Monthly Archives: October 2008
My Rating : **.5
Director Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY) pays homage to his favorite B-movies with PLANET TERROR, an old-fashioned zombie film that’s infused with enough gore and giggles to please even Peter Jackson (BAD TASTE). Rose McGowan (CHARMED) plays Cherry, a go-go dancer whose night is interrupted by a vicious zombie attack that leaves her missing a leg.
Her ex-boyfriend, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, SIX FEET UNDER), takes charge, fashioning her a new leg from a machine gun and killing zombies along the way. PLANET TERROR plays as a pleasing ode to the horror and exploitation films that once played in grimy grindhouses across the country.
Rodriguez splashes plenty of blood, guts, and gore across the screen, while also taking the plot into some wonderfully bizarre territory. PLANET TERROR was originally released as part of the GRINDHOUSE double feature with Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF.
My Rating : ***
Based upon Mark Millar’s explosive graphic novel series and helmed by stunning visualist director Timur Bekmambetov—creator of the most successful Russian film franchise in history, the Night Watch series—Wanted tells the tale of one apathetic nobody’s transformation into an unparalleled enforcer of justice. In 2008, the world will be introduced to a hero for a new generation: Wesley Gibson. 25-year-old Wes (James McAvoy) was the most disaffected, cube-dwelling drone the planet had ever known. His boss chewed him out hourly, his girlfriend ignored him routinely and his life plodded on interminably. Everyone was certain this disengaged slacker would amount to nothing. There was little else for Wes to do but wile away the days and die in his slow, clock-punching rut.
Until he met a woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie). After his estranged father is murdered, the deadly sexy Fox recruits Wes into the Fraternity, a secret society that trains Wes to avenge his dad’s death by unlocking his dormant powers. As she teaches him how to develop lightning-quick reflexes and phenomenal agility, Wes discovers this team lives by an ancient, unbreakable code: carry out the death orders given by fate itself. With wickedly brilliant tutors—including the Fraternity’s enigmatic leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman)—Wes grows to enjoy all the strength he ever wanted.
But, slowly, he begins to realize there is more to his dangerous associates than meets the eye. And as he wavers between newfound heroism and vengeance, Wes will come to learn what no one could ever teach him: he alone controls his destiny.
My Rating : ***
DRILLBIT TAYLOR tells the story of three nerdy adolescents who, on their very first day of high school, find themselves the target of a merciless, near psychotic bully. The friends band together and pool their funds to hire a personal bodyguard, Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson).
Taylor, a homeless beach bum and AWOL army soldier, plans to con the kids just long enough to pull together the money needed to amscray off to Canada. A momentary flash of a conscience and a growing crush on a teacher at the boys’ high school, however, compels Drillbit to stick around, do the right thing, and ultimately save the day. The movie is fluff to the extreme, and because it’s from the duo of Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow it’s easy to long for more. There’s a remarkably talented comic cast here, though, that includes, among others, Upright Citizens Brigade veteran Matt Walsh, former Daily Show correspondent Beth Littleford, and indie favorite Frank Whaley. And while it never reaches the near poetic heights of vulgarity to be found in SUPERBAD and KNOCKED UP, one can sense Rogen and Apatow’s supreme wit poking around the edges of the film. Where DRILLBIT does succeed, however, is as a fun movie for pre- and early-adolescent boys.
KNOCKED UP and 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN deal with some adult subject matter, meaning the plots are driven by issues that 13-year-olds most likely can not relate to, and SUPERBAD is raunchy to the point where parents might not want their kids to see it until they can at least drive. DRILLBIT, on the other hand, strikes a nice middle ground, as it deals with the age-old problem of the high school bully and throws in just enough raunch & roll to keep the sleepover rowdy until dawn.
My Rating : ****
Set against the action-packed world of Mixed Martial Arts, Never Back Down is the story of Jake Tyler, a tough kid who leads with his fists, and, often, with his heart. Jake Tyler, played by Sean Faris, is the new kid in town with a troubled past. He has recently moved to Orlando, Florida with his family who has relocated to support his younger brother’s shot at a professional tennis career. Jake was a star athlete on the football team at home, but in this new city he is an outsider with a reputation for being a quick tempered brawler.
Making an attempt to fit in, at the invitation of a flirtatious classmate, Baja (Amber Heard) Jake goes to a party where he is unwittingly pulled into a fight with a bully named Ryan McDonald (Cam Gigandet). While he is defeated and humiliated in the fight, a classmate introduces himself to Jake and tells him about the sport known as Mixed Marshall Arts (MMA).
He sees a star in Jake and asks that he meet with his mentor, Jean Roqua, played by Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, In America). It is immediately apparent to Jake that MMA is not street fighting, but rather an art form he wants to master. Roqua will take Jake under his wing, but it is up to Jake to find the patience, discipline, willingness and reason within him to succeed.
For Jake, there is much more at stake than mere victory. His decision will not just settle a score; it will define who he is.
My Rating : ***.5
Writer/director Neil Marshall earned the respect of horror devotees with his first two features, DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT, refreshing and scary twists on the werewolf and expedition-gone-wrong genres. Where those works exemplified a respect for pure horror, devoid of the tension-spoiling comedy that infects most fright films, DOOMSDAY is Marshall’s love letter to the post-apocalyptic action-exploitation films of the 1980s.
Bubbling over with action, gore, and dark humor, his third film has all the bases covered for a fun, knowingly corny viewing experience. After a deadly plague results in the quarantine of the entire country of Scotland (in a scene reminiscent of I AM LEGEND), a wall is built around the country preventing anyone from going in or out. Thirty years later, the British government believes everyone within the wall to be dead, but when they find signs of life and learn of the possibility of a cure, a team of specially trained agents led by Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) become the first outsiders to venture inside the country since the epidemic. They discover that there are plenty of survivors who have splintered into fierce, warlike tribes, living in a lawless society where cannibalism and murder are the order of the day. Astute viewers will have a blast playing “spot the influence,” with loving, obvious nods to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, ALIENS, 28 DAYS LATER, and the MAD MAX films.
At the film’s halfway point, Marshall switches gears, transforming the film from a punk-informed futuristic action film into a medieval-style chase film, utilizing Scotland’s castles and sumptuous green landscapes to the fullest. Mitra is an exciting physical presence as Eden, a female version of NEW YORK’s Snake Plissken, and the great supporting cast includes Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell.
My Rating : ****
From its first scene, Red rivets you like a classic page-turner. Set in small-town America, Red derives its title from a 14-year-old dog that is the sole companion of Avery (Brian Cox), an older gentleman who lives alone with his memories in a simple existence posing no threat to anyone.
One day while he is fishing, three troublesome teens terrorize him and kill the only thing he has left to love in the world—his dog. He sets out on a quest for an apology, but the situation soon escalates into much more.
Norwegian director Trygve Diesen gives a welcome fresh perspective to this very American story. Diesen is a refined and calculating storyteller; he allows events to stack up, keeping you both intrigued and questioning each character’s actions and motives. Brian Cox is in almost every scene and proves himself one of the finest actors working today. He engages you and invites you to take the journey with him, but at every step of the way, you can’t help but ask, “What would I do?” As it systematically deconstructs the age-old conflict between good and evil, Red becomes a genre tale about redemption and revenge—and makes that old good-versus-evil battle eerily, believably new.
My Rating : ***.5
In the 1970s, moviegoers reveled in a new sub-genre of horror films that were low on plot, required only the most basic acting skills, and called upon dumb teenagers to die onscreen deaths in a multitude of strange and horrific ways.
The slasher movie was born, and with it came classic features such as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, HALLOWEEN, and FRIDAY THE 13TH. The genre enjoyed a postmodern revival in the late-20th and early-21st centuries with films such as SCREAM and SCARY MOVIE, but French director Alexandre Aja (FURIA) hauls the slasher film back to its roots with his gore-addled romp HIGH TENSION. Like the most effective additions to the genre, HIGH TENSION’s plot is elemental, and simply serves as a springboard for Aja to deliver lashes of blood and guts. Alex (Maiwenn Le Besco) and Marie (Cecile De France) are two teenage girls who head out to Alex’s family home in the French countryside. Once there, their idyllic and peaceful time is abruptly disturbed when a maniac breaks into the house and butchers Alex’s parents. The shadowy figure captures Alex and throws her into his van, while Marie escapes and sneaks into the vehicle in order to save her friend.
By affording very little screen time to the unhinged protagonist who attacks the family, Aja creates a genuinely scary villain, recalling Wes Craven’s treatment of Freddy Krueger in the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movie. While the violence is explicit and the girls fit perfectly into their roles, Aja prevents the film from lapsing into parody by packing a mind-bending twist into the plot. A valuable and fun addition to the canon of slasher films, HIGH TENSION shows there is still plenty of life left in the genre.
My Rating : **.5
A remake of an Asian movie of the same name, Bangkok Dangerous is directed by the original film’s sibling helmers, Danny and Oxide Pang. Nicolas Cage sleep-walks through his role as Joe, a world-weary, loner assassin who heads to Thailand to perform the textbook “one last job.” As an English-speaking white man in Bangkok, Joe finds himself the proverbial fish out of water. His mission is to carry out a handful of contract killings on behalf of crimelord Surat, after which he will retire. As almost every other hitman movie has taught us, nothing ever goes according to plan for an assassin.
Joe hires a petty street criminal named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to assist him — and to cover his own tracks. Joe eventually takes a shine to Kong and becomes his mentor. Meanwhile, Joe also finds himself falling for a local woman, the mute pharmacist Fon (Charlie Yeung). But danger is closing in on Joe and he finds his newfound relationships threatened by his deadly line of work.
My Rating : ***
With TRANSSIBERIAN, Brad Anderson proves once again that he has an exceptional ability to craft a suspenseful thriller. Leaving behind the overtly Hitchockian style that made THE MACHINIST such an interesting formal exercise, Anderson this time shoots his film in color and roots it firmly in the present. Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) have just finished working with children overseas as part of a church project.
Before flying back to the States, they decide to travel from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Express train, where they meet two fellow travelers, the handsome Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and young Abby (Kate Mara). The couples bond, but gradually Jessie becomes worried that her new friends are involved in drug trafficking. At that point, the web has been spun, and when the intimidating Russian detective, Grinko (Ben Kingsley), arrives, Roy and Jessie become innocent targets in a dangerous chase. Anderson’s script, co-written with Will Conroy, helps to elevate TRANSSIBERIAN beyond mere thriller status. Without the suspense, it remains a well-executed portrait of a complicated relationship between two real people. Mortimer is her usual fantastic self, and it’s fun to watch Harrelson play an average, upbeat American guy. Throw the always riveting Kingsley into the mix and you have a motion picture that is above average in every way. By the time the film reaches its payoff, viewers will have felt as if they, too, took a ride on the Trans-Siberian Express.
My Rating : ****
Like the flashy sports car he controls, Detective Sargent Jun Ma (Donnie Yen) of the Serious Crimes Unit is precise and brutal.
Determined to destroy his criminal nemeses Archer, Tiger and Tony (Collin Chou), a gang of three powerful brothers, Jun Ma infiltrates their corrupt organization with the planting of a mole, Wilson (Louis Koo). When Wilson’s dual role is exposed, he becomes the last living witness to testify against Archer and now Jun Ma must battle to protect his partner from the murderous thugs to ensure they are put out of business permanently.