“THE A-TEAM” (2010) Review

“THE A-TEAM” (2010) Review

I might as well lay my cards on the table. Ever since I saw my first episode, I have always been a major fan of the 1983-1987 television series, ”THE A-TEAM”. So, when I had seen the trailer for the movie adaptation of the series, I naturally reacted with pure dismay. 

For me, the movie, ”THE A-TEAM”, represented another endless attempt by Hollywood to create box office gold from an old television series. Mind you, not all of Hollywood’s efforts have been in vain. But judging from what I had seen in the movie trailer, I simply could not see myself enjoying the 2010 movie.

Unlike the television series, ”THE A-TEAM” is more or less an origin tale about how four U.S. Army Special Forces combatants became soldiers of fortune after being convicted for a crime they did not commit. The movie’s first twenty minutes revealed how Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith first created his team during an assignment to lure a reengage Mexican Army officer-turned-drug lord onto U.S. soil or airspace for prosecution. Already working with him is Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck, who is a prisoner at the general’s ranch. Along the way, Hannibal recruits a recently disgraced ex-Ranger named Bosco “B.A.” Baracus and a mentally volatile Army pilot named Captain H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock to assist him in his assignment and thus, a new Army intelligence unit is born.

The story jumped eight years later where the A-Team find themselves looking forward to being deployed out of Iraq with the rest of the American military personnel. However, a C.I.A. agent named Lynch recruits Hannibal and the Team into retrieving U.S. Treasury plates and manufactured currency from Iraqi insurgents. U.S. Army Captain Charissa Sosa, a former lover of Face’s; and Hannibal’s commanding officer, General Morrison, warns the Team to stay away from the plates and Baghdad. But the Team goes ahead with the “Black Ops” mission and successfully retrieves the plates and the money. Upon their return to base, the shipping container carrying the money and General Morrison’s vehicle are destroyed. And the leader of a private security team named Brock Pike steals the plates. With General Morrison dead, there is no one to inform Army authorities that they had been authorized to act. The Team is sentenced to ten years in prison.

Try as I may, I cannot recall one specific episode of the television series. I can remember certain moments and many interactions between the B.A. and Murdock characters; but I cannot recall a specific episode. This should not be that surprising to me. The writing for the television series had never been that impressive. The main characters and the action, after all, drew me to the series; not the writing. I do believe that screenwriters Joe Carnahan (who also directed), Brian Bloom and Skip Woods created a slightly better story than anything the series had ever been able to produce. But I would not exactly call the screenplay unique or mind blowing.

The gist of the story mainly focused upon the Team’s efforts to find Pike and the Treasury plates in order to clear their names. Mind you, I found the circumstances leading up to the Team’s arrest rather confusing. After all, they did return to base after completing their mission, instead of disappearing from Iraq. With Pike gone with the plates, why prosecute the Team for the crime? And what crime was they accused of committing? The theft of the missing plates? Or killing Morrison? Once the movie shifted toward their escape from prison and efforts to find the plates and Pike, it shifted back upon solid ground. The movie also featured some pretty fantastic stunts that would have made the television series proud. But the pièce de résistance centered upon a sequence in which the Team finally get their hands on the plates from a high-rise bank in Germany. The movie also featured a hilarious moment in which Face discovered that he had given both B.A. and Murdock the wrong passports at a German airport. The finale at the Port of Los Angeles strongly reminded me of the finale featured in the recent movie, ”THE LOSERS”. I wonder who came up with the idea first.

As I had earlier stated, there were two aspects of the television series that made it memorable for me – the action sequences and the characters. This new movie certainly DID NOT disappoint that regard. Liam Neeson, last seen in the 2009 action movie, ”TAKEN”, assumed George Peppard’s role of Hannibal Smith. And he did a fine job. Mind you, his Hannibal did not seem to have much of a sense of humor – especially where Face was concerned. But he obviously drew his experience from previous action films to project the aura of a strong and wily leader. I only have two complaints about Neeson’s performance – his American accent seemed shaky and he should stay away from cigars. Bradley Cooper gave a verbose performance as the Team’s smooth-talking ladies’ man, Face. Like Dirk Benedict before him, he was attractive and witty. Yet, the screenwriters took his character one step further by allowing his Face to show his potential as a schemer on the same level as Hannibal.

My dismay at the trailer for ”THE A-TEAM” extended to the idea of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson portraying the memorable B.A. Baracus. He seemed a far cry from Mr. T’s performance in the television series. Thankfully, my fears came to nothing. Although Jackson’s performance was not an exact replica of Mr. T’s, he made a great B.A. and he put his own twist to the character with the help of director Joe Carnahan and the three screenwriters. Actually, his B.A. seemed to have a little more depth and for some reason, I cannot see Mr. T pulling this off. No none was more surprised than me to discover that the same Sharlto Copely who portrayed “Howling Mad” Murdock is the same actor who portrayed the lead in last year’s ”DISTRICT 9”. I knew the guy was not a Southerner. His accent seemed a bit heavy a times. But I had no idea that “crazy” Murdock was portrayed by the South African actor. But I must admit that he was hilarious in the role. Hell, he was just as funny as Dwight Schultz. His interactions with both Cooper and especially Jackson were spot on.

Fortunately for ”THE A-TEAM”, its supporting cast was just as strong. Jessica Biel gave a strong performance as the righteous and determined Captain Charissa Sosa, who is assigned to hunt down both the Team and the Treasury plates. One particular scene also proved that she had great chemistry with Cooper. Gerald McRaney gave a solid cameo performance as Hannibal’s friend and commanding officer, General Morrison. Brian Bloom (one of the screenwriters) was suitably conniving and intimidating as the Black Forest private mercenary. However, there were moments when his performance came off as a bit over-the-top. But the man who really surprised me was Patrick Wilson. Aside from his performance as the uptight William Travis in 2004’s ”THE ALAMO”, he never struck me as an interesting actor. Until I saw him in ”THE A-TEAM”. He was hilarious and despicable as the smug and self-absorbed C.I.A. agent, Lynch. Not only was his performance a revelation, his Lynch seemed to be the most interesting role he has ever portrayed.

If anyone is expecting ”THE A-TEAM” to be a mind-blowing experience, he or she will be disappointed. Superficially, the movie struck me as a typical action movie. I must admit that it does contain some pretty interesting action sequences. If there is one true virtue that the movie possesses, it is its cast. They were superb – especially the main four actors who portray the soldiers of fortune, the A-Team. Between Carnahan’s direction of the action sequences and the performances of Neeson, Cooper, Jackson and Copley; they made this cinematic version of ”THE A-TEAM” to be one of the most fun movies I have experienced last summer.

“DISTRICT 9” (2009) Review

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I saw the new science-fiction thriller, “DISTRICT 9” today. And this is what I have to say:

“DISTRICT 9” (2009) Review

I had been looking forward to this movie for nearly two months. Ever since I heard that Peter Jackson (of the “LORD OF THE RINGS” fame) had produced a film directed and co-written by Neil Blomkamp about aliens living on Earth, I wondered if I would finally see a movie about aliens being oppressed or victimized by humans. Then I remember that I have seen similar concepts in other movies like “ALIENATION” and “E.T.”.

However, “DISTRICT 9” was also supposed to be allegory about the apartheid system that Blomkamp had lived under, during his youth. In the film, aliens find themselves stranded on Earth and are forced by the South Africans to live in housing districts that practically resemble slums. When a bureaucrat from a private company that has been contracted to deal with the aliens is exposed to their biotechnology, he begins to transform into an alien . . . and finds himself being hunted by the private company so that he can use the weaponry they had confiscated from the aliens.

I must admit that Blomkamp had a great concept. And I also thought it was clever of him to use documentary-style filmaking to describe the aliens’ arrival on Earth. Also, he was fortunate to get actor/writer Sharlto Copley, who gave an excellent and complex portrayal as the unfortunate bureaucrat, Wikus van der Merwe. I also enjoyed the film’s special effects and some of the cinematography. But in the end, I believe that Blomkamp had tripped himself with some questionable plotlines and his portrayal of the Nigerian gangsters.

There are some aspects of the plot that bothered me. One, how did the South Africans managed to board the mother ship from helicopters? And two, how was the mother ship able to hover over Johannesburg for nearly three decades without any liquid fuel or command module (which had dropped from the ship years earlier) to move it or keep it up in the skies? I also found the action sequences featured in the movie’s last half hour to be rather over-the-top at times. Blomkamp seemed to have read Michael Bay’s handbook on filming action sequences. And then there were the Nigerians.

Blomkamp’s allegory about apartheid was certainly given full support from his portrayal of the white and black South Africans’ intolerance toward the stranded aliens. But he had underminded his message with an offensive portrayal of the Nigerians. The gangsters are led by a wheelchair-bound Nigerian, who is told by his shaman (called “witch doctor” in the film) to consume the flesh of aliens in order to regain his health. In fact, a white South African female in the movie’s mockumentary informs moviegoers that the Nigerians’ “superstition” that the aliens’ flesh would be able to cure many of humanity’s ailiments. And the only females willing to have sex with another species – namely the aliens – are Nigerian women. It was quite clear in the film that no white females willing to commit such an act. As I had stated earlier, the Nigerian gangster’s shaman is referred to as a “witch doctor” – a term that many non-Christian or non-Muslim Africans would find offensive. In fact, I found the movie’s portrayal of the Nigerians to be very offensive. And as a relative of mine had pointed out, the Nigerians portrayed in “DISTRICT 9” may have regressed the motion pictures’ portrayal of blacks a good five hundred years.

I wish I could say that I liked “DISTRICT 9”. As I had earlier pointed out, Blomkamp’s decision to use the relationship between the stranded aliens and their South African hosts could have served as a perfect allegory to apartheid. But the plotlines leading to the humans’ internment of the aliens, the drawn-out action sequences in the movie’s last half hour and its portrayal of the Nigerians turned me off. I found “DISTRICT 9” to be a disappointing film.