“RED 2” (2013) Review

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“RED 2” (2013) Review

The 2010 adaptation of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s comic book series proved to be very popular at the box office. Yet, I was surprised that it took another three years for the sequel, “RED 2” to be released in the movie theaters. Unless the movie in question is part of the STAR WARS franchise, it usually takes two years or less for a sequel to appear on the scene.

“RED 2” picks up a few years after “RED”, which finds ex-C.I.A. agent Frank Moses trying to lead a normal life with his girlfriend, Sarah Ross. The effort seems to be a strain for both, although Frank seems to be more successful in accepting a “normal life”. Frank’s former colleague Marvin Bogge interrupts this “idyllic life” by warning Frank that people might be following them. Frank dismisses Marvin’s fears before the latter drives off before his car is blown up. After Frank and Sarah attend Marvin’s funeral, the former is captured by government agents to a Yankee White Facility, where he is interrogated by a C.I.A. operative named Jack Horton. Frank manages to escape the facility with the help of a resurrected Marvin. And the latter reveals that he and Frank were being hunted for being part of a secret operation called Nightshade, which smuggled a nuclear weapon created by one Dr. Edward Bailey, piece by piece into Russia back in the late 1970s or early 80s. Horton is ordered to label Frank, Marvin and Sarah terrorists to other countries. Former MI-6 assassin, Victoria Winslow informs her friends that she has been recruited by her former agency to kill them. She also informs them that former South Korean agent-turned-top contract killer Han Cho-Bai has been hired by the C.I.A. to kill Frank and Marvin. With so many after them; Frank, Marvin and Sarah are forced to learn the truth about Nightshade in order to clear themselves of the terrorist charge.

I had enjoyed “RED” when the movie first came out, three years ago. But if I must be honest, I did not love it. My opinion of it grew over the years. But after seeing “RED 2”, I realize that my views of it will never be as high as “RED 2”. The summer of 2013 seemed to be plagued by box office flops and from what I have seen of the box office take for “RED 2” after it had been in the theaters for three weeks, it is clear that it is a flop. Once again, I am faced with a movie that I seemed to like a lot more than the majority of moviegoers and critics. If I had been younger, I would have taken the public’s rejection of the film personally. But when I think of the number of failed movies that I have enjoyed over the years, I have come to the conclusion that I no longer cared whether the rest of the public share my feelings for a particular movie. As far as I am concerned, I enjoyed “RED 2” very much and look forward to its DVD release.

As in the 2010 movie, “RED 2” featured a past operation that has come back to haunt two of its main heroes – Frank Moses and Marvin Bogges. But in “RED 2”, the circumstances and plot surrounding the Nightshade Operation struck me as more plausible and better written that the covert operation featured in “RED”. Even the villains’ objectives struck me as a lot more plausible. Realizing this has made me wonder why my opinion of “RED” has increased in the past three years. “RED 2” also delved more into Frank’s relationship with his Kansas City-born paramour, Sarah Ross. I found it rather amusing that the ever paranoid Marvin seemed to understand Sarah’s need for action a lot better than Frank, who seemed determined to treat her as a china doll. But as Marvin pointed out – Frank is blinded by his fear of losing Sarah. Their relationship is also tested by Frank’s reunion with a former paramour – a KGB colonel named Katya, and Sarah’s talent for using her feminine wiles to deal with terrorists such as “The Frog” and a Russian Army officer at the Kremlin. Best of all, “RED 2” featured some top-notch villains – including the proficiently murderous C.I.A. agent Jack Horton and one Han Cho-Bai, viewed as the best contract killer in the world. “RED 2” also possess one of the best plot twists I have seen in some time. It certainly proved to be better than any of the plot twists featured in the 2010 movie. Jon and Erich Hoeber did a great job with a complex script.

Did I have any problems with “RED 2”? I had a little problem with Marvin’s ability to fake death. Considering that he was presumably killed due to a car bomb, I was surprised that no one found the idea of a pristine body inside the coffin rather questionable . . . especially Sarah Ross. And who really had been responsible for Operation Nightshade? The C.I.A. or MI-6? Or was it a joint effort? The Hoebers’ script never really made the matter clear.

The performances in “RED 2” were marvelous. Beginning with the three leads – Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker – and down to Titus Welliver, who more or less gave a cameo appearance; the movie rocked with some first-rate acting. For the second time, Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker created comic and romantic screen chemistry as the love-struck Frank Moses and Sarah Ross. Thanks to the actors’ comedic skills, both did a great job in conveying the pair’s relationship struggles of her boredom of being an “ordinary” couple and his penchant for being over protective. Once again, John Malkovich was marvelous as the deliciously paranoid Marvin Bogges, who in this film, also displays a talent for romantic counseling. Helen Mirren not only gave a deliciously witty performance as British assassin Victoria Winslow, she also proved that to be a bad-ass action star in some of the scenes in the movie’s second half. When I had learned that Lee Byung-hun from the “G.I. JOE” had been cast in the film, I assumed his character would be a great deal like the one he had portrayed in the Hasbro film franchise. I proved to be right . . . superficially. Thankfully, the actor’s portrayal of the assassin Han proved to be a great deal more emotional and rather funny, despite being deadly.

The movie also featured an excellent performance from Neal McDonough as the very dangerous and rather cold-blooded C.I.A. agent, Jack Horton. His character’s takedown of the agents at the Yankee White Facility struck me as somewhat creepy. Brian Cox reprised his role as Russian intelligence official, Ivan Simanov. He was funnier than ever – especially in one scene in which he was lovingly admiring Victoria’s form as she rescued Frank, Sarah and Marvin from a Russian firing squad. Catherine Zeta-Jones gave a sly and sexy performance as Frank’s former paramour, Russian agent Katya. David Thewlis made a brief appearance as a techno-terrorist named “The Frog”. Not only did the actor did a great job during a chase scene in Paris, he was absolutely hilarious in a scene in which “The Frog” finally surrendered to Sarah’s wooing during an interrogation. The one performance that really impressed me came from Anthony Hopkins, who portrayed the scientist who first created Nightshade, Dr. Edward Bailey. Hopkins’ performance struck me as strange . . . and I am being complimentary. The actor was superb in projecting Bailey’s eccentricity, which developed after years of being stuck in an assylum by MI-6 for nearly three decades. And it was quite a thrill to see him in his only scene with Brian Cox . . . especially since both actors had portrayed Hannibal Lector with great acclaim.

Box office flop or not, I cannot deny that I enjoyed “RED 2” very much. Not only did it struck me as better than the original 2010 movie, but also proved to be one of my favorite movies for the summer of 2013. And I have director Dean Parisot, a great script written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, and a fabulous cast led by Bruce Willis to thank.

“SUNSET” (1988) Review

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“SUNSET” (1988) Review

Bruce Willis and James Garner co-starred in this period piece murder mystery about famous Western movie star Tom Mix and former Old West lawman Wyatt Earp solving a case in 1929 Hollywood. Written and directed by Blake Edwards (“PINK PANTHER” and “VICTOR/VICTORIA”), the movie was based upon Rod Amateau’s novel of the same title.

The movie begins with studio boss Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell) assigning Tom Mix to star in a movie about Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He even hires Earp to act as the film’s technical adviser. The two legends become good friends before getting caught up in a real case that involved prostitution, corruption and the murder of a Hollywood madam. And Alperin’s step-son Michael (Dermot Mulroney) becomes the police’s main suspect. Alperin’s wife and Michael’s mother Christina (Patricia Hodge) recruits Earp (an old flame) and Mix to help her son by finding the real killer.

Let me be frank. “SUNSET” is at best, a mediocre film. It is filled with cinematic clichés, plot twists that either do not make any sense or come off as predictable, and some rather bad dialogue. Surprisingly, one of the worst offenders turns out to be Bruce Willis. I am not accusing him of bad acting. On the contrary, I believe that he gave a pretty damn good performance. Unfortunately, Willis was forced to deal with some pretty atrocious dialogue, thanks to writer/director Blake Edwards. Honestly . . . the poor man came off sounding like a California surfer circa 1985, instead of a Hollywood cowboy from the 1920s. Perhaps if Edwards had refrained from including the term “dude” into Mix’s dialogue, Willis could have emerged from the movie unscathed.

However, Willis was not the only cast member who suffered in this movie. The director’s daughter, Jennifer Edwards, did not fare any better as Victoria Alperin, Alfie’s sister. Poor Ms. Edwards. A year later, she would give a wonderful performance as a ditzy secretary in the 1989 remake of the 1950s television classic, “PETER GUNN”. But in “SUNSET”, her Victoria Alperin seemed even more out of place in this 1920s tale than Willis’ Tom Mix. Her performance struck me as petulant and unnecessarily brittle. I could not help but think she would have fared better in a guest appearance on “MIAMI VICE” as the brittle wife of some drug dealer or corrupt businessman. Honestly. Actor Joe Dallesandro portrayed Dutch Kieffer, a take on the famous gangster, Dutch Schultz. Granted, he did a competent job in adding menace to the character. Unfortunately . . . his demeanor seemed more suited to a character in something like “BARETTA” or “STARSKY AND HUTCH”. Like Ms. Edwards, he seemed even more out of place in this movie than Willis. But the one person who truly seemed out of place in “SUNSET” was character actor M. Emmet Walsh. Poor Mr. Walsh. He had the bad luck to portray the chief security officer of Alperin Studios, Marvin Dibner. If there was one character who seemed unnecessary to the story, it was him. Honestly, his character could have easily been deleted. Instead of creating another addition to his gallery of interesting supporting roles, poor Mr. Walsh popped up in every other scene, wearing a dumb expression.

Fortunately, “SUNSET” could boast some good, solid performances. Despite some of the bad dialogue dumped on him, Bruce Willis had the good luck to be teamed with James Garner. Between Garner’s earthy performance as the legendary lawman and Willis’ cocky take on the famous Western star, the pair managed to create an electrifying screen team. Kathleen Quinlan made a nice addition to the cast as the sly and humorous Nancy Shoemaker, one of Alperin Studios’ publicists. Mariel Hemingway had been nominated for a Razzie Award as Worst Supporting Actress for her role as the daughter of the murdered madam. This nomination merely confirmed my belief that the Razzie Awards are full of shit. I thought Hemingway gave a good, solid performance and had a nice chemistry with Garner. Richard Bradford, fresh from his role in 1987’s “THE UNTOUCHABLES”, gave a convincingly venomous portrayal of a corrupt cop named “Dirty” Bernie Blackworth . . . despite some questionable dialogue. Patricia Hodge and Dermot Mulroney portrayed Christina Alperin and her son, Michael. They gave competent performances, but I found nothing memorable about them. And of course, there was Malcolm McDowell portraying Alfie Alperin, the movie comedian-turned-studio head. It is obvious that Alperin is based upon Hollywood icon Charlie Chaplin. I can only wonder if Chaplin was as cruel and sadistic as the Alperin character. Thankfully, McDowell did not use the character’s negative traits as an excuse for an over-the-top performance. His Alfie Alperin came off as warm, clever, charming and most importantly, quietly menacing.

Plot wise, “SUNSET” turned out to be another one of those murder mysteries set in Old Hollywood. And yes, it was filled with the usual clichés and name droppings. I would reveal the killer’s identity, but I suspect that anyone with a brain would guess within forty minutes into the story. Or make a close guess. The only difference from this Hollywood mystery and others was that the two investigators turned out to be famous figures and not some Los Angeles detective or minor studio employee. Speaking of Earp and Mix, many film critics pointed out that the two had never met in real life. As it turned out, they did meet and Mix had served as a pallbearer at Earp’s funeral. Talk about an egg in the face. However . . . Earp did pass away two months before the movie’s setting. And Mix was at least seventeen years older than Willis’ true age during the movie’s production.

If there is one aspect about “SUNSET” that I must commend, it is the film’s artistic designs. Patricia Norris beautifully re-captured the 1920s in her Academy Award nominated costumes. Hell, I could say the same about Richard Haman’s art direction, Marvin March’s set decorations and especially Rodger Maus’ production designs. Thanks to these four artisans,“SUNSET” fairly reeked of the slightly corrupt gloss of late 1920s Hollywood.

“SUNSET” is such a mediocre film that there are times I wonder why I like it. Some of the characters seemed out of place in the 1929 setting. M. Emmet Walsh was practically wasted in his role as a studio security chief. The movie was filled with some atrocious dialogue. And to be honest, the plot came off as so predictable that it almost seemed easy to pinpoint the killer’s identity. So why did I bother to watch this movie? Why did I bother to purchase a used VHS copy of the movie, several years ago? Despite its obvious flaws, I rather like “SUNSET”. Willis and Garner literally lit up the screen as a charismatic duo, McDowell made a fantastic villain and the movie did feature some witty dialogue. But most importantly,”SUNSET” was drenched in a late 1920s setting thanks to such work from artisans like Rodger Maus’ production designs and Patricia Norris’ costumes.

“DIE HARD” (1988) Review

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“DIE HARD” (1988) Review

Almost twenty-six years ago, 20th Century Fox released an action-adventure film that kicked off a movie franchise that has lasted with the addition of four other films and twenty-five years. I am speaking of the 1988 movie called “DIE HARD”. And the ironic thing is that I had no intention of seeing the film when it first hit the movie theaters during that summer of ’88.

Based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel called “Nothing Lasts Forever” (which sounds like a title for a Bond movie), “DIE HARD” was directed by John McTiernan. Many would be surprised to know that the 1979 movie was a sequel to an earlier Thorp novel published in 1966 called “The Detective”, which was adapted into a 1968 movie that starred Frank Sinatra. Thorp had hoped a movie adaptation of the 1979 novel would also star Sinatra. But the singer-actor was not interested in a sequel to his movie. Later, the novel was being considered as a sequel to the Arnold Schwartzenegger 1985 movie, “COMMANDO”. But Schartzenegger was not interested. Oh dear. Finally, the novel became a literary source for “DIE HARD”. However, the Fox studio executives were not thrilled at the idea of Bruce Willis being cast as the movie’s lead, due to his reputation as a comedic television actor. But cast he was . . . and the rest is Hollywood history.

“DIE HARD” told the story of off-duty NYPD detective John McClane, who arrived in Los Angeles to reconciled with his estranged wife, Holly Gennero McClane. Husband and wife had clashed several months earlier when she accepted a job promotion with the Nakatomi Corporation that sent her to Los Angeles. A hired limousine driver named Argyle drives McClane to the Nakatomi Plaza building in Century City for the company’s Christmas party. While, the detective changes clothes, the party is disrupted by the arrival of terrorist Hans Gruber and his armed followers. The latter seize control of the tower and the partygoers as hostages. Only McClane, armed with a pistol, manages to evade capture. Gruber’s intentions are revealed, when he interrogates Nakatomi executive Joseph Takagi for the code to the building’s vault that holds $640 million in bearer bonds. When Takagi refuses to cooperate, Gruber executes him. McClane manages to kill one of Gruber’s men, taking the latter’s weapon and radio. He uses the radio to contact the Los Angeles Police Department during a gunfight with more of Gruber’s men on the roof. The L.A.P.D. eventually sends patrolman Sergeant Al Powell to investigate. When McClane drops one of Gruber’s dead associates on Powell’s patrol car roof, the latter finally summons the police force to respond. The incident also draws the attention of an ambitious local news reporter named Richard Thornburg, who is determined to learn McClane’s identity. Despite the arrival of Deputy Chief Dwayne Robinson, numerous men that include a S.W.A.T. team, and later the F.B.I., McClane and Holly eventually realizes that matters have grown worse for both of them.

Most moviegoers and critics view “DIE HARD” as the best in the franchise. Is it the best? Hmmm . . . I really cannot say. As much as I love the movie, I certainly do not consider it perfect. The movie possesses flaws that I had not noticed during previous viewings and one particular flaw that I have noticed since I first saw it years ago. One aspect about “DIE HARD” that I found particularly annoying was the movie’s pacing. Director John McTiernan did a pretty good job with the movie’s pacing. Unfortunately, two-thirds into the movie, McTiernan began to lose steam and the pacing began to drag. Trimming the story would not have helped. I had no problem with the narrative during this film’s period. But I did have a problem with the director’s pacing. One of Roger Ebert’s complaints about “DIE HARD” was its unflattering portrayal of the Los Angeles Police Department. And if I must be brutally honest, I share his complaint. I am not a great admirer of the L.A.P.D. or any police force. But the police’s incompetency portrayed in the movie struck me as damn near unrealistic. I feel that McTiernan and screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart went a bit to the extreme to make John McClane look good. And if I must be brutally frank, the movie does feature some rather cheesy dialogue – especially from the villains. However, my biggest complaint regarding “DIE HARD” – the one flaw I have been aware of since I first saw the film – occurred in the final action scene. Back in the 1980s, it was popular in action or thriller movies to temporarily “resurrect” a villain/villainess before killing him or her for good. This happened with Glenn Close’s character in the 1987 movie, “FATAL ATTRACTION”. This also happened to Alexander Godunov’s character in “DIE HARD”. And you know what? I hate this kind of showy action. I found it stupid and cringe-worthy when I first saw the movie. And I still find it a major blot on this otherwise first-rate movie.

Flaws or no flaws, “DIE HARD” is without a doubt, a first-rate action thriller that helped defined the genre during the 1980s. While reading the plot for Roderick Thorp’s 1978 novel, I was surprised to discover how much it resembled the 1988 film. There were some changes made in the latter. The main hero acquired a new name and shed at least two decades in age. Instead of a daughter, McClane’s wife ended up as one of the hostages. The franchise’s producers used the daughter character in the fourth film, “LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”. The German terrorist – renamed Hans Gruber – was more interested in pulling a heist than making a political statement. The Al Powell character is at least fifteen years older. And unlike Thorp’s novel, “DIE HARD” ended on a more optimistic note for the two main characters.

Producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver were lucky to gather such a talented cast and director for this movie. Thanks to the actors and director John McTiernan, “DIE HARD” featured some excellent dramatic moments. My favorite dramatic scenes include the tense quarrel between John and Holly before Gruber’s arrival at the Christmas party, Gruber’s interrogation of Joseph Takagi for the codes to the executive vault, Holly’s tense interactions with Gruber, Takagi employee Harry Ellis’ attempt to convince McClane to surrender to Gruber, McClane’s accidental encounter with Gruber, and the many radio conversations between McClane and Powell. I found the latter especially impressive, considering that Bruce Willis and Reginald VelJohnson spent most of the movie apart.

But “DIE HARD” is, above all, an action film. And thanks to some members of the cast, a group of talented stuntmen and crew, the action sequences featured in the movie proved to be very memorable. If I had to choose those scenes that really impressed me, they would have to be the ones that featured Al Powell’s awareness of the presence of terrorists at the Nakatomi Tower thanks to some gunfire and a dead body that landed on his patrol car, the S.W.A.T. team’s failed assault on the building, and McClane’s retaliation against the terrorists’ massacre of the S.W.A.T. team (using explosives strapped to a chair). I was also impressed by the brief, yet final confrontation between the McClanes and Gruber. But for me, the most spectacular sequence turned out to be the rooftop explosion that claimed the lives of more Gruber men and two F.B.I. agents hovering above in an helicopter. Well-known cinematographer Jan de Bont and the special effects team really outdid themselves in that particular sequence.

As I had earlier pointed out, “DIE HARD” featured some outstanding performances. Bruce Willis was already a television star thanks to the 1980s series, “MOONLIGHTING”. But his superb, yet tough performance as the besieged N.Y.P.D. detective John McClane not only made him an action star, but also a bonafide movie star. I believe that Holly Gennero McClane proved to be one of Bonnie Bedelia’s best roles, thanks to her excellent performance as McClane’s passionate and no-nonsense wife. “DIE HARD” also made a star of Alan Rickman, thanks to his deliciously sardonic performance as the ruthless Hans Gruber. In fact, his Gruber happens to be one of my favorite cinematic villains of all time. Reginald VelJohnson’s career also benefited from his first-rate performance as the compassionate L.A.P.D. officer, Sergeant Al Powell.

There were other performances in “DIE HARD” that caught my attention. Ballet dancer Alexander Godunov gave a very competent performance as Gruber’s right-hand man, Hans, who wants revenge for McClane’s killing of his younger brother. Hart Bochner was very entertaining as Holly’s gauche co-worker, Harry Ellis. However, I must admit that I found the character somewhat one-dimensional. William Atherton was very memorable as the ambitious and slimy news reporter, Richard Thornburg. Clarence Gilyard revealed a talent for comic acting, in his excellent portrayal of Gruber’s sardonic and cold-blooded computer specialist, Theo. Andreas Wisniewski was excellent as Hans’ younger brother, the no-nonsense Karl. Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush (who reunited in the 1989 James Bond movie, “LICENSE TO KILL”) made a great screen team as the arrogant F.B.I. Special Agents Johnson and Johnson. De’voreaux White, someone I have not seen in years, provided his own brand of sharp humor and the movie’s best line as McClane’s limousine driver, Argyle. And finally, the late Paul Gleason proved to be very entertaining as the not-so-bright Deputy Police Chief Dwayne Robinson.

I find myself back at that moment in which I pondered over the reputation of “DIE HARD”. Do I still believe it is one of the best action movies ever made? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I have seen my share of action movies that strike me as equally good – including other films in the DIE HARD franchise. And the movie does have its share of flaws. But “DIE HARD” is also a personal favorite of mine, thanks to John McTiernan’s excellent direction, a first-rate adaptation of Roderick Thorp’s novel, superb action-sequences and outstanding performances from a stellar cast led by Bruce Willis. Over twenty-five years have passed since the movie’s initial release. And honestly . . . it has not lost one bit of its magic.

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Fox Plaza Tower in Century City, CA aka the Nakatomi Tower

“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” (2013) Review

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“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” (2013) Review

Following the success of 2009’s “G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”, Hasbro and Paramount Pictures followed up with a sequel set a few years after the first film. Unlike the 2009 movie, this latest film was not directed by Stephen Sommers. And several cast members from the first film did not reprise their roles. 

When the G.I. Joes are framed for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan, Cobra minion Zartan – in disguise as the President of the United States – orders their elimination at their camp in the Middle East via a military air strike. The latter kills most of the Joes, including one Conrad “Duke” Hauser, who had been awarded his own team of Joes following the incidents of the 2009 film. The survivors – Sergeant Marvin “Roadblock” Hinton, Alison “Lady Jaye” Hart-Burnett, and Dashiell “Flint” Faireborn – make their way to the U.S. to learn why the Joes had been destroyed by the President. When Zartan (as President) announces that COBRA troops will replace the Joes, Lady Jaye realizes that he is an impersonator. The trio seeks help from the original Joe, General Joseph Colton. Other Joe survivors include Snake Eyes, who has returned to his old order in Japan to train a new apprentice, Jinx. When COBRA operatives Storm Shadow (who had survived his duel with Snake Eyes in the 2009 film) and Firefly (an ex-Joe) rescue COBRA Commander and Destro from an underground maximum-security prison in Germany, the former sustains injuries during the escape attempt and heads for a Himalayan temple to recover. Snake Eyes’ new order leader, the Blind Master, learn of Storm Shadow’s new location and orders Snake Eyes and Jinx to capture him so that he can answer for the late Hard Master’s death.

I might as well admit it . . . “G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” was a disappointment. Many might be wondering about my disappointment, considering the prevailing view of the its predecessor, “G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”. The 2009 movie may not have been a cinematic masterpiece or anything close to it. But I thought it was a fun movie filled with strong characterizations and a somewhat decent plot. This new “G.I. JOE” had its share of strong characterizations, but I cannot say that it was a lot of fun for me. Despite my disappointment, the movie did possess some virtues.

The main virtue turned out to be leading man, Dwayne Johnson. The man did the best he could to keep this movie together. And as he has done in his past movies, he gave it his all. I can say the same about Byung-hun Lee, whose portrayal of Storm Shadow proved to be even more interesting and complex in this second film. I was also impressed by the always talented and dependable Jonathan Pryce, who had the double duty of portraying the disguised Zartan and the real President of the United States. Adrianne Palicki injected some energy into the story with a lively performance as Lady Jaye Hart-Burnett. Despite his limited appearance, Channing Tatum seemed a lot more relaxed as Duke Hauser in this film. He also had a nice chemistry with Johnson. Also, the movie boasted one of the best action sequences I have seen in recent film. I speak of the Snake Eyes and Jinx’s attempt to capture Storm Shadow from the Himalayan temple and prevent the latter’s men from rescuing him. Director Jon M. Chu really outdid himself in that sequence.

So . . . what was it about the movie that I found disappointing? Despite Chu’s outstanding direction in the Himalayan sequence, I was not that impressed by his work in the rest of the film. I missed Stephen Sommers. I also missed Channing Tatum’s presence after his character was killed off 20-30 minutes into the movie. He went from leading man in the 2009 movie to a guest star in this latest film. Most of all, I missed some of the cast members from the first film. Not only did I miss them, I would like to know what the hell happened to them? What happened to Ripcord, who was Duke’s longtime best friend? What happened to Scarlett, Heavy Duty, Breaker and General Hawk? Where they also killed during the airstrike against the Joes’ Middle Eastern base? Did some of them leave the Joes before the events of this movie? What happened to them? What happened to Anna Lewis DeCobray? The end of the 2009 movie saw her in protective custody, awaiting for American scientists to remove nanomites from inside her body. Was she still in custody during the events of this movie? Did anyone bother to inform her about Duke’s death? Apparently not, since she was never mentioned in the film.

Some of the new additions to the cast did not help this movie. I hate to say this but D.J. Cotrona’s portrayal as G.I. Joe Flint Faireborn struck me as dull. Boring. Mind numbing. My God! Even Joseph Mazzello, who made a brief appearance as a Joe sharpshooter on Duke’s team struck me as ten times more livelier. I love Bruce Willis. I have been a fan of his for years. But what in the hell was he doing in this film? I could have understood if he had replaced Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, commander of the Joes. Instead, Willis portrayed the original Joe, General Colton. Yes, he participated in the movie’s final action sequence. And yes, he provided some arms to the team. But what was he doing in this film? His character seemed like such a waste. And Willis seemed as if he was going through the motions. Ray Stevenson gave a lively performance as ex-Joe turned COBRA minion, Firefly. The problem is that the screenplay failed to mention what led him to leave the Joes and join COBRA. Luke Bracey replaced Joseph Gordon-Levitt as COBRA Commander. And honestly? He was not that interesting. Not only did I miss Gordon-Levitt, I now believe the movie should have allowed Zartan (as the President) serve as the movie’s main villain. What else can I say about “G.I. JOE: RETALIATION”? Other than the main villain’s goal seemed similar to the villain’s goal in the 2009 movie? Okay . . . I said it. Thanks to the screenwriters, the details of COBRA Commander’s plot seemed different. But using arms to achieve world power seemed disappointingly familiar.

Despite the presence of Dwayne Johnson, Byung-hun Lee, a few others and an outstanding action sequence in the Himalayans; “G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” proved to be a disappointing follow-up to its 2009 predecessor. Mind you, “G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” was no masterpiece. But it was a hell of a lot more fun and substantial than this piece of crap.

“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” (2013) Review

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“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” (2013) Review

Five-and-a-half years following the successful release of the fourth movie in the DIE HARD movie franchise – 2007’s“LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD”, 20th Century Fox Studios release a fifth movie about the adventures of New York Police detective John McClane called “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”

A high-ranking, yet corrupt official in Moscow, Russia named Viktor Chagarin plans on incriminating political prisoner/government whistleblower and former billionaire Yuri Komarov without a fair trial when Komarov refuses to hand over a secret file believed to have convicting evidence against Chagarin. A young man assassinates a colleague of Chagarin’s and agrees to testify against Komarov for a shorter sentence. He turns out to be John “Jack” McClane Jr., Detective McClane’s estranged only son. The NYPD police officer, who has not been in touch with his son for years, learns of Jack’s situation and travels to Russia to help.

But when John arrives and approaches the courthouse that holds Jack and Komarov on trial, an explosion orchestrated by Chagarin and his henchmen disrupts the courthouse, and Jack breaks free with Komarov. After spotting Jack, John confronts him, but their dispute is cut short when Chagarin’s henchmen, led by main enforcer Alik, chase them throughout the streets of Moscow. John learns that Jack is a CIA agent and has been on a three-year mission to rescue Komarov from Chagarin’s clutches and retrieve a file that can link Chagarin and Komarov to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The file will enable the U.S. government to bring down Chagarin, who has proven to be an obstacle to U.S.-Russian relations. But the McClane men not only learn to heal long-standing family rifts, but also discover there is more to this mission than evidence against Chagarin.

“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” received negative reviews from movie critics. In fact, their response to the movie strongly reminded me of the negative press that the James Bond movie, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” had received in 2008. In a way, I could see why. Both movies share two negative traits that prevented them from becoming even better films.“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”, like the Bond film, suffered from what I liked to call the “Paul Greengrass film editing style”. I realize that this editing style has been popular with recent filmmakers who use it to trim a movie’s running time. But I can do without it. I disliked in the second and third JASON BOURNE movies. I disliked it in “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. And I also disliked it in “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”. Director John Moore and editor Dan Zimmerman used it with strong effect during the Moscow car chase, making the latter one of the most confusing car chases since the one featured in 2007’s “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”.

Moore and Zimmerman’s use of this fast speed editing style also enabled them to give “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” the shortest running time in the franchise’s fifteen year history . . . one of 97 minutes. The idea of a DIE HARD movie running slightly over 90 minutes makes me shake my head in disbelief. Also, the plot for this latest film, penned by Skip Woods, is too complicated and quite frankly, too good to be wasted on a 90-something minutes running time. If “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” had possessed a longer running time, Woods story could have been told with greater detail. For instance, the movie could have revealed how John learned of Jack’s arrest with greater detail. And the situation regarding Chagarin, Komarov and Jack could have been told with greater detail with a longer running time. Also, Cole Hauser could have enjoyed more screen time as Jack’s CIA partner, Mike Collins. Instead, Hauser was barely on screen for five minutes tops.

Before one begins to think I share the critics’ dislike of “A GOOD DAY TO DIE”, you will be mistaken. Because I do not share their opinion. Despite the Paul Greengrass editing style and the shorter running time, I still enjoyed the movie very much . . . in fact, more than I thought possible. As I had stated earlier, Skip Woods penned a very strong story for the movie. Yes, it featured the usual over-the-top action that has been a hallmark of the franchise for years. One of my favorite scenes proved to be John, Jack and Komarov’s escape from the CIA safe house in Moscow. It not only gave Bruce Willis (or his stunt man) another chance to prove how great he can be as on-screen badass, it gave Jai Courtney, who portrayed Jack McClane, a chance to show that his character is a badass, as well. In fact, another scene provided more great moments for both Willis and Courtney – namely the McClane men’s escape from death after they and Komarov were captured by Alix.

One of the best aspects of Woods’ screenplay proved to be the complicated story surrounding the strained relationship between Chagarin and Komarov. This storyline provided audiences an interesting peek into Russian politics – if it is somewhat accurate. I suspect that it is not completely accurate, but this is a work of fiction we are talking about, not a documentary. More importantly, Woods’ story added the Chernobyl disaster as a catalyst to the former colleagues’ estrangement . . . enabling audiences a chilling peek at the infamous Chernobyl site in the Ukraine, during the movie’s final action scene. This sequence also provided a plot twist that brought back a memories of the 1990 film, “DIE HARD 2”. The best aspect of “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” is that the movie allowed a more satisfying portrayal of the relationship between John and Jack than “LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD” did for John and Lucy, five years ago.

Speaking of the relationship between the two McClane men, it would not have worked without the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney. I understand that the movie’s casting director considered a good number of actors – including Liam Hemsworth and James Badge Dale – before Australian actor Jai Courtney was chosen. Willis was in top form, as usual. I found Willis very effective in portraying McClane’s desire to reconcile with his son in conflict with the NYPD cop’s penchant for butting into situations where he is not wanted. And he formed a top-notch chemistry with Courtney. The latter did an excellent job in portraying Jack’s initial resentment toward John, his growing regard for the latter and intense fixation on his mission. German actor Sebastian Koch (whom I last saw in 2011’s “UNKNOWN”, gave a subtle, yet complex portrayal of Yuri Komarov, the former billionaire and criminal who found a conscious and exposed his former partner. Sergei Kolesnikov gave a solid performance as the corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin. But I found Yuliya Snigir very impressive as Komarov’s daughter Irina, who proved to be more than meets the eye. I wish I could say the same about Radivoje Bukvić, who portrayed Chagarin’s main henchman. But I found his performance a little over-the-top. It was nice to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead reprise her portrayal of Lucy McClane, and she proved to be as spunky as ever. But Cole Hauser was really effective as Mike Collins, Jack’s CIA partner. He was subtle, brutal and slightly scary. And his performance made me wish he had more scenes.

I can understand the critics’ disappointment with the shorter running time and quick flash editing in “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”. But despite these flaws, the movie still proved to be very entertaining, thanks to solid, yet slightly flawed direction by John Moore, an interesting story penned by Skip Woods and a first rate cast led by Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney.

“LOOPER” (2012) Review

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“LOOPER” (2012) Review

Time travel can be a tricky topic for a fictional story. Some writers can do wonders with a story featuring time traveling. Some writers start out well end up creating a mass of confusion. And other writers . . . well, they end up simply creating a bad story. When I first learned about the premise for the new science-fiction movie, “LOOPER”, I feared I was about to see a time travel movie with a bad plot. 

According to writer/director Rian Johnson’s tale, the United States is in a state of economic collapse in the year 2044. There is social decay, a high rise in crime and a mutation has developed within a small number of the Earth’s population that gives them a telekinetic ability. Thirty years later, time travel has been invented, but immediately outlawed. Tracking technology has made it impossible for criminals to dispose of bodies. Crime bosses use illicit time travel to send their victims back in time, where they are killed by assassins called “loopers”. These assassins are paid with silver bars strapped to the back of their targets. When the crime bosses want to end a looper’s contract, they send his older self back to be killed by his younger self, paying the latter with gold bars as a last payoff. Failure to kill the older self is punishable by death.

Joe Simmons is a looper in 2044 Kansas, whose boss – a time traveler named Abe – is sent back to the past to supervise him and his fellow loopers in the area. Best friend and fellow looper Seth tells Joe that he failed to kill his old self and that the latter informed him of a criminal mastermind named the Rainmaker, who is closing down all loops. Joe eventually betrays Seth in order to maintain his secret stash of silver. Joe’s older self eventually arrives from the past and Joe first kills him. But due to a tragic incident thirty years in the future, Old Joe changes time by escaping to the past on his own. He escapes and Joe tracks him down to a diner, where he tells Joe that the Rainmaker sent him back to be killed, and that Old Joe’s wife was killed during his capture. Old Joe killed his captors and traveled back to kill the Rainmaker as a child. Joe attempts to kill Old Joe and fulfill his contract, but both of them flee when they are attacked by Abe’s hit men or “Gat Men”. Due to a piece of a map in Old Joe’s possession, Joe finds a string of digits that leads him to farm owned by a woman named Sara, who lives with her son, Cid. Meanwhile, Old Joe uses the remaining digits on the map to track down the location of three candidates who might turn out to be the Rainmaker as a child. Old Joe intends to kill all three to prevent his future wife’s death.

Sounds complicated? Trust me, that was only the beginning. For reasons that escape me, Rian Johnson, along with Kimberly Amacker and the rest of the movie’s makeup team decided to use prosthetic makeup to ensure that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who portrayed the younger Joe Simmons, bear some resemblance to Bruce Willis. They hired Kazuhiro Tsuji for the job. Tsuji did his best in altering Gordon-Levitt’s looks, but in the end, it all depended more on the actor’s performance to make the transformation work. A part of me feels that his prosthetic makeup was not really necessary.

Also, complicated time travel stories such as the one for “LOOPER” tend to turn me off. Dealing with the subject of time travel is bad enough. But I tend to view complicated plot twists, such as the ones found in “LOOPER” as impossible to follow. But thanks to Rian Johnson’s direction and script, I found the movie surprisingly easy to follow . . . aside from one particular scene. I might as well talk about the latter. The sequence featuring Old Joe’s first escape from death at the hands of Joe ended with the latter falling out of the window of his apartment. The movie never made it clear whether he lived or died. But the next scene featured Old Joe’s reappearance at the fatal cornfield again. This time, Joe killed Old Joe, leaving me somewhat confused. Was there a time reset of some kind? It finally occurred to me that Johnson simply revealed that Old Joe had escaped death, left his fate a mystery . . . and then went back to how this scenario came to be. In other words, following Old Joe’s second appearance in the cornfield, audiences learn of the circumstances that led to that moment – Joe’s murder of Old Joe, his retirement as a looper, his years in China as a hired killer, his marriage and eventually, his wife’s death. The latter drove Old Joe over the edge and he set out time travel on his own, prevent his younger self from killing him and kill the younger self of the Rainmaker, before the latter can grow and cause the death of his wife. Now, I understood.

Once I realized what was going on, I was able to enjoy “LOOPER” a lot more. Not only did Johnson create a fascinating tale in which time travel played a heavy role, he created some fascinating characters – especially the leading one, Joe Simmons. Johnson did an excellent job in showing how the time traveling not only affected Joe Simmons’ character, but was also responsible for the creation of the Rainmaker. I was amazed at how Johnson’s story revealed the ugly consequences of time travel in a way no other writer or filmmaker has done before. His story also developed from the typical science-fiction action thriller into a poignant, character-driven tale about the consequences of grief and revenge. By the time I left the movie theater, I realized that I had seen one of the most original science-fiction thrillers in recent years.

“LOOPER” also had the good luck to have some first-rate performers to grace its cast. The movie featured interesting performances from the likes of Paul Dano, who gave an emotional performance as the looper Seth, who set things in motion by warning Joe about the Rainmaker. I also enjoyed the performances of Noah Segan, who gave a colorful performance as Abe’s main “Gat Man”, Kid Blue, who is eager to earn his boss’ respect by going after Joe; Piper Perabo’s sexy take on showgirl Suzy; Qing Xu, who projected the perfect air of sensibility and calm for Old Joe; and Garret Dillahunt, who oozed intelligence and danger as another “Gat Man”, who manages to track down Joe to the Kansas farmhouse.

But there were performances that really impressed me. One of them came from Jeff Daniels, who was an absolute delight as the sharp-tongued crime boss Abe. His advice to Joe about relocating to China upon retirement turned out to be one of the movie’s highlights. Emily Blunt acquired an impressive American accent for her role as Sara, the practical farm owner that gave Joe shelter. Not only was I impressed by her different accent, but also her performance and strong screen presence. I cannot say enough about Pierce Gagnon, the child actor who portrayed Sara’s son, Cid. Gagnon gave one of the best child performances I have seen in years . . . and one of the creepiest. Of the entire cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt had the most difficult role. Not only did he have to capture many aspects of Bruce Willis’ portrayal of the older Joe, but also the older actor’s speech pattern, body language and screen persona. And too my surprise, he stood up to the plate and knocked it out of the ballpark. I can also say the same Bruce Willis’ performance as Old Joe. Sure, his usual wise ass screen persona was there . . . somewhat. But he also took his character beyond the usual persona and to greater heights by portraying Old Joe as a man caught up in his grief over a dead wife and obsessed with vengeance and determination to change time.

I would not say that “LOOPER” was perfect. Instead of writing a clear and straight narrative that a story of this complexity needed, director-writer Rian Johnson tried to be a little clever in explaining Old Joe’s arrival in the past. And I feel that the prosthetic makeup for Joseph Gordon-Levitt was unnecessary. But despite these quibbles, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. Johnson, along with an excellent cast led by Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, delivered one of the most original movies I have seen in years.

Top Favorite CHRISTMAS Movies

Christmas Movies

Below is a list of my favorite Christmas movies . . . or movies set around the Christmas holidays: 

TOP FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MOVIES

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1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) – Based upon Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel, James Bond’s professional life and personal life intertwine, when he falls in love during his search to find criminal mastermind, Ernst Stravo Blofeld. George Lazenby starred as British agent James Bond.

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2. “The Thin Man” (1934) – William Powell and Myrna Loy starred as Nick and Nora Charles in this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel about a former private detective who is drawn into an investigation of the murder of the secretary/mistress of a wealthy man, who is missing. W.S. Van Dyke directed.

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3. “Die Hard” (1988) – Bruce Willis debuted as NYPD detective, John McClane, who faces a group of highly organizedcriminals, performing a heist under the guise of a terrorist attack, while holding hostages that include McClane’s wife on Christmas Eve. Directed by John Tiernan, the movie co-starred Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman and James Shigeta.

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4. “Trading Places” (1983) – John Landis directed this comedy about an upper class commodities broker and a homeless street hustler, whose lives cross paths when they are unknowingly made part of an elaborate test of nature vs. nurture by a pair of wealthy elderly brothers. Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy starred.

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5. “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) – Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan starred in this charming comedy about a food writer who has lied about being the perfect housewife. She is forced to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas. Peter Godfrey directed.

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6. “Lethal Weapon” (1987) – Mel Gibson and Danny Glover first paired together in this action tale about a veteran cop and a suicidal younger cop forced to work together and stop a gang of former C.I.A. operatives, turned drug smugglers. Richard Donner directed.

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7. “The Santa Clause” (1994) – Tim Allen starred in this funny tale about a man, who inadvertently kills Santa Claus, before he finds himself magically recruited to take his place. Directed by John Pasquin.

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8. “Die Hard 2” (1990) – Bruce Willis returned as police detective John McClane, who attempts to avert disaster as rogue military officials seize control of Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., on Christmas Eve.

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9. “While You Were Sleeping” (1995) – Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman starred in this charming romantic comedy about a Chicago ticket collector, who saves a man for whom she harbors feelings after he is pushed onto the commuter train tracks. While he is in a coma, his family mistakes her for his fiancée. Jon Turteltaub directed.

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10. “Home Alone” (1990) – Macaulay Culkin became a star in this holiday comedy about an eight year-old boy, who is mistakenly left home in Chicago, when his family flies to Paris for the holidays. Chris Columbus directed this movie, which co-starred Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard and Catherine O’Hara.