Tag Archives: action

MORE DEAD MOBSTERS THAN I HAVE STICKS TO SHAKE AT (LAST MAN STANDING – 1996)

DENIZENS OF THE INTERNET, I AM NOT DEAD!  Contrary to popular opinions circulating through the tubes, I was not killed nor taken political prisoner by the head intelligence agency of Chile.  I repeat, I was "not" taken political prisoner by the central intelligence agency of Chile.  Okay, so maybe I was.  It wasn’t that bad.  Turns out they have Netflix.  (I don’t think they’re subscribed to Qwikster though.)  And so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last week or so.

What does that mean?  Well, that I was unable to see Moneyball last Friday.  However, barring any unforeseen complications (like foreign governments or my employers), I’ll likely see that and/or 50/50 this weekend.

So, with the very generous Chilean government’s Netflix account, I’ve been catching a bunch of B-movies or one that are about a decade or older.  Last Man Standing is a bit of both.  Well, it really is both of those things.  Still, I managed to watch it from beginning to end. 

Basically, this is your everyday mobster-western-detective-(color)noir-action film.  Nothing really new here.  Bruce Willis rolls into the dusty town of Jordan and proceeds to turn two rival gangs, the Americans and the Italians, against each other.  In the process, All but five characters die (two of which leave town) and we’re left with a bloodied Willis essentially leaving after having finished his business.  All together, the film is the cinematic version of pulp fiction (cheap books, not the movie).  Still, there are a few things to point out:

THE GOOD

Christopher Walken.  Let me start by saying that he is probably the greatest actor of all time.  Regardless of what role he plays, be it comedic or horrifying, my suspense of disbelief is negligible, allowing me to enjoy the spectacle as if it’s true.  In this particular role, Walken plays a sociopathic ginger, unseen in the first half of the film for which we only know what’s been said of him.  According to virtually every citizen of Jordan, he’s a monster.  In the second half of the film, we actually get to view this beast and recognize that a quiet exterior is broken by insanity which, in itself, is interspersed with moments of bright rationality.  Altogether, he is by far the most interesting character, entertaining even to his death.

THE BAD

The film starts out dry (it’s funny because it’s a western… yes, I’m ashamed of myself) with Willis driving through the desert and then getting into town where his car is broken by some thugs.  It’s pretty boring until he decides to return the favor and kills one of the American mobsters.  Then it’s ninety minutes of killing, shooting, and burning.  While it certainly eliminates the original dryness and provides for the action-seeking demographic, it grows stale rather quickly.

THE UGLY

Narration.  I get it.  It’s a staple of detective-noir films because it let’s the detective show off his wit and use of not-so-clever similes.  Still, there’s a limit to everything and this film certainly exceeds it.  It’s not an issue of poorly written monologues (I’d destroy a genre if I wanted to write about that).  The issue was that, much like our creative writing teachers told us, you want to show the audience instead of telling them.  While we certainly get a show in this film (enough fire and blood to fulfill any hunger for violence I had that night), the constant narration of the events that just transpired or the monotonous revelations of supposed emotions that pass behind the unchanging exterior.  (I secretly added that Willis’s acting was miserable, whether by writing or execution, he has no emotion.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

There’s not much to this film despite the genres it crosses.  It’s an interesting cast playing underdeveloped characters in a story that could have been far more entertaining had it not been executed so monotonously. 

Still, if you’re bored one evening and feel like watching a western town, whose sole existence is to house and fund the operations of two mobs, be torn to shreds by bullets uncountable, or if you’d like to see a sociopathic ginger Christopher Walken, this film might not be a terrible way to spend an hour and forty minutes.

DRIVE (2011)

Continuing this short streak of on-time reviews, I went and saw Drive earlier today.  And, quite honestly, I don’t know if I enjoyed it.  The film is truly different from anything else I’ve seen and would take about three reference films to give you a general idea of what it was like.  But I’ll bypass the name-dropping and just begin my assessment.  (I’ve tried to steer away from the massive paragraphs and instead typed up a bunch of bullet point thoughts when the movie ended.  The short paragraphs below are those bullet points fleshed out, but you might still see some odd bullet syntax.)

THE GOOD

Ryan Gosling’s character (I’m not being lazy, he doesn’t have a name.  In the credits, he’s referred to as Driver.) is one of the most enigmatic machinations I’ve ever seen.  His character is inherently inhuman for the brutality he exacts upon his aggressors and the manic-depressive behavior he exhibits.  And, while I’m so on the fence about him that it hurts, the lack of humanity works in his character.  Because he is a man with no name, he can be more or less than human.  (For anybody who’s read it, this is a bit like Shadow from American Gods)

Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) is an interesting character for his considerably more human portrayal, though he gets few precious moments of screen time before being executed to further the plot.  Returning from jail, he’s not the belligerent ex-con, but instead a caring father and family man who wants to repair the frayed ties to the people he loves and put his incarceration behind him.  Unfortunately, he’s not that lucky.

Irene (Carey Mulligan) and Benicio (Kaden Leos) are completely static characters, Irene the adulterous wife and Beni the aloof child.  As his father is being injured and subsequently dies, Beni’s demeanor changes little.  Irene’s feelings for Ryan seem to grow immediately following the death of her husband as viewed in the elevator scene and the film’s ending.

Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is a similarly static character.  He never does much to give his character depth, leaving us with a down-and-out auto shop owner who’s hired Gosling (and genuinely likes him) and has ties to the local mob.  While he’s inherently dirty for his ties to the mob and scheduling of Gosling’s "after-hours" activities, you grow fond for him throughout the film and are sad to see him killed.

The main mobsters of this film have received accolades from other critics and not without reason.  Nino (Ron Perlman) is a sort of horrifying ape of a man, who seems a sociopath until he has a conversation with his partner, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), and describes why life as a Jewish mobster is so difficult.  It’s almost endearing.  Still, Albert Brooks has more screen-time and effectively uses it to make something more than a one-dimensional mobster.  He’s a business man with friends who, begrudgingly, has to kill them.  While he seems to be a sociopath for the swiftness with which he kills, it’s business.  Still, it’s evident, on occasion, that his fondness for certain people extends to the way in which he takes care of them (i.e., attempting to be merciful when killing Shannon).

Beyond the odd assortment of characters, the film has an eclectic artistic direction.  There are many scenes in which we only see Gosling’s face and/or torso behind the wheel and the blurred background changing outside the windows.  It’s also a film that seems hell-bent on showing us that it takes place in Los Angeles.  (That last bit made me happy because I got to see shots of my hometown.) The most interesting artistic aspect of this film though, were the scenes resembling live theatre, where the lighting would dim on all players and sets save for the one(s) we’re supposed to focus upon. 

Finally, there’s an odd bit of irony in closing music.  A pop song with the lyrics "a real hero, a real human being" plays as Gosling drives away and the credits begin to roll.  It seems particularly ironic because those are the two things Gosling’s character did not seem to embody.  Gosling is less a hero or human, and more a destructive, though "just" force of nature.  He shows up, with no identity, enacts whatever he must, and leaves without anybody knowing who he is.

THE BAD

Film appears as if it’s 25-30 years old if not for the infrequent cell phone usage and a few cars.  That’s my succinct way of saying that, if they hadn’t shown us shot after shot of Los Angeles hot spots or made references to where everything was (Reseda Blvd, The valley, Echo Park, etc.), this film would have had no discernible time or place setting.  And doing so could have worked for this story, making it less real, and more a definition or attempt to redefine the archetype it was expected to fulfill. 

THE UGLY

Film will likely become notorious for seemingly unnecessary gore.  This film begins with driving and pleasant characters, enwrapped in some sort of intrigue (in this case, criminal acts to further advance their financial status quo).  Then Standard is being attacked by his old prison mates and everything takes a turn for the bloody after a failed heist.  Standard dies at the heist with multiple shot gun blasts to the back.  Then a female accomplice dies at the hide out after she takes a shot gun blast to the head (which we see in slow motion).  Gosling then kills the two assailants who’ve come to the hide out, one with a shot gun and another by ramming a pipe through his stomach/chest/mouth (I can’t remember which, just a lot of blood).  Then we have a series of knife/fork/straight razor based deaths and assaults, all proving a bit taxing on my stomach.  Luckily, I’d not eaten anything prior to viewing this film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is not about the characters but about the actions they take out upon each other.  I know that seems a serious generalization and applicable to any film, but that’s what made this film different.  The characters didn’t need names or even backstories to tell the story as it did, it just needed faces and bodies to act out the motions.  The actions said more than words ever could and the film lingers in my mind because it chose not to tell me who I was seeing.

Now, leaving the review and entering the consumer advice (my old writing teacher’s gripe with critics), should you go see this film?  Well, it’s rated R for gore and nudity, so take that into account however you please.  It’s an interesting story that makes me want to read the novel it’s based off of.  So, while I can’t entirely say that I liked it, I do recommend it for others to form their own opinion on what will likely be a polarizing film.

COWBOYS & ALIENS: AN INVASION ALMOST INCONSEQUENTIAL

Like every Thursday night, I went out last night to catch a midnight movie.  Unlike most weekends though, I had three choices: Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Smurfs, or Cowboys & Aliens.  While the first didn’t seem a bad choice, my companion didn’t feel like watching a Steve Carell picture.  The second, however, seemed terrible from the first trailer I viewed.  So, I’ll be boycotting the annoying film and its atrocious use of 3D graphics.  Ergo, my friend and I went to see Cowboys & Aliens last night.  (This seems like an awkward case of the game Clue.  It was Tom and his friend, at the AMC, with the Sci-Fi Western.)

THE GOOD

To start, this is an action film.  So we should expect a fair number of explosions, guns and knives aplenty, and enough jaw punches to pulp Jay Leno’s epic mandible.  In these respects, Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and the aliens certainly deliver.  From the opening scene in which Craig kills three riding bandits/bounty hunters, to the first invasion sequence as the town explodes and its citizens are captured, and finally with the concluding battle against the invading aliens as the town’s forces war with the entire invasionary force in a canyon, the action scenes stand up to today’s standards.

As a fan of westerns, I enjoyed the historic elements present in this film.  I enjoyed the costuming, seeing that the characters were well dressed without coming off as pretentious, up until the end when everybody’s living off the new gold market.  Aside from the costumes, I also enjoyed the set design.  Classic western town elements were present, from the local saloon, to the town jail.  While I felt that a bit too little time was spent in these areas so as to recognize the detailing, it seemed well put together at first glance.

THE BAD

Like I said before, this is an action film.  So, while we’re expecting gratuitous violence and accompanying one-liners, we should not expect impressive character growth or any real depth to this film.  Like before, the film delivers here as well.  

Craig plays the stereotypical western badass.  He is Jake Lonergan, an ex-bandit amnesiac who begins the film working only to repair his memories but eventually sides with the townsfolk to return their abducted kin.  Ford portrays the crotchety, old bastard bigot and corrupted cattle owner, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde.  Like all main cast seemingly misanthropes, he eventually comes to forget his racism and show compassion for his ignored son. 

On the other side of these awfully shallow or predictable characters, we have the confusing and unpredictable.  Most notably, Olivia Wilde portrays a young woman, Ella Swenson, who follows Craig throughout the first seventy-five percent of the film.  Her reasoning is that the aliens had abducted her people long before the film began and she believes that he can locate them.  Then she’s struck by one of the aliens, dies, is cremated, and then comes out of the fire.  She then informs everybody that she’s an alien who has taken a human form so as to work alongside Lonergan and the town to destroy the aliens that have no sanctity for life (caring only for the local gold).  She ends up sacrificing herself to destroy the alien ship in a large explosion before it can return to the alien home-world.

THE UGLY

The biggest issue of this film, aside from Wilde’s phoenix return and subsequent trans-species romance with Lonergan, was that deaths were almost completely ignored in this film.  The preacher’s death seemed to be the one to which the characters showed the most emotion for, but that took place in the first half of the film.  Wilde’s death was a brief, “He’s dead, Jim”, but she comes back, and then proceeds to die again, with the latter death being unspoken as all the characters simply disburse.  Lonergan’s wife/lady-friend from before the film’s beginning, who we later discover was disintegrated upon the alien ship, similarly was left without feeling.  Craig walks into their old house, sets down some flowers, sees a hummingbird, and then walks out smiling.  Even in the final moments of the film, when the quiet town is seen to be growing and changing because of the new gold, everyone is grinning without any lamentation over their fallen comrades and lovers.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At this point, I’ve said it several times: this is an action film.  Therefore, it will be viewed by an audience who want action.  They’ll not be looking for character development or historical accuracy or any real emotion.  They’ll be looking for gun shots, haymakers, and explosions.  For that reason, this film will definitely satisfy them.  It does the western genre justice while simultaneously developing a new type of alien (large, green, neck-less beast things with superior technology and multiple sets of arms) for the general public to mull over. 

So, while I doubt that this movie will be a huge success (though I could be wrong with their advertising pushes), I’m sure it will be enjoyed by many.  And, if you ever wanted to see Daniel Craig ride off into the sunset atop a horse, this movie will not leave you disappointed.

THE FIRST AVENGER (CAPTAIN AMERICA FILM REVIEW)

I have to say, I really love midnight film showings.  Almost invariably, you’ll view the film in a theatre packed with the titular character’s greatest fans.  The amassment of viewers will undoubtedly cheer at every punched jaw, gasp when our protagonist is about to be executed, and cheer some more when they escape their doomed fate.  Somehow, however, I did not experience this last night.  Rather, I viewed Captain America: The First Avenger in a near empty theatre, no more than twenty-five people in attendance. 

Regardless, those who were present enjoyed the film.

THE GOOD

Where should a film revolving around World War II do it’s best?  In the war scenes.  Allow me the assuage your fears for another superhero film by saying that the cinematographers did an excellent job with the large-scale fight scenes.  Watching Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) invade enemy bases, punch out Hydra guards, and release four hundred prisoners from rows of jail cells was immensely satisfying.  The further Michael Bay-esque explosions in the background appropriately added to the atmosphere.

But beyond the action (in an action film), what did I like?  Well, I was appreciative of the film’s casting director whom I believe did an excellent job in this film.  All of the characters seemed appropriate for their roles from Chris Evans to Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) to Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt/Red Skull).  My favorite cast member however, was Tommy Lee Jones.  I’m regularly enamored with his characters so this is nothing new and, like he does in virtually every film, he added comedic relief to this film with his gruff sarcasm. 

Though not out of place for a comic book hero, I was not expecting much from the dialogue in this film.  Unlike the stereotypical monologues found in the pulp pages, the dialogue in this film seemed balanced and logical, while still coming from virtually one-dimensional characters.  What I found the best was Evans final dialogue with Atwell just before he crashes the plane.  It wasn’t overly dramatic or a depressing goodbye, it was the emotionally fulfilling avoidance of saying goodbye that alluded to the underlying romance in the film while not allowing the traditional action film to be dragged down by it. 

Finally, like all of the Avenger hero films thus far, Captain America has a scene that shows after the credits.  Unlike the previous films that only alluded to the next hero in the series, this scene is essentially a full trailer for the Avengers film.  While I’ll, in turn, write a review on that trailer soon, all I have to say here is that the trailer is excellent and certainly worth waiting through the credits for.

THE BAD

While I greatly enjoyed this film (I suppose I’m a bit of a superhero geek at heart), it wasn’t perfect.  In fact, it made a fair number of mistakes with the first being that it suffers from some truly dreadful montage scenes. 

The first of these is when Steve Rogers is only Captain America on stage, selling war bonds to upper class Americans back at home.  It’s about five minutes of dancing girls, Evans selling bonds, and watching him poorly stage-punch a vaudevillian Hitler.  While it’s not particularly upsetting, it grows old as soon as Captain America learns his lines (in the beginning, he’s reading them off of his shield).

The other, considerably more dreadful montage takes place after Captain America becomes a battlefield hero.  Just after releasing the four hundred prisoners and returning to base, we have a two-to-three minute montage of Captain America kicking butt with his team, blowing up elephant-sized tanks, and having Red Skull show up after the slaughter and shaking his fist ruefully.  Scenes like these are what scare people about superhero films.  Moreso than completely one-dimensional characters, it’s the cheesy lines and illogical behavior of the villains.  Watching Red Skull shake his fist at the thought of Captain America makes the film’s villain seem almost comical which is completely destructive for the horrifying mystical Nazi. 

Beyond the montage scenes, I found the pacing of the film to be lacking.  My brother kept saying that the film could have been broken into three films and, while completely wrong (though they may have been three comic books), I understand what he was trying to get at.  The film has three major points of action: the initial invasion and prison break, a train-heist of sorts, and the final battle.  The issue is that, from the point when Steve Rogers is irradiated into Captain America, there’s little to no downtime.  It’s action, Action, ACTION!  It seems as if each of these action scenes is broken by a few minutes of dialogue about whatever just happened and a one-liner. 

Finally, I felt the defeat of Red Skull lacked the fulfillment of being beaten by Captain America.  Instead, Red Skull essentially destroys himself in a manner strangely reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He’s destroyed by holding a Cosmic Cube (Marvel universe construct thingie) and transported into space or something.  The scene just looked as if it was channeling other films with the Indiana Jones death and alluding awfully heavily to Thor and Norse mythos. 

THE UGLY

There’s little else to say negative about this film aside from the external references it kept making.  After some reflection, I can accept the Thor references as they’ll be teaming up together in The Avengers

However, I cannot accept the Raiders of the Lost Ark death and a few others.  The first of these is a short series of Evel Knievel stunts that Captain America takes on a motorbike.  While I’ve nothing against the motorbike, feeling that it’s thoroughly American and a fitting means of transportation for a human superhero, this film messed it up. 

Then, after watching the Captain jump of ramps as things explode behind him, we’re forced to watch a chase scene with our protagonist and team of leather-garbed Hydra agents riding their choppers through a forest and fighting with laser weapons.  It screamed Mad Max and left me puzzled over why the film needed this thirty second scene.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Though my negative thoughts are often greater in number than the positive things I’ll say about a film, that’s simply the routine here.  Altogether, I greatly enjoyed watching this film.  It’s refreshing to have such a stereotypically “good” superhero take to the silver screen after every other studio has aimed for the antihero in the last decade.  While I would quickly lose favor with this if it became the standard, it was fun to watch and I greatly recommend this film to anybody who enjoys superhero or action films.  Also, with minimal graphic violence (save for one Hydra agent being instantly chopped up by a plane propeller towards the end of the film) it’s an excellent one for children.

It’s named after the film (Super 8 film review)

On the way home from the theatre, a passenger in the car began to question the film’s title.  The driver responded that it may have been an allusion to the film’s alien, but I knew otherwise:

To my 21st century brethren, allow me to enlighten you.  Once, long ago, digital cameras were not the primary means of recording images and video.  The older among us will still remember these days, filled with cassette tapes and rolls of kodak 35mm film.  Beyond them though, in the time of the ancients, video was recorded on film.  Not playable in your VCR, and not transferrable to any player.  Rather, the reels had to be developed similar to the 35mm kodak rolls.  This, Super 8mm film, is the source from which the movie derives its name.220px-S8cartridg

Now that you know this, let’s look at more important matters.  How was the movie?  In short, good.  Yes, it was a good movie. But that shouldn’t surprise anybody.  J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg routinely produce loved box-office hits.  Bringing them together was the beginning of what could have been the greatest sci-fi movie ever released.  Did it reach this level of excellence?  No, it did not.  That said, it didn’t hit a Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull level of bad either.  It fell somewhere between these two extremes, and I’d say it was considerably closer to the former than the latter.

While I will not spare this movie any criticisms I may have, there were a few things it did very well.  First was the fun meta-film aspect.  I don’t mean this in the way that The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield are told through recovered film.  What I mean is that the movie folds over on itself as we’re viewing the filming of an unrelated story as the movie develops.  This allowed for the characters to move the plot along and develop meaningful characters while being exactly where they were needed to experience the alien’s rampage first-hand. 

Second, I congratulate Abrams and Spielberg for not overdoing the alien.  One gripe I had with Cloverfield was that the alien seemed to be the size of a city block and as tall as a skyscraper.  While we’re not allowed to observe most of the alien until the very end of this movie, he was something between the height of a bus and a house and about as long as a commercial truck (maybe a truck and a half).   Furthermore, he did not have the futuristic or weapons-enabled appearance of some aliens, while apparently retaining intelligence and perhaps a semblance of mercy.  220px-Super_8_Poster

Third, and finally for my brief list of positives, I enjoyed the young, innocent romance between Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Elle Fanning).  The evolution of their “relationship” was entertaining to watch as it had few, if any, cringe moments while never seeming superficial or forced.  Likewise, we don’t have the relationship that stems solely from their mutual involvement in an hour-long disaster.  Rather, they share several instances of dialogue that bring them together emotionally while simultaneously building their characters for the viewer and answering questions pertaining to events just prior to the beginning of the film.

But what of the negatives?  Well, there are only two things that I was even remotely bothered by.  The first is the portrayal of Joe’s and Alice’s fathers.  The former’s is shown from the beginning to nearly the end of the film as having no grasp of his mild-mannered son and consistently ignoring him for his responsibilities as deputy.  The latter is a raging alcoholic with emotional issues.  While Alice’s father helped to strengthen her character and even affected Joe’s character, Joe’s father only seemed to have his personality for a few father/son conflicts that did little to build characters or move the plot along.

super-8-train-crash11My other grievance with this film was an experiential issue that slightly diminished the enjoyment I had in theatre.  While the images were excellent, each scene was well shot and the special effects were brilliant, the sound did not work at the same level.  Unfortunately, it seemed like somebody had watched the film distracted and later said that the action sequences didn’t have proper visual cues but that the situation could be remedied with volume.  This produced ear drum shattering explosions and screams, often causing audience members to jump when the suspense alone should have sufficed.  If I make one recommendation to any future viewers, it’s that you cover your ears just before the train crash.  I’m sure you’ll still be able to hear it, but you won’t feel assaulted afterwards like everybody else in the theatre. 

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  The writing and videography was above average.  To anybody who wants the ultra-short synopsis: It’s a cross between E.T. (Spielberg’s influence was painfully obvious) and Cloverfield.  I would not recommend this movie for children under 8, but I’m sure that most others will enjoy it.

Well, this is awkward…

Who has two thumbs and a terminal case of cabin fever?

This guy.

 

Now that I think about it, that line probably works better in person.  But who am I kidding, I don’t really care.  No, I don’t really care that I’ve been gone for two months.  What can I say?  School went into overdrive towards finals and I’ve been rehabilitating since I got home.  That’s right, school is over (I got A’s in everything but calculus, in which I got a C) and I’m back in Los Angeles.  So… where was I going with this?

Hmmmm.  Well, what is Tom up to these days?  Let’s see, I’ve…

  • purchased a gladius and have been practicing on a number of dummies in my backyard (not sure just how much longer the gladius is going to last, I’ve put it through a bit of a beating),
  • read through all of the Percy Jackson and Nicholas Flamel series,
  • begun cooking for myself again (this was an activity that I truly missed in school),
  • and wrote a résumé.

This last activity was both a major accomplishment and a source of my depression.  (It makes me feel old.)  It’s also grossly unlikely that I’ll hear back from the person I sent my résumé to, or the myriad of other businesses to which I applied.

So, what’s the point of this again?  Well, once upon a time, I had the inclination that this blog-thing would become popular and I’d be lavishing in fame and fortune.  But, true to life, I’m unpopular on the internet.  Ergo, neither fame nor fortune has entered my life.  This leaves me with the only two options: one, stop writing or, two, continue writing despite my (non-existent) audience.  I choose the latter.  Let the fame and fortune come in their own time.  I will continue to write for my own enjoyment.  (And because it will likely keep me from going mad.)

May the future be forgiving…

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