene in particular stands out among all others, and becomes universally hated, at least on a subconscious level, because of the last ten to fifteen minutes of the film. Likewise, three other scenes stand out as being emotionally and visually outstanding- which adds to the bigger disappointment, for whenever one sees a movie which has stellar moments or when an actor or actress is really good in the part, if the rest of the film is not up to par…? That’s a huge problem. Continue reading