Friday, February 25, 2011

SANCTUM (2011) - Making money off James Cameron's name

If you live anywhere in the US of A, chances are you've been bombarded by commercials and trailers for Sanctum. If this were any other movie, I guess it'd be fine, since big movies tend to get their stuff plastered all over TV anyways, but Sanctum's ad blitz was different. Right from the beginning, your puny, peasant brain is force fed huge amounts of James Cameron's name every five seconds or so. "From executive producer James Cameron... / The director of Titanic and Avatar... / The guy with a hard on for 3D... / CONVINCED YET?..." This is unfortunate, since I first saw this trailer and said to myself this might be some sort of spiritual successor to one of my favorite movies of all time, The Abyss. It's too bad James Cameron pretty much just stuck his name on the trailers to get people to pay up the $20 or whatever those ridiculous 3D movie tickets cost these days to watch this stinker.

James Franco called. He wants his climbing shit back.
Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) is an veteran cave explorer, off on an expedition in Papua New Guinea. His son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) flies out alongside his dad's friend and money supplier Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) to meet up with his father. They're also accompanied by Carl's girlfriend, Victoria, who is apparently just there for eye candy since I can't recall a single contribution she makes to further the plot throughout the entire movie. In any case, the team has already set up a camp inside the unexplored cave, complete with video and phone communications and all those other gizmos that always tend to break when a catastrophe occurs.
"Josh is a pretty cool guy. He climbs the caves and doesn't afraid of drowning."
While everyone gets settled in and ready for the dive, Frank and his partner Judes go off by themselves to check out an unexplored section. Of course, they just broke the #1 rule of survival movies: don't separate yourself from the group. Sure enough, while making their way back, the air hose on Judes' scuba gear breaks, and she drowns. Back at base camp, Josh throws a hissy fit, saying that Frank could've done more to save her, proving what an ignorant little tard Josh really is. The team decides to pack up and leave, when all of a sudden (duh?) a tropical cyclone breaks out over the island, flooding the caves with rain water, and forcing the group to have to find a way out of the massive caves before their air runs out.

Yo, that's a big ass cave tho...
It's always worrying when you watch a movie and you recognize one of the stars but cant remember what the hell they've been in or you realize you have no idea what their name is. Ioan Gruffud (how the hell do you pronounce that anyway?) was in the Fantastic Four movie, and after you watch Sanctum, it'll be perfectly clear to see why he hasn't been cast in anything else you might have seen. He over acts in every single scene, he generally comes off as an asshole, and tries hard but fails at being menacing. It's like rubbing your eyeballs on a cheesegrater. That's how bad he is in this. Wakefield and Roxburgh are also pretty unknown, but at least they do a good job of portraying the son and father who share equal parts disdain and respect for each other. Everyone else is mediocre. This really is no surprise: people who watch Sanctum are doing it because of the 3D (which is very well done actually), but the characters are forgettable and boring.

I was rooting for the cave to take them all out. True story.
Sanctum is a gimmick movie, plain and simple. If you want to see it, watch it in theaters while you still can. If it wasn't for the 3D action sequences, this thing would have gone straight to DVD, sharing the shelves with other great classics like Snakes on a Train and Transmorphers. If 3D is not your thing, don't bother.

TL;DR - cave explorers try to survive flooding caves and movie execs try to get your dollars with DAT 3D - 4/10

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994) - Han Solo takes on the drug war... and wins.

America loves spy movies. America also seems to love Harrison Ford, as it rightly should, seeing as how he was Indiana Jones and Han Solo. It's reasonable then, to expect that Tom Clancy's political/military thriller novels make for decent viewing and successful box office. Harrison Ford plays Jack Ryan again, after Patriot Games, and this time is forced to fight Colombian cartels and assholes in his own country's government.

Harrison Ford don't take no lip from no one. Yeah, I used a triple negative. U mad?
As the film opens, a Coast Guard cutter chases down a luxury yacht which has been taken over by thugs. When the officers come aboard, they discover an American family murdered, including the head of the family, a close friend of the President of the US. The investigation reveals that the guy was in fact in over his head with after stealing money from the Colombian drug cartels, but President Bennett (Donald Moffat) is pissed to high heaven and begins to plan for revenge. He orders his senior advisor James Cutter (Harris Yulin) to start a secret operation to attack the cartel with special forces soldiers. In the meantime, Jack Ryan, an analyst working for the CIA, is promoted after his boss Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) is hospitalized with cancer. As a result, Ryan becomes involved with the revenge operation after he is duped into fooling Congress into giving money for the entire plan, and indirectly lying to them.

Protip: rocket launchers > Chevy Suburbans.
Planning the entire operation is Ritter (Henry Czerny), a career bureaucrat and all-around son of a bitch. Everyone around him seems to hate him. I don't blame them. Anyways, Ritter recruits John Clark (Willem Dafoe) to lead the soldiers into Colombia, where they soon begin to blow the hell out of everything they find: drug labs, contraband airplanes, killing drug lords, etc. Soon, they've blown up enough shit that the cartel is in a serious hurt and drug kingpin Ernesto Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval) strikes a deal with the US government to betray their own soldiers. Jack Ryan is forced to try and bring the conspiracy to light, expose the traitors and do what he can to save the G.I.s on the ground in Colombia.

"Target, hot chick sunbathing. Range 400 yards. She's a butterface, sir."
Clear and Present Danger has most of the elements we expect to see in political thrillers on the screen: corrupt government officials (in this case, the President), conspiracy and backroom dealings, innocent people getting caught in the crossfire, and of course, the average Joe trying to bring everything to light. I haven't read the novel it's based on, so I can't comment on how faithful the story is to the book, but as a standalone film it works well enough to hold your attention and create tension. The pacing is quick and the movie has some good action sequences, especially the Colombian ambush and the smart bomb assassination. The roles are well cast: the guy who plays Ritter is a convincing jerk, and Ford does a good job as usual. The stand out in my opinion is Willem Dafoe as the unhinged Clark, who knows he's been betrayed and is looking for someone to take it out on. Dafoe was born to play crazy, psychotic characters. This was a great role for him, even if it is pretty strange to see him play a good guy for a change.

This is Ritter. He wears suspenders. He is an asshole.
This flick is decent, and overall is an enjoyable thriller in the Clancy series. It's no Hunt for Red October, but it is a step above the other movie with Ben Affleck and Patriot Games. It's an enjoyable watch if  you're in the mood for the genre, and it has enough story going for it that it will keep you entertained and guessing until the end.

TL;DR - Colombians, politicians, cocaine, and guns. Sounds like a party. - 6.5/10

Saturday, February 5, 2011

FASTER (2010) - The Rock is angry. Very angry.

When I was in middle school, wrestling was just about the coolest thing in existence. If you had cool parents, you got to watch it on TV, and all my friends played the WCW or WWF games on Playstation and N64. And The Rock was by far the most popular wrestler at my school. One would've never thought for a minute that the guy could become a successful actor, seeing as how the range of his acting skills seemed to be limited to doing the People's Eyebrow. But he proved us doubters all wrong. The dude has made millions of dollars by starring in mostly shitty action movies like The Rundown and the god awful Doom. Then he inexplicably started doing Disney movies, with 6 year olds as co-stars. I figured that all those chokeslams and kicks to the head  finally made him lose his marbles. It's a good thing though, to see that he finally realized that he was put on this earth to entertain us by punching people's face in and speaking as little as possible when on screen. Faster focuses on these two points, and the result is a surprisingly decent action flick.

I don't know what's scarier. The .454 Ruger, or the shape of The Rock's head.
 Our protagonist is known simply as "Driver." We learn from a series of flashbacks that the Driver has been serving a long stretch in jail after a botched bank robbery, which left his brother dead and most of his crew scattered. All this time in jail, he's been planning his revenge and simmering in rage, knowing that the bastards that double crossed him and killed his brother are all living free and enjoying life. Back to the present, and we see the Driver has been released from prison, and like you'd expect, saying he's angry would be an understatement. He's fucking pissed. Our boy makes his way out of jail, and jogs over to a junkyard where he finds a nice gift package from a friend waiting for him. A bitchin' Chevelle coupe with an enormous revolver in the glove compartment and a list of names: the people that betrayed him and killed his brother.

Carla, you can scowl at me anytime you want.
The Driver drives to his first target, a guy working as a telemarketer. He strolls right up to him and shoots him in the head once, in plain view of all the guy's co-workers and leaving a nice security camera image for the police. The cops respond, and an unnamed veteran detective (Billy Bob Thornton, the movie calls him "Cop") is assigned to the murder investigation alongside another detective named Cicero (Carla Gugino, looking hot as usual), who resents having the drug-addicted Cop on her case. Together they begin to try and put the puzzle together of the Driver's seemingly random killings. At the same time, we're introduced to the Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) - an egotistical, image-obsessed assassin who drives Ferraris, boasts an English accent and has a smoking hot girlfriend. The Killer has been hired by one of the Driver's potential victims. The ex-con, the hitman and the cops are eventually put on a collision course that will result in plenty of violence, mayhem and general destruction.

The real co-star in the movie.
The Rock (or Dwayne, whatever) was born to play roles like this. His range is pretty limited, but you don't need serious acting chops when the role requires you to aim a hand cannon at people and look angry 99% of the time. His performance is good, since he does little talking and lets the fists and revolver do the talking. It works well. It's a revenge action movie, not To Kill a Mockingbird. Billy Bob does a decent job as well as the drunk, shady cop and Gugino fills her scenes nicely. The real letdown is the assassin. He is the worst thought out character in movies this year. Absolutely stupid in just about everything he says and does; every scene the movie spends on this supposed killer is a waste of film. Faster would've been a leaner, better movie without the guy. It's too bad.

Worst. Movie. Assassin. EVER.
Faster is a no-frills revenge flick that is good for a watch and then becomes quickly forgettable. The Rock does a good job of kicking ass and the story is just adequate enough to keep the film moving along, but don't expect to be talking about it a few years down the road with some friends. It is a good step up for Dwayne's career though., since these are the kinds of movies he should be focusing on, not crap about tooth fairies and Witch Mountains. He's finally found his balls back.

TL;DR - The Rock is back to hurt people. Good for him, and for us. - 6/10