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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

HARD TO KILL (1990) - Classic Seagal revenge movie

As stupid as it may sound, I actually have a soft spot for Steven Seagal, as anyone who visits my blog would probably notice seeing as how I go out of my way to watch his flicks, which most people tend to avoid. Most of his films, okay... nearly all of his films rate highly on the crap factor, but in the '90s the guy had a decent enough run that ended with his biggest hit ever, Under Siege, which everyone seems to remember for the random topless scene rather than for its outrageous villains and good share of hilarious lines. Hard to Kill is probably his second best movie, and holds a special place in my heart for being my first Seagal flick. Aside from a truly terrible poster, it's really not that bad at all.

Mason Storm (Steven Seagal) is a badass detective working a major corruption case, and as the movie kicks off, he's snooping around a Mob meeting, trying to collect some evidence for an arrest. He gets video implicating some important government official ordering an assassination, but he's spotted and chased off. Storm calls his partner back in the office and tells him about what went down. Unknown to both of them though, two corrupt cops are on the other line listening in. Storm heads home, but not before managing to  interrupt a store robbery, beat four Mexican punks senseless, and pick up some champagne for the missus without breaking a sweat.

Family man by day, Aikido ass-kicking machine by night.
At home, he stashes the evidence he collected and gets into bed with his hottie wife. Displaying a very bad sense of timing, a bunch of goons bust through his bedroom door right as he's about to get some sexy time with the wife, and shoot them both, killing his wife and leaving Storm in terrible shape. They also manage to blast Storm's partner as well, and as Storm is wheeled into the hospital, he's pronounced dead. Storm is hard to kill though (get it, get it?), and has in fact fallen into a coma. Only one of Storm's friends in the department knows the truth, and keeps quiet about it.

Kelly LeBrock? More like... Kelly LeHot.
A few years later, Storm miraculously wakes up from his coma, no doubt motivated by the fact that his nurse Andy is played by the babetastic Kelly LeBrock. He pleads with the hospital staff to get him out of there, and soon enough word gets out of his recovery. The bastards who betrayed him realize he's alive and send more assassins to take him out. Storm has to save himself, and before long, he'll be building up his strength to kick some ass, save his long-lost son and get his hard-earned revenge. His main enemy is a well-known Senator, Vernon Trent (William Sadler), who has half the city's police department in his pocket and will stop at nothing to kill Storm once and for all.

Martial arts are good. Guns are better.
As usual, you get what you expect from Seagal movies. Acting should be the least of concerns in these, but aside from Seagal himself, everyone else in this one is pretty much terrible. Sadler plays a decent bad guy, and Kelly LeBrock is hot enough that it's easy to ignore the fact she cant deliver a single convincing line. The rest of the thugs are laughably bad, but truth be told it all just adds to the cheese factor that makes Hard to Kill a classic Seagal flick. The story is original enough that it stands out from most of the crap that Seagal has filmed over the years, and the action is top notch, with some memorable kills.

Open wide, pal!
Hard to Kill is definitely one of Seagal's best movies, even if it never quite matches the fun factor of Under Siege. It lacks a good, memorable villain, and is mostly predictable. It does have decent pacing, scattered comedy and classic Seagal action sequences which make for an entertaining movie. It's not high art, that much is obvious, but in the realm of manly, no-frills action films, it's good enough to merit a watch.

Best scene: Mason finds the guy who shot his wife, stabs a pool cue through his throat, and kicks him in the face while delivering his best line... (below)

Best quote: "That was for my wife! Fuck you and DIE!"

TL;DR - Not even a 7-year coma can stop Seagal from avenging his wife's death - 6/10