Tuesday, December 20, 2011

IN TIME (2011) - Bonnie & Clyde, 2161.

In the year 2161, medical science has become so doubleplusgood that humans have been able to stop aging at 25. Once a person reaches that age, they either die off as they 'expire' or they keep on living, possibly forever, as long as they are filthy rich. You see, with aging stopped, time has become money, and it's used to buy anything, from cappuccinos to decades of life. The poor die off pretty quickly or else live on a day to day basis, while the rich fat cats (gotta love that modern day relevancy!) live on in extreme luxury while keeping their 25 year old bodies intact.

With the boy band scene finally dead, JT takes to the factories.
 Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is one of those poor folk, a 20 something factory worker living with his mother (Olivia Wilde). Together they try to make ends meet as they go about their daily lives in the ghetto parts of Dayton. One night while getting his drank on with his boys, Will saves a time-rich stranger from being mugged. The man (Matt Bomer), a super rich 105-year old tells will he's tired of his life, and gives Will all of his remaining time, over a century in total, and commits suicide. Life in the future ghetto being what it is though, bitchslaps poor Will when he sees his mother die in his own arms after she runs out of time later that night.
In the not so distant future, douchebags live forever.
Rich with time and with vengeance on his mind, Will goes off to do what else but to make it rain with the rich people in their exclusive part of town. Here he meets a millionaire named Weis at a casino and hits it off with his daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). The party is broken up when a 'Timekeeper' by the name of Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) is sent to catch Will and take his years. They do so, leaving him with less than a day to live, but Will escapes by taking Sylvia hostage, and he's forced to take to the road and hide from the cops. All the while, he has to deal with the snooty rich girl and find a way to get back his time before he ends up as dead as the careers of Timberlake's fellow N'Sync'ers.

The concept of time as money in this weird dystopian future sounds promising, but instead of exploring it a bit further, the movie just goes into full-on preachy mode about the haves and have-nots, trying to pass off Will and his arm candy as some Robin Hood wannabes. It tries so hard to be relevant with the present economic trouble that all it was missing was some extras with 'Occupy Dystopian Dayton' placards. The movie aims to be stylish which unfortunately at the expense of being stupid. Why do people in the year 2161 still use the same cars, guns and technology as they did in 2010? A hundred odd years into the future and all we have to show for it is a shiny, green left arm? Screw that.

Wasting Cillian Murphy in a shitty villain role... Tsk tsk.
 In Time is a barely passable action movie but it is utterly forgettable. Timberlake seems like a nice guy and all and gets props for the effort, but he just can't carry a movie like this by himself. The story gets a few points for originality, but once the novelty wears off it degenerates into bargain bin predictability. Cillian Murphy is criminally wasted as the villain who doesn't even get a decent sending off, while the whole glowing arm thing gets old after the first couple of scenes and there's just not enough action to push this movie out of mediocrity.

Best scene: all of the ones that imply that future moms might look like Olivia Wilde.

Best line: You'd have to be really desperate to quote anything from this movie. Not a single decent one-liner in sight!

TL;DR - Wasted premise, half-decent acting, and weak action. I want my time back - 2.5/10

Monday, November 21, 2011

13 ASSASSINS (2010) - A bloody, thrilling work of art

The year is 1844 in director Takashi Miike's samurai revenge flick 13 Assassins, and all is certainly not well in the islands of Japan. Years of peace and prosperity have left most samurai growing old, away from the battlefield and fighting boredom. There is, however, a new menace that threatens the livelihood of many Japanese. The adopted brother to the current Shogun and a powerful nobleman himself, Lord Naritsugu is the living, breathing embodiment of evil. Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) comes and goes throughout Japan as he pleases, murdering, torturing, and raping whenever he wants, and gets away with it thanks to his brother's protection. No one dares to raise a finger against him, even as he brutally executes a mother and her children with a bow and arrow in the middle of his court. Naritsugu is untouchable, or so he thinks.

Lord Naritsugu enjoys haikus, the occasional rape, and dismembering his subjects.
Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira) is a trusted and respected servant of the Shogun, but despite his important rank in the government, he knows he's powerless to do anything against Naritsugu's sadism. Doi's respect of tradition and his loyalty to the Shogun won't let him speak out against Naritsugu. After a fellow official commits suicide from shame after being wronged by the Lord, Sir Doi has no choice but to try and devise a scheme to get rid of that asshole once and for all.  Doi summons a trusted samurai to his court, Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), and tells him of Naritsugu's atrocities. He shows him a woman disfigured by Naritisugu to get his point across: she's had all of her limbs chopped off and her tongue cut off for Naritsugu's amusement, and left to die. Shinzaemon is furious and vows to help Doi get rid of Naritsugu.

Shinzaemon - if his balls were any bigger, he'd have trouble walking.
Shinzaemon returns to his village dojo and starts to plan for what is obviously a suicide mission. He recruits samurai from among his family members, old friends, and desperate men looking for a job. His band of samurai includes his nephew, his most trusted friend, and his apprentice. Despite knowing that they will have to face Naritsugu's army and that their odds of success are slim, they're all eager to die trying. Shinzaemon, being the crafty bastard that he is, comes up with a smart plan to ambush Naritsugu and use his small group to achieve surprise. Of course, back in Naritsugu's court, some of his officials hear rumors of a plot to assassinate the Shogun's brother, and they suspect that Shinzaemon is behind it, setting the stage for the inevitable bloody conclusion.

It's about to get really violent, really soon.
What is there to say about 13 Assassins that all the famous reviewers haven't already said? It is a true work of bloody art. The story itself is nothing extraordinary, but the characters are well developed, and the execution is flawless. The sets, costumes and attention to detail is fantastic, even without a massive Hollywood budget. Apart from the great performances and the fast pacing, the real highlight of the movie is the battle choreography. The swordplay is some of the most violent, fast-paced and impressive ever put on screen. The final battle is a 40-minute long orgy of destruction and adrenaline as the 13 assassins stand their ground against hundreds of soldiers, with bombs going off, people getting sliced open left and right, main characters getting killed off unceremoniously and giving the viewer hardly a moment to catch their breath. The levels of badassery from some of the guys like Shinzaemon or Hirayama (the crazy bastard pictured below) are dangerously off the charts.

The final showdown is one of the most epic battles ever put to film.
Foreign films with subtitles are a big turn-off for a lot of people, and understandably so. 13 Assassins is such a fantastic action movie though, that any true fan of movies like this just has to watch it. Despite Takashi Miike's reputation for making really gruesome, violent movies, he's remarkably restrained in this one, and keeps a great balance between exhilarating action and political drama that propels the movie quickly to the amazing climactic finish. If you enjoy action movies, 13 Assassins is a must watch. It is immensely entertaining and it's so fresh, so energetic, that it blows away any other martial arts movie of the last decade.

Best scene: The amazing final battle - 13 samurai against hundreds of soldiers. Arrows. Swords. Explosions. Bodies everywhere. Rivers of blood. It is INSANE. Has to be seen to be believed.

Best line: "I will accomplish your task... with magnificence."

TL;DR - A violent, vicious, swordplay extravaganza. Thank you Japan - 9.5/10

Friday, November 11, 2011

PRIEST (2011) - Paul Bettany hates vampires

Priest opens with a neat animated segment that gives an overview of the world the movie is set in. A war between humans and vampires has been raging for thousands of years, with humans being hunted almost to extinction. Humanity's last gasp for salvation is the Church, which has turned the tide of the war by unleashing their secret weapon against the vampires: the Priests. The Priests are born warriors, trained to perfection to kill vampires and fanatically loyal to the Church, and thanks to them humans finally defeat the vampires and lock up the survivors in a series of reservation camps. The humans that survived the war have taken shelter in massive walled cities in a society which is completely dominated by the all-powerful Church. With the war over, the Priests have outlived their usefulness and have been disbanded.

Face tats are all the rage in the future.
 A few hardy humans still live in the wastelands outside the walled cities, and it's in one of those small homesteads that a young family is attacked by a pack of vampires in the middle of the night. The father, Owen, is left for dead after his wife is killed and their teen daughter Lucy (Lily Collins) is kidnapped. Back in the imaginatively named Cathedral City, a Priest (Paul Bettany) is approached by Hicks (Cam Gigandet), a sheriff from the town where the family was attacked. It turns out that Owen is the Priest's brother, and he's told about Lucy's disappearance. The Priest goes before a council of Church authorities and asks for his reinstatement so that he may find the girl, but he's refused and forbidden to leave the city. He does so anyways, and teams up with Hicks despite knowing that it will mean a death sentence for both of them if they are caught.

"Edward Cullen? Never heard of him, bro."
 Hicks and the Priest follow the trail of the vampires to several reservations and vampire hives, hoping to find clues to Lucy's location. Back in Cathedral City, the Church brings back four Priests from retirement, and sends them after Hicks and the Priest, with orders to bring them back dead or alive. While on Lucy's trail, the Priest and Hicks discover that there's another, much more serious bigger problem to deal with than the missing girl. Black Hat (Karl Urban), an ex-Priest turned vampire, has been creating a new vampire army and is planning to restart the war. The Priest, Hicks, and a Priestess (Maggie Q), are the only ones that can stop those bloodsucking creeps.

Phil Collins is gonna be pissed you're messing with his daughter, pal.
Priest is based on a comic book, which means that due to the fact that I'm not a gigantic nerd (just a regular nerd), I've never heard about it. I can't comment on how faithful it is to the source material, but setting stood out well. The world design in Priest is cool: the cities are a mix of Blade Runner-meets-V for Vendetta, the post-apocalyptic wastelands look believable, and for once, we get some menacing vampires (no Twilight here) which look the part of hellish beasts. The action itself is nice, with plenty well-paced, exciting fights which are unfortunately let down by a bit of bad CGI every now and then. Some of the acting is a bit iffy, the dialogue feels forced at times, and there's a bit too much slow motion used. Thankfully, Paul Bettany is in good form. He's clearly the most talented guy on the cast, and it's hard to understand why this guy keeps getting mediocre roles. Bettany is an imposing presence, handles his fights well, and is the only one who can breeze through his dialogue without sounding like he's at rehearsal.

Damn that vow of celibacy!
Priest had plenty of potential going for it, especially the first half hour or so which is exciting and gets things off to a good start, but around the halfway mark it just starts to fizzle away into mediocrity with twists that you can see coming miles away. Watching Paul Bettany beat the shit out of some vampires while rocking that wicked face tatoo makes for a decent time killer, but the weak story and half-assed ending really lets it down. It's enjoyable enough if you catch it on TV or for a rental, but unless you're a fan of the genre or have a secret crush on Bettany, it's not really memorable at all.

Best scene: the Priestess takes out five guys on bikes with a gnarly looking hook on a wire, complete with a mid-air dismemberment. Holy schnike!

Best line: "You've got your gun armed? You're gonna need it." BOOM. Vampires.

TL;DR - Nice vampire killing action by Paul Bettany can't make up for a weak story - 6/10

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

SHAFT (2000) - Can you dig it?

Samuel L. Jackson taking over the character of hard-boiled detective and suave ladies man John Shaft from Richard Roundtree is pure exploitation glory. No, scratch that. It's cinematic justice. Detective John Shaft is working the beat when he's called to the scene of a brutal bar fight. A young black dude got punched half to death by a racist prick named Walter Wade (Christian Bale), who turns out to be the spoiled son of a multimillionaire. Shaft looses his cool when Wade mocks the dying black guy, and punches him out in front of the TV cameras. As a result, Wade is let out on bail Shaft is reassigned to some backwater duty.

"Say WHAT one more time!" Oh wait...
 Two years later, while running drug busts, Shaft butts heads with a drug kingpin named Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright). At the same time, Shaft and his crew nab Wade after he shows up in New York after fleeing the country on bail. Wade and Peoples meet while in jail, where they strike up an uneasy sort of arrangement. Wade is let out on bail again, but after leaving the lockup, he hires Peoples to kill the last remaining witness that could put him away the assault at the bar - the bartender Diane (Toni Collette). Shaft is pissed off that Wade's been allowed to walk free, he quits the police force and vows to make sure Wade gets what he deserves.

Christian Bale's Walter Wade is one of the greatest douchebags to ever grace the screen.
Shaft is classic B-movie, exploitation material that only works because of Sam Jackson. One of my friends loves this movie, but complains that Sam Jackson just plays himself in every movie, but in this case it really doesn't matter: Jackson was born to play this role. There's no other actor alive that could have pulled off this role convincingly. Jackson is the man - the one liners, the insults, the body language, the wardrobe, and attitude - he just nails it.

The one and only Peoples.
Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale are on great form too. Wright as Peoples is perfect. I've talked to so many people who've saw Shaft a decade ago and the thing everyone remembers is how hilarious Peoples is. His accent and mannerisms have to be seen to believed; Wright is a total chameleon. Bale as Wade the racist, spoiled asshole is also great. He's channeling plenty of American Psycho into his performance and he makes it so hard not to hate Wade. Watching Peoples and Wade trade verbal jabs at each other made the movie for me.

No such thing as too much swagg for Shaft.
Shaft is a total guilty pleasure. It's trash elevated to classic action movie material by some great, over the top performances, a bitching soundtrack, and some decent action. You could watch a movie a day for the rest of your life and you'd have a hard time finding another movie as quotable as this one. Wade, Peoples and Shaft himself have so many great lines it's tough keeping track of all of them. Credit is due to the writers for being faithful to the vibe of the original without straying into self-parody, and for finding a fun balance between comedy and action.

Best scene: The apartment gunfight & the car chase that follows is solid stuff.

Best line: There's way too many good ones to choose from. All of Peoples' lines are great. "Tiger Woo... I laik heem."

TL;DR - Kick back and watch Sam Jackson lay down the motherf*cking law - 7.5/10

Sunday, November 6, 2011

MONGOL (2007) - Don't mess with Genghis Khan

Mongol opens with a Mongolian proverb: "do not scorn a weak cub; he may become a brutal tiger." If only some of the Mongols who continuously beat, torture, and enslave the young Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) would listen to their own proverbs. History reveals that the ten year old Temudjin grows up to be none other than Genghis Khan, the cunning, cruel and hugely successful emperor of the world's largest contiguous empire, an empire which he conquered by bringing down the wrath of god with his legendary Mongol army to any one dumb enough to resist him. This 2007 movie by Russian director Sergey Bodrov shows the amazing story of how a resentful young boy managed to outsmart those around him and overcome incredible odds to rule millions of people.

You think you had a bad childhood? Think again.
 During a trip with his father Esugei, the Khan (leader) of a local Mongol clan, young Temudjin chooses a bride from a nearby tribe, and sets back for home with their entourage. On the road back to their village, Esugei is poisoned by an enemy clan, and one of his father's own men, Targutai, betrays Temudjin, becomes Khan himself and destroys the family's home and steals their belongings. Targutai stops short of killing the boy, because of Mongol customs, but swears he'll be back soon to finish him off once he's grown. Now a slave, betrayed by his family's own soldiers, Temudjin runs away, but falls through a frozen lake. He's taken in by a group of traveling Mongols, where he befriends, and becomes blood brother to a boy named Jamukha.

Temudjin and his faithful wife Borte.
 As the years pass, Temudjin grows into a wrathful man (portrayed by Tadanobu Asano), thirsty for revenge for the betrayal and injustice that others have put him through. Over the course of several scenes, he will find and lose his beloved wife Borte, be treated like garbage by foreign tribes, sold of as a slave yet again, and will ultimately be forced to choose between being Jamukha's servant or forging his own destiny.

You win some, you lose some (and get sold off into slavery).
Everything about Mongol screams epic. The setting, with huge expanses of forbidding Mongolian steppes filling the screen. The ominous, foreboding score. The performances, especially from Tadanobu Asano who oozes ferocity and subdued anger from every pore on his face. The battle sequences, filmed with thousands of extras, hundreds of horses and with brutal combat shown up close and personal. Most of all, the story itself, which is ambitious enough to condense decades of the life of one of the most important figures in world history into a little over two hours and pulls it off with flying colors.

When kids had nightmares in the 12th century, this is what they dreamed of.
Sergey Bodrov has crafted a truly great movie in Mongol. Bodrov managed to seamlessly combine a gripping story, flawless action and drama, a good score, rich landscapes (the cinematography of the Mongolian steppe is just beautiful) and loads of history into a thrilling piece of film. The fact that Mongol is filmed entirely in the Mongolian language may be off putting to some, but it really shouldn't. Seeing Asano growl through his lines as Temudjin in his native language is like a window into the past to see the kind of man the real Genghis Khan might have been. It's a shame that Bodrov's planned trilogy has apparently been abandoned, because there's so much fantastic stuff that remains to be covered and deserves to be put to film. In any case, Mongol remains a great movie on its own, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Best scene: The battle between Temudjin's and Jamukha's armies, with thousands of warriors filling the screen in one of the most impressive battles put to film this decade.

Best line: "Mongols need laws. I will make them obey, even if I have to kill half of them."

TL;DR - Thrilling portrayal of one of the baddest bastards to ever grace the planet - 9/10

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I've never been a much of a comic book reader, but with all the superhero movie adaptations coming to the screen, I did ask myself why no one was bothering to bring Captain America to the big screen. Of course a week after, they announced the release date and casting for Captain America: The First Avenger. I was stoked to see the final result, and a few weeks ago managed to get my ass to the theater and enjoy the movie in all it's big screen glory. High hopes were had while entering the theater, and I'm glad to report the movie doesn't disappoint.
The recession affects all of us. Even the Captain.
The year is 1942. Nazi Germany's rampage through Europe has been hugely successful and most of Europe is under its total control. A Nazi officer by the name of Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) finds an ancient mysterious object which promises ungodly amounts of energy, and begins to develop weapons based off it.

Back in America, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny dweeb, who suffers the indignity of being rejected by the Army multiple times while watching all his cool friends join up to fight Hitler. Dejected, he is approached by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a brilliant scientists who offers him a chance to serve his country. Rogers accepts, and goes through selection training with Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a British spy sent to help the Americans. Rogers makes the final cut, and is transformed into a super soldier by Erskine's serum. Unfortunately for Rogers, the lab is attacked by Nazi agents right after his transformation, and he is left as a one of a kind freak show.

All that P90X finally paid off.

Unconvinced by Rogers' potential, the Army has Captain America go on tour to sell war bonds, which Rogers soon grows to hate, since he longs for the real action. While visiting troops in the European battlefield, he hears that his best friend's unit was captured, and he gets Peggy and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) to help him infiltrate a huge German base and manages to save the prisoners.

After his first reckless, improvised mission, Rogers finally manages to convince the Colonel that he can contribute to the war, gets his iconic shield, and suits up to kick ass. He and his new team of Howling Commandos are sent out to destroy Red Skull's secret weapons factories throughout occupied Europe. As they take the fight to the Nazis, they soon discover that Red Skull's plans go far beyond the scope of Hitler's Reich: he's building a series of super weapons for his HYDRA unit with which he plans to take over most of the world, including a giant flying wing bomber plane to attack New York City. In true comic book fashion, only the Captain and his buddies can take on Red Skull and stop his Nazi shenanigans once and for all.

Superhero movies of late have mostly tried to emulate the grittier, more realistic tone of Batman Begins, which worked wonders for the latest X-Men movie and Iron Man, but also gave us the god awful emo Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3. Thankfully, Captain America has brought back a bit of camp into the mix. The Art Deco buildings, giant flying wings and propaganda posters everywhere add up to a cool '40s vibe that helps the sets and action stand out. Chris Evans nails his role, the Captain being a better fit for him than the Human Torch, and Hugo Weaving has a surprisingly good turn as the snarling, red-faced Nazi bastard. Hayley Atwell is a feast for the eyes of course, but the best role has got to be Tommy Lee Jones as the smartass, gruff Colonel who has most of the best lines and steals every scene he's in. The production value is great as you'd expect from the big Marvel blockbusters, with great CGI used to good effect in the final battle, but a lot of praise goes towards the use of gorgeous 40s sets that look convincing and add to the movie's charm. Yes, Captain America is all about cockpunching Nazis, but damn if it isn't a good looking movie.

An actual picture of Hugo Weaving without make up.
Captain America is an example getting a comic book movie right (*cough cough* Green Lanturd, I'm looking at you...). Joe Johnston has put plenty of pulpy, serial-inspired action on the screen, kept the cheese factor reasonably low, and has a good cast to fill the roles. It seems like making a good superhero movie should be a no-brainer, but I'm grateful that this one turned out as well as it did. Of course, they also did a nice job of getting the audience ready for next year's Avengers, with the obligatory and rather long post-credits teaser. I won't spoil it, but it's worth watching. Recommended.

Best scene: Every scene with Hayley Atwell in it. YUM.

Best line: (a POW asks Rogers if he knows what he's doing as they escape a Nazi camp) - "Yeah, I've knocked out Adolf Hitler over 200 times."

TL;DR - The Cap kicks Nazi ass & gets the babe in the best superhero movie of the summer - 8/10

Monday, August 8, 2011

PROOF OF LIFE (2000) - More Maximus, Less Meg.

I remember walking around the TV section at a local Best Buy or some other huge electronics store back a few years back and seeing some scenes from this movie, which I'd never heard about before. There was Russell Crowe, all decked out in camo face paint, packing an assault rifle and reducing population of Latin America by the dozens in a frantic, violent rescue scene. With huge surround sound and a big screen, it worked pretty well as a demo, but years passed and I forgot my mental note to check out "that action movie with Gladiator." After seeing it in its entirety for the first time now, maybe I shouldn't have bothered after all.

Every terrorist's worst nightmare - Maximus with a gun.
Terry Thorne (Crowe) is a retrieval expert. He works as a hostage negotiator for a big insurance firm, handling all the money transfers to dangerous criminal groups and getting back his clients in one piece. As we see from the movie's terrific opening sequence, Terry isn't some paper-pushing desk jockey -  he's the real deal. He's sent to Chechnya to recover a kidnap victim, and thanks to his crafty ex-soldier ways, he double crosses Russians and Chechnyans, giving them empty bags of cash and setting them to fight each other as he makes his escape with the hostage.

You can't be a movie hostage without growing a sweet beard.
A brief switch of scenery and we're introduced to Alice (Meg Ryan) and Peter Bowman (David Morse), Americans living and working in South America. Peter is an engineer working for an oil firm, and his dam project has just been canceled, leading to some tension in the marriage as Alice wonders whether its time to return to the States. They don't argue for long though, as Peter gets kidnapped by guerillas the next day, and is taken far up into the mountains, and held for ransom.. Alice eventually gets in contact with Terry through the oil company, and together they begin to plan a way to get Peter back to safety. While her husband rots in the jungle and is tortured daily, Alice develops a thing for Terry (must be the accent, mate), which is apparently O.K., since we get some nice romantic music in the background to set the mood. Whatever.

Who the hell let Meg Ryan near an action movie?
Russell Crowe is, as always, watchable in anything. He's convincing as the ex-soldier and overall badass with a heart of gold Terry, and he carries the film with his performance. Meg Ryan on the other hand, does everything humanly possible to be the most insufferable character in the movie. Every scene she's in drags the movie down to soap opera levels of cheese, and it's tough to sympathize with her since she seems more worried about banging Russell Crowe than getting her poor bastard of a husband back safely. The romance feels forced, is uninteresting, and just slows down the movie when the movie really needs a jolt of tension. The few action scenes in the movie are well shot, especially the finale, which has one of the best commando raids on film and is the highlight of the movie.

Damn gringos! Always causing trouble.
It's really a shame that the movie focuses so much on the sappy romance between the leads when all it needed was a shot in the arm to get the juices flowing. This one had plenty of potential, which just goes to waste. With an interesting premise and a great star at the helm, it should have been much better than this. It had everything going for it and loses a lot of momentum in the middle of the film and the awesome action sequence at the end isn't enough to save the movie from being an average thriller lacking in the thrills department.

Best scene: The hostage rescue finale, with Terry and his crew wreaking havoc on the guerrilla camp in a realistic, vicious firefight as all hell breaks loose.

Best quote: Anytime Russell Crow abuses the word "mate" in his Aussie accent.

  TL;DR - Too much Meg Ryan and not enough action makes for a boring "thriller" - 5/10